June 24, 2008

Dothan City School Board Unanimously Approves Rezoning Plan

By Jim Cook, Dothan Eagle, Ala.

Jun. 24--The stars aligned. The planets came together. Residents of Hades felt a slight drop in the temperature. And the Dothan City School Board unanimously approved a school rezoning plan.

Prior to the vote, local civic leaders showed their unity in backing the plan, which will reconfigure the current lines to create zones that are more geographically consistent than the current configuration which was gerrymandered based on the requirements of a now defunct federal desegregation order.

Wade Morrison, president of the local NAACP chapter, voiced support for the plan and praised Dothan City School Superintendent Sam Nichols for keeping community leaders involved and informed. The local NAACP and school administration have often been on opposite sides of many issues since the federal desegregation order came down in the 1970s. Monday night, however, it appeared that trust and cooperation were the prevailing moods at the meeting.

"We know there will be some things that need to be worked out, but we're in a workable agreement," Morrison said.

Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Parker also praised the plan, saying that it and other community efforts would help improve the city school system.

"We have a lot of synergy and energy to really transform our community," he said.

The new zoning scheme would create two clustering zones, which for the most part would be split north and south by Main Street. Elementary schools in a cluster would feed into that cluster's middle schools, which would feed into that cluster's designated high school.

The plan would also convert Beverlye Middle School and Heard Elementary School into magnet schools, doubling the school system's magnet enrollment and giving students in each cluster an opportunity to attend magnet school. Nichols has said consistency and the additional magnet opportunities are the benefits of the proposal.

The proposed changes, if approved by the city school board, would go into effect in the 2009-2010 school year.

Under the plan, students currently attending Heard or Beverlye will either regain entry into those schools by application, or be reassigned to the school for which they are zoned. Students attending either school under a majority minority transfer will be allowed to stay, but no further majority minority transfers will be allowed.

High school students affected by the plan will be allowed to go ahead and transfer schools in August 2008, but are not required to transfer until August 2009. Seniors will not be required to transfer.

After the vote, Dothan City School Board Chairman Steve Stokes thanked the community leaders who worked together on the plan.

"I think this is a historic moment for the city and school system," he said. "...We wouldn't have gotten here without some of the people in this room."


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