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Officials hope to redistrict three schools

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - School officials are confident redistricting is the best way to resolve overcrowding in a South Hills elementary school.

"This is the best scenario we can come up with," Superintendent Ron Duerring said.

Since the start of the school year, parents from Overbrook Elementary School have complained about cramped classrooms. That discussion continued Thursday night, as roughly 65 parents and teachers met in the school's multipurpose rooms for a 90-minute conversation about options presented by the school system.

Overbrook Principal Barbara Floren said there are 482 students at the school. Classes are full, lunch lines often extend into the hallways and students are forced to share textbooks, Eugenie Taylor, president of the school's Parent Teacher Organization, told the school board earlier this month.

Taylor and Local School Improvement Council Chairman Aaron Alexander walked the parents through changes presented by school system officials. There are proposed new boundaries, discussions about policy changes and transportation issues to consider, the group agreed.

"It definitely shows how big a problem it really is, and how tough it's going to be to solve it," said Sam Sutton, a parent of two current Overbrook students who attended the meeting with his wife, Melinda.

Board member Becky Jordon agreed there is no quick fix, but redistricting was more than likely for next year. She said a plan would be finalized soon, but there are still many details that need to be finalized.  

Those details were the focus of heated discussions at the meeting. Parents are concerned about students whose parents have "ghost addresses" - residences in the school's attendance area in which families don't actually live - and other factors that allow children from outside South Hills to attend school in the area.

Bus routes and potential curriculum and funding changes that could result from redistricting were also a concern.

There is still plenty of time to discuss the details of any changes, said Jane Roberts, assistant superintendent for elementary schools. For example, she said she knows there is no consensus as to whether the redistricting should happen all at once or if the plan should be phased in gradually, she said.

She acknowledged receiving quite a few calls about the county's sibling and out-of-area transfer policies. As of this year, students with a sibling at a certain school are automatically allowed to attend that school, regardless of where the family resides.

This generally affects families who move but do not want to send their children to separate schools.

That portion of the policy also applies to the out-of-area rule: if families start out in an area and then move, parents can choose to drive their children back to the school in the original area.

Although Roberts said there have been numerous complaints about this issue, changing it wouldn't have a great effect on overcrowding.

"The number of children who are out of area are a drop in the bucket," she said.

She thinks only two Overbrook students are there because of the sibling policy.

The school system has created a map that includes the proposed changes, but Roberts said it also requires board approval.

The map shows two sections of Overbrook's current attendance area that would be shifted to Holz or Kenna. The proposed changes would move some residents on Upper and Lower Ridgeway roads, Loudon Heights Road, Lindy Road and others from Overbrook to Holz.

Residents near Rolling Hills Circle, Greystone Road and Lakeview Road would move from Overbrook to Kenna.

An interactive map of the current and proposed attendance areas is available at dailymail.com.

The changes would send 35 to 38 students from Overbrook to Kenna or Holz, Roberts said. The additional students would put Kenna close to capacity and increase overall class sizes at both schools, she said.

"Their class sizes range right now from 13 to 21 at Kenna, and Holz is about 16 to 22. Redistricting would put them more in the 17 to 25 kind of range," Roberts said.

According to data on the state Department of Education website, Kenna had an enrollment of 182 last year and Holz, 285.  

The maps and school sizes were discussed thoroughly as well Thursday night. Even after the examination and questions, it wasn't exactly clear to everyone how redistricting would affect their particular address.

"We looked at that map pretty closely, and our street's not on there," Sutton said, adding that he thinks his home would still fall in the Overbrook attendance area.

Principals at all three affected elementary schools are receptive to the plan, Roberts said. Another local school, Weberwood Elementary School, is not included in the plan because it's already full, Roberts said.

Both she and Duerring said redistricting will take work but could be a solution for years to come. However, there are already overcrowding issues at other South Hills schools: Ruthlawn Elementary School parents recently voiced concerns about proposed annexation into South Charleston, because they feared their students would not be able to attend John Adams Middle School.

John Adams is already bursting at the seams, and the county had to enact a policy that prevented any further transfers into the local George Washington High School. Considering these problems, Sutton and others at the meeting said a new school could be the only answer.

"The true solution is building," Sutton said.  

Jordon and fellow board members Pete Thaw and Bill Raglin said they could approve a redistricting plan that is done effectively and with community approval.

Any plan would need approval by the board and the state Department of Education, Roberts said.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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