New middle school means additional rezoning

By Greg Gelpi

With the planned opening of a new middle school, the Clayton County school system has prepared a plan for rezoning school boundaries and moving 1,240 students.

Sequoyah Middle School, behind Harper Elementary School at 95 Valley Hill Road in Riverdale, is set to open in the fall and draw more than 1,100 students from three neighboring overcrowded middle schools.

The affected schools are Riverdale Middle School, Kendrick Middle School and Babb Middle School. The plan calls for 369 students from Kendrick being rezoned to Sequoyah and 134 Kendrick students being rezoned to Riverdale. Riverdale Middle would send 304 students to Sequoyah and 134 students to Kendrick. The plan also calls for rezoning 299 students from Babb to Sequoyah.

Any relief to Kendrick Middle, which has 1,427 students, 577 over capacity, is welcome news to James Ojeda, vice president of the school's Parent Teacher Student Association.

"It will make a tremendous difference in the educational level students receive," Ojeda said, adding that overcrowding directly impacts the quality of education.

Riverdale Middle is 257 students over capacity, and Babb is 350 students over capacity.

Assistant Superintendent for Auxiliary Services Ronnie Blake said that the opening of the new school will reduce the number of trailers used as classrooms in the county. Although he didn't know the exact number, he said that a "good rule of thumb" is that for every 25 students pulled from a school, one trailer is eliminated.

"Each one of those schools will have a significant reduction in modular units," Blake said.

Trailers or "learning cottages" as Ojeda calls them create concerns for student safety, especially in severe weather conditions, Ojeda said.

"The quicker we get the trailers out of Clayton County, the better the education will be," Ojeda said.

Despite easing overcrowding, effected schools will remain overcrowded, Blake said. Sequoyah will also be overcrowded when it opens with 122 students beyond capacity. Kendrick will be reduced to 74 students beyond capacity, Riverdale will be reduced to 86 students beyond capacity and Babb will be reduced to 51 students beyond capacity.

The school system has often times been playing catch-up in building classrooms and schools, since state-funding, which often is used for construction projects, can't be obtained until students are actually enrolled in school. The projections use "bare minimum numbers," and can't take into account growth.

"If we hadn't gotten the (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax), we would be in deep, deep trouble," Blake said. Voters approved the new sales tax extension last year.

Blake, whose committee has reviewed about seven plans, will present the plan for public comment at 6 p.m. March 3 at the Clayton County Public Schools Administrative Complex, 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro. Translators will be available at the meeting.

Until then, maps and information on the plan will be available at all three middle schools, he said.

Blake explained that the plan uses parcels in the county that have lines drawn along major roadways, power lines and gas lines, which helps prevent neighbors from attending separate schools.

"This is the best balance we could achieve by keeping neighborhoods together," he said.

The school system must rezone schools each time it opens new schools in order to bring students to the new school and maintain balance in students populations in existing schools.