Before he began a question-and-answer session on proposed rezoning plans Thursday evening, Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith took a moment to caution parents.
“Folks, we’re adults. And we need to handle this in an adult manner,” he said.
After a presentation on the school system’s zoning proposal, Smith told the crowd at Ooltewah High School that principals felt disrespected by the course of a similar meeting on Tuesday at East Hamilton Middle/High School.
And the issue of rezoning has grown so tense that it led to a fight this week between two high school students at East Hamilton, Smith said, possibly leaving one student with a broken nose.
Some parents were so upset with the rezoning plans that they resorted to yelling during Tuesday’s three-hour meeting. And Smith said he didn’t want a similar environment on Thursday.
“You’re not going to get a reaction out of me,” he said. “I’m going to do my job.”
The meeting in Ooltewah had about half the attendance of Tuesday’s meeting. And while many parents questioned the plans and the process, the crowd was considerably calmer. Some parents expressed their acceptance of the rezone and asked other parents to throw their support behind their new schools.
The rezoning plan, which will soon go before the school board, is meant to relieve overcrowding at East Hamilton by moving students to Hunter Middle, Ooltewah Middle and Ooltewah High. Plans also call for the rezoning of about 10 elementary schools as the system builds two new elementaries in the area in coming years and works to free up space in overcrowded schools.
Chris DeLang, whose first-grade daughter is set to be rezoned from Westview Elementary, was one of several parents who asked Smith on Thursday to slow down the rezoning process. He said parents were so emotional because they were blind-sided and had no idea rezoning was even on the horizon.
“It is a visceral response because we’re shocked,” he said.
He said he bought his home about two years ago to be in the Westview and East Hamilton zones. Traveling to schools in Ooltewah will creates a disconnect and a hardship that doesn’t exist with his family’s current neighborhood school, he said.
Ryan Ledford, one of several parents who attended both of this week’s meetings, implored Smith to be more open about decision-making. During the question and answer session, he met the superintendent in the center aisle and presented him with a records request, seeking documents on the system’s zoning plans.
“At the end of the day, I don’t know how you’re making your decisions,” he said.
Ledford said he wasn’t satisfied with Smith’s answers and said he’s working with area residents to halt the rezoning process.
“I’ve walked door to door for two days. And I will continue to do so,” he said.
Smith said school board members would consider comments and hold conversations with each other and county commissioners before making a final decision. Some in the crowd were dismayed that only three board members — David Testerman, Linda Mosley and Jeffrey Wilson — were in attendance at Thursday’s meeting.
Debra Fisher, who has a 10th grade son at Ooltewah High, questioned whether the school can take in the planned several hundred rezoned students. She said she’s concerned that the rezone will cause overcrowding at Ooltewah High — a problem that was addressed there with the opening of East Hamilton three years ago.
Because her son already has several classes with 30 or more students, Fisher said she didn’t see how the school could comfortably take in so many more students.
“What about the students at this school?” she said. “Are we not creating a situation for overcrowding at this school?”
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 ...