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Reminder: Westchester Elementary zoning meeting is tonight

Decaturish updates

Reminder: Westchester Elementary zoning meeting is tonight



Update: Our friends at Decatur Metro report that the possible rezoning options are available online. To see them, click here.

Redrawing school boundary lines usually sparks a passionate reaction from parents.

Zoning issues are inherently contentious. Throw the well-established routines of children and protective parents into the mix, and you’ve got the potential for some fireworks.

There will be a meeting tonight concerning the rezoning of school boundary lines to accommodate the reopening of Westchester Elementary on Scott Boulevard. Westchester currently serves as the school system headquarters and will be the venue for the community meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. It is located at 758 Scott Blvd, Decatur, GA.

Westchester closed in 2004. School officials were consolidating because of declining enrollment.  Nine years later, the school system is planning to reopen the school because of a surge in enrollment. The central offices will move to the city’s Beacon Hill Municipal Center.

The community meeting comes after two weeks of meetings by the school system’s K-3 Zoning Committee. (As far as committees go, it’s hard to get further down into the minutiae of school system governance than that.) It has roughly two dozen members and is made up primarily of neighborhood and elementary school representatives of communities that will be affected when Westchester reopens in 2014.

There will be an election on Nov. 5 for two seats on the City Schools of Decatur Board of Education. The current BOE will consider the recommendations on the boundary changes on Nov. 12 and will be asked to approve them on December 10. The new school board members will be sworn in this January. Voting on this rezoning will be one of the last votes for outgoing BOE members Valarie Wilson and Mark Wisniewski, the current board chairman.

The consultants tell us that by reopening Westchester, the school system can expect an enrollment of around 1,600 K-3 students through 2019. Since 2006, two years after the school system shuttered Westchester, K-3 enrollment jumped by about 600 students, or 75 percent. (I’m basing this on a presentation posted to the CSD website, which presents this data as a line chart and doesn’t give me exact numbers, so I’m ballparking this a bit. If someone who is more familiar with the totals can provide them, I’d be appreciative.)

The neighborhoods most likely to be affected by the reopening of the school are Westchester, Lenox Place, Chelsea Heights and the MAK Historic District. The elementary schools potentially affected by it are Clairemont, Oakhurst, Winnona Park and Glennwood.

The MAK Historic District isn’t represented on the committee, for reasons that aren’t immediately obvious. (If someone could educate me on this point, please do so in the comments.) MAK is being considered for rezoning from Winnona Park Elementary to Oakhurst Elementary.

Parent and MAK resident Kristin Jones in her feedback comments on the plan pointed out the lack of representation on the committee. The message appears as part of comments posted on the CSD website.

“I note that MAK has no representation on the committee, despite my request that I be allowed to join in, although the committee roster demonstrates that other potentially impacted neighborhoods are represented,” Jones wrote. “I would be pleased to speak with the committee so that I can explain our concerns in more detail and better understand how we can help you in making recommendations that keep our neighborhood in the school we’ve made our own.”

One of the big concerns raised by parents who submitted feedback was the ability of students to walk to Westchester, which is a bit more of a challenge because Scott is a busier road.

Decatur has a unique school feeder pattern, because all of its elementary schools are Kindergarten through third grade. All of these schools feed into one school for fourth and fifth grade students, the 4/5 Academy at Fifth Avenue. Isolating students in certain age groups has gained popularity due to the belief that it has developmental benefits.

The Academy opened in 2011.

One of the parents who commented wondered if it isn’t time to consider reestablishing all of the schools as K-5 to make planning a bit simpler in the future.

I don’t have children. I think everyone has a stake in education, however. This real estate market didn’t light itself on fire. It was the draw of public schools shielded from the persistent dysfunction of systems like Atlanta Public Schools and DeKalb County Schools.

The reopening of Westchester will give the Decatur school system a bit of a reprieve, but losing the ability to walk to school will be distressing to many parents in the area. I’m interested to know more about the current timetable. Is there a particular need to get this done by January 1, 2014 before the new board members are in place?

I’d also like to know if there’s any way the city can provide better pedestrian access to Westchester. I suspect it would be cost prohibitive, but just asking.

To CSD parents: what are your thoughts on this? Please let me know in the comments section or by emailing me at [email protected].