Cobb Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to approve the proposed south Cobb redistricting plan; a decision that will close Mableton’s Sky View Elementary School in Aug. 2012 and Smyrna’s in Aug. 2013.
Under the approved plan, Brown Elementary School students will be zoned for the new Smyrna elementary school beginning in Aug. 2013. Students at will use the Brown facility beginning in Jan. 2014 after it undergoes a renovation. Students zoned for Sky View will attend Mableton Elementary School beginning fall 2012. At that time, Austell Primary and Austell Intermediate Schools become traditional kindergarten through fifth grade elementary schools.
A public hearing regarding school closings was held before the board meeting, but for most of the speakers who took the podium the writing was on the wall.
“I have little faith that at this 11th hour there is little we could say that would change this obvious outcome, but if there is any hope I stand here asking that you reconsider the option of this school being closed,” said Michelle Murphy, the parent of a Brown Elementary School kindergartner.
Erin Stack, mother of Sky View kindergarten and third grade students and the president of the school’s council, came to the meeting with about a dozen Sky View faculty and staff. She didn’t even ask that the board consider keeping Sky View open.
“Our only request is that you continue to help us find a transition plan because we don’t have a lot of time to move schools,” she said. “So whatever help that you can give us in that transition to really enter the school, to help us work with the new school—we’ve had some meetings, but not a lot of support. We understand the vote isn’t final, but we haven’t been on the map since the beginning. So to us, this vote was final when those maps came out.”
Muprhy spoke to Smyrna-Vinings Patch after the hearing. Like Stack, she considered the issue a done deal when she first learned that CCSD suggested closing Brown.
“I think between the first and second districting maps they make the announcement that Brown is going to be the school that closed,” she said. “They tell the teachers the school is going to close. And now you’re going to have this meeting and say, ‘Hey, who’s going to come out and tell us don’t close our school?’ They should have had this meeting first before they did any redistricting.”
Murphy said she thought the decision to close Brown was actually made years before the redistricting process even began. She noted that of the three schools considered for closure in Smyrna, Brown was the only one that had not undergone SPLOST renovations.
“You can look back at the SPLOST funds,” she said. “Brown has not had any major improvements since the late-1990s and they were not line-itemed to have any. Yet Belmont and Argyle had improvements made or were scheduled to. So that decision had clearly already been made.”
Other speakers were Kristin Dabson, mother of a Brown kindergartner, who asked school board members to make Brown’s administrators part of the new Smyrna school.
“I recognize that change is inevitable and can be sometimes positive, but my son Charlie will be starting school in 2014 and to think that he wouldn’t get to enjoy the same level of professionalism and quality of educational leadership that Principal Ward and Vice Principal Bassett have shown, I think, would be a travesty,” she said.
Susan Wilkinson, Smyrna’s Ward 5 city council member, asked the school board to keep Brown open to offer Smyrna residents what she called “viable options.”
“The new school will reach its capacity very quickly and I just think it’s going to be important to have Brown in its location,” she said. “It would be a great location for children in that neighborhood to start walking to school.”
School board members commiserated with those opposed to the school closing before casting their votes. Lynnda Eagle, Post 1, noted that her grandmother had been a teacher at Sky View. She assured parents and community members that the school district’s staff would form transition groups to help with the changes.
Alice Stouder, deputy superintendent, explained there are transition programs in place to move textbooks and facilities from Sky View to Mableton Elementary School and added that the teaching teams from both schools have met several times over the past few weeks. She said once the school board voted on the redistricting plan, she and the area assistant superintendents would begin transitioning PTAs, school councils and students. Brown’s transition process won’t begun until next year, since it will be open for the 2012-2013 school year.
Tim Stultz serves Post 2, the portion of the district that includes Brown Elementary and Fitzhugh Lee H.A.V.E.N. Academy. He called the redistricting process “a mixture of emotions” and said that Cobb’s growth, particularly in the southern portion of the county, make it financially difficult to sustain smaller schools like Brown and Sky View.
The school board’s decision brought a nearly yearlong redistricting process to a close. But for the parents of Brown and Sky View students it’s only the beginning.
“Now we’re going to have to swing the pendulum and get behind our new school,” Murphy said. “We’re going to have to make it the best. We’re going to have set expectations and standards. We have to.”