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School Board decides to ‘not’ decide

Knox County School Board members showed at a board workshop, held Monday, Dec. 4, at Fulton High School, they could make the tough decisions.

On recommendation of Supt. Charles Q. Lindsey, its decision was not to decide.

The group postponed action on a controversial proposed attendance zone for the new Hardin Valley High School. The Board will await the spring thaw before deciding on Lindsey’s recommendation that mostly omits Farragut school patrons from attending HVHS, being built now in northwest Knox County.

The Board, since 2004, has worked toward building $50 million HVHS to ease crowding at Farragut, Bearden and Karns high schools. But few school-aged children live near the campus, so Knox County Schools system proposed a zone drawing students from peripheral areas such as Farragut, to boost HVHS student body above 1,000. Board members want no more than 1,800 to attend HVHS, though it’s built for 2,200 capacity.

Since Nov. 20, when Lindsey proposed an odd-shaped attendance zone, many patrons have complained about inclusion. Zoning for HVHS means for many daily 20-mile round-trips over congested Pellissippi Parkway. Many say they live near Farragut-Concord; they work, shop and worship in Farragut and want all their children to attend Farragut schools.

The Board had planned to decide zone parameters Wednesday, Dec. 6, but Lindsey urged them to delay a decision pending “more complete information” answering “valid questions” raised by patrons.

“It’s no one’s fault,” Lindsey told the Board and a crowd of 150 at Fulton High School. “But we can’t answer all these questions completely.”

Lindsey said his office fielded hundreds of letters and e-mails ranging from patrons asking to be included in an HVHS zone to many who said, “Don’t take me. I don’t want to go” to HVHS.

Several parents criticized HVHS operating hours, proposed to start at 9 a.m., so fewer students would encounter congested traffic. Some said Monday their commute to HVHS was as far as they’d driven to Fulton High.

Lindsey said delaying a zoning decision, nearer May, lets KCS hire a HVHS principal, involved in school decisions. Delay also ensures HVHS’s curriculum will be “good as any other high school,” and lets the district better understand, through budgeting processes, HVHS costs. A delay, Lindsey said, also lets the Board consider HVHS as a “full-choice” school whose programs may appeal to students district-wide.

Most public forum speakers approved delay. But Ninth District Board member Robert Bratton said he couldn’t approve any HVHS “specialized curriculum” that competed with magnet schools. Second District board member Indya Kincannon said the district needs a “comprehensive vision” for curricula — “not just a plan for HVHS or magnets.”

Sixth District Board member Thomas Deakins said he received more than 1,000 e-mails from patrons expressing zoning concerns. Despite its 18-month hearing process, Deakins said, the Board should “hold off and make the best decision possible” — not risk “making a decision that affects folks the wrong way.”

A dozen parents spoke Monday about hazards of adding school buses and teenaged drivers to traffic along busy Pellissippi Parkway, especially if areas near A.L. Lotts Elementary and West Valley Middle schools are zoned for HVHS.

Others feared younger children, zoned for HVHS, would be unable to follow elder siblings, “grandfathered in,” to FHS. Rezoning, some said, would split up classmates and would not resolve FHS crowding.

Single parents said splitting siblings among FHS, HVHS and Bearden High School meant they must choose which children’s high school activities, miles apart, they will support.

Umang Shukla of Sugarwood Drive, an FHS senior who’s student body president, said older FHS students like him would be “grandfathered in” at FHS.

“I will not be affected, but this is still important to me,” he added. Shukla said he enjoys extra-curricular activities, such as vocal ensemble, that HVHS may not offer. He called FHS parental involvement key to its continued academic and athletic success.

“It heartens me to see the Board’s top [priority] is to protect academic programs,” Shukla said. “We also want to see HVHS operating, but not at other schools’ expense.” HVHS students, he said, should be allowed to build their own academic and athletic traditions. To applause, he urged board members to remember they were dealing with “individual students, not demographics.”

Board Chairman Karen Carson said no Board vote was needed to delay Monday’s zoning vote. Lindsey fielded the zoning proposal, she said, so he could withdraw it from the Dec. 6 Board agenda with no Board action needed.


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