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Grade-level change at theme schools mulled

COVINGTON -- Some changes might come to Newton County's parent-involvement theme schools next school year.

The schools, parents and officials with the Newton County School System plan to meet before the schools let out for the holiday break in December to discuss the grade level distribution among the schools, as well as communication and other issues.

Currently, prekindergarten through third-grade students attend the Fairview Theme School and fourth- through eighth-grade students attend the Clements Theme School.

A committee made up of two administrators, two parents, two teachers, two Central Office personnel and two other individuals at large met in October and November to discuss issues at the schools and plan for the future of the schools, according to NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley.

Earlier this month, Clements sent out an automated phone message on a Friday encouraging parents to attend a meeting the following Monday. At the meeting -- which was attended by about 30 parents -- school officials asked parents to vote on whether they would like their fourth- and fifth-grade students moved to Fairview in January or at the beginning of next school year.

Parent Wendy Lowe approached the Newton County Board of Education during its regular session last week to tell them how disappointed she was to learn that a decision already had been made to move the children and she wasn't involved until she was asked to vote on when the students would move.

"If no fourth-grader got hurt, and if no fifth-grader got hurt, then why all of a sudden is everybody so concerned about the proper environment for these children when they were put (at Clements) in the beginning, when they should have been put at Fairview?" she said during the school board meeting. "Parents need to be able to have a right and a say in what's going on."

Whatley said the survey showed that about 33 percent of parents wished to relocate their fourth- and fifth-grade students in January, and about 58 percent wished to relocate them next year. The remaining 8 percent of parents were not able to be reached to complete the survey.

"Based on results, it would be in the best interest not to move (the fourth- and fifth-grade students) this year but to go forward with parent meetings so we can get out on the table these issues that need to be addressed for the improvement of both theme schools for next year," Whatley said. "This is a concept we entered into to provide a choice for parents, and we are committed to that."

When acting school board chair Cathy Dobbs asked for a motion on what Whatley brought to the table during the school board meeting -- for further planning for the possible relocating of the fourth- and fifth-grade students and teachers of Clements to Fairview for the 2010-11 school year -- no board member would approve the motion, so it died.

"So (the grade levels) stay as is, and we'll have parent meetings," Whatley said.

Whatley said no timeline has been established yet, but Dobbs requested a meeting to be held before the holiday break.

Board members also expressed concern that the schools need to work on a communication plan.

"Please be patient," Dobbs said to parents at the school board meeting. "We are going to work as a team to make this work. I want to see a success of (the theme schools) and all of our schools."