Stuart Hall, Chilesburg residents keeping a wary eye on Fayette schools redistricting process

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comJuly 16, 2014 

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Residents of the Stuart Hall neighborhood off Athens-Boonesboro Road have emerged as one of the most organized and outspoken groups voicing concerns as Fayette County Public Schools redraws attendance zones.

"I'm concerned about our kids being split up," said Stephen Sewell, president of the Stuart Hall Homeowners Association.

Wearing red T-shirts as a sign of solidarity, Stuart Hall neighbors have been explaining at school redistricting meetings that their neighborhood is fractured, that neighbors don't know each other because parents are opting for private schools or magnet public schools over Breckinridge Elementary, where many homes in the neighborhood are assigned.

[Related story: Parents sign petition supporting neighborhood schools as primary factor in Fayette redistricting]

[Related story: Activity funds show a growing economic divide among Fayette County schools]

Some Stuart Hall residents hope that as a result of the new redistricting plan — which could be unveiled in early 2015 — they will be assigned to Athens-Chilesburg Elementary School, about a mile from the neighborhood. In 2012-13, the school was classified by the state as proficient, with test scores in the 70th to 89th percentile statewide.

Only 19 percent of Athens-Chilesburg's students qualify for free and reduced lunches as opposed to 83 percent at Breckinridge, which is about 5 miles from Stuart Hall and is classified as "needs improvement/progressing" by the state. Breckinridge's test scores were below the 70th percentile in 2012-13, according to the Kentucky Department of Education website.

Parents say their children must travel through several major intersections and several traffic lights to get to Breckinridge but could easily walk to Athens-Chilesburg.

Of the 178 elementary students in Stuart Hall who were assigned to Breckinridge, only 52 attended Breckinridge in 2013.

The situation was similar in the nearby Chilesburg neighborhood. In 2013, there were 170 elementary students in parts of the Chilesburg neighborhood assigned to Breckinridge, but only 35 students from that neighborhood attended that school.

By May 2014, of the 348 elementary students in the two neighborhoods, 97 were attending Breckinridge.

Superintendent Tom Shelton said he would like for all Fayette County students to go to the school closest to their homes, but that Athens-Chilesburg is full.

"We are listening, but again it comes down to a question of capacity," Shelton said.

As of December 2013, Breckinridge had about 618 students with a capacity of 625. Athens-Chilesburg had about 753 students with a capacity of 650.

Some families who lived in Stuart Hall at the time the school opened in 2006 were assigned to Athens-Chilesburg. Sewell said his children got district permission to attend that school, where his wife is librarian. But because Athens-Chilesburg reached its capacity, newer homes were assigned to Breckinridge as they were built.

Redistricting Lexington's public-school boundaries is necessary because of plans for a new high school on Winchester Road and two new elementary schools, one on Georgetown Road and another east of Interstate 75.

Officials said the elementary schools should open in fall 2016; the high school should open in fall 2017.

Shelton has said that because some neighborhoods have already experienced redistricting as new schools were built nearby, not every neighborhood will be affected by the current effort.

At recent meetings of the 25-plus-member redistricting committee that will draft a proposed plan for the school board, some parents who live in Stuart Hall talked about travel times to Breckinridge. They told district officials that they put their children on the bus before 7 a.m., and they get home about 4 p.m. That includes about two hours in transit, which the parents say is unacceptable for young children.

Heather Anderson, who lives in Stuart Hall, told the Herald-Leader that her son, who attended Breckinridge from kindergarten to fifth grade, thought he would have had a better experience if he had gone to school with more neighborhood students.

Anderson wants her 18-month-old twins to go to school with more of their neighbors.

Stuart Hall resident Vicky Walters said she wants her 3-year-old to go to public school with her neighborhood friends when she reaches kindergarten age. Her older daughter, who is 15, went to a private school for elementary school.

"The biggest concern that we had from the beginning was that there was so much fragmentation" among where neighbors sent children, Walters said. She noted that there are several schools in the area closer to Stuart Hall than Breckinridge.

"The fair thing and the right thing for everybody's children, not just for Stuart Hall, but everywhere, is to have neighborhood schools," Walters said.

Neighbors say they are also concerned about Breckinridge's academic performance.

"I think any parent would have concerns if they see their children assigned to a school with a less than stellar performance rating," Walters said.

Nick Arnold does not have children who attend Fayette County schools. But he says he is concerned that many homes in the neighborhood are not assigned to Athens-Chilesburg.

Referring to Breckinridge's test scores, Arnold said, "It is less than the best."

Arnold says he thinks property values would be higher if more homes in Stuart Hall were assigned to a school with better academic achievement.

Shelton said that test scores are just one measure of a school.

He said Breckinridge's principal is accomplished and the staff is strong. He said that there are happy families from Stuart Hall who attend Breckinridge. He said that Breckinridge, as a result of renovations, basically has a new building.

"We believe that it's a very good school, a school on the rise, a school that is going to continue to get better," Shelton said. Parents who have questions about any Fayette County school should visit and see the school for themselves, he said.

Fayette district officials are also hearing from parents from other neighborhoods who are urging the redistricting committee not to move them out of the Athens-Chilesburg district just so that Stuart Hall can be reassigned.

"I don't get frustrated when I'm hearing from parents who are engaged in their child's education," Shelton said. "I wish I could see that consistently in every one of our schools for every one of our kids."

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears

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