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Parents: Redistricting schools 'a poorly applied Band-Aid'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Parents concerned with overcrowding at John Adams Middle School asked Kanawha County education officials Thursday to throw out the option of redistricting and to find the funding to expand the school instead.

Several parents said they chose the location of their home based on school attendance zones so that their children could attend John Adams and George Washington High School, which they believe are the best schools in the state.

Parents said if redistricting forces their children to attend South Charleston schools, they will move in order to be in the John Adams and George Washington school district.

 "We want our kids to go to that school, and that's not changing if we get redistricted. I can tell you that I, and other families, will not send our kids to South Charleston. I will sell my home at a loss and move my kids to get them in the district," said Chanin Wolfingbarger Krivonyak at the county board meeting Thursday evening.

"Redistricting is a poorly applied Band-Aid. Most of these kids are going to end up moving and going there anyways," she said. "I understand we are in tough economic times, but the only solution is finding the money to expand. Us, as parents, are willing to come up with whatever we can to help."

John Adams currently enrolls 740 students, more than any other middle school in the county, and seven portable classrooms are being used to help relieve the overcrowding. South Charleston Middle has 382 students, while other area middle schools have fewer than 500.

Education administrators recently contemplated moving Ruthlawn and Alum Creek elementary schools into the South Charleston attendance zone to gradually decrease John Adams' enrollment.

Krivonyak, a mother of three students at Ruthlawn, broke into tears when telling the board about the impact she fears redistricting would have.

"Some of these families can't afford to buy a house in South Hills like I can, and those are the kids that will suffer. It's sending the wrong message to tell kids that the less advantaged don't get to go to the best middle school because their parents can't afford to buy a house in district," she said.

Allen Bell, developer of The Ridges in South Charleston, said he has sold more than $70 million in homes since 2008 and that many residents are families interested in the school district.

Krivonyak and other parents suggested the board establish a bond to support funding to expand the John Adams building and offered to help come up with private funding, as well.

"We would support a bond initiative that could supply middle schools throughout the county with the help they need. I believe that all students, regardless of zip code, deserve those AP classes and college applications. Even if your kids are in the first grade, it's a competitive environment out there," said Karen McElhinny, a mother of two at Ruthlawn.

Lou Ann Cyrus, the Local School Improvement Council chairwoman for Alum Creek Elementary, said John Adams needs Alum Creek, a Title I school, because it includes a mix of students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Title I schools are made up mostly of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.

"For decades, studies show that students from a lower socioeconomic status perform better when mixed with the middle class. South Charleston already has two Title I schools that feed into it," she said. "The lower socioeconomic kids have a chance to come up to meet the middle class standards and develop the values we all want kids to have."

Renee Fugate, a George Washington alumna and parent of a John Adams student, said redistricting would "cripple the community."

"Please don't uproot our children. They deserve the right. We have paid our taxes and worked our butts off to get our kids there," she told the board members. "It's astonishing to see the difference in education between South Charleston and George Washington."

Superintendent Ron Duerring said no decisions have been made regarding redistricting scenarios.

"It takes a while to go through the process. Everything you've heard out there is probably a rumor or speculation because we haven't come forward with any plans," he told parents. "Some preemptive ideas we did have would not move everyone at once. It would start with kindergarten so that those kids presently in school would not be affected."

Board President Pete Thaw reassured parents that their input would be considered during the process.

"We're going to proceed with this but we're not going to do it in the dark. You're going to see every move. It's going to be a long time, but these doors are always open," he said. "You'll know when we get close to something, but we're not near anything. We hardly know where we are on this."

Board member Becky Jordon also asked Duerring to consider changing the county policy so that children of teachers have the option to enroll at their parent's school despite attendance zones.

"I feel like we should let an employee put their child at the top of the list at the school district they work in. We should respect that they're a parent, too," she said.

Duerring agreed that a change to the policy could help keep teachers from leaving school for family issues.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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