CHARLOTTE – Some Ballantyne parents are trying to convince Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to abandon plans for a K-8 school at Rea Farms in favor of easing overcrowding at Community House and Jay M. Robinson middle schools.
The Rea Farms project was described in the 2013 bond as a K-8 magnet school focused on science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM), as well as a relief school for Community House and Jay M. Robinson and their feeder schools.
The school is scheduled to open in fall 2020 with 54 classrooms and a capacity of 1,080 students.
“I think we all can agree that what this community looked like and may have needed in 2013 is very different from what we need today,” said Brooke Koeppel, the mother of three children attending Polo Ridge Elementary School.
Koeppel was among 11 parents to address the CMS school board April 9 regarding overcrowding at Ballantyne schools or the future school at Rea Farms.
CMS received a wide range of suggestions about the school’s structure and grade configuration during community input sessions March 21 and April 8, according to Akeshia Craven-Howell, assistant superintendent for school options and design.
“There were several comments that questioned the wisdom of having magnet seats given the significant need for relief among the surrounding schools,” Craven-Howell told the school board on April 9.
On the other hand, CMS has also heard interest in making the school a full magnet program.
CMS will use community input to develop scenarios for the Rea Farms attendance boundary. Those will be shared with the school board on April 23. The district will make a recommendation to the school board in May.
School board member Rhonda Cheek acknowledged the concerns of parents hoping for a relief school.
“We really need to rethink where we were in 2013, because so much has changed,” Cheek said, noting how the board has previously changed course over a long bond cycle due to the recession. “We need to honor what we have committed to in the bond, which was a relief school, but it may not need to necessarily look like we thought it was going to look like in 2013. I just urge the staff and the board to be open-minded and make sure we are delivering the community what they need.”
As an at-large school board member, Elyse Dashew said she pays attention not just to the many trade-offs involved in making difficult decisions, but also the cascading effects that alter other areas of the county.
Superintendent Clayton Wilcox echoed Dashew’s insight by noting other areas of the county also have overcrowding and other concerns on par with it. However, his staff and the board have encouraged him to think differently about such issues.
“Quite frankly, I wasn’t here when this decision was made in 2000-whenever when this decision was made,” Wilcox said. “I’m struggling with some of the decisions that were made myself.”
School board member Sean Strain thanked school staff and the community for the work they’re doing to ensure the opening of Rea Farms is consistent with the needs and wants of the community.
“We need the community’s support of the new school at Rea Farms as we do with all of our schools,” Strain said. “I look forward to continuing to work with our local community in the Ballantyne-Providence area to make sure we listen, respond and deliver a facility and program that is supported and well adopted by the community that it serves.”