Building Gibbs Middle leaves big hole for Holston

Sandra Clark

A parent said she was “happy when Gibbs got their middle school,” and then she realized that rezoning could draw her Shannondale Elementary School student out of Gresham and into Gibbs. She and some 100 others came last Tuesday to Holston Middle for the fifth of six community meetings on middle school rezoning.

Most parents wanted their kids to move through school with their friends. They wanted siblings to attend school together. Members of the NAACP asked that East Knox neighborhoods be kept intact, and they spoke against busing black kids across town for racial balance.

Katie Lutton, principal at Holston Middle, pleaded with decision-makers to recognize school communities. “Holston has a deep history as a high school and a middle school,” she said. “My concern is, I do not want this school community fractured. (Holston) deserves to be a part of a school community, not hanging here, fractured.”

Lutton said afterward that she wants her students to move together to high school. What high school? “Gibbs, I guess.”

Deborah Porter, an Austin-East graduate who now lives behind Gibbs High School, said city kids lack the cohesive school communities that you see in Powell, Karns, Halls, Farragut, Bearden, South Knox, Carter and now Gibbs – where elementary, middle and high schools bear the same name. “It behooves us to think what we’re doing to our history when we’re bused to and fro.”

Look at the numbers:

Middle School Capacity Enrollment (08/16) Difference
Halls 1,000 1,095 + 95
Holston 1,200 876 -324
Whittle Springs 500 486 -14
Gresham 800 841 + 41
Vine 600 349 -251
Carter 650 823 +173
South-Doyle 1,200 960 -240
Gibbs 600 0 -600
Totals 6,550 5,430 -1,120

The mess started in a backroom when Mayor Tim Burchett and Superintendent Jim McIntyre signed a memorandum of understanding to build two middle schools – one at Gibbs and another at Hardin Valley – when Knox County Schools was already under capacity.

Seven schools will be affected by the rezoning. Interim Superintendent Buzz Thomas says a plan will be drawn this month and brought to the communities in March and April. He anticipates a vote by the school board in May.

See one solution below:

Putting 5,430 kids into 6,550 spaces: Knox County flunks math

Numbers revealed at Holston Middle School last week show Knox County Schools will have 5,430 kids for 6,550 middle school spaces in eight schools in 2018 when the new middle school opens at Gibbs.

The challenge: Finding enough kids to populate Gibbs Middle School without wrecking Holston. Here’s one model:

Gibbs: Pull 100-200 from Halls, aligning the middle and high school zones. This means folks who live in Halls will be bused to Gibbs, but that’s already happening with the high schools and it will relieve legitimate overcrowding at Halls Middle. Take whatever kids come out of Gibbs and Corryton elementary schools. That will leave Gibbs Middle short to start, but folks there swear growth will follow the school construction. (They might have been better off extending sewer lines. Time will tell.)

Leave Gresham and Whittle Springs alone. Trim enrollment at South-Doyle by using the river as its boundary. Kids on the east side would attend Vine or Holston.

Holston: Rezone 200 from Carter Middle to Holston. Currently, the Carter zone includes Holston Hills, a stone’s throw to Holston Middle.

This solves the middle school dilemma without closing a school. A more fiscally sound model would convert all or some of Vine to headquarters for the central office.

“Be creative,” said Cynthia Finch at the Holston rezoning meeting. “Open a school at Gibbs for the people who live there. Don’t zone anybody. Find other uses (for the empty spaces).”

We’re running out of time for creativity. The number crunchers might look at a combined high and middle school at Holston. One thing’s for sure – we won’t all live happily ever after.

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