AUTHOR: GINN

HED:Rezoning for city schools to be done by next summer

By Jennifer Ginn

Daily Journal

Rezoning in the Tupelo Public School District is scheduled to be completed by next summer, Superintendent Mike Vinson said Wednesday.

Vinson addressed the first meeting this school year of the Parent Council, an advisory group made up of representatives from PTAs and PTOs at each of the schools in the district.

Why it's necessary

The rezoning is necessary due to the construction being funded by the $29.5 million bond issue passed by voters last year. The main emphasis of the bond issue, said Vinson, was to handle overcrowding and to reduce class size in kindergarten and the first grade to one teacher per 15 students.

With smaller class sizes comes the need for more classrooms. To accommodate that need, the existing elementary schools will be changed from K-4 to K-3 buildings. The fourth grade will move to the two intermediate schools, which will become upper elementaries.

One new upper and one new lower elementary school will be built. That will leave the district with seven lower elementary schools, three upper elementaries, the middle school and the high school.

"I think it will affect every school," Vinson said. "Your school zones will all have to shift in the direction of the new schools. That will be west for the K-3 and south for Lawndale," the new upper elementary currently under construction at the corner of Lawndale Drive and Mitchell Road.

The rezoning process will begin next month with a survey of all the parents in the district, Vinson said. The survey will include questions about what parents would like the district to consider while rezoning, such as whether neighborhoods should all be in the same school and if it is important to maintain racial balance.

Vinson said he also is looking to establish a community advisory committee to advise the school board through the process. An outside consultant is expected to be hired in November to help with the rezoning.

When it will begin

Rezoning could begin as early as next school year, Vinson said.

The key to the rezoning is the renovation of the Carver School for Innovation, currently a home to alternative programs, which will become an upper elementary school.

Carver is expected to be completed in the summer of 2001. If it is finished on time, the students now housed at King Intermediate School which will become an early childhood center could be moved over to Carver at the beginning of the 2001-2002 school year.

Lawndale, the new upper elementary, is scheduled to be done by Christmas 2001. Grades 4-6 could be rezoned at the beginning of the year, with those who will attend Lawndale spending the first semester at King.

The students zoned into Carver and Milam would start the year at their new school. After Christmas, the Lawndale students would be moved as a group from King into the new building.

Rezoning for grades K-3 will take longer because of problems the school district has had locating a piece of property on which to build the new school. It will be the 2002-2003 school year before it is ready to be opened on an as-yet unidentified piece of property.

If Carver is not ready to be moved into, Vinson said, all of the rezoning could be held off until the 2002-2003 school year. Still, he said, he would like to let parents know as soon as possible where their children will be going.

"Our goal will be to go ahead and have the reorganization in place," Vinson said. "We would like to make that decision as soon as possible. We want to get this done as soon as possible so that a year from now, you're not wondering what's going on."

Potential future problems

Vinson said he realizes that rezoning often is a volatile issue among parents.

"I can tell you not everybody is going to be happy," he said. "Our goal is to keep this process wide open. I have no hidden agenda. We want this to work.

"I think children can get an outstanding education anywhere in Tupelo. That's not an issue. I know there are a lot of mental ties to certain schools. We don't want our children to be adversely affected by this."

Members of the Parent Council said they know there will be some who will object to rezoning, but they hope everyone understands why it is being done.

"I think any time there is change, parents take it harder than the children do," said Fran Stafford, president of the Thomas Street Elementary PTA. "We need to keep an upbeat, positive attitude about this for our children. We need to let everyone in our community know that it's for the betterment of our children."

Mike Walker, president of the Parent Council, said he would like for the group to take an active role in the rezoning process, getting information out to parents.

Walker who has children at Church Street, Milam and Tupelo Middle School said he also will feel the impact of rezoning.

"I would like for the Parent Council to be involved in the process," he said. "I'd probably say it was our responsibility.

"There are going to be people who will be upset. It's going to impact us, but that's just life really. I think the school district has the responsibility of doing what's best for all children."

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