Opposition prompts North Allegheny administrators to work on new redistricting plan

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North Allegheny School District administrators are working on a fourth redistricting plan, one that takes into account comments from parents during focus group meetings.

"We're hearing folks loud and clear," said Robert Scherer, assistant superintendent for K-12 education.

The new plan would move fewer students, less than 300, and could allow the current fourth- and seventh-graders to stay put for their last year in a building, as long as their parents provide transportation.

Mr. Scherer updated board members Dec. 18.

At that meeting, the board also awarded contracts for work at a number of buildings and appointed Elizabeth Colcombe as interim principal of Marshall Elementary School for $450 per day until Jan. 17. Ms. Colcombe retired as principal of Marshall Elementary in 2008.

The board also awarded a $344,310 contract to Wayne Crouse Inc. to replace the chiller at Franklin Elementary School and awarded several contracts to consultants to prepare plans and specifications for other district projects, including paving on the Marshall and Cumberland campuses; flooring and bleacher replacement at Bradford Woods Elementary; roof replacement at Bradford Woods and Marshall elementary schools and Marshall Middle School; and a districtwide panic alarm system.

But the district's plan to shift elementary and middle school students to alleviate future overcrowding at Franklin Elementary continued to draw speakers to the meeting.

The redistricting will take students out of Franklin Elementary, which is nearing capacity, and send them to other buildings where there is room. All seven elementary schools and the three middle schools are affected in the domino effect of moving students.

Parents from the Spring Ridge and Franklintowne neighborhoods in Franklin Park and Matterhorn Drive in Marshall continued to ask the board not to move their children.

"Redistricting my neighborhood will cause our families to attend their third elementary school in nine years," said Nicolette Rothrock of Franklintowne, which was moved twice before. "We love our neighborhood school, Ingomar. We've spent so many hours there, donating time and money to provide a wonderful environment for our children. We want to keep what we worked so hard to re-establish for our children since the 2006 redistricting."

Franklintowne was moved from Franklin to Ingomar in 2006, and two of the three current proposals move the neighborhood to McKnight.

Dr. Ankur Gosalia noted that Spring Ridge is 0.7 miles away from Franklin Elementary, but more than 4 miles away from Marshall Elementary, where the district proposes to send the neighborhood's 31 students.

Many residents wore badges stating "Grandfather 4 & 7," announcing their support for students currently in those grades to remain in their schools even if their neighborhoods are moved.

Brook Serbin, 12, a seventh-grader at Ingomar Middle School, noted that when her neighborhood was redistricted in 2006, her sister could have stayed in her old school, but their mother insisted that the family be together.

"My mother was wrong," she said, noting that her sister was not comfortable in a new school for one year.

"I am comfortable at IMS," Brooke said. "I love my teachers at Ingomar and they know me and my family."

Amy Adams of Franklintowne noted that fifth grade "is a culminating year in which students celebrate and build upon relationships." Fifth-graders also enjoy special field trips, such as three days at Camp Kon-O-Kwee.

If Franklintowne is moved, and students are not grandfathered, "three students, including my daughter, will be attending McKnight. Imagine going to Camp Kon-O-Kwee ... knowing almost nobody," she said. "Students on cusp of adolescence need stability and security."

Amy Rafferty addressed the concerns of middle school parents. By seventh grade, students have joined sports teams, orchestra, chorus or student council. One student who may be moved was thinking of running for a student council office for eighth grade.

"The biggest concern to me is having a 13- or 14-year old going through puberty and going through changes. The most important thing to them at this age is their friends. When kids feel isolated and alone, they might choose the wrong group of friends."

Administrators will have a final recommendation on redistricting at the Jan. 15 board meeting, and are asking board members to vote during a special meeting on Feb. 19.

Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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