Parents question plan to expand Julia Green Elementary School

Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 9:05pm

Everyone has great things to say about Julia Green Elementary School. Who wouldn’t?

At a time when Metro’s public schools don’t always garner high praise, parents here speak glowingly about what goes on inside their Green Hills-area school. Teachers receive high marks, and parents are involved in the classroom, with some likening Julia Green to the type of community school they say isn’t so common these days.

Set in an affluent neighborhood off Hobbs Road, its building underwent an impressive cosmetic makeover in recent years, thanks to millions of private donations led by Nashville’s Frist family. But student achievement is Julia Green’s greatest attribute. The school consistently ranks atop the district’s highest-performing list in state-mandated TCAP tests.

“Julia Green is an amazing school,” said Haley Dale, the parent of a Julia Green kindergartner, citing satisfaction with the school’s parental participation, teachers and curriculum.

But parents like Dale are questioning Metro Nashville Public Schools’ long-term plan to expand the school through the construction of 12 additional classrooms to address Julia Green’s rapid growth, a scenario many learned about at a March meeting with school district officials. Though the projected $2.8 million building addition isn’t finalized or appropriated, the subject has nonetheless dominated chatter there.

In short time, Julia Green has mushroomed from a student body of 412 just four years ago to a projected enrollment of 626 next school year. Five portable classrooms are currently used to handle the overflow, and one more will be utilized next year. The growth trajectory is only expected to continue, a trend that would follow the Hillsboro cluster’s overall projected increase of 1,200 elementary school students over the next seven years.

On the surface, expansion might seem logical.

Stephanie Edwards, parent of a rising third-grader and a kindergartner, however, called the plan a “Band-Aid approach.” On top of a host of other concerns about a future addition — ranging from snarled traffic to diminished educational quality — many parents worry that the expansion wouldn’t actually solve the problem, based on estimates of future enrollment.

“Twelve classrooms — they could finish that construction, and we would still need portables if those numbers held true,” said Mary Pierce, who heads the school’s parent-teacher organization. “It’s been a tough issue within the Julia Green community.”

In this upscale area — where the rate of public-versus-private schooling runs about 50-50 among children — parents are looking for other solutions to overcrowded schools. They’re frustrated. Some fear future zoning and student assignment changes. And many have their eyes on a proposed Metro charter school called Great Hearts Academies, subject to school board approval later this month. Taking advantage of the state’s new open enrollment law, the school would act as Metro’s first charter to cater to Green Hills students.

In the end, the unrest at Julia Green is likely just the beginning of a process to grapple with growth within the Hillsboro cluster, which includes Julia Green, and another challenge: satisfying a part of the county that often turns away from the public schools system in favor of private education.

 

 

Though expansion requires forthcoming feasibility and traffic studies, a site plan and funding, the project has found a preliminary place in Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed capital-spending plan for the next fiscal year. After detailing a litany of school infrastructure investments in booming southeastern Davidson County in his State of Metro address earlier this month, the mayor added a footnote involving Julia Green. A slice of his proposed $300 million capital plan sets aside funds to purchase two small residential lots east of Julia Green for the school’s future expansion.

In unveiling these intentions for Julia Green, the mayor stepped into controversy.

“It’s a hot topic for lots of different reasons,” Julia Green principal Robin Cayce told The City Paper. “It has an impact on the entire community. Growth of any kind does.”

Logistically, many Julia Green expansion concerns are centered on increasing the size of a school that some parents say is already “landlocked,” with limited parking. Green Hills traffic is already notorious, and the influx of more students — to as many as 750 — would worsen the long lines of backed-up cars as parents drop off and pick up their children. Skeptics say the school already has a scarcity of green space and playground space. An additional school wing would reduce the size of those areas further.

Opposition is pitted against blueprints for an expansion that still don’t exist. Nonetheless, parents have already started to draw assumptions.

Karen Meredith, who has a first-grade daughter at Julia Green, said she worries about the effect a larger school could have on the quality of education. She fears time spent on things like art, physical education and music would have to be reduced.

