Over 100 people show up in Newberry to provide input on school rezoning
BY AMBER THIBODAUX
NEWBERRY, Fla. – The Alachua County School Board held its first Community Input Session on Wednesday at Oak View Middle School in Newberry, to gather public input on comprehensive rezoning before any new zone lines or maps are created. The meeting was the first of five that will be held throughout the district over the next several weeks. Additional meetings will be scheduled in the fall to gather input from the public after the new zone lines and maps have been drawn. Special school board meetings and workshops will also be held to discuss rezoning, and the public will be able to give input during those meetings as well.
The session lasted nearly two hours, with approximately 110 people in attendance. A combination of students, parents, teachers, and community leaders all spoke and voiced their concerns over a range of issues including magnet programs, transportation, school capacity, and the rapid development of the western side of the district. A packet was provided for each attendee, showing a breakdown of school capacity, current district zoning maps, and active development reviews.
The board listened to each public comment, with some board members periodically taking notes, but none of the school board members responded to the comments at any point.
Much of the commentary during the session centered around magnet programs, with the main concern being the elimination or relocation of those programs. Several students from the Academy of Entrepreneurship and Academy of Finance at Buchholz High School spoke about how the academies have made a positive impact on their lives and their fears of changing schools should those programs be moved. Below is a screenshot of an email that was sent out on Thursday from the administrators of the Academy of Entrepreneurship at Buchholz, addressed to the families of all students enrolled in the Academy.
The email alleges that there have been discussions between the magnet administrators and the school board members “in regards to removing, relocating, or doing away with magnet programs at Buchholz High School and possibly other programs throughout Alachua County.” The administrators encourage parents to attend the remaining input meetings with ready-made speeches “backing the history, integrity, and family atmosphere of the program.”
According to the enrollment data presented during the session, Buchholz is currently at 124 percent of capacity, with 2,489 students enrolled and 2,984 students zoned. A total of 675 students are enrolled in the two magnet academies, 341 of whom are outside the zoned area.
During the April 11 school board meeting on magnet programs and rezoning, there was some discussion relating to the overcapacity of Buchholz and options for moving or “recreating” the same programs at other schools. No official motions were made, however, and no votes were taken on anything relating to magnet programs in Alachua County.
Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe, who also teaches at Newberry High School, suggested shifting the zoning lines for Newberry “a mile or two west” to alleviate some of the overcrowding at all three Newberry schools. Marlowe mentioned Jonesville’s rapid population growth, now exceeding that of Newberry (Jonesville is the unincorporated area between Newberry and Gainesville). This growth has placed a strain on the already-overpopulated schools in Newberry, and more developments are either pending or beginning construction in that area.
According to the Alachua County Commission website, there are currently seven developments under construction in the Jonesville area, and every school west of I-75 is over 90 percent capacity, with the exception of Terwilliger Elementary School at 64 percent. Newberry Elementary has the highest capacity in the county, at 141 percent. There are no plans at this time to build a new school on the western side of the district, although that idea was proposed by several who spoke at the session.
Newberry Commissioner Tim Marden spoke last and told the board he wanted to “extend an olive branch” so that he and the board could cooperate and work together during the comprehensive rezoning process. He acknowledged the criticisms he’s made publicly against the school board in the past but praised Board Member Diyonne McGraw on her continuous dedication to proposing solutions for the behavior and discipline issues in the district.
A special email inbox has been set up by the school board to collect public input on rezoning: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The remaining Community Input Sessions are as follows:
- April 25 at 5:30 p.m. at Wiles Elementary School – 4601 SW 75th Street, Gainesville
- April 27 at 5:30 p.m. at Metcalfe Elementary School – 1250 NE 18th Avenue, Gainesville
- May 4 at 5:30 p.m. at Norton Elementary School – 2200 NW 45th Avenue, Gainesville
- May 10 at 5:30 p.m. at Santa Fe High School – 16213 NW U.S. 441, Alachua
More information on the rezoning process can be found here.