About 60 parents and teachers got a chance to share their opinions and ask questions about the proposed changes to the East and West attendance zones last Wednesday.
School officials have recommended two changes to help equalize the racial balance between Thomson and Maxwell Elementary Schools. The attendance zones that split the north end of McDuffie County between the two schools could change. There is also a tuition proposal to allow out-of-county students to attend local schools.
"I thought it was a good meeting. I think we tried to honestly answer every question that came up," said Superintendent of Schools Ed Grisham. "Everybody who was there, whether they agreed with the proposed zone change or not, hopefully at least they had a little better understanding of why we are at this position now."
The public present at the meeting had several different reasons for attending. Some attended because their child may be affected by the zone change. Others were there because they had asked the board to look into the racial imbalance problem.
"It was pretty obvious that several of the people who were asking questions, their children were not going to be affected by the change," Dr. Grisham said. "But I guess they just had general interest in what was being proposed."
One of the issues that surfaced several times during the meeting was the Dearing attendance zone. According to Dearing Elementary Secretary Vickie Gheesling, the school has a racial makeup of 70.5 percent white, 22.6 percent black, 3.3 percent Hispanic, 2.9 percent multi-racial and 0.7 percent Asian.
According to Dr. Grisham, the board is not considering readjusting the Dearing zone because it serves a single geographic area of the county while the other two schools are about a mile from each other.
"The school is right in the middle (of the zone)," Dr. Grisham said. "Yes you could go in and carve out a predominately black section of Thomson and bus those kids out to Dearing, then conversely bus kids from the South end of the county where it's predominately white into one of the two city districts.
"(That way) you could further adjust balance, but to me that forces you into what I call forced bussing. ... I really don't think that's what this is all about."
The proposed change moves the line for the Thomson Elementary zone from Highway 17 South to Sweetwater Creek and North to the Augusta Highway. North of Thomson it would move from Highway 78 to Little Germany Creek and north to Fish Dam Road.
Maxwell Elementary's zone would be moved to include the area East of Cleveland Street, Gordon Street, White Oak Road and Harrison Road Bypass.
"When we considered this we knew that it wouldn't matter if you only moved one block in one road. You're going to have somebody that's not going to be pleased with it," Dr. Grisham said. "That's the reason you have the hearing. You want to let people voice their opinions."
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