Vote on Bartlett school zoning draws a crowd

Attendance zones map for Bartlett elementary students

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Smatterings of applause punctuated the public’s speeches about proposed attendance zone changes at the April 24 Bartlett school board meeting. The packed auditorium clapped even louder at the board’s decision to adopt new zones to better distribute the student load among facilities.

Crest for Bartlett City SchoolsFrom proposals publicly discussed at an April 22 meeting, the board voted unanimously to choose Proposal C for the elementary zone, Proposal B for the middle school zone, and Proposal B for the high school zone. Also see the district's new attendance zone locator and a page of frequently asked questions (FAQs) online.

Bartlett Superintendent of Education David Stephens recommended these zones based on extensive discussions, incorporation of community feedback and evaluation of the district’s needs. The zones include a freshman academy to relieve potential overcrowding at Bartlett High and help to stabilize middle school enrollment.

Students who are rezoned still have the opportunity to request a transfer to their current schools, although transportation will not be provided if the transfers are approved. Because of the zoning changes, the transfer request period for Bartlett residents has been extended until May 8.

He said, “We feel that, in the best interest of our kids and community, this is going to be the best course of action.”

Before the public discussion, school board chairman Jeff Norris acknowledged that this is a difficult but necessary change.

“What I’ve learned in this process is that there is no good time to alter attendance zones,” he said. “And also any decision that requires change in our lives will be met with some level of resistance. But that’s human nature. The feedback, concern and support have been overwhelming the past few days. This is not a decision that any of the five board members up here will make lightly tonight.”

He said all received a lot of feedback since the Tuesday night meeting to discuss attendance zone options with the public and that they look forward to more.

Norris also noted that the board members and the superintendent are not immune from the effect of their decisions, as they are parents and grandparents with their own children in the city’s school system.

“We were elected to represent constituents and to make decisions that are always measured in educational benefits for all students in the district,” Norris said.

The elementary zoning proposal will rezone some children back to Rivercrest Elementary.

Before the vote, multiple Riverside supporters spoke in its favor to help parents set aside any worries about children’s education suffering if they are no longer zoned to a more familiar elementary school.

Charles Russell of Hare Creek Cove in Bartlett said he strongly favored Proposal C for elementary schools.

“Rivercrest is a wonderful school, and I strongly believe its best days are ahead,” Russell said. “Its principal, Portia Tate, was recognized as the 2013 principal of the year by the Tennessee PTA. Its faculty is a loving and hugging bunch.”

He continued, “We at Rivercrest would like to welcome you to our family, if given the chance.”

Tonjua Woods of Rosemark is assistant principal at Rivercrest with 28 years’ experience in Shelby County Schools (21 of those years in Bartlett, with 16 at Rivercrest).

“We do have a family atmosphere. We do hug,” she said. “When you walk in the door, you are greeted and made to feel welcome. … We love them, we love their families. And we want them to be successful, not just at Rivercrest, but in life.”

Rivercrest’s librarian, Karla Norman of Hinton Avenue in Memphis, demonstrated the staff’s enthusiasm for their work. She explained that she has a 17-mile drive to the school each day and does not mind because she gets to go to Rivercrest.

“I don’t have to go to work. I get to go to work, Norman said. “I think I have the best job in the world and the best school in any community.”

Dianne Larson of Cedar Ridge Drive in Millington teaches in Rivercrest’s APEX program for gifted and talented students. She described Rivercrest as a loving, caring, respectful school with high standards and a positive ambiance that trickles down from the top.

“It’s all about the kids there,” she said. “I don’t think anyone who has a zone change and ends up at Rivercrest will ever be disappointed or sad once they get there.”

Rivercrest’s principal, who resides on Baudette Lane in Bartlett, said she sees the rezoning as an opportunity to bring back former students who are viewed as school family members.

Those former students include children from the Aplington Woods, Wolfchase Farms and Delaney Square subdivisions, all of which were once zoned to Rivercrest.

“We want them back,” Tate said. “… We love our children. We work hard for them to do the best job they know how to do.”

The audience responded with a ripple of laughter when she said, “If you talk to any principal, they’re going to tell you that they have the best teachers ever – but I want you to believe me to know that I have the best teachers ever.

Tate continued, “We have been downsized a couple of times, but this time when you vote on Proposal C and bring those subdivisions back to us, I want you to know that this will be one of the best decisions you will ever make as a board.”

Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to