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Parents take issue with proposed Brookwood redistricting

LAWRENCEVILLE - Concerned parents had an opportunity to address the Gwinnett Board of Education on the issue of redistricting. More than 150 parents and educators attended a public session on the topic preceding Thursday's monthly board meeting.

While the session addressed both the Meadowcreek and Brookwood clusters, all of the suggested proposals concerned the Brookwood area. They were based on input forms filled out by parents and community members last month.

On the input forms, 39 percent of respondents said they approved of the suggested boundaries, while 61 percent opposed them, said Chris Colia, co-chair of the Brookwood Cluster Boundary Committee. Colia proposed that all middle school boundaries be permanently frozen to assure school enrollment is near capacity. While Five Forks Middle School is below capacity, Crews Middle School suffers from overcrowding. The committee also promoted equity within the cluster's schools.

"One side of the cluster should not have an advantage on the other side of the cluster just because their enrollment numbers are higher," Colia said.

Following the committees' presentations, parents came forward to address the board. Many of them were hoping their residential areas could be moved from Central Gwinnett to the Brookwood cluster. Bob Gatland of the Saratoga Homeowners Association pointed out that Brookwood school buses already pass by his neighborhood.

"Redistricting Saratoga into Brookwood High School allows our students, allows other students in this area, to attend schools that are not overcrowded," Gatland said.

Other parents addressed the issue of their children having to travel much further distances to get to their new schools. Moving the students around could mean unnecessarily long bus rides and long walks to school. They also voiced concerns about the impact of suddenly having to switch schools.

"One of the highest-ranking stress inducers is moving," parent Mark Frank said. "And I think if we want to maximize our kids' education, we should minimize the amount our children move from school to school."

Board members will consider residents' comments when they vote on redistricting boundaries at the next meeting on Dec. 8.

Grading policy discussed

At a work session preceding the meeting, Associate Superintendent Emmett Lawson presented some updates to the board on grading procedures and goals. The school system is implementing new initiatives to ensure that grades will not be used as disciplinary measures or rewards for anything other than academic performance.

The administration is also working to further communication with parents about what grades mean, especially when they are modified for special education or non-English proficient students. One primary goal is for there to be more consistency across the district on how students are graded.

"Of the essential components of a quality education, grading may be the most inconsistent practice classroom to classroom and school to school," Lawson said.

Teachers use online program for assessment

Associate Superintendent Cindy Loe presented the Student Assessment Reporting Tool, a Web-based program now accessible to Gwinnett teachers and administrators.

The new assessment tool allows educators to view testing data on the district, classroom and even student level. Teachers can look at both current and historical data to determine in which areas students are the strongest and weakest. They can tailor their curricula to reflect this data, which is compiled from standardized test scores.

Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks said the online assessment tool was a way "to have every employee be able to access the information they need to do their job better."

New center will take hands-on approach to science

The Environmental and Heritage Center partnership shared an update on the progress of the new center, which is scheduled to open in August 2006. It will include a variety of permanent and rotating exhibits, including one on water.

Students at all levels will be able to do lab and field work that is similar to professional experiments. Comparing it to a school's media center, executive director Steve Cannon said it serves as an interactive classroom or lab.

"It's really not like a field trip," Cannon said. "It's like another day of school."

The board also approved funding to build additions to J.A. Alford, Corley and Dacula elementary schools. In all cases, they awarded the contracts to the lowest bidders.