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School plan shifts students to S.C.

Students at two Corridor G elementary schools could soon be attending South Charleston Middle School as part of an effort to alleviate overcrowding.

Kanawha County school officials are considering making Ruthlawn and Alum Creek elementary schools part of the South Charleston attendance area.

Jane Roberts, assistance superintendent for elementary education, said it's not a done deal, but it's one idea school officials think could unpack classrooms at John Adams Middle and George Washington High schools.

Roberts said the county is considering other options; it has unsuccessfully lobbied for money from the state School Building Authority to build an addition at John Adams for several years, and Roberts said they're trying again this year.

There are still many conversations to be had before any action is taken, Roberts said. The county will meet with parent and school representatives soon to discuss options, she said.

But redistricting would certainly free up some space at John Adams, she said.

"You would be taking out 50 to 60, 70 kids somewhere around that range every year," she said, referencing the number of sixth-graders who would not go to John Adams. "So over a three year period, you then decrease the enrollment by 150 kids or so."

George Washington is considered Kanawha County's magnet school for Advanced Placement classes, offering the most AP classes of any school in the county.

Last year, GW offered 17 AP classes for students. South Charleston had only one AP calculus class, but offered 15 academically challenging International Baccalaureate courses.

Last spring, controversy erupted after Superintendent Ron Duerring placed a ban on out-of-area transfers to the school to address overcrowding and rising student-teacher ratios. George Washington students protested the decision, but board members declined to reverse Duerring.

Alum Creek Principal Karen Scherr doesn't like the latest redistricting proposal. She said parents in her school's attendance area have come to expect their children will one day attend John Adams and George Washington.

Alum Creek is a Title I school and many of the students there come from lower-income families. Scherr said those students benefit from a "strong middle class peer group."

She said many Alum Creek students have gone to South Charleston Middle and done well, however. But she said the two schools have different atmospheres.

"My concern is that children from a Title I school, that they do need a strong influence of middle class values," Scherr said.

Title I schools are eligible for extra federal funding because they have a large number of children with little means. Scherr said many of her students don't come from strong, enriching backgrounds, and they need to be in an environment that offers more.

South Charleston Middle Principal Henry Graves found those statements baffling.

"I don't know what she's talking about," Graves said Friday in a phone interview. "I do know that we met (Adequate Yearly Progress) for the last eight years, ever since No Child Left Behind has been part of legislation."

He said he wasn't in the loop with any of the redistricting discussion. There are 379 students at his school this year and room for plenty more, he said.

He's proud of the job he and his teachers have done. People are entitled to their own opinion he said, but he thinks the idea of moving to a different school has people a little worked up.

"Some people just don't like change and they'll just say anything," Graves said.

When the transfer ban at GW was controversial last spring, Ruthlawn parents became concerned and wrote a letter to the Kanawha school board asking to be designated as an official feeder school for John Adams and George Washington. Traditionally, families in the area have been able to choose between that district or the South Charleston district.

The area has been under consideration for redistricting time after time for the past couple of decades.

In 1991, an attendance plan for the George Washington area proposed closing both Ruthlawn and Oakwood elementaries. Oakwood eventually was closed but Ruthlawn remained because the Corridor G population kept growing.

In 1997, the school board temporarily blocked Alum Creek and Ruthlawn students from attending John Adams because of overcrowding concerns. The twist with that situation was that students were to attend South Charleston Middle School but remained in the George Washington attendance area for high school, meaning siblings could wind up being shuffled between districts.

Eventually, the school board backed down and let Ruthlawn and Alum Creek students go to John Adams, but with misgivings.

"I think that there has been a longtime problem with Ruthlawn and Alum Creek," then-board member Priscilla Haden said in 1997.

Now the situation has arisen again.

Brandi Jamerson is the mother of students at Ruthlawn and John Adams. She said there's nothing wrong with South Charleston, but that her family chose to live near Corridor G because of the South Hills school districts.

Originally from Charleston, the Jamersons decided to move back home from Cleveland about a year ago. They wanted to live in an area where their children would attend George Washington High.

"We chose a subdivision, a house, an area all based on where our children could attend school," she said.

"If we had not been able to get into the GW district, we would have invested in Putnam County," she said.

If families in her area are redistricted into the South Charleston attendance area, Jamerson thinks her property value will plummet. She knows her neighbors share those fears, and she thinks many are discussing moving or putting their children in private schools. She also has concerns about trying to transport her three children to three different schools that aren't very close to one another.

She and other parents want to discuss other options with the county. Ruthlawn Principal Natalie Laliberty recently spoke with parents who want to present other options to the school board. They recognize there might be an overcrowding issue in South Hills, but Laliberty said parents want to try and find an option that doesn't involve leaving the area.

Neighboring schools' classrooms are bulging at the seams.

The county already announced it was looking into redistricting for Overbrook Elementary School, in order to send some of the students to Kenna and Holz elementary schools. A policy also prohibits any more out-of-area students from transferring to George Washington, the only high school in the county where such a policy is in place.

Both Laliberty and Scherr said their schools are not crowded.

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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