Oaks discusses unified Farragut zoning chances

While Knox County School District is prioritizing its focus on middle school rezoning, to create enrollment for the new Hardin Valley and Gibbs middle schools by the 2018-19 school year, parent feedback during a recent meeting in Farragut has put high school rezoning into play.

“The [interim] superintendent [Buzz Thomas] said he’s OK with having that discussion, but to understand that our primary mission right now is to ensure we get some middle school zone lines developed,” said Russ Oaks, chief operating officer for the district and one of its zoning experts.

Oaks said it’s “a discussion that remains to be had” if any possible high school zoning changes could be worked in simultaneously with the middle school rezoning.

“We understand that the folks from Farragut want to have that discussion,” Oaks added.

About the chances that all Farragut Middle School students [with grandfathered and sibling exemptions considered] could be zoned to feed into Farragut High School, “I don’t know if it’s a physical possibility because we haven’t done the analysis and looked at it in that regard,” Oaks said. “It’s not just the capacity of the school, it’s where it’s located [ridges and other geographical issues] and how can we get to it [including railroad crossings] and those kinds of things.

“I think a lot of folks don’t understand that,” Oaks added. “… We want them to align as much as possible so a majority of students from a particular middle school will matriculate to a particular high school.”

However, “we have challenges with that all over the community,” he added. “The other factor is, we have 13 zoned high schools and we’re about ready to have 16 zoned middle schools ... .”

Within the middle school rezoning issue, Farragut meeting attendees “indicated to us that they wanted to make sure that the area that’s out around Watt Road ... that we keep that in Farragut Middle School [zone],” he said.

Adding high school zoning considerations, “ they wanted to make sure we knew and understood they wanted to … also consider zoning it back [as a feeder from Hardin Valley Academy] to Farragut High School.”

After a series of others meetings, a preliminary middle school plan will be drawn up for further public feedback “in February, March, April.” Oaks said.

A final “tweaked” plan, to be presented to Knox County Board of Education for a vote to approve or reject, is projected to happen “in May” according to Oaks.

Also being considered, with parent/community feedback, concerning Hardin Valley and Gibbs middle schools, “is how would they like us to open a school? All grades [in the first school year] or should we grow it a grade at a time?’” Oaks said. “Should we have some kind of grandfather provision, so maybe in the upper grades of a particular school you have the option to remain at that school rather than being rezoned?”