NCSS set to redraw high school lines

COVINGTON — Some high school students in Newton County may have to attend another school next year, but some have the option to stay at the same school they attend this year.

During its monthly meeting Tuesday, the Newton County Board of Education approved the Newton County School System to move forward with a plan to rezone its high schools for the 2010-11 school year, but members did not approve the original plan NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley presented last week.

In addition to allowing NCSS to move forward with the development of a high school rezoning plan, Whatley's recommendation originally included the board allowing rising 12th-grade students to remain at the schools they attended during the 2009-10 school year if they were responsible for their own transportation, and discipline and attendance did not become a problem.

However, school board member C.C. Bates said Tuesday she would prefer if all students who are in high school could stay at their home school next year if they provided transportation because some of them already are having a difficult time transitioning to high school without having to move to another school.

"They should have the option to stay where they started as a freshman," she said.

School board Chair Cathy Dobbs said she believes that would create traffic problems.

"You're putting more children on the road with their cars ... although I understand (the point)," she said. "I think it's going to increase traffic."

School board member Johnny Smith also said issues come up during rezoning when siblings are separated if one student is rezoned and another older student can choose to stay at the school.

Fellow member Eddie Johnson was concerned with the management of allowing certain groups to remain at the same schools they attend this year.

"I think it's going to be a management nightmare if we don't put some restrictions," he said. "It's unfortunate, but it's going to be chaotic. ... We got to have some control because otherwise we have none."

He said he also thought it would create problems athletically if coaches from certain schools want certain athletes and have the opportunity to move them.

Ultimately, the board didn't approve Whatley's original recommendation, although Johnson voted in favor of it. Instead, the board voted to allow NCSS to move forward with rezoning and allow rising 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade students who are rezoned the one-time choice to stay at the school they attend this year. They also would have to provide a letter of intent by a certain date.

"That's a weak policy," said Johnson, the only board member who voted against the motion. "I think you're making a gross mistake."

Whatley warned the board that the schools might not reach their target enrollment if this was allowed, although he did not specify a certain target. Dobbs said she believes the enrollment numbers will be fine.

Originally, Whatley said a shift in population and an increasing number of students moving into the county, as well as the impending opening of classroom additions at Alcovy High School, has warranted a need for rezoning. He said this school year, 1,000 high school seniors are expected to graduate and 1,450 eighth graders are moving up.

School system officials expect to redraw new district lines based on minimizing changes to current attendance areas and considering the capacity of the schools, growth of zones, proximity to schools, neighborhood boundaries and feeder school assignments. Whatley expects public hearings to be held during the second or third week of March.

The board must approve at a future meeting the attendance lines once they are redrawn, which are scheduled to be presented in March. The school board meets in March for its monthly work session and regular session meeting on March 9 and 16. They are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the board room at the Newton County Board of Education building, located at 2109 Newton Drive N.E. in Covington.

Once approved, system officials will complete the redistribution of staff and any hiring for the high schools.

School assignment letters are expected to be sent to parents of students in April. The board did not yet announce the deadline for students who choose to remain at their original schools.