Pasco school rezoning hearing reveals image problem for some schools
As parents made their case Tuesday not to have their children reassigned from one Pasco County school to another, many spoke of their concerns for disrupted education, splits from longtime friends and other undesired effects.
One group of parents used the time to blast the schools their Deer Park neighborhoods were slated to move into -- Gulf Middle and Gulf High.
Shannon Hancock, who works in New Port Richey, said she wouldn't feel safe sending her children to Gulf instead of River Ridge middle and high.
"I see the gangs, I see the crime, I see the violence, I see the drugs," Hancock, a nurse at Morton Plant North Bay, told the School Board. "My kids are not going to go there."
Several others echoed similar concerns, listing recent arrests and school lockdowns as problems they don't want their children to deal with.
"Our children are the sacrificial lambs in all this," parent Kathy Spenard told the board. "We are not being sent to a comparable school educationally or, more important, security-wise. We chose these middle class neighborhoods where we live in order to keep our children as safe as possible."
They sent emails reiterating their views to board members and the superintendent in the days leading up to the public hearing. Parent Carla Stevens wrote that the thought of sending her child to Gulf Middle "scares me so much."
Such commentary startled some observers, who deemed it "not nice," "snobbery" and worse. It offended School Board members, with Colleen Beaudoin making time to list a variety of positive programs the schools offer, from middle school drama to high school gaming design.
"There are lots of great things happening at Gulf Middle and Gulf High," Beaudoin said. "It's disheartening to hear everyone knocking them."
After seeing the emails, and before the hearing, superintendent Kurt Browning contacted Gulf Middle principal Jason Joens -- who has widely received credit for vast improvements at the school -- to reassure him of the district's support. Joens had expressed dismay after listening to similar disparaging comments at a town hall meeting about school zones earlier in the fall.
"I know you and your team have worked hard at changing the culture and the outcome of GMS," Browning wrote. "It angers me parents make these over generalized statements about how bad a school is when they have never set foot on the campus. I am confident that you can win most of them over. When rezoning is complete, I want to sit down with you and [Gulf High principal] Kim [Davis] to develop some strategies on reaching these students and parents."
Deputy superintendent Ray Gadd said Wednesday that high-level district officials have already planned visits to the schools to assess where improvements can be made, and to area home developers, to do a better job informing people about the positive aspects of the schools.
He added that the people casting aspersions at Gulf middle and high neighborhoods might think twice, noting, for example, that the number of sexual predators and offenders listed within the River Ridge attendance zone boundary is only three less than in the Gulf High zone.
"People in that room think that over there, on the other side of that line, the world is a really bad place to live but over here everything is peachy, they need to take a closer look at the data," Gadd said.