Friday, March 27, 2009

Last Chance to be Heard on School Attendance Zones

Thursday night was the public’s last chance to be heard on the City School attendance zone changes. Over 100 people attended with about 20 speaking. Following the Ruffner Middle School and Raleigh Court Elementary School closings major shifts in attendance zones unchanged since 1971 have some saying it is a return to segregation while others say it is long overdue. Most who spoke at the public hearing preferred the 3rd attendance zone option as does a majority of the School Board. Slight shifts in option 3 were made to alleviate potential overcrowding and was an attempt at creating more racial and socioeconomic diversity. This resulted in a list of schools that would be 70% white and a list of schools that would be 70% black. This was less than pleasing to some but acceptable to others. Brenda Hale, President of the Roanoke Chapter of the NAACP opposed all three options calling it premature and a return to segregation. 

Jeff Artis, past president of the Roanoke Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) did not speak but said afterward that he sees it differently. Artis surmised that quality of the education is more important then racial makeup. He was “surprised that no one brought up quality of education.” According to Artis  Roanoke City was the most segregated city in Virginia and the 30th most segregated in the country. Artis beleives this is due to the lack of “fair housing” enforcement in Roanoke City.  There were a few speakers who echoed these sentiments saying sales representatives and renters stressed which school zones were preferred in the city when selling or renting  property.


Javontae Patrick, a 13 year-old 8th grader and SCA President at Lucy Addison Middle school received a standing ovation when he said there must be diversity not just of students but of teachers and administrators saying “we have to be equal.”  

Loren Newman, who teaches Civics at Lucy Addison said, ” the perception of segregation permeates the city” and sees these attendance zone changes as a chance to increase diversity. He feared that the Ruffner Middle school students being sent to Addison feel like “step-children” but assured them they will be made to feel welcome.

Barbara Phifer, Lucy Addison PTA President, wanted the school board to “rest” and postpone their decision and take more time to listen to the public.

School Board Chairman, David Carson, commended all who attended the public input meetings. He praised their calm and rational presentations and comments to the school board. Carson outlined next steps after considering all the input including the possibility of another public meeting but the end date for a decision is still April 7th.

Carson reiterated what he had told Council at their noon joint meeting. RCPS would receive one-time Federal stimulus money in the amount of $4.4 million for one year. They are still $3.7 million short. Of the joint meeting with Council Carson said “we had a very productive meeting today with city council … and we made a respectful request for the $3.7 million.” Carson is hoping Council will find time for an additional meeting on April 3rd or 4th so they will have additional funding information needed to finalize the RCPS  budget by April 7th. Carson stressed his hopes for the $3.7 million from the city to keep from cutting essential teaching staff .

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Education, Roanoke City Public Schools

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