“Buckle up, Alachua County”: School board reverses course on elementary school spot rezoning on 3-2 vote
BY AMBER THIBODAUX
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Alachua County School Board voted 3-2 on Tuesday to end the spot rezoning process for the 2023-2024 school year and instead do a comprehensive rezoning, set to go into effect for the 2024-2025 school year. Superintendent Shane Andrew recommended that the board forgo the spot rezoning process that was officially initiated at a board meeting on February 7 and commence district-wide comprehensive K-12 rezoning. The motion by Member Diyonne McGraw included an amendment asking for “updates and artifacts” at each future board meeting to ensure that work on the rezoning is progressing. Board members Sarah Rockwell, Kay Abbitt, and McGraw voted in favor of the motion, with Leanetta McNealy and Chair Tina Certain in dissent.
The spot rezoning initiative would have affected four schools – Chiles, Meadowbrook, Hidden Oak, and Terwilliger – and was set to take effect this fall, although no clear maps have yet been drawn. The plan was revisited, however, after Abbitt made a request to place the issue on the agenda for the April 4 meeting in response to significant pushback from parents who showed up to school board and community meetings.
Alachua County Education Association (ACEA) President Carmen Ward told the board that everyone who has contacted her regarding the spot rezoning process has been against it. “Everyone I speak to wants comprehensive rezoning to be done correctly because they care about the children – and those children that may end up being rezoned twice are a concern to the teachers.”
Accessibility for Terwilliger families
Rockwell, who originally supported spot rezoning, said that she changed her position after speaking with the administration at Terwilliger and hearing from families who were against it. One problem she pointed to was that the schools included in the spot rezoning weren’t “tremendously more accessible by bus” for the parents of Terwilliger students who were moved to a brand-new school that is significantly farther west than the original Terwilliger.
“Although I was initially in favor of spot rezoning Terwilliger, because the Terwilliger faculty and administration was concerned about the accessibility of their school for their community, it doesn’t sound like this plan is going to address that adequately,” Rockwell said.
Rockwell also pointed out that the original plan presented to the board for spot rezoning indicated that there was no potential for neighborhoods to be rezoned twice – but then the board received clarification from a staff member that, if spot rezoning did go forward, there would be the potential for certain neighborhoods to be rezoned twice.
“I’m just going to say that I personally cannot – I’m a parent of a third-grader, who lost a third of her kindergarten year – and I cannot in good conscience support a plan that could move children the same age as my child who went through that, twice,” Rockwell concluded.
Abbitt agreed that the overwhelming majority of parents she had spoken to supported comprehensive rezoning instead of spot rezoning and mentioned all the time that had been spent on a plan that may not even be implemented.
“All this time we’re spending on this, just to have, three days or two weeks from now, a vote and we decide not to do it, we’ve wasted all that time – we could have been focusing on real problems that we have like behavior, or teachers in classrooms,” Abbitt said.
McNealy warns that parents may not like the results of comprehensive rezoning
McNealy took the time to acknowledge all of the parents and residents who had shared their concerns with the board, saying, “I respect every single one of you for the mere reason that you are parents, you are taxpayers, you are citizens, and all of you care about children, and what happens to them.”
She then pushed back on the idea that the timeline was “rushed” because the board held its first rezoning workshop back in November of last year.
“Rushed? When we had a workshop back in November, December, and sent to the superintendent of this magnificent county that we were moving forward with elementary rezoning – not spot, but elementary. And immediately the staff that is under the superintendent of this great county started working on that.”
She expressed frustration over the possibility of switching to comprehensive zoning at this point because of the amount of work that had already been done by staff on spot rezoning, saying, “I feel for them.”
“We are now at a junction of whether we should do spot, or whether we should do comprehensive. Wow. I’m here to tell you, and if you are planning on doing comprehensive rezoning, and that is the vote that should pass, I want you to know that the same folk, many more than you, will be in this very auditorium, at every community meeting, saying they don’t want it. Period,” McNealy said.
She continued, “I’m here to tell you that if we’re doing comprehensive rezoning, think about all your schools in this district, not just the four that we’ve outlined now… I can tell you we’ve got a Williams, we’ve got a Rawlings, we’ve got a Metcalfe; just think about how your comprehensive rezoning is going to look when we pull everything in.”
The three schools McNealy referenced are all located on the east side of the district.
“In order to do a comprehensive rezoning adequately and efficiently, all schools will be massaged. How are you going to accept that then? You’re talking about coming to [School Improvement] schools or Lake Forest? You’re coming to a Rawlings? Think about it. Think about what you’re saying and what you would feel more comfortable with if we do a comprehensive.”
McNealy then issued this warning to parents if the spot rezoning effort were to be reversed: “If you think, one more time, that a comprehensive rezoning is going to be quietly done, especially when you mix up all of the schools in this district, and I’m not talking about wild west Newberry and Archer, I’m talking about right here in the midst – Parker, Norton, Williams – those schools which are under-enrolled will need to have students. And some of those students will be your students, depending on how the maps will run.”
McNealy concluded by saying she hoped to see more community involvement from parents throughout the district, and not just the west side. “I would certainly hope to see a lot of faces, not only from west… but east. The parents whose children attend the eastern quadrant of this county demand the same respect, the same opportunities, as the children who happen to go to Meadowbrook, Chiles,… Terwilliger and Hidden Oak.”
