Thursday, August 30, 2007

Over crowding at Eastover

Those of you with school-aged children know that Elizabeth is in the Eastover Elementary school attendance zone for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. We're lucky. It's a very good school. So good in fact, everyone wants to go there.

Right now 541 kids are enrolled at Eastover, in a school that's built to house about 430. There's a waiting list of 92. One third-grade class has 34 kids in it. There are 367 kids who live in the Eastover zone that attend other CMS schools. The projections for coming years show more, not fewer, children coming.

CMS policy is a school must accommodate children who live in the attendance zone. That means when a child shows up, the principal has to find a place for him or her. No matter how many hims or hers there are. CMS also has a fairly strict sibling policy, meaning if one kid gets in all the rest do too.

If you've driven by Eastover, you'll notice one thing that separates it from other schools, even other inner-city schools. It's wedged in. There's no room to add more classrooms. There's no room to even add trailers.

What is the solution? You can't tell parents who live in the Eastover zone they can't come. You can't build more space at the school. You can't go on housing 541 kids in a school build for 100 less than that, although that's exactly what will happen this year.

What about next year, when the problem will be worse? The only apparent solution is to change the attendance zone. Carve off bits and pieces and send those kids elsewhere. You can imagine how upsetting this will be to a lot of people.

Look for meetings in September to discuss changes to the attendance zone (click on "Locate your child's school," enter your address, click submit, click Go and click on "View attendance zone" under Eastover). How will it affect Elizabeth?


Anonymous said...

i don't think it *will* affect elizabeth proper, at least as far as the children of elizabeth having to change schools. i have a youngster at eastover so i've been scoping the proposed boundary map pretty closely, and it looks like all the most affluent neighborhoods get to keep eastover as home school.

i'm a non-affluent parent pretty luckily situated in an apartment in one of the affluent neighborhoods and while it bugs the hell out of me to think of the possibility that the less wealthy, probably less light-colored kids are going to get shipped over to billingsville, it bugs me even more how glad i am i get to keep sending my lower-middle-class kid to the nice, pretty school with the rich white pta.

John McBride said...

You raise a good point. How segregated will our schools become? What should we do about it? There aren't any easy answers here either, but doing nothing isn't an option.

Anonymous said...

You are missing the bigger picture of what caused the overcrowding issue at Eastover. The home zone boundary is not the cause of Eastover's overcrowding. Years of allowing too many transfers from other schools has caused the overcrowding.

There are over 150 students at Eastover that are not in the neighborhood home school boundaries. Eastover should have been closed to transfers several years ago.

Because of the lack of planning, neighborhood families that thought they had first priority to their neighborhood school may be forced to leave.

Look at the boundaries very closely. Elizabeth may be impacted by the overcrowding at Eastover, AG, Myers Park in the next few years as well. Unless you can throw a rock and hit the school, you might be moved so they can keep letting non-neighborhood students into good schools like Eastover.

Neighborhood schools need to be neighborhood schools. The school board needs to address the root cause of the issue and not go for the quick fix of yanking a neighborhood from their school.

John McBride said...

I didn't so much miss it as avoid it because it's so darn complicated. Remember that CMS uses the "transfer" classification for kids who live in the neighborhood but went to school elsewhere last year. So I'm not sure that the 150 number is correct.

Even if it isn't correct, your point is still valid. But remember two years ago there were vacant seats at Eastover and we were begging families to come. Should CMS (and the rest of us) have seen what was coming? Yes.

It's a mess, and CMS should be held accountable for it. But we also have to figure out how to move forward. There seems to be only two ways to go: Redraw the attendance zones and de-magnitize some of the other elementary schools in the zone.

Anonymous said...

