Gwinnett school redistricting plan draws parent concerns

Some Gwinnett County parents are not pleased with the district’s plans to change where their children will attend school next school year. More than 13,000 students — about 8 percent of the county’s enrollment — could attend new or different schools next school year because of redistricting.

Concerns include that some schools will still be overcrowded, students are being transferred to schools with lower scores on a state rating system, and some students will have to travel slightly farther to school.

Today is the deadline for anyone to return forms detailing their thoughts about the plans. The school board is scheduled to vote on redistricting in December.

Melia Lesko, Peachtree Elementary School’s PTA co-president, said the plans do not sufficiently address overcrowding at her daughter’s school. The district, she said, plans to send 81 students from Peachtree Elementary to Simpson Elementary School. Peachtree Elementary has more than 1,800 students. Simpson Elementary has about 800 students.

“Taking 81 students from a school that’s over capacity to a school that’s under capacity, that seems pretty weak,” Lesko said.

Steve Flynt, Gwinnett’s chief strategy and performance officer, has heard the complaints and said another elementary school scheduled to open in 2017 should further ease overcrowding at Peachtree Elementary.

Gwinnett, Georgia’s largest school district, has grown by about 8,000 students over the past two years, district officials said. The district plans to open a new high school, a new middle school and two new elementary schools in August 2015 to accommodate the growth — thus the redistricting.

A group of parents created a Facebook page outlining objections. A handful of them attended a school board meeting to voice their concerns. District officials will review the feedback and possibly make changes.

“It’s a difficult process for those who are changing schools,” Flynt said.

Beth Tuttle is worried about the academic performance at Richards Middle School, where her daughter, a straight-A student in Gwin Oaks Elementary School’s gifted program, is being reassigned. Richards’ state College and Career Ready Peformance Index score is 15 points lower than the score of the school she was scheduled to attend.

“If I take my all-A student and put her in a school with a lower rating, is she expected to perform at a lower standard?” Tuttle asked.

Flynt said the district does not consider CCRPI scores or demographics during redistricting. Gwinnett has a process that allows some students to stay at a particular school, but the parent or guardian must provide transportation for the student.

Some parents say transportation is a problem. Ann Malkoc, whose son is a second-grader at Bethesda Elementary School, noted he would be reassigned to Alford Elementary, which is more than a half-mile farther away. Malkoc doesn't believe it's practical, one of several reasons she doesn't support the proposed changes.

“I’ve been over the moon about (Bethesda) and the quality of instruction,” Malkoc said. “It breaks my heart to have to leave that school.”