Federal court to review plan for Metro schools mega-clusters

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 10:05pm

A federal court this week will review a proposal aimed at reversing what plaintiffs allege is racial segregation by eradicating Metro’s 12-cluster student assignment system and adopting a plan based on four mega-clusters.

The proposals, which would base new school clusters according to socioeconomic considerations, stem from a suit filed in 2009 by plaintiffs Jeffrey and Frances Spurlock — parents of an African-American student — against then-school board chair David Fox in response to the district’s controversial rezoning plan, implemented that year to create what supporters called “neighborhood schools.” Opponents contended the plan divided the district by race.

On Oct. 27, U.S. District Court Judge John Nixon ordered plaintiffs to prepare the rezoning proposal to help the court understand their positions. Plaintiffs’ attorney Larry Woods will speak on behalf of the proposals, first filed in early December, at a court hearing this Thursday. 

“We have proposed to set aside the Metro school system rezoning plan and replace it with a rezoning plan predicated on student diversity in schools, so that every school will have students from different economic and family income levels,” Woods said.

“Rich kids get to find out there are poor kids in this community,” he said. “Poor kids get to find out there’s rich kids in this community and a middle class. Therefore, students learn there are whole universes out there, other opportunities, other ways of life, other goals, that they may not be hearing about in their backyard playground.”

Metro attorney Kevin Klein, representing the school district, responded to the proposals in late December, calling it a “lengthy narrative arguing for the benefits of some undefined level of socioeconomic integration in school enrollments.”

“The proposal also makes a variety of vague, expansive, and mutually inconsistent suggestions for completely revamping the student assignment systems of the [school disrict],” Klein’s written response reads.

The defendants’ witness list for this week’s hearing includes Director of Schools Jesse Register; Alan Coverstone, who oversees charter schools for the district; Milan Mueller, president of The Omega Group, a consulting firm; and Leonard Stevens, former assistant to the chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

The original suit based its claims on the district’s new student assignment plan, which sought to give students the choice to attend schools closer to their home. The new plan had its most pronounced effect on the Pearl-Cohn and Hillwood clusters.

For decades, students who live in north Nashville near MetroCenter, primarily African-Americans, had bussed to the more affluent West Meade area to attend Hillwood. The new rezoning plan, approved by a 5-4 school board vote in 2008 and launched a year later, zoned these students to Pearl-Cohn, which has historically underperformed, and its feeder schools. The plan still gives students the option to attend their previously zoned schools –– hence, high school students in the affected north Nashville area can still attend Hillwood if they choose.

The Spurlocks’ daughter was rezoned from Bellevue Middle School to John Early Middle School in north Nashville. In past hearings, plaintiffs have alleged the daughter was not given the opportunity to attend her previously zoned school in Bellevue and was forced to her new north Nashville school.

Klein, in the defendant’s same December written response, pointed out the plaintiffs’ new proposal addresses socioeconomics instead of race.

“Plaintiffs’ actual claim in this case is that the Rezoning Plan intentionally discriminates against African-American students in Pearl-Cohn Cluster schools on the grounds of their race,” the response reads. “The proposal, however, does not address alleged racial discrimination in student assignment at all. Rather, the proposal focuses on ‘socioeconomic diversity,’ but socioeconomic status and race are not the same thing.”

The proposal attorney Woods outlines would create the following four mega-clusters: one combined of the current Hillsboro, Hillwood and Pearl-Cohn clusters; another combined of the current Antioch, Cane Ridge, Glencliff and Overton clusters; a third combined of the current McGavock and Stratford clusters; and a fourth combined of the current Hunters Lane, Maplewood and Whites Creek clusters.

In short, the idea would be to assign students of different socioeconomic backgrounds equally among Metro schools.

“You can look on a map and see that each of four clusters we’ve proposed contain neighborhoods and communities that we would regard as economically or financially well-to-do, some middle class and some less fortunate in terms of income and finances,” Woods said.

The proposal also seeks to create diversity among the district’s magnet schools. It asks that consideration be given to the establishing of academic middle schools in each cluster and guaranteeing these students admission to academic magnet high schools.

8 Comments on this post:

By: richgoose on 1/12/11 at 4:50

I liked the old days better! The rich kids went to school with rich kids and the middle class went to school with their own and of course the poor went to school with the poor.

I thought it worked out well. I went to school with the poor and learned a great deal about things that I wished I had never learned. I went to school with the middle class and learned all of the things that make for a decent life and a good person.

In high school I went to school with the upper class and learned why they were rich and what ambition was all about. I also learned that they held the caste system in very high regard.

I cannot imagine having these three classes of kids together in one school especially a large school. I am not sure what you would learn other than fear,bias and a disregard for public education.

By: govskeptic on 1/12/11 at 4:54

As evidenced by our school systems nationwide, this Federal
Court interventions have made things worst not better. The
legal process and greety power grabs by both the Attorneys
and some Judges takes up far too many dollars and time while
the students continue to fall behind!

By: Nitzche on 1/12/11 at 9:48

Equal misery for all!! Larry Woods kids went to elite Private schools,hhhmmmm?

By: Siobhanne on 1/12/11 at 9:55

This sounds alot like social engineering, something I truly do not appreciate my tax dollars supporting. I'd much rather my tax dollars support a quality education that prepares children, whoever they are, to be academically competetive at the collegiate level.

I have notihing against anyone who is poor, black or both. We live in a very urban area where most of my neighbors for the past 20 yrs fall into these categories. If it was a problem, I would not have moved there. I do have a problem with schools that spend a huge amount of time and energy trying to develop ways to have perfectly balanced scales and make sure that above all else, Political Correctness will reign. Fact is, the cluster we are zoned to will really not change. Already plenty of poor and black kids. Spending more money on this would be redundant. Instead, use tax dollars to prepare these kids academically regardless of what part of town they live in.

By: Carol Williams on 1/12/11 at 10:14

Is Larry Woods donating his time? if not, is there an hourly incentive in prolonging this case as long as possible, whether just or unjust.

By: stlgtr55@yahoo.com on 1/12/11 at 11:36

We will never be equal. That is a myth politicians use to spend money and raise our taxes. Equal Rights for each individual is far more important and constructive than Equality for different groups of people.. There will always be rich, mid-class, and poor people. That is except for Socialist, Communist, regimes. Then we will only have rich and poor.

By: wolfwalker on 1/13/11 at 10:27

When I was in school in Nashville. The schools had kids whose parents were very well off, well off , middle class and and those with even less. We all got along, except for a few who thought they were above others. But we all made it through those days. It is called going up and learning how the world works. It is what we do with our lives that makes the world go 'round. The people know this, it is politicians who want to keep stirred up and the hate and mistrust going. LIVE AND LET LIVE LET NATURE BE YOUR TEACHER RESPECT THE LIVES OF YOUR FELLOW CREATURES.

By: bettysands1 on 1/13/11 at 7:45

Last year, 70% of ALL STUDENTS attending Metro Schools were economically disadvantaged (eligible for free or reduced lunch). There are no Metro Schools with all "rich kids" or all "middle class kids." Such schools only exist as private schools -- and in Larry Woods' imagination.

If you are curious about the level of economic diversity that already exist in every Metro School, it's on the Metro schools' website. Go to www.mnps.org and click on the "Schools" tab at the top of the page. Then click on any of the pull-down lists on the left (Elementary, Middle and High Schools) then click on "School Data." The percentage of students on free or reduced lunch is shown for every Metro school. There is no Metro School without students receiving free or reduced lunch..

Metro schools already have as much economic diversity as is reasonably possible without requiring very long bus rides. Plus, there are many, many schools open to all students.