Alachua County has long awaited a school rezoning. According to Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon, the first time Alachua County K-12 schools were rezoned was in 1985. The elementary schools were last rezoned in the early 2000s.
A presentation was given by Dr. Simon during Wednesday’s joint meeting with the Alachua County Commission, the City of Gainesville Commission and the School Board of Alachua County. This presentation laid out many reasons a rezoning is needed.
Dr. Simon said one of the biggest concerns is with the unbalanced enrollment. West Gainesville schools such as Buchholz High School and Gainesville High School are above capacity. Whereas schools in east Gainesville are under capacity.
An under capacity school, Terwilliger Elementary, will be closing but a new elementary school will be opening off of Parker Road as a part of the rezoning.
“When we have under-enrolled schools, what we end up doing is putting a strain on the finances because our schools run more efficiently when they are filled to capacity. So we are overspending on our schools and it’s taking away from instructional dollars,” Dr. Simon said.
Not only is there an issue with under-enrollment and over-enrollment, but also with segregation within the schools.
“Our under-enrolled schools are predominantly black students that tend to have a high poverty background. I believe that we need to have diverse student populations and that’s diverse by race as well as supplemental educational services,” she said.
Dr. Simon hopes the rezoning plan will include cluster zoning. This means families would not just be zoned for one school, but for maybe four or five schools.
“So we’re giving you a zoned school, but a zoned school with choice. So you can have your children attend the same school based on their interests. If you have very different children with different interests, they can go to different elementary schools.”
Along with cluster zoning, Dr. Simon hopes to bring in some approaches to piloting magnet programs.
“We’re looking at whole school magnets. That means every student who attends that school has the opportunity to learn that curriculum and will have access to those resources, the teachers and the exposure to all sorts of exciting components associated with collaborating with UF and Santa Fe College.”
Part of a successful comprehensive rezoning plan is to work with government partners to resolve complexities. Alachua County Public Schools has already collaborated with Wild Spaces and Public Places to bring a community space to the school system. Dr. Simon said she would like to expand this effort by looking into community schools.
“What I appreciate about this project is that in the two blocks that Metcalfe Elementary and Howard Bishop Middle School occupy, the school district has put $42 million into that area,” Dr. Simon said. “As a person who lived a couple of blocks away from this area, I can tell you now this is going to change this part of the community and it already is. We’re seeing housing prices increase and we’re seeing an increase in families interested in our school.”
Above: School capacities for high schools, middle schools and elementary. (Photos courtesy of ACPS)
Ken Cornell, Alachua County chairman, said he can attest for the increase.
“The home values in and around where the school board is investing those $42 million is actually seeing a resurgence,” he said. “In my 20 years of real estate, I have never seen that before so it’s actually working.”
Mary Alford, Alachua County commissioner, said investing the money into the east side of the county could be community-changing as well.
“If school investment increases property values as it was suggested is happening with the Howard Bishop Community School endeavor,” Alford said, “then I certainly hope that we invest the money in east Alachua County and east Gainesville so that we can increase property values there.”
Alachua County Public Schools hopes to have a finalized school rezoning plan by fall 2022. In the meantime, Alachua County Public Schools will be launching its community engagementcampaign this summer to host listening sessions, conduct surveys and share new information to their website.