Parents Consider East Cobb Move, Private School If Redistricting Plan Approved
Some Mableton and Smyrna parents are considering options other than Cobb schools to avoid new redistricting.
Cobb County School District officials released a fourth South Cobb elementary redistricting map Thursday with a couple of changes. A few neighborhoods that were zoned for the new Clarkdale school are now zoned for Austell East and more of the Belmont Hills zoned eastern neighborhoods have been added to the new Smyrna school zoning.
Unless other changes are made, parents from certain Mableton and Smyrna subdivisions are considering moves to East Cobb or private school enrollment to avoid one Mableton elementary school.
At the last redistricting forum held at South Cobb High on Dec. 7, a group of parents from Vinings Estates at East Gate subdivision explained why they would prefer their children attend Nickajack Elementary instead of their proposed zoned school, Harmony Leland.
Stephanie Killimett and Haley Sherman are both residents of the East Gate subdivision and helped gain signatures for a petition to have the new district boundaries changed for the neighborhood before the map is submitted to and voted upon by the Cobb Board of Education. They even created booklets for district officials with information supporting their concerns like traveling through “several very, very dangerous traffic signals on the way to Harmony Leland” and overcrowding at HLES.
Killimett, Sherman and other East Gate residents want most to send their children to Nickajack to keep the neighborhood children together.
“We are part of Vinings Estates,” Killimett said, adding that they pay their homeowner association fees and are involved members of the subdivision community.
“We’re being separated from the people our kids do things with…You’re kind of being ripped apart,” she told South Cobb Patch.
Fred Edwards, co-president of Harmony Leland’s PTA, said the school, which is over capacity by 80 students and currently uses portable classrooms “would be affected with additional students.”
District calculations show NES with 33 students under capacity. However, Nickajack parents, like Vinings Estates resident Ann Walters, said the school could not handle more students even with the eight-classroom addition to be completed in August 2013.
“Lunch now starts at 10 and ends at 1. What do you do if it’s increased? Do you start lunch at 9:30? The numbers are a little bit different than reality,” Walters said at the December redistricting forum.
Harmony Leland Parents Encourage School Visits
Despite its overcrowding, Edwards said HLES is “a great school” with faculty, staff and parents who “are really dedicated.” Edwards urges parents to drop in to the school.
He said he had “the same misconceptions” and was hesitant to send his son to HLES until he and his wife visited the school themselves.
Halfway through the tour of the school, he and his wife had already decided their son would attend.
Parents need “to investigate the school and find out what’s real and what’s not real,” said Edwards, who lives in The Retreat at Old Vinings Lake.
School Class, Socioeconomic Class
HLES is a Title I school, meaning the school receives additional federal resources based on its higher percentage of poor children in an effort to help all children meet state academic achievement standards. HLES was recognized this last year as one of 20 Cobb County Distinguished Title I high-performing schools. To earn this designation and receive a monetary federal award, a Title I school must meet AYP for four consecutive years. HLES has met it consecutively for nine years.
NES is not a Title I school, and has also consistently met AYP.
According to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, 65 percent of HLES students were eligible for free and reduced lunch during the 2010-11 school year. Nickajack had nearly 100 students less last year than it does currently and 44 percent of them were eligible for free and reduced lunch.
“I know the school we’re in is a great school…It’s beyond me why people so concerned about their children’s education wouldn’t want them at Harmony Leland. Our scores are better than Nickajack. It’s really puzzling,” Edwards said, adding that he has heard some parents say they do not want their children attending HLES because the school is out of the way, not on the parent’s route to work and is an older facility.
However, he also feels the parents are reluctant to send their children to school with children of lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
“People don’t want their children playing with children in Cooper Lake Apartments. I’m not going to try to shelter him (my son) from that. Any parent should want their child to have a real-world experience. Being poor doesn’t mean you don’t care about your child,” said Edwards.
At the first redistricting forum held on May 17, Mara Johnson, a Harmony Leland alumna, also expressed her feelings that the difference in socioeconomic backgrounds was a major factor in parents’ hesitancy to send their children to HLES.
“Your kids can still play with those (neighborhood) kids on the weekend…Teach your kids that it’s OK to see kids that have lower income than you and a different background and really, that’s what I feel you’re afraid of. You want your child to brush shoulders with affluent kids, but what makes a well-rounded adult is having well-rounded experiences as a child. It starts then,” said Johnson, who lives in a nearby subdivision.
She also encouraged parents to visit the school and see it for themselves.
Killimett, Sherman and the other East Gate mothers at the December redistricting forum said that demographic factors had no bearing on their push to have their children attend Nickajack.
"We just want our children to be able to stay together," Killimett said.
East Cobb or Private School, But Not HLES
Besides fighting for the school boundary change to NES, moving for East Cobb schools or enrolling in private schools are the only options left for some of the parents being redistricted to HLES.
At the last redistricting forum, Killimett told district officials, “We’re looking at moving to East Cobb. I want to stay here and make every one of these schools like East Cobb…Please let us be a part of the best school that we can be a part of, which, in our case, is Nickajack.”
For Edwards and other HLES parents, parental involvement is a key factor to a school’s success.
One parent wrote on the school’s redistricting site, “It was disappointing to see that there were no attendance zones changed for Harmony Leland. The Retreat at Old Vinings Lake is a 300+ home community with well over 100 children that are not even of school age yet. Numerous families move out of this neighborhood to attend East Cobb schools when their children reach school age. It would be very beneficial to CCSD to keep these involved families in the South Cobb area. It is a fact that very few families in the neighborhood send their children to Harmony Leland and very few would even consider it for their children who are about to reach school age. If there is not a change, south Cobb area schools will miss out on the support of parents who greatly value education and would be heavily involved in the school programs. Please consider rezoning this neighborhood (HL84) to any of the surrounding schools. We need a change to stimulate the neighborhood to consider sending to a south Cobb area school for the upcoming generation of students.”
Another responded, “As a new parent at the school (HLES), I see a lot of parental involvement and teachers that are dedicated to the success of the students. To my neighbors at The Retreat, your local school is only what you make it. Demographics, not withstanding, is not all that makes or breaks a school. East Cobb schools are great in large part because of their large parental involvment. And people who aren't afraid to put their money where their mouth is. King Springs hasn't always been great, the parents, teachers and students made it that way--through hard work and being involved in their neighborhood school. If we have over 100 kids that will be school age in the next 2-5 years, that number of children and their parents will surely make a huge impact on the school. If we don't send our children to the local school, and roll up our sleeves to make it better, who will? Give HLES a try, you might be surprised at what you get.”
Edwards admits that the school is in need of additional resources, but “it’s a problem all over.”
He added, “This is a great school and it could be better. We’re going to make it better.”
At the last redistricting forum, district officials repeatedly encouraged parents to submit feedback about the redistricting plan as much as possible before it is submitted in February to the Cobb Board of Education.
Concerned citizens can share their input on the public comment wall at the CCSD redistricting webpage or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.