You are right ... it is a mess ... a CMS inspired mess with very little focus and foresight. The resolution is NOT to redraw boundary lines that have been in place for 35+ years. The most logical resolution is to
(1) IMMEDIATELY stop all "transfers" for out-of-zone students (whether grandfathered into Eastover thru school choice, thru current students relocating out-of-zone or thru out-of-zone siblings),
(2) bear out the overcrowding for the near term (the problem dramatically reduces once the "school choice" transfers reach a terminal year in the next 2-3 school years), and
(3) then ascertain and develop a logical and reasoned basis to address any remaining overcrowding issues (they will be minimal at this point based on current enrollment trends and demographics).

Hopefully, this reasoned approach will serve to provide continuity to our CMS students, a stable and comfortable learning environment (both at Eastover and Cotswold) and will not alienate students and parents to our public school system.

Here's to hoping that a strong and responsible approach will prevail among the school board members to demand a community-focused, logical and reasoned approach from the CMS staff to solve the capacity issues facing Eastover as opposed to the current arbitrary and ineffective options that have been proposed.

John McBride said...

You have good ideas. Personally, I think the situation now is intolerable, and I believe it will be worse next year. So to "bear out the overcrowding for the near term" -- which means doing nothing -- is not a preferred choice for me. I don't believe the current situation is a safe environment, let alone one that is conducive to learning or teaching.

As I mentioned earlier, there are no solutions to this problem that won't displease someone. Changing the boundaries would upset the people living in those areas and their friends, and rightfully so. But doing nothing would upset those of us who think the situation now is intolerable.

Anonymous said...

I understand with respect to the current situation and clearly something needs to be done in the short term as well. But CMS should not get a free pass for past mistakes they have made at the expense of a community that has invested time, money and effort in Eastover for 35+ years. The rub comes with respect to the out-of-zone students and CMS needs to face the music and determine a way to reallocate those students to a home zone school or give them preferential magnet status.

In any event, the preferred status alternative seems a logical solution for any "overcrowded" school situation. Give the "home zone" students for ANY overcrowded school a priority/preferred status for magnet (or other) schools ahead of the general lottery ... I would think there would be takers out there that would pick up a transfer if offered that chance, especially given the high number of students in the Eastover home zone that have already "transferred out" to other schools by their own decision.

Some solution is needed, but an arbitrary redraw of the boundary line will not solve the immediate overcrowded issue and will certainly act to undermine the integrity and support of the school board and the CMS public system generally.

John McBride said...

Another good point: CMS needs to be held responsible for this mess. As much as I want to move forward and solve the issue, I'd like to know that we won't be back in this situation again in a few years, either at Eastover or Cotswold or any other school.

This situation didn't occur in a vacuum. CMS officials new what was happening and, I'm told, were warned by Eastover officials about granting so many transfers three years ago. Yet the flood of kids was allowed to continue as if we could just add a portable somewhere.

I see the overcrowding at Eastover issue as twofold: First we need to fix the problem. At the same time CMS needs to accept responsibility for the problem and tell us what they're going to do to make sure it doesn't happen again.

An said...

How about sending the kids to Elizabeth traditional? I am suprised parents who live in Elizabeth do not send their kids to the neighborhood school.

John McBride said...

Many Elizabeth parents do send their kids to Elizabeth Traditional, which is an excellent school. But Elizabeth Traditional isn't the neighborhood school for Elizabeth. Eastover is. Elizabeth Traditional is a magnet school. My understanding is that Elizabeth parents have to apply to Elizabeth Traditional just like parents from other neighborhoods and have the same chance of getting a seat as people from other neighborhoods.

We looked at Elizabeth Traditional before deciding on Eastover. We decided the traditional approach wasn't best for our family. That doesn't mean it's not a great school, it is. It wasn't right for us.

an said...

According to CMS officials they still give students who live within the "priority area" preference to attend their neighborhood schools. Elizabeth Traditional like Dilworth Elementary are charter schools, but they are just as academically challenging. It seems people clamor towards Eastover Elementary and Myers Park Traditional because they are located in posh neighborhoods rather than looking at the curriculm.