As Bryan County Schools administrators continue to work on a proposed attendance area for the new McAllister Elementary, some Dunham Marsh parents still feel left out in the cold.
“I feel the way the lines are drawn, we were scooped out, like a scoop of ice cream,” said Luz Cloy, an attorney, teacher and Dunham Marsh resident who attended a forum Thursday night on the proposed district.
The new district, if approved as drawn at the Board of Education’s January meeting, will exclude Dunham Marsh, a nearby subdivision. School officials say the reasons for proposed attendance area include both safety and growth projections, but so far those explanations haven’t made sense to at least some Dunham residents.
Carin Behringer said she’s concerned about safety, noting heavy traffic and a lack of traffic signals is making travel to and from Richmond Hill dangerous. Her son currently makes a 16-mile round trip to school in Richmond Hill, but that trip could be cut to four miles if her son attended McAllister next fall.
“We turn right off Harris Trail of our neighborhood, turn right on 144 and the school is right there,” Behringer said. “That’s the whole thing about Dunham Marsh, it’s time and safety.
Dunham Marsh resident Cinde Wakefield said it wasn’t just about travel distance for school, either. She said the neighborhood is part of a larger South Bryan community and is “being scooped out and put in an area that is a 20-30 minute drive from where they live.”
“It’s not just driving to school, it’s parents having to drive kids 20 to 30 minutes for social interactions, play dates, birthday parties, because we’re not with our neighboring communities,” Wakefield said. “We’ve been scooped out of our neighboring communities.”
Cloy said there also are concerns the new school will be made into a “Gucci” school, and said that even were Dunham Marsh added to the proposed attendance area, the neighborhood wants to see a diverse mix of kids attend there. She also noted new developments have yet to pay property taxes, but are being included in the attendance zone while current taxpayers living nearby are being left out.
She also questioned growth projections used by school officials, saying her neighborhood is shrinking rather than growing.
There’ve been three forums, each held at Richmond Hill Middle School, and turnout has been much lighter than anticipated. Only about 60 parents have shown up at each of the last two forums, and the majority have been from Dunham Marsh – though at the last forum, some parents who live down Spur 144 also attended after neighborhoods in that area were removed from the proposed zone.
Opinions differed on how the process has gone. The forums have each begun with presentations from Bryan County Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher, then attendees are put in groups and sent off to classrooms for discussions. Feedback from those sessions is then being sent back to school board members, administrators say.
Behringer said she thinks the system has done given residents a chance to be heard.
“I think it’s been extremely professional in giving all residents a chance to voice their opinions, whether it’s coming to the meetings or being able to email our concerns,” she said. “And the great thing about Bryan County is we know we have some incredible schools. I know we are still in great hands no matter which schools our children go to. But I do think it makes more sense for us to go to the newer school. It’ so much safer. Turn right, then right, and we’re there.”
Wakefield, on the other hand, thinks the BoE should’ve done more.
“I think a board member should have been in each small group to hear the passion in those rooms,” she said. “It’s easy to read a list of the concerns raised in a discussion, but to be there and hear and see parents talk about their concerns for their children, it would have been good for them to see that.”
Cloy, who tried Thursday to get Brooksher to answer questions from Dunham parents before he ended his presentation, said she’s not sure there’s real communication.
“Each one of these meetings we’ve attended, we go to small rooms to address our concerns,” she said. “But nothing’s answered, so what was the purpose of this? I don’t want to say we’re ignored, but it’s almost like this is a formality. I feel they’ve made up their mind and we don’t have a voice in this.”
School board chairman Eddie Warren, who has been at all three forums, said he thinks the process has been in depth and thorough.
“There have been a lot of good questions asked by citizens, and a lot of good thoughts and comments have come out of this process,” he said Thursday night. “I’ve sat and just listened, I wasn’t there to comment, just to listen to what comment sand questions and concerns are.”
Warren said his response to parents upset over being left out of the new attendance area is this:
“We don’t have any bad schools in Richmond Hill,” he said. “Our existing schools will be just as good as this school, we’ll teach the same curriculum in fourth grade at the existing schools that we’re going to teach at McAllister. The curriculum is the same, the teachers are the same. The only thing that is different is the bricks and mortar, and that doesn’t make the school. It’s the teachers in there teaching every day and the system that’s behind those teachers that makes the school.”