“Other things will be sacrificed in our education if we go up to that high of a number,” Meredith said. She added that the district must find “alternatives” for the area.

Meredith was one of dozens of parents — many from the Hillsboro cluster — who spoke out at school board public hearing last week in favor of Great Hearts, an Arizona-based charter organization that many parents say could help ease the capacity pressure. A competing faction of parents has questioned Great Hearts’ commitment to racial diversity.

“Charter schools must be embraced in our town,” Meredith said. “We’ve got to have options for parents … if schools become overcrowded and our children’s education starts to suffer. Right now, we really have none.”

Metro school officials say enrollment in Davidson County elementary schools ranges from fewer than 300 students to as many as 900. Even with an expansion, Julia Green would fall within that range.

Each year, MNPS outlines what amounts to a wish list to address building and other infrastructure needs, which the mayor and Metro Council must decide whether to fund. Metro school officials use a ranking system to decide which projects to undertake first. This year, Dean has proposed $100 million in capital
spending for schools. While the mayor has set aside funds for property acquisition, dollars for a future Julia Green expansion would come during a later year.

 

 

School board member Michael Hayes, whose district includes Green Hills, said he’s unsure whether one school size is better than others at the elementary school level, adding that he hopes the district identifies the “highest and best standard” for Julia Green.

Along with Julia Green, the cluster that feeds into Hillsboro High School includes Percy Priest, Carter-Lawrence, Eakin, Glendale Spanish Immersion and Sylvan Park elementary schools.

Hayes said schools throughout the cluster are operating “at or very near capacity,” with Julia Green and Percy Priest above capacity. Over the next five years, overall student enrollment among these elementary schools is projected to jump by more than 1,000.

“We’ve seen young families with children moving in who are making public schools their first choice,” Hayes said. He believes MNPS will have to find some way to create “more seats.”

“At some point, if there’s just so much growth in that cluster or in that school zone, you begin to consider a rezoning and changing the zone lines,” Hayes said. “As a district, I think that’s the least favorable route. People buy their houses sometimes based on school zoning. If you’ve got somebody who’s bought a house in Green Hills to go to Julia Green, you don’t want to tell them in a year that they’ve got to go somewhere else.”

Hayes, who served on a citizen-led steering committee that explored the idea of a charter school on Nashville’s west side last year, said charters are perhaps another way to “alleviate growth.” But he pointed out that applicants such as Great Hearts are not obligated to reveal their location during the application process.

According to Hayes, the district’s six-year capital plan has identified the old Stokes school building on Belmont Boulevard to become the site of a new elementary school. Metro school officials had reached a deal to sell the building to neighboring Lipscomb University in 2010, but the transaction was scratched after Hayes raised concerns about student growth in the area. He also said the long-term plan is to expand Percy Priest.

Some parents, however, are looking for a more comprehensive plan, not a piecemeal approach.

Shana Krumwiede, a Julia Green parent, said she’s “not unequivocally opposed” to expansion there. But she said there hasn’t been a “cohesive” effort to address growth. And if there is one, it hasn’t been communicated. “There doesn’t seem to be a broader vision or strategic plan to handle the growth across the cluster,” she said.

7 Comments on this post:

By: shinestx on 5/14/12 at 7:47

Gotta love the hypocrisy of the lefties who make Green Hills their comfy little enclave... love big government for everyone but themselves. They try to create their own "private" schools out of their local public schools and be very exclusive about it. This is about not expanding to allow those "undesirable" types from being able to attend Julia Green. Well, here's the message... send your kids to Ensworth or MBA or Harpeth Hall, like the rest of us outside of Green Hills are forced to do!

By: MMP on 5/14/12 at 8:03

Thank you, Joey. It's also important to note that while there are roughly 23 MNPS elementary schools with enrollment over 550, all but four sit on sites ranging from 9 to 17 acres, with the majority of those being ~12 acres. Julia Green is on 7.3 acres, and even with the adjacent lots purchased, the total would be 8.5 acres. The additional land is needed today, but it still won't meet the Metro Planning Commission guidelines for land requirements for an elementary school of our current size. MNPS is right that even with enrollment of 700+, JG will fall within their 300 - 900 student range, but it does not fall within the average range of acreage.

