Winners, losers in school rezoning

Sandra Clark

Last week, in response to the NAACP’s complaint to the Office of Civil Rights about racial resegregation following construction of two middle schools on the periphery of Knox County, a man who should know better asked, “What are they mad about?”

The late Diane Jablonski quotes Sir Edmund Burke: “If you forget history, you are doomed to repeat it.” Last April the former school board member sent me her recollections of the school rezoning in 1991. Let’s review:

Knoxville voters dissolved the city school system in 1987. The suddenly combined city and county systems faced a racial segregation problem, housing patterns here resembling those in communities like Nashville where federal courts had ordered cross-town busing. A countywide task force was formed to evaluate schools, plan for closures and make recommendations to achieve a greater racial balance. Jablonski served on that task force.

Many communities were affected; compromises were made. Then-superintendent Earl Hoffmeister wanted to close Austin-East and Fulton high schools and build a true magnet high school downtown, perhaps at World’s Fair Park. Political noise boomed. Knox County Commission thwarted the school board’s plan (surprised?).

Jablonski says South Knox was most affected by rezoning and was the area with the most promised broken. School closings put enrollment pressure on Mooreland Heights and New Hopewell. Both were promised renovations and additions. Mooreland Heights got its addition in 2015. New Hopewell is still waiting.

Jablonski calls the consolidation of former foes – South High Rockets, Young High Yellow Jackets and Doyle High Pioneers – “a painful marriage of the Hatfields and McCoys,” but said the community decided to make it work and “they came out stronger and more unified in the end.” One can only speculate on the Farragut resident’s conclusion and wonder if current turmoil at South-Doyle Middle School can be laid on the doorstep of these forced consolidations.

Some think Gibbs was the only community impacted by the 1991 plan. Not true.

Elementary schools: 8 closed

Three in North Knox: Brownlow, Lincoln Park and Oakwood, with a new Christenberry built to replace them.

Three in South Knox: Flenniken, Anderson and Giffin, with Dogwood built to replace them.

Two in East Knox: Eastport and Fairgarden, which became a preschool. Three others: Sarah Moore Greene, Green Elementary and Beaumont were enlarged and established as magnet schools – the elementary base of the desegregation agreement.

Middle schools: 6 closed

South and Doyle were consolidated into South-Doyle Middle School, located at the old South-Young High School.

Christenberry and Spring Hill were closed as middle schools and the students were disbursed to the
newly formed Holston Middle and to Whittle Springs.

Beardsley Middle was closed.

At Gibbs, the middle school was a program within the existing Gibbs High School, administered by a high school assistant principal.

Those students were sent to the new Holston Middle School. High school students from Holston were zoned to Gibbs High.

Vine was designated as the middle school magnet and expanded.

High schools: 3 closed

Rule High was closed with its students zoned to West, Fulton and Central. The campus stands empty 20 years later.

South-Young High closed and reopened as South-Doyle Middle. Doyle High expanded into the former Doyle