Gwen Rowe sat among about 30 other parents and children at Jim Stone Elementary School and listened to Carl Stuart Middle School principal Harvey Benton talk about how school officials plan to protect the influx of new fifth graders going to his school in the fall. The fifth-grade students will be with much older peers.
"She’s my oldest, but she’s still my baby," said Rowe, pointing to her daughter Tori, 10. Tori is leaving Jim Stone and will attend Carl Stuart, with grades fifth through seventh, in the fall.
"She’s going to be in school with older children but it’s something neither of us have dealt with," Rowe said.
Elementary schools recently held a series of informational meetings — one at each of the nine elementary schools — to calm parents’ fears as rezoning takes effect. At Jim Stone, students from the elementary school will join those from Marguerite Vann and Carolyn Lewis going to Carl Stuart. Benton assured parents fifth graders will be kept separate from older students — immediately upon entering the building they go to their side of the building.
"They’re trying to sooth all the parents’ fears," Rowe said.
Last school year, fifth-grade students went to intermediate schools for fifth and sixth graders. Now schools like Ruth Doyle Intermediate will become middle schools where grades fifth through seventh will be housed in the same buildings. Even school names are changing. Ruth Doyle, which once served fifth and sixth graders only, will become Ruth Doyle Middle School, taking children in grades five through seven, officials said.
Redistricting what children go to which schools and reconfiguring grades will help cut the number of times a child moves to a new campus, said Mark Lewis, Jim Stone elementary principal.
"The main purpose is truly to cut down on the number of transitions for the kids," he said.
But parents said they are nervous. At Jim Stone’s meeting, parents asked about transportation, separation of populations, lunches, recess and schedules. Benton recommended parents send their children to school with a packed lunch for the first couple of weeks because lines will be long at first. He said about 256 children are in the fifth grade at Carl Stuart. About 84 students who attended Jim Stone will move over to Carl Stuart this fall, Lewis said.
While parents worried about whether students would have a "home" room and be accounted for, the fifth-graders-to-be were more interested the school itself.
"Will Carl Stuart have a library?" asked a girl in the front.
"Yes, we have a big library," Benton said before moving on to the next question.
Benton said he hoped the meetings relieved some fears parents have. The Thursday meeting was the best attended among the three Benton attended, but he wished more parents had come.
The parents who did attend said the meeting was helpful.
"It was very informative," said Monica Fontenot who is new to the school district.
Lewis said communication with parents is key, but parents are likely to keep worrying until they drop off their children and see they are well cared for and protected at Carl Stuart. Despite some remaining unease, Rowe said she felt better.
"I think they are doing a really good job of keeping parents informed," she said. "They are doing the best they can."