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Arlington parents mull over rezoning proposals for elementary, middle schools

Arlington school leaders are proposing new zones to better balance the student load for next year, when Lakeland opens its new middle school and welcomes hundreds of students who have been taught in the Arlington district.

The Lakeland School System, which currently only has one school, will open Lakeland Middle Preparatory School for grades 5-8 for the 2017-18 school year.

At a Nov. 29 public meeting, some Arlington residents were hopeful about the proposed changes, which would shift the boundaries for Arlington Elementary (AES), Donelson Elementary and Arlington Middle. Others were uneasy about how the changes would affect their children.

Armittie Brittenum of Arlington said she is trying to keep an open mind about how the change will affect her youngest child, 6, who would move from AES to Donelson.

But she’s concerned. “We’re so close to the school. So for us to go over the bridge every day, that’s just preposterous.”

Betsy McEntire, the secretary for the Donelson Parent Teacher Association (PTA), said, “I think it’s good they do it now before more overcrowding, and we’ll be able to utilize Donelson even more. We have two good elementary schools. And change isn’t easy for anybody.”

Nedra Jones, the shared services planner for multiple Shelby County municipal school districts, explained the proposed changes and the rationale behind them.

AES currently enrolls 1,018 students in a facility that has a 960-student capacity, putting it at 106 percent utilization. Jones said she wouldn’t describe AES as overcrowded, but it is definitely over capacity.

Donelson currently enrolls 705 students in a facility that has a 1,000-student capacity, putting it at a 70.5 percent utilization. The desired range is around 85 percent utilization or higher, Jones said.

With Lakeland students transitioning out and the proposed new zoning factored in, Arlington Community Schools projects a more balanced distribution for next school year:

  • AES: 811 students for an 84.4 percent utilization
  • Donelson: 823 students for an 82.3 percent utilization
  • The rezoning would move an estimated 247 students (pre-K through fourth grade) from AES to Donelson and also adjust for the Lakeland students who transition out of Arlington schools. (See maps and more information at acsk-12.org.)

This area was chosen because of its proximity to Donelson and the anticipated growth in AES’s current boundary. About 460 lots are currently planned for development close to AES, compared to 16 near Donelson (not including the Donelson Farms subdivision that has been discussed for many years, because there is a lack of recorded plans with the town).

Donald and Allison Tribo of Arlington have four children in grades 12, 5, 4 and kindergarten. They understand that changes are needed, but it troubles them. Donelson is further away for them, and their younger children are already established at AES. Allison expects it to be disruptive, especially for their fourth-grader.

Even if the rezoning goes through as proposed and they get permission for their students to remain as transfer students at AES, that would mean they lose bus privileges.

At the Nov. 29 meeting, he questioned the future growth around AES being a factor in the decision. “Donelson is a great school. I just feel like they’re making room for people who aren’t necessarily even here yet.”

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