Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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Supt. recommends rezoning for Woodlawn Middle School

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Alamance-Burlington school officials have asked the school board to move 252 students from Woodlawn Middle School to the Graham attendance zone, starting with the 2024-25 school year, to ease overcrowding at Woodlawn.

There are currently 748 students enrolled at Woodlawn Middle school, which exceeds the school’s stated capacity of 650 by 98 students, based on figures that ABSS chief operations officer Greg Hook presented to school board members Monday night.

By comparison, enrollment at both Graham Middle School and Graham High School is well below capacity, Hook’s figures reveal.

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There are currently 479 students enrolled at Graham Middle, or 233 students fewer than its capacity of 712 students.

Graham High School currently has 732 students enrolled, or 183 students fewer than its stated capacity of 915 students, according to the figures that Hook presented Monday night.
Hook told the board the current number of students enrolled at Woodlawn puts the middle school at 115 percent of its capacity, which he described as unsafe.

“It’s crowded, and it’s showing,” Hook said Monday night. “It’s not that it’s just overcrowded, but when you get overcrowded, then you would infer that’s not safe, either, and it makes things difficult.”

Meanwhile, ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler suggested that few options are available to ease overcrowding at Woodlawn, or accommodate the growth that he and other school officials said this week is coming to the eastern part of Alamance County.

The school system’s administration hopes to move some mobile units to Woodlawn, Butler said Monday night, while adding a caveat: “The cost of that is immense, [and] Woodlawn is landlocked.”

That concept – of overcrowding in the Southern and Eastern zones and “landlocked” schools – had been repeatedly cited as one of the reasons why ABSS needed to build a new high school in the Hawfields community prior to passage of a $150 million bond package for ABSS in November 2018.

The 2018 bond package funded the construction of the $67 million Southeast High School, which opened in August 2023, along with $83 million in expansions and renovations for eight existing ABSS schools, school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves pointed out during an update that Hook presented about those projects earlier Monday night.

While the school system’s administration is projecting that enrollment at Woodlawn will decline during the next, 2024-25 school year – from 748 students to 724 – “it’s still 111 percent of capacity,” Hook said. “When we do these numbers, we’re looking [at] the Transportation Information Management System [TIMS], just the houses of our students and counting those students by grade level.

Woodlawn is projected to see a slight decline, 24 students, in enrollment next year, Hook acknowledged, adding, “But, if you look at Eastern, that’s where the kids go.”

Conversely, enrollment at Eastern High School, located next door to Woodlawn Middle School, is projected to increase by 58 students for the 2024-25 school year, based on Hook’s figures.

However, those enrollment projections for the upcoming school year that starts in August doesn’t factor in potential new students who may enroll in the Eastern attendance zone as a result of intra-system transfers, or new housing.

Instead, to alleviate any current and possible future overcrowding at Woodlawn Middle School, Hook has recommended that the school board redistrict approximately 252 students from the Eastern attendance zone to the Graham zone.

ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler told the board Monday night that he would like that change to take effect at the beginning of the 2024-25 school year.

Hook also acknowledged that some of the students had been redistricted at the start of the 2023-24 school year from the Graham zone to the Eastern attendance zone.

“If we just looked specifically at Haw River Elementary [on the map] and slice that map in two different sections, you could send some students on to Woodlawn and Eastern, but then others would go back to Graham Middle and Graham High.” (See accompanying chart for a breakdown of the projected enrollments, with and without the rezoning, for the 2024-25 school year.)

[Story continues below chart.]

“It’s unfortunate to have to be here [discussing this] tonight,” the superintendent said, “but if we go back to safety, it’s the right thing to do. These students were in the Graham zone originally.”

Hook explained that, traveling west on U.S. Highway from Mebane to Burlington, students whose houses are situated on the lefthand side of the highway would be rezoned to Graham Middle and Graham High schools.

The superintendent told the board that Eastern High School would be affected indirectly by the rezoning for Woodlawn Middle School. But, he acknowledged, for 2024-25, the board could vote to grandfather rising seniors at Eastern High School (i.e., allow them to remain there for the 2024-25 school year).

However, those “grandfathered” students would be ineligible to participate in school sports, Butler pointed out. “I want to get that out there tonight so everyone understands that,” he said, alluding to an ABSS policy that governs school assignments.

Those grandfathered students would be classified as “transfer” students, under a revised student assignment policy adopted in 2013 – prior to the school redistricting that was adopted in 2017 and revised in 2022 – which the superintendent implied would require students to sit out from school sports for 365 days. The revised student assignment policy, which took effect long before the high school redistricting plan, had been intended to stop standout student athletes from being recruited to play for other ABSS high school teams.

“We have to look at all the puzzle pieces,” Butler told the board. “I really appreciate you guys trusting me and my staff when we said, ‘do not close Cummings and do not close Graham’…We have two big challenges: capacity, and taking care of the buildings that we have.”

School board member Seneca Rogers, who joined the board last month to serve out the remainder of former four-term school board Patsy Simpson, asked how the proposed rezoning for Woodlawn would affect the racial distribution of students within the Graham zone. He also wondered aloud that it probably wouldn’t be that different, given that those students had been in the Graham zone, prior to the new high school redistricting plan that took effect at the beginning of the school year. “I’m thinking about our [English as a Second Language] students,” Rogers explained.

Hook said he didn’t have those figures but indicated he would present them at a future meeting.

Butler suggested that school board members continue their discussion about the proposed rezoning for Woodlawn Middle School at their work session on February 13.

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