McGraw: “Zoning wouldn’t be an issue” if behavior were addressed
McGraw spoke briefly, explaining to the board that everyone she has spoken with in the community is in favor of comprehensive rezoning, and that’s why she “totally supports” it. She said that behavior is directly tied to academic success.
“If we can get our behavior under control, can deal with our transportation issues, then get to our academics – because that is key – zoning wouldn’t be an issue,” McGraw emphasized.
Certain agreed with McNealy’s assessment that the timeline for the rezoning process wasn’t “rushed,” as other board members and many parents claimed.
“I want to say that what seems to be rushed now, wasn’t rushed. It was something that was put out there, that needed to be done,” Certain said.
She then acknowledged all of the citizen input she’d received, saying, “I sat and I listened and I’m not disrespectful or dismissive of our citizens who input – but when we come as board members, governance is what we’re tasked with. There are some key areas and some decisions that need to be made. They’re not easy decisions, they’re hard decisions. Hard in the sense that they’re not going to be popular, and we’re not going to please everybody.”
Certain also mentioned the financial aspect of any type of rezoning process, stating that part of the board’s governance includes ensuring that every school in the district is operating efficiently. Referring to all the new developments being built and their effect on school zoning, she clarified, “The school board does not have an impact on land use and zoning issues.”
“We can’t say stop building in the west and build it in the east. If we had a magic wand, the citizens in east Gainesville probably would like that, but that’s not something that this body can do,” Certain said.
Once the vote was taken and the motion passed, Certain concluded the rezoning portion of the meeting with, “We will not do spot rezoning, and the comprehensive rezoning will be pursued for the ’24-’25 school year. Buckle up, Alachua County. Buckle up.”
The meeting can be seen in its entirety here.
Can you believe the unabashed fear mongering of Dr. (I wrote a paper) McNealy? She professes respect for parents, “I respect every single one of you for the mere reason that you are parents, you are taxpayers, you are citizens, and all of you care about children, and what happens to them.” In reality, she has nothing but contempt for anyone who dares defy her and threatened them with her little temper tantrum (albeit a controlled one as she is a master bully)! I’m sure Dr. (I wrote a paper) McNealy is also sorry ACPS’ current Superintendent doesn’t seem to want to do her (and Certain’s) bidding!
I applaud Commissioners Abbitt, Rockwell, and McGraw for listening to parental input establishing their priorities! I have had serious doubts about McGraw (and even Rockwell) in the past but they are starting to make some pro student and parent decisions!
Yes, Ms. McGraw, discipline will be a huge step to correcting what is wrong with ACPS!
Leave it to McNealy to do all she can to further divide the district she falsely claims to care for.
If she would take off the glasses she wears she would see the true reasons causing the lack of parents “showing their faces” and continued decline of student performance in “east quadrant” schools. Hint, it’s not painted with the colors on her brush.
You would think a doctor, any doctor, could figure that out without having to be told. Especially one who lays claim to having the experience she does. Maybe she just faked it all.
Revise districts based on child behavior patterns mapped out according to 911-DCF call frequency of addresses on the maps.
“I sat and I listened and I’m not disrespectful or dismissive of our citizens who input – but when we come as board members, governance is what we’re tasked with.” Allow me to translate. “I don’t want to make you people mad while you’re here in the room with me, but the fact is I’m in charge and we’ll do it the way I say to do it and I really don’t care what you think.” Just another of a million examples of how Regressives think they should govern the people, not act as their elected reps. SMH
No matter how they re-zone, pro-zone or any other zone Alachua County schools, it won’t change the low scores, low attendance, high crime and thuggery of kids from the East side. All they will do is introduce violence and crime into schools that don’t have those problems. You can take the kid out of the East side but you won’t take the East side out of the kid.
Why can’t they sit down and come up with a stricter discipline policy ASAP? These ladies have been around long enough to at least have some ideas. It’s sad watching them continue to flounder around and not do anything.
I grew up on the east side of town and zoning changes will do nothing. I went to Eastside and we didn’t have all these problems.
Back then, (late ’70’s) we didn’t have a bunch of kids playing wanna be gangster’s, thugs or little criminals tryin’ to up their street cred.
We didn’t because schools did not tolerate it and still disciplined, and students respected that, but if they didn’t parents made sure they would. But, if you had a child that just would not comply, well they were just kicked out, it was over for them.
Of course, all of today’s behavioral issues are blamed on society, because these kids are “oppressed, less fortunate or coping with the pain of discrimination” or any other excuse they can find to justify their behavior and shun personal responsibility.
In reality these kids are a product of their own environment. Mostly one parent homes, multiple siblings by different fathers, the mother seldom taking the time to be one, if she is even around.
Kids that “grow up” unsupervised, with no direction or discipline or respect for anything. Then if they do decide to attend school, they “bring the street” with them, creating chaos everywhere they go.
And the same broken system that is now telling us rezoning is the answer is the same system that removed proper discipline from the schools all over the country and worked to pass laws to almost make it illegal for parents to do the same.
Today, everyone gets a trophy, and we should encourage students to just hold hands and sing and be “tolerant” rather than having real consequences for bad actions. After all, we would not want to “damage” these poor children. These junior criminals all know there are no real consequences so that’s made it a free for all.
But hey, let’s rezone, play another shell game and do nothing that will really affect change. Kick the can down the road until it is someone else’s problem.