UPDATE: School Board votes to rezone Normal Park
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - One of Hamilton County's best performing schools will no longer be able to keep kids from a few blocks away, out.
Thursday night a divided school board voted to expand zoning for the already crowded Normal Park Museum Magnet School, but not everyone is celebrating that decision.
"I'm really asking you to take a look at this situation and please give us a chance," Mitta Chestnut asked the board on behalf of Hill City parents.
Thursday's specially called meeting was Hill City parents versus Normal Park parents, round two.
"The zone doesn't need to be expanded," said attorney Scott Shaw, speaking on behalf of Normal Park parents.
Normal Park parents and staff wore stickers that read "Magnet Supporter", hoping to sway the school board and keep Hill City out of Normal Park's school zone.
"We told those kids that they could go there," said board member Rhonda Thurman to the rest of the school board, "that school would not have been approved without that promise, bottom line."
In 2010 the school board voted against rezoning Bells and Spears Avenues, despite saying in 2007 that it would.
"We need to spend our time an energy making the other schools like Normal Park," board member Chip Baker read from a letter he received from a North Chattanooga resident on the issue.
"You know that would be very easy if every school could hand pick their students," replied Thurman, igniting a roar from parents on both sides of the debate.
After a fiery debate about Normal Park's minority rate and lottery system, the board voted five to four to let Hill City kids in.
Rhonda Thurman, George Ricks, Jeffrey Wilson, David Testerman and Joe Galloway voted in favor of expanding the zone.
Chip Baker, Mike Evatt, Everett Fairchild and Linda Mosley voted no.
The fifth vote, from Jeffrey Wilson, sparked a celebration among Hill City parents.
"Our students in Hill City as well as students at Normal Park will benefit from our inclusion into this zone," Mitta Chestnut told Channel 3 after the vote, "I'm very, very excited."
But Normal Park parents believe expanding the zone will hurt existing magnet students. The school is already at capacity, but Principal Jill Levine says the zone changes won't cause a problem in the classroom.
"Any kid that walks through our doors is going to get a great education, and I can promise you that," said Levine.
The next step is for Superintendent Rick Smith, and his staff, to work on a phase-in plan. The plan will help insure Hill City kids don't overcrowd the school next school year.
Bottom line, it could take years before these children make it in.
The board is also working on new guidelines for the lottery process, to make it more transparent.
Hill City students who are currently attending Red Bank schools will not be forced to move to Normal Park if they choose to stay in their current school.