Parents and students who support Moore County Schools’ plans to redraw districtwide attendance lines over the next few years are taking issue with the intensity of the criticism that’s arisen from those who categorically oppose redistricting.
Though the school board isn’t scheduled to adopt a plan until October, last week it unveiled the second draft of a proposal that would shift 180 students from Pinecrest’s feeder schools north and ultimately put 130 students in the North Moore feeder schools by 2021.
The plan also aims to balance middle school enrollment between Southern, West Pine, New Century and Crains Creek, and to bring down enrollment at elementary schools situated in areas — like Aberdeen and Vass — where growth is expected to take off in the coming years.
At the board’s regular meeting on Monday at Carthage Elementary, more than a dozen parents, students and school staff spoke during the period designated for public comment.
A handful had concerns about how the plan would affect their families. Maria Williams, an Eagle Springs resident with three children ranging from preschool to Pinecrest, exhorted the board to reconsider moving the area into the Robbins Elementary district and effectively extracting them from the Seven Lakes and West End community.
“I came last week and this week as a concerned and frustrated parent over the redistricting of our community,” she said. “Last week, the superintendent said that we may have to make new communities. Well that’s easier said than done, we are such a rural area with a small population.”
Williams found the individual board members and school staff at last week’s community forum at Southern Middle receptive to her concerns, which include the increased travel time to Robbins.
“Right now I can be at West End, Pinecrest or West Pine within 20 minutes to pick up a sick child or be at a ball game,” she said. “You need bodies in seats in northern Moore County. Parents there are going to charter schools and homeschools. That is not, and should not be, our community’s problem.”
Martin Sepko came to the board with a similarly specific request about the proposed new boundary between the Carthage and Robbins elementary schools. Under the proposed plan, that boundary is less than a mile east of J Dowdy Road northwest of Carthage.
But the most vehement critics of redistricting have been parents who object to the school board’s priorities. In addition to easing crowding, the board’s “guiding principles” include balancing schools’ socioeconomic demographics and the proportion of students reading on grade level at each school.
Although none of the plans proposed so far would change that data by more than a few percentage points at any school, many parents have called them thinly veiled attempts to improve individual schools’ state-issued performance grades by moving high-achieving students into what are now designated as low-performing schools.
“It seems there’s a repeated pattern here of not addressing hard problems with honest solutions, but rather just moving problem sets around until the numbers look better,” said West Pine Middle and Pinecrest parent Cal Castleberry, who has also taken issue with the way the schools organized public input meetings it held last week and in April.
But there’s also a healthy contingent of parents who support the schools’ process so far and object to critics who have made a habit of disrupting the schools’ input meetings and attempting to commandeer the floor during presentations by school staff and consultants.
“Redistricting is always contentious. However I expected that we the residents of Moore County could demonstrate a certain level of civility,” said Lynn Antil, whose son attends West Pine Elementary and also spoke during Monday’s meeting.
Antil said that “heckling, rudeness and disrespect from a handful of parents permeated the entire meeting” last week at Southern Middle, although she feels that the proposed plan presented there was an improvement over the first.
“I can tell they’ve been listening to parents because some of the changes made address traffic pattern concerns and allowable transfers,” she said. “Ultimately I may not be happy with their final decision, however I understand and respect the process.”
Students from Southern Pines Primary and Pinecrest also spoke, as did Elise Middle teacher Laurie Ann Davis and Pinecrest principal Stefanie Phillips, describing the programs and opportunities for students at their schools and other Moore County Schools they’ve experienced.
Pinecrest senior Keegan Foyles said that students from both Southern and West Pine Middle flourish in challenging high school courses. As proposed, redistricting would move about 300 students from West Pine for the 2022 school year, with many of those students going to Southern.
“There is an even mix of both schools in standard, honors and AP classes. Nobody keeps count of who is from what school in AP Calculus,” she said.
“I have learned that colleges do not care where your child goes to middle school or even high school. What they care about is what your child makes of their own experiences.”
Anna Hagedorn, Pinecrest’s student body president, participated in a unity forum held at the school earlier this year. Students from both schools participating discussed what they feel both groups brought from their middle school and how everyone at Pinecrest has benefitted from the environment at Pinecrest. She described much of the contention over redistricting as divisive and less than productive.
“Redistricting is something that needs to happen, and it is,” she said. “I am dismayed by the types of attacks that people have made. I stand here as proof that your children will not only be okay, but that they will find the support and fulfillment that they need at any of Moore County’s schools.”
Hagedorn also described the debate over the closure of Academy Heights Elementary, a magnet school in Taylortown, in 2011. She was in fourth grade there at the time.
“I remember attending meetings with my parents and hearing the same types of concerns being voiced,” she said. “One of the lessons everyone learned after this experience was that we had just torn apart our community with disagreement over nothing.”
As Pinecrest principal, Phillips has gotten to know students from both middle schools. But on Monday she said that she’s confident in the quality of both Southern and West Pine middle schools based on her own children’s experiences coming up through both of them on the way to Pinecrest. Phillips said that her children got through challenges thanks to support from teachers and staff at both schools, not the campus address or the name on the sign out front.
“I tell you all this to say that it’s not all about letter grades and programs; it’s about so much more,” said Phillips. “It’s about the personal connections we make with students every day, it’s about the life lessons learned along with the academic progress of our students. It’s about the challenges children face and how we help them to develop the skills and mindset to overcome those challenges.”
At the two meetings last week at Southern and New Century middle schools, board Chair Helena Wallin-Miller said that Superintendent Bob Grimesey and other school staff members fielded more than 60 written questions from the hundreds of parents present.
She also pointed out that, at this stage, public meetings serve for individual families to provide feedback about how they would be affected by proposed changes in attendance lines.
“It is important to note that the board is seeking input on the draft reassignment plan itself, and not on the structure, timeline, process and principles already decided upon by the board,” said Wallin-Miller.
“The board understands that student assignment planning is challenging, and we are grateful for those who have approached each of these meetings professionally and with respect to staff, board members and to each other.”
After the schools conduct a traffic study to determine what traffic patterns and bus routes that existing N.C. Department of Transportation data indicate for the most recent redistricting proposal, Grimesey is expected to recommend a plan to the school board in September.
The board will hold a public hearing on the plan after that, and is scheduled to approve a plan in October. As proposed, new attendance lines would take effect in stages in 2020 and 2021.
Contact Mary Kate Murphy at (910) 693-2479 or email@example.com.