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Parents question district officials on K-8 school

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Soon-to-be Eddie J. White K-8 Academy Principal Clarence Jackson stood before 65 parents and children at River's Edge Elementary School on Thursday, and proclaimed that the new school would have a family atmosphere.

When it opens in August 2010, the school will become Clayton County's first, and only, K-8 school. It will have a designed capacity of 1,275 students, according to re-districting plans on display at the meeting on Thursday. Jackson, who is currently the principal at North Clayton Middle School, will become the academy's principal on Jan. 1.

The K-8 school moniker comes from the fact that the school houses elementary-and middle-school-aged children in the same building, with the same central administrators.

"We are going to be one, big school," Jackson said. "We're going to teach the eighth-graders how to look out for, and take care of, the kindergartners ... It's going to be like having big brothers and big sisters at school."

The meeting on Thursday was the second of two public-comment sessions designed to gauge public sentiment on redistricting plans for the area. The first meeting was held on Tuesday at Lovejoy Middle School.

But, despite the intent of the meetings, most of the questions posed by parents to School System Chief Operations Officer Cephus Jackson (no relation to Clarence Jackson) focused mainly on how the Eddie J. White K-8 Academy would operate, rather than who would attend it.

River's Edge parent, Sue Jackson (no relation to either Clarence Jackson, or Cephus Jackson) said she wanted to know how teachers will be hired at the school, including which teachers might be moved from River's Edge to the new school.

Even though her son, a third-grader at River's Edge, will remain at his present school through the end of the fifth-grade, he will attend the Eddie J. White K-8 Academy for grades 6 through 8, she said.

"I would hope there's a balance, so they're not just taking all of the best teachers from one school and moving them to another," she said. "I would hope there's some thought being put into all of this."

The school will have two sets of attendance zones, one of which is for elementary school students, and the other for middle school students.

The proposed attendance boundaries split the lower portion of the county, using Panhandle and McDonough roads as guides. Elementary students living east of Panhandle Road would attend the K-8 school, while students living west of Panhandle Road would attend River's Edge Elementary School.

The proposed middle school boundaries have drawn the ire of one Clayton County Board of Education member, however. All students living south of McDonough Road, as well as students living in the southeast corner of the county, east of Tara Boulevard, and south of Freeman Road, will attend the K-8 school, under the current version of the plan.

When the plan was introduced at the Nov. 16 school board meeting, board member Pamela Adamson was critical of the plan to bus middle school students, who live in the southeast sector of the county, past Lovejoy Middle School to attend the K-8 school. Adamson represents the panhandle area. She was not present at the public-comment meeting on Thursday.

Chief Operations Officer Cephus Jackson said some hardship transfers will be allowed for families where it would be easier for a child to attend River's Edge, or Lovejoy, rather than the K-8 school

"I'm going to tell you, however, that there is probably not going to be a lot of transfers granted," Jackson said. "That would defeat the purpose of building a new school. One of the things that could happen, if we allow a lot of people to transfer, is we could still end up with trailers at these schools [River's Edge and Lovejoy], while we have a brand new building that is half-empty.

"I'm not going to allow that to happen," he added. "We're trying to put everyone in a permanent building."

River's Edge parent, Reginald Smith, said his daughter, who will be a fifth-grader at the K-8 school next year, will be one of those students being bused past Lovejoy Middle School. Smith said he does not have a problem with the attendance plan, and his daughter will remain at the (K-8) school when she reaches the sixth-grade.

"It's closer for us for elementary school," Smith said. "We're going to keep her there for middle school,since she would have already done the fifth-grade there. Plus, Lovejoy [Middle School] is an older school, and it's got a lot of classes in trailers right now. Also, if we keep her at that [K-8] school, she'll pretty much be able to stay with her friends."