published Friday, January 20th, 2012

School officials phase in Hill City students at Normal Park Museum Magnet School

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    Normal Park school in Chattanooga
    Photo by Kelly Wegel

School officials will guarantee five seats for Hill City residents at Normal Park Museum Magnet School under a phase-in zoning plan approved Thursday by the Hamilton County Board of Education.

The board also agreed with a plan to begin using a live lottery drawing for the district's 14 magnet schools.

The board voted 5-4 in November to affirm a 2007 decision and include the area of Bell and Spears avenues in Normal Park's zone, which draws students from a physical attendance zone and from across the district through the county's magnet school program.

That was a hotly contested decision that drew criticism from many Normal Park parents. In November, the board asked district administrators to come up with a plan slowly to add Hill City students to the attendance zone. Up to that point, Hill City neighborhood was zoned for Red Bank schools.

Karla Riddle, the district's director of innovative programs and magnet schools, said Hill City residents always would have a guaranteed five spots in kindergarten. If more than five students apply, the district will hold a separate lottery to choose spots.

Board member Joe Galloway previously had pitched a similar plan to Hill City residents, who said they wanted more than just the five spots. He asked that the plan continue to be examined in coming years, so the neighborhood isn't locked into just the five seats.

"I just want to move forward and get more of these kids in," he said.

District projections show a total of 100 available spots in kindergarten next year at Normal Park. Officials estimate about 70 zoned students will enter kindergarten, with another 30 or so siblings of current magnet students entering. Siblings of current magnet students are given first pick at seats under the district's magnet school policy. Officials also expect about five kindergartners from a new housing development, leaving only about five slots for Hill City residents.

Riddle said the five Hill City seats would take precedence over siblings of magnet students. Officials also will work to add more Hill City students into the school, as the number of students enrolling at Normal Park becomes clearer in the spring.

The district estimates that about 100 K-8 students live in Hill City, though it's unclear how many would want to attend Normal Park. Those students have the choice to continue attending schools in Red Bank.

Because of the decision Thursday, the board elected to move the magnet school deadline back to Feb. 7 to give Hill City residents more time to apply. That deadline, for all magnet schools, was moved from Jan. 31.

The board voted 8-0 on the plan with board member Jeffrey Wilson absent. But board member Rhonda Thurman said she didn't like that Hill City residents weren't informed of or involved in creating the plan.

"Is this news to the Hill City people?" Thurman said.

"Yes," yelled the Hill City contingent in the crowd.

Hill City resident Mitta Chestnutt said she was disappointed in the decision. She said only letting in five kindergartners each year doesn't meet the board's promise of a rezoning of the neighborhood.

"Basically today they went back on their promise again," she said. "They're going to try to let in as few students as possible."

Chestnutt, whose children attend Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, also took issue with the sibling policy for Hill City students. Siblings of magnet school students are given precedence no matter their age. But only younger siblings of Hill City students will get that privilege at first, officials said.

"They're not using the same rules across the board," Chestnutt said.

The board also agreed Thursday with a plan from Riddle to revise the lottery process for all 14 magnet schools. The lottery for such schools previously was computerized, but will move to a physical drawing starting in February.

The district piloted the live lottery in December for Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts. Because it was successful, Riddle said the process would be duplicated for the other dozen magnet schools on Feb. 28. That event will be streamed live online. The board asked for a transparent magnet school selection process at its November meeting.

about Kevin Hardy...

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 ...

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