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Hernando County will rezone schools to include new K-8

BROOKSVILLE — LaShawn Rush's family may soon be caught between two schools and a hard place.

Rush, who lives near Hexam Road in northwest Hernando, has a fifth-grader and two fourth-graders at Pine Grove Elementary in Brooksville. Next year, the older student will move to West Hernando Middle, right next door to Pine Grove.

Under a proposed rezoning plan, the fourth-graders next year would attend the K-8 school under construction on U.S. 19, north of Weeki Wachee. Only the school's elementary section will open next year, filling in the middle school grades starting in 2012, so Rush's three children might not ever be able to attend the same middle school.

An active volunteer at her kids' schools, Rush sighed and shook her head as she considered the logistics.

"If my children are split up, I'm not going to be able to be involved in everybody's schooling," Rush said. "That's a hardship for me."

Rush was one of about 50 parents who showed up Thursday night to a public meeting at Pine Grove to view the proposed new boundaries. She is also the kind of parent that Hernando school superintendent Bryan Blavatt had in mind when he opened the presentation with a disclaimer.

"When you redistrict, you do it for the benefit of all the children in the county," Blavatt told families gathered in the cafeteria, a map of the proposed zones perched on an easel nearby. "That doesn't always articulate into what's going to be best for your individual family."

The school, which has a turnkey price tag of $34 million, will help ease overcrowding at elementary schools throughout the district.

A rezoning committee composed of district staffers and a parent representative arrived at the recommended boundaries by deciding two alternate approaches would be problematic, Blavatt told parents.

The first would assign students strictly by proximity to schools and turn the magnet schools into neighborhood schools. But that made for massive zones for rural schools like Eastside Elementary and tiny zones for schools like Explorer K-8 in Spring Hill.

"You'd have huge travel times in some areas," Blavatt said.

The second scenario that kept magnet programs intact had the same problem. And both scenarios would have forced large numbers of students to move, Blavatt said.

The third strategy used geographic information software to balance boundaries with three main goals: minimize the number of current students affected; keep students as close to their schools as possible; and consider future growth patterns to minimize the scope of future boundary shifts.

The plan also considered socioeconomic patterns and aims to keep neighborhoods intact, planning and growth manager Amber Wheeler told parents.

"We really tried not to split your subdivision in half," Wheeler said.

The new boundaries would shift more than 1,100 elementary students and about 860 middle school students to new schools. That sounds like a high number, Wheeler said, but is relatively small considering the county's elementary student population numbers more than 10,000.

The boundaries for Pine Grove, Westside, Brooksville and Moton elementary schools would see the most significant changes. An estimated 586 students assigned to Pine Grove would move to the new school, 160 Westside students would move to the new school and 189 Moton students would move to Pine Grove.

The changes to middle school zones would take effect starting in 2012-13.

Blavatt stressed that the proposal is not set in stone, and the School Board, which has already given a tentative green light to the approach, will hash out details at workshop on Tuesday.

There may be a reprieve for parents like Rush: Current fourth-graders might be allowed to stay at their present schools next year, though families would probably have to provide transportation. Parents also can ask for a school reassignment if they can show their child's current assignment poses a hardship.

Blavatt led a similar meeting last month at Westside Elementary, where about two dozen parents showed up. District officials met little resistance at either meeting.

Ken Newhall of Weeki Wachee has twins attending first grade at Pine Grove. He was leery about the youngsters moving to a K-8, where young elementary students and more mature middle schoolers share buses and a campus, so he was glad to find out the plan calls for phasing in the middle school grades.

Newhall was also happy to hear his kids, who leave the house at 8 a.m. and don't return until 5 p.m., will spend less time on the bus.

He said he left Thursday's meeting generally satisfied with the district's handling of the rezoning task so far.

"They've been very open and nice," he said.

Near the end of the meeting, Blavatt tried to encourage families to focus on the positive.

"Kids will be able to make an identity for the new school," he said. "It will be exciting."

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

School rezoning: What's next?

The School Board will consider the proposed elementary and middle school boundaries at a workshop slated for 2 p.m. Tuesday at the district office, 919 N Broad St. A formal vote on the boundaries is tentatively set for the board's regular meeting on Feb. 15.

For information on the rezoning process and to view the proposed attendance boundaries, go to www.hernandoschools.org and look for the "Attendance Boundary Changes Information" link in the center of the page. Or, call the district office at (352) 797-7000.

Larger, more detailed maps are available for review at each elementary and middle school.

Hernando County will rezone schools to include new K-8 01/07/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 7, 2011 8:27pm]
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