Fort Mill parents question revised rezoning plan for Riverview Elementary

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comOctober 31, 2013 

— Parents expressed their concerns over revisions to Fort Mill’s elementary school attendance rezoning plan Wednesday night.

The meeting at Riverview Elementary offered parents the chance to ask questions about the plan and the transition for some students to Riverview. But parents in neighborhoods currently zoned for Orchard Park Elementary whose children would be moving to Riverview next year raised concerns.

“I felt it was my job to do what was best for the whole district,” said Superintendent Chuck Epps of the plan, which is a modification of the original proposal. That plan kept the neighborhoods of Sutton Place, Wimbledon Woods and Willowbrook at Orchard Park.

Many parents asked questions about the free and reduced lunch rate. Although the new proposal gets Riverview’s proposed free and reduced lunch rate down to 37 percent instead of the initial plan’s 51 percent, parents still expressed concern. Just adjusting the ratios doesn’t address the needs of those students, several parents said.

Epps, Riverview Principal Annette Chinchilla and the district’s director of elementary education, Ann Bogan, answered those concerns.

“(Riverview) is a high-achieving school with excellent ratings,” Bogan said. “They are addressing the academic needs of the students.”

Chinchilla, who was born and raised in Fort Mill, said her mother was a homemaker and her father was a high school teacher and football coach.

“I would have been a free and reduced lunch student,” she said. “And I think I turned out OK.”

Parents and teachers commended the job performed by the “Riverview family,” each time to applause from staff members in attendance.

Assistant Superintendent Marty McGinn reminded parents that taxpayers approved the construction of the two new elementary schools because they realized the growth Fort Mill has experienced.

“The bottom line is some students had to be moved,” she said. “But that’s a hard pie to slice.”

Several parents expressed concern about the transition for their students to a new school, which they fear will be emotionally difficult.

“This is my daughter, this is my concern,” said parent Gary Howell, who worries about his daughter, currently an Orchard Park kindergartner.

Parents of older students expressed concern for the rising fourth- and fifth-graders who will make multiple transitions over the next few years if the proposal is approved. They will first move to Riverview, then to the new Riverview Elementary, which will be completed for the 2015-2016 school year, and then again to middle school.

Several mothers became emotional as they addressed district administrators and six of the seven school board members.

“My concern is not this map and not that Riverview is an awesome school, because I know it is,” said parent Cheri Feller. “I’m concerned about these eight-year-olds, these little kids, who will have attended four different schools in four years.”

Chinchilla responded that Riverview has effective transition strategies in place.

A few teachers also spoke up on the role parents would play.

“It is our job as parents and it is our job as educators to make that change easier,” said first-grade teacher Nikki Page, who has been at Riverview for more than 15 years. “If you get behind this and make this positive, the change will be positive.”

Parent Dawn Lowery suggested allowing older students to remain at their current schools.

Epps said the administration had considered that option, but if they did it to one school, they would have to do it with every school in the district where students are switching, which presented major problems.

“The board is here, though,” he said. “They’re hearing you, they’re hearing your suggestions.”

The district’s rezoning plan will need school board approval at a meeting Tuesday.

Families will be notified of their child’s school placement for 2014-2015 by January, Epps said.

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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