Plans for moving Brunson Elementary School students to lower-performing Cook Elementary have stirred up opposition and petitions from parents who don't like the options they'll have.
The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education is expected discuss the plans at its meeting Tuesday evening.
Plans had called for students in the Brunson residential area to be reassigned to Cook beginning next school year.
Brunson, at 155 N. Hawthorne Road, would become a magnet school, with only the kindergarten class requiring an application to attend. Any students who don't want to participate in the magnet program would have been assigned to Cook Elementary, at 920 W. 11th St.
These plans are the first step toward creating a consolidated Brunson-Cook Elementary on the Cook campus. The plan would require the passage of a bond issue in a referendum in 2012.
The new school, with a science, math, engineering and technology theme, would open in fall 2014. Brunson Elementary will have to be torn down eventually because it's built in a flood plain.
Parents have drafted a petition that calls for the school system to create a committee to discuss concerns and explore alternatives to the plan.
Parents of some of the children assigned to Cook say they believe in public schools. But they want their children in public schools where test scores are high and there are a variety of programs for children who perform above their grade level.
Cook would not offer the same opportunities for their children that Brunson has, some parents have said, even though the teachers are working hard to improve Cook.
"There's a reason the scores are so low," said Anitra Mitchell, whose children are 2 and 6 years old. "It's a failing school. I love the idea that they want to change that, but I'm not going to let my child be a guinea pig."
Residents question the school system's view that Brunson's location makes it unworkable as a school, and they would like the system to consider other locations for the school in the West End neighborhood.
Nathan Childs, who lives in the Brunson-Cook assignment zone, said he worries that the school system has not thought out the plan thoroughly and that too many uncertain things, such as the passage of a bond issue, would have to fall into place for the plan to succeed.
"It seems like they're building a house of cards as far as how everything's expected to happen," he said.
Some parents said that eventually doing away with Brunson would rob their children of true choice within the zone. They say the two desirable schools — Meadowlark at 401 Meadowlark Drive and Whitaker at 2600 Buena Vista Road — are mostly closed to in-zone transfers. They say the other two options — Cook and South Fork, at 4332 Country Club Road — do not offer as strong an education.
Barbara Lentz said that when her son, who is in the highly academically gifted program at Brunson, was ready to start school, she visited schools in Zone 6. She said her son was already ahead of the kindergarten curriculum, and she asked at Brunson and South Fork if he would have enrichment opportunities. She said she was told to go to Meadowlark, and he stayed there until he was admitted to the gifted program at Brunson.
Lentz, who is a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law, has a son starting kindergarten in 2012, and she is concerned what would happen if he went to Cook, where 90 percent of the students are black.
"I see in law school what happens to the sole person who's in an underrepresented background," she said. "It's hard to be the one that's left out."
Wake Forest law school has student enrollment that is about 20 percent minority.
Cook, Brunson and South Fork are all Title One Schools, which means they get extra federal money because they have a high percentage of students from low-income families. Cook was about 90 percent black, 6 percent Hispanic and 1 percent white in 2009, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and Brunson was 39 percent Hispanic, 36 percent white and 22 percent black.
School board member Marilyn Parker, who has been working with the parents, said she doesn't see any disadvantages to putting plans on hold and giving parents and school officials a chance to look at all the options.
In looking at numbers of children admitted to Whitaker and Meadowlark, Parker said parents' fears of the schools being closed to in-zone applicants is largely exaggerated. Last year, only the kindergarten class at Whitaker could not take all of the students who applied in that zone, according to numbers provided by school officials.
The board of education had tried to get a grant for a STEM science, math, engineering and technology program that would have brought a lot of money into the school. When the grant didn't come, it seemed like a good idea to begin the program at Brunson before the school's consolidation with Cook, Parker said, to give the fledgling program a chance to grow.
Mitchell, the mother of the 2- and 6-year-old, said that when her 6-year-old son won one of two open spots from among 150 applicants at the Downtown School's pre-kindergarten program last year, she felt she could relax. "I feel like we won the lottery," she said of gaining a spot at the Downtown School, a magnet school with about 300 students.
Jenni Mowery, who lives in the Brunson attendance district, said that after her son failed to get into either the Downtown School or Moore Elementary, she and her husband applied to Whitaker and were turned down. The school system eventually opened up a spot for Mowery's son and other students in the kindergarten class at Sherwood Forest Elementary.
The process of applying to schools and appealing decisions stretched from January until July, she said, and at times the stress threatened to consume her and her husband's lives. Choosing the right school is important because it is the foundation of the rest of a child's education, she said.
"I wanted it to be challenging enough to be interesting for him."