Photo by Frank Couch.
Students eat lunch at Deer Valley Elementary, which is at about 108 percent capacity.
If anyone knows about the need to redraw Hoover school attendance zones, it’s Principal Wayne Richardson of Deer Valley Elementary School.
Deer Valley added about 35 students over the past year, pushing enrollment to about 885, which school system officials say is 108 percent of capacity. Due to grade configurations, Richardson said he had to add three classrooms over this past summer, and with more houses being built in his school zone, he expects to have to add at least two more next year.
Deer Valley has only two rooms left to add students, he said. A guidance counselor is using one, and the other is being used to store extra furniture, he said.
“We’re overcrowded … We are very, very tight,” Richardson said. “It’s kind of important that something happens.”
That’s one reason Hoover school officials were trying to come up with a rezoning plan to redistribute children among schools a year ago, and why new Superintendent Kathy Murphy has started holding community meetings this fall to discuss rezoning again.
The final preliminary rezoning meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Nov. 5 at Metropolitan Church of God.
Murphy doesn’t have a plan with maps to present to the public yet. She just wants to share about the need for rezoning and gain feedback and ideas, she said.
Not only is Deer Valley exceeding its designed capacity, Trace Crossings Elementary School is only at 52 percent capacity, so school officials want to realign students to make better use of space, Murphy said.
Plus, Hoover High School, with roughly 2,900 students this year, is basically filled to capacity, even after a recent classroom addition, Murphy said. And most of the growth in the city is occurring on the western side of town, she said.
The second main reason for rezoning is that the Justice Department wants to make sure no group are being treated differently than other students and segregated by race, Murphy said.
The Justice Department does not want there to be a preponderance of minority students at any given school and wants to make sure that all groups of students receive the same type of educational opportunities, regardless of race, she said.
Federal officials are examining the quality of each school building, transportation opportunities, the availability of extracurricular activities to each group of students and the racial breakdown of faculty at each school and the system in general, Murphy said.
While the Justice Department would like to see minority students spread out somewhat equally among schools, it also doesn’t want to see school districts yank minority children from the community in which they live and make them travel all the way across town to another school just for that purpose, Murphy said.
All that said, “the Department of Justice is not in the business of telling us what we have to do,” Murphy said. “The Department of Justice is working with us, and they’re collaborating with us.”
At the early rezoning meetings in October, some parents have expressed concerns about their children being moved to a school where standardized test scores are lower. Murphy said parents shouldn’t be worried about the quality of education being offered at any Hoover school.
“We have some awesome teachers in Hoover City Schools,” she said. But “if there are teachers who are not helping us make progress, I have no trouble having a courageous conversation.”
Other parents have asked whether any students would be “grandfathered” and allowed to stay at their current school after zone lines are redrawn. Murphy said she is 99 percent sure that students currently in high school won’t be moved to another school, but she doesn’t know about the elementary, intermediate and middle school grades yet. Most schools could be impacted in some way by rezoning, she said.
Murphy also is talking with faculty at each Hoover school and Justice Department officials to try to come up with a rezoning plan to submit to the public in January.
There will be more community meetings at that point to seek additional input, and then she hopes to have a plan ready for the school board to review by February or March. If all goes according to plan, the school board would vote in March or April, she said.
“At the end of the day, it’s probably not going to be a perfect plan for everybody,” Murphy said. But “we have to look at the big picture even though we’re taking into consideration each community.”
Derry Redwine, a parent at South Shades Crest Elementary and Brock’s Gap Intermediate School, said he appreciates the approach being taken by Murphy. She seems genuine in her efforts to connect with the community, he said.
“What Dr. Murphy is doing is very important — coming in with a clean notepad and finding out with a fresh set of eyes what is the heartbeat of the community,” Redwine said. “It gives the community a feeling of no pre-judgment, no pre-determined course of action … I think that’s the key.”
See reports from the first four Hoover City Schools rezoning meetings at:
- Brock's Gap Intermediate School on Oct. 6: Hoover school rezoning meetings get started again after year hiatus
- Hunter Street Baptist Church on Oct. 8: Hoover's high school students likely won't be rezoned, superintendent says
- Deer Valley Elementary School on Oct. 19: Trace Crossings is 'elephant in the room' at Hoover school rezoning meeting
- Green Valley Baptist Church on Nov. 3: Hoover city, school officials need better planning, money to handle growth, residents say
This article was updated at 9:40 p.m. on Nov. 4 to acknowledge that four of the five preliminary rezoning meetings had taken place at that time, and to provide links to the stories from the previous four meetings.