School Board wants to know how rezoning will affect diversity

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 1:06pm

Director of Schools Jesse Register’s goal of getting a response from every Metro parent affected by the rezoning plan has been reached. Families have made their decisions, and the Board of Education learned the final results on Tuesday.

However, school board members now want to know how those choices will affect diversity at schools altered by the plan.

Board member Sharon Gentry, who represents North Nashville, said this is information the community wants. And Alan Coverstone, who represents Bellevue, said data about individual student choices is only part of the picture.

“I think the bigger report on the outcome of all of the choice options is more interesting. This is a small piece of a bigger strategy,” Coverstone said.

Register said the demographics of Metro schools affected by the rezoning plan will fluctuate up until school starts, making real-time demographic updates difficult. Many of those in the affected populations of students tend to be fairly mobile, he said, adding complications.

With the information available, however, board members — including proponents and opponents of the plan — said current data about the choices Metro parents are making indicate that the diversity of rezoning-affected schools won’t suffer as much as had been feared.

For example, about half the students who had the option of choosing to be bussed to Bellevue’s Hillwood Comprehensive High, rather than attending the neighborhood option of Pearl-Cohn Business Magnet, chose Hillwood. Most of those students are black and economically disadvantaged.

When the plan was proposed, big community concerns were generated by projected changes in the Hillwood cluster — at Hillwood High, the percentage of black students attending the school stood to shrink from 49 to 24 percent, based on district estimates. With half the affected students choosing to attend Hillwood, the demographic impact is correspondingly less significant.

Board member Ed Kindall, a vocal opponent of the rezoning plan, said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the numbers of students choosing to continue taking the option of attending school outside their neighborhoods.

It appears to him that district families were able to make informed choices, which he attributes in large part to the willingness of district staff to visit families door-to-door and provide information about free transportation. Such an effort must be made every year the plan is in effect, Kindall said.

With the high level of response, Kindall said the information currently available indicates that racial and economic diversity at schools won’t be as affected by the rezoning plan as he had feared.

Board member Mark North, chair of the task force that created the plan, said the district’s communication effort is exactly what the task force had in mind.

“The plan is not a detriment to diversity in the school system,” North said.

Visit mnps.org for more information about choices associated with the rezoning plan.