Wondering what’s going on with public school rezoning in Alachua county and how coming changes could affect your decision of where to buy a home in Gainesville? This article will get you up to speed on the latest developments.
Elementary School “I” Rezoning
Construction has begun on a new elementary school west of I-75, on Gainesville’s fast-growing southwest side. Known for now as Elementary School I, the new campus will open for the Fall 2021 school year with a diverse student body, thanks to the Alachua County School Board’s decision to rezone the school.
Elementary School I is located near Southwest 122nd Street, about a mile south of Oakmont, one of Gainesville’s newest—and most exclusive—housing communities. Ensuring a diverse student population for a school in this affluent neck of the woods meant changing the zoning. Overcrowding also motivated the school board’s decision. Of the 20 elementary schools in Alachua County, 14 of them are overcrowded, and most of them are on the city’s growing west side.
Two options were on the table for rezoning Elementary School I: 1) moving students from Idylwild and Wiles Elementary to the new school, or 2) closing Terwilliger and shifting those students there. After a series of heavily attended and sometimes contentious public input sessions, the School Board voted to close Terwilliger and relocate students and staff to Elementary School I for the 2021-22 school year. The school district has pledged additional supports to help Terwilliger kids and their parents make the transition. Families of other elementary school students throughout the district may request a one-year zoning exception to attend Elementary School I as well. Oakmont is currently zoned for Chiles Elementary. It’s unclear whether that will change when the rezoning is finalized.
Why is the rezoning happening now?
The rezoning of Elementary School I is part of a broader effort by the Alachua County School Board to rezone all schools in the district while making much needed upgrades to aging facilities. In November 2019, Alachua County voters approved the Half-Cent for Schools sales tax increase to fund major facilities upgrades throughout the school district. Major renovations are underway at five elementary and middle schools in the Alachua County School District. Essentially, the school board is attempting to improve facilities and address equity and overcrowding at the same time, all during a pandemic that has disrupted the lives of school-age children (and their parents) throughout Alachua County.
If the public input sessions for Elementary School I’s rezoning are any indication, not everyone is going to be happy with the reshuffling of students. Parents of Terwilliger students expressed concerns about the longer commute. Another parent thought that introducing more changes in the lives of young students whose educations have already been disrupted by the pandemic wasn’t the right move at this time. One resident of Southwest Gainesville vehemently objected to students from less affluent neighborhoods attending Elementary School I, going so far as to threaten legal action. Still others felt the School Board could have done a better job publicizing their meetings. Our take is that with the tremendous growth of Southwest Gainesville comes growing pains. In the long run, students will benefit from exposure to diverse cohorts in better, less crowded schools, and the district will save money.
School District Committed to Keeping Up with the Growth of Southwest Gainesville
New housing construction in Gainesville has pushed west of Interstate 75 in the past 20 years. City planners expect that trend to continue. In addition to the new elementary school near Oakmont, the district closed on property in Jonesville—home of the popular Town of Tioga—to bank for use as a future school site. The city is building up capacity on the west side while renovating facilities closer to the urban core. Rezoning gives the district the ability to avoid overcrowding without having to build as many new schools, while getting closer to equity goals that are sure to be a priority for the Department of Education in coming years.
None of these changes happen without public input. There will be plenty of opportunities for parents and concerned residents to get involved in the process and help shape the future of our public schools. Public input sessions for the district-wide rezoning plans will be held in the summer of 2021. Regular School Board meetings are held via Zoom on the first and third Tuesdays of each month at 6pm. Meeting agendas are made available on the SBAC website the Wednesday before the Tuesday board meeting. For more information concerning Board meetings and agendas, contact Jenny Peck at (352) 955-7546, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ll continue to follow the rezoning process in Alachua County, so be sure to check back here for updates.