By: Askthequestion on 5/14/12 at 10:50

Is the real reason Julia Green is overcrowded because more young families are moving into the area and choosing public school? Maybe that's partly true, but the bigger reason is due to taking the greater Green Hills area being once divided among three elementary schools and changing it to just two--Julia Green and Percy Priest. Taking Glendale Spanish Immersion offline and making it a "choice" school has put this pressure on the cluster and this point is not for debate-- MNPS own reports show that more families in the Glendale Geographic Priority Zone are choosing JG or PPE over Glendale. Ironically, it's Glendale parents who are being vocal against the option of Great Hearts Academies citing diversity while their school sits with the lowest FRL in the district, and is a huge contributor to the overcrowding issue. Is Glendale operating near capacity? Yes, but nearly 30% of it students come in from outside the cluster via the lottery. There is just so much more to this story.....

By: firstworldproblems on 5/14/12 at 9:41

Oh please. Taxpayer money goes to all MNPS schools, therefore all schools should be treated equally. Julia Green is not a private school. It is not a haven where parents get to pick and choose which children are worthy of going to "their" school. Some of these parents are absolute snobs. If they are so angry, they should send their kids to private school. Are they aware of the conditions of public schools five minutes away from where they live?

I hope the district redraws zone lines and their children are sent to one of the "other" schools in Metro. One of the schools with moldy ceiling tiles, inch-long cockroaches, non-working air conditioners, ancient computers, books riddled with gang symbols, and technology that never works. Then maybe they can complain about that and the Frist family will donate millions of dollars to all of the schools that actually need to be renovated, rather than pouring money into a school that wasn't that bad in the first place.

Sorry if I find it hard to be sympathetic to the plight of upper-middle class families at the [literal] expense of the thousands of low-income children in our district who need it most. Yawn.

By: Rasputin72 on 5/15/12 at 6:30

The Julia Green situation is wonderful. However I am still trying to figure out why this school is an oasis within a quagmire of public school failure in Davidson County. Why has the NAACP allowed this school to become as white as snow? Why are these kids in Green Hills not being bussed into the squalor that exists in the underclass neighborhoods? Why are the underclass not being bussed into JULIA GREEN? HILLWOOD High School is an abomination of educational failure in a neighborhood just as white as JULIA GREEN.

The NAACP is asleep at the switch. Why have they not destroyed this school?

I laud whatever is holding the NAACP back. Neighborhood schools have always worked for the benefit of those who project higher standards for their children but I was of the impression that the NAACP had destroyed these schools. Yet here is JULIA GREEN in all of its regal splendor holding up their banner for educational success in public schools.

MY WORD INDEED!!!!

By: Moonglow1 on 5/15/12 at 7:39

Moonglow1: Well the NAACP has been active at Hillsboro which is diverse and located in Green Hills. And actually the Frist family could afford to donate and help other school districts. They have the money to do so. It is shameful that Metro Schools are in such terrible condition. They sound on par with those in a Third World country.

By: noitall on 5/15/12 at 10:44

In its infinite wisdom Metro wants to expand a school that is already too large in relation to the lot it sits on. To do that they want to acquire property in a zip code where property values are arguably the highest in the county. And even with the acquired property, the expanded school will still be lacking in playground/green space and parking.

But barely two months ago, Metro tore down the historic Ransom school building (only a few miles from Julia Green and also in the Hillsboro cluster) on property already owned by the city. And what about Stokes, also located in the Hillsboro cluster, which was shut down ten or so years ago but still standing? What am I missing here? Is there or was there ever a long-term plan?

Someone please fill me in on why any of this makes sense financially or otherwise? Maybe then I'll feel better about the necessity of the proposed property tax increase?