Alicia Cooper bought a house in a neighborhood zoned for Elizabeth Lane Elementary School specifically so her preschool-age son could start kindergarten there. Now, her son could be forced to attend Lansdowne Elementary School.
In 2017, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education approved an $800 million bond to provide relief to overcrowded schools through construction and renovation projects. The project would build a new 45-classroom building for Lansdowne Elementary to provide relief for Elizabeth Lane, which has more than 1,000 students enrolled and uses mobile classrooms to manage overcrowding. Lansdowne has just over half of that, with 554 students enrolled.
To provide relief, CMS will need to draw a new map to determine which neighborhoods will be redistricted to Lansdowne Elementary when the expansion is complete in fall 2021, the same time Cooper’s son will enter kindergarten. The board has held two community meetings to receive feedback from parents like Cooper, who want to keep their children at Elizabeth Lane.
“I want to keep an open mind and go with the flow, but my husband and I made a huge investment,” Cooper said. “We didn’t choose other neighborhoods and nicer houses because we wanted to be in this school district area when we decided to move.”
CMS has offered parents two scenarios: Scenario Blue and Scenario Orange. In both scenarios, children at the school within the Matthews limits will not be affected by the rezoning and will stay at Elizabeth Lane.
Additionally, students entering fifth grade will be grandfathered in and get to attend the elementary school for their final year if they choose to do so. However, their younger siblings will have to switch schools.
Cooper said she is hoping for Scenario Blue to be the recommendation as that would keep her son at Elizabeth Lane for 2021. However, parents of children living in the Beverly Crest neighborhood were unhappy with Scenario Blue, as it would split up the neighborhood with some children attending Elizabeth Lane and some attending Lansdowne.
Both scenarios would decrease utilization at Elizabeth Lane from 154% to 125%. CMS Associate Superintendent Akeshia Craven-Howell said her team has looked at the maps using the priorities that the Board of Education wants to see in the schools, like socioeconomic diversity.
The differences between the scenarios are the boundary lines and the maximum increase in home-to-school distance. Scenario Blue has a maximum increase of 1.9 miles from the farthest point on the map, while Scenario Orange has a maximum increase of 2.7 miles.
“Redistricting is hard,” Craven-Howell said to the community, who expressed their concerns with both scenarios. “We recognize that and we know this will not be easy.”
Margaret Marshall, who represents CMS District 5, said she views both of the scenarios as equal.
“I think the nice thing is that they have looked at the priorities that the board has used to make decisions and have given very clear guidelines on how these fit in priorities, so these do seem very equal,” Marshall said. “So we will be weighing lots of things as we go… I know everybody loves their schools and it’s hard to move, but we have two great schools here and two great principals and two great staffs, so I am committed to make both of those schools incredible.”
Cooper said she was also concerned about the quality of the schools. Some parents expressed the sentiment that Elizabeth Lane was a higher-rated school than Lansdowne. Craven-Howell said she would look into bringing the principal of Lansdowne to the next meeting to discuss the learning curriculum.
During the meeting, Cooper asked if CMS would be able to give first-choice priority to those who will be rezoned. She said there are other schools within CMS she would rather send her son to. Craven-Howell said this would not be possible.
“I really wish they would consider giving people that are being rezoned first-choice school options because I know that CMS has Montessori schools and language schools that I would be interested in sending my son to if he can’t go to Elizabeth Lane,” Cooper said.
Craven-Howell informed the community that CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston said he would only make a recommendation to redistrict the elementary schools, allowing all children to attend South Charlotte Middle School and Providence High School instead of making some attend McClintock Middle School and East Meck High School. Parents applauded this announcement and expressed relief, but some had concerns about the new high school that will be built as part of the 2017 bond.
Craven-Howell said the new high school is intended to provide relief for students at Ardrey Kell and South Meck high schools, so it will probably not affect the Elizabeth Lane community. Right now, CMS does not anticipate this changing, but it could in the future.
CMS hopes to issue a final decision on the zoning districts by May 2020 to give families a full summer and school year to prepare for the change, according to Craven-Howell.
“I think it’s nice that they’re doing this early so we can either move or look at other options for my first son,” Cooper said.
Craven-Howell said she will relay the feedback given at the meeting to the superintendent and board members. Adjustments may be made to the scenarios.
CMS will hold a public hearing regarding the matter at its meeting on Jan. 13 or 27. The exact date will be announced before winter break, Craven-Howell said.
“I don’t think I will feel better about this until I know the final decision,” Cooper said. “That way I can celebrate, I can accept it or I can start looking at what else is out there.”