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Redistricting: Forum addresses key issues
Parents critical of draft map at public hearing
The auditorium at West Forsyth High School was packed with community members who came to speak and hear about a proposed high school redistricting map. The school board is in the process of redistricting for Denmark High, which is set to open in August 2018. - photo by Jim Dean

A sea of red and blue shirts filled West Forsyth High School’s auditorium, where parents, teachers, school administrators and Forsyth County Board of Education members gathered to discuss the first draft of Forsyth County Schools’ high school redistricting map.

Tuesday evening’s meeting, a public forum where residents could offer comments to board members, drew strong words of criticism from parents, many of whom questioned the redistricting committee’s six primary objectives in drawing the map.

The comments largely centered on several key issues: school proximity, safety and student identity.

“We acknowledge that you must populate Denmark and try to solve overcrowding at current schools,” said Alan Thomas, Gates at Luberon homeowner’s association president. “However, as you [receive] recommendations from your committee, please consider this question: why are we moving this subdivision?”

Thomas added that is “a question that should be considered” for every subdivision that will potentially be redistricted.

Amy Bidleman talks to the school board about how the change will affect her subdivision. - photo by Jim Dean
“You’re going to materially be changing the lives of whole families,” he said. “There are certain reasons to move some subdivisions, but there will also be others that should not be moved. I’ve been told, in not so few words, our area — the area by Bagley Road and Mathis Airport — is hard to draw on a map. But is this a sufficient reason to disrupt our lives? Clearly, ease of drawing the map is not a core objective of redistricting.”

At a Board of Education meeting several weeks ago, Deputy Superintendent of Schools Joey Pirkle, who is largely overseeing the redistricting committee and the mapmaking process, identified the six main objectives the committee has used to draw the map.

Those are to: populate Denmark High at a level that provides the school with the capacity to offer and develop programs comparable to other county high schools; reduce overcrowding at South, Lambert and West; balance projected enrollments to minimize temporary classrooms and maintain consistent feeder patterns with current high schools as much as possible while establishing a clear, consistent feeder pattern to Denmark within established feeder pattern guidelines.

“The committee spent a lot of time reviewing all the feedback that was submitted online, including reviewing multiple options other than those proposed in the draft,” Pirkle said previously. “Based on the feedback that was received, we looked at transportation cost, proximity [and] feeder patterns and the committee’s goal after receiving community feedback was to determine if those other options existed that would provide a better way for the school district to meet these six objectives than what was recommended in our first draft.”

Ultimately, Pirkle said, proximity and issues related to proximity “did not override the six primary objectives that we have listed that we were using to redistrict and achieve those things we have listed.”

Parents have said time and time again they strongly disagree with this reasoning.

“Proximity should be a huge contributing factor in your decision,” Justine Chiang, of the Provence subdivision, said. “Because Denmark is not convenient to us, we will not be able to participate as actively in the school. There’s no question that we consider drive time when we commit to activities and volunteer time, and this will ultimately have a negative impact on our children’s enthusiasm for school.”

Chiang reiterated other parents’ concerns as well, stressing both students and parents should “eat, work and play” in one area.

“For our students, work is school,” she said. “In the event that we are redistricted to Denmark, our students would still live and play where we currently do today, which is around the South Forsyth High School area and district, but would have to ‘work’ over on the other side of town. Everything that we need is in our community by South Forsyth, including our high school.”

Working, living and playing all in one area also creates a certain identity parents said would be lost should they be redistricted.

“I have a letter jacket here that represents my graduate of South Forsyth High School,” said Carrie Meersmar of Stoney Point Farms. “The sweatshirt that you see me wearing represents my two students currently there. The T-shirt that I wear underneath represents my family’s future at South Forsyth High School and the siblings that are approaching those grades. These represent the foundation and layers built at South Forsyth High School. They represent a legacy.

“We are south Forsyth. We are not Alpharetta Forsyth, we are not west Forsyth, we are not Suwanee Forsyth, we are not north Forsyth or east Forsyth or downtown Forsyth,” she said. “We are south Forsyth and we belong at South Forsyth High School.”

In upcoming weeks, board and committee members will work to incorporate and possibly make changes to the map based on residents’ comments, with the final redistricting draft scheduled to be approved in November.

Denmark High School is scheduled to open in August 2018 between Mullinax and Fowler roads in southwest Forsyth.