HOW THEY VOTED
Chip Baker: No
Everett Fairchild: No
Joe Galloway: Yes
Linda Mosley: No
George Ricks: Yes
David Testerman: Yes
Rhonda Thurman: Yes
Jeffrey Wilson: Yes
Mike Evatt : No
Residents of Hill City soon will be included in the highly prized zone for Normal Park Museum Magnet School.
The Hamilton County school board voted 5-4 Thursday evening to affirm a 2007 decision and include the area of Bell and Spears avenues into Normal Park's attendance zone. But not before plenty of discussion.
A Hill City parent and a parent of Normal Park students each were given 30 minutes to state their cases. In all, nearly 200 people -- dozens on either side of the issue -- packed the school board meeting room.
School board member Joe Galloway brought the Normal Park issue to the board last week, when members voted to hold a special meeting on the issue. The board voted in 2007 to include Hill City in Normal Park's zone. But in 2010, then-Superintendent Jim Scales said the zone couldn't widen because of an influx of parents moving into Normal Park's boundaries.
Scott Shaw, a parent of two Normal Park students, said the addition of Hill City students would cause overcrowding. It also would mean that fewer magnet students could be accepted into the school. He said the magnet process is responsible for bringing most of the diversity to the North Chattanooga school.
"If you bring in the Hill City people and all the people that come with that, you are going to destroy the magnet program," he said.
Shaw suggested that the recently resurrected debate over Normal Park was instigated by landowners, who hoped that a new school zoning would increase property values.
"I think everybody thought, or at least every reasonable person, thought this was over with," he said.
He said there could be no compromise on the issue. In fact, Shaw said the Normal Park attendance zone should be contracted, not widened.
"This is disturbing," school board member Jeffrey Wilson said. "My opinion is it is an issue of class."
Wilson noted that Normal Park students are generally wealthy and not racially diverse.
"I am no longer going to support a program that favors one group over another," he said.
Hill City resident Mitta Chestnutt asked the board to keep its 2007 promise. Currently, public school children in Hill City are bused several miles away to schools in Red Bank.
Living miles away from their children's school can be a barrier from involvement by Hill City parents, Chestnutt said.
"There's a misconception that because we're a low-income community, our parents don't care," she said.
Chestnutt asked the board to allow the 100 or so students of Hill City to be a part of Normal Park because they, too, recognize the excellence of the school.
"At the end of the day, a promise is a promise," she said.
She said Hill City parents would agree to a phased-in entrance into Normal Park, so as not to overwhelm the school.
The vote Thursday included an amendment that calls for a phased-in entrance of students. It also allows Hill City families to continue with Red Bank schools if they choose. School district administrators were charged with bringing back a plan to the board on how to phase in students.
While the two-hour meeting grew tense between the two groups, Normal Park Principal Jill Levine said any hard feelings wouldn't translate to Hill City students coming into Normal Park. The school will continue to provide for all students regardless of geography, she said.
"Any kid that walks through our doors is going to get an outstanding education," she said.
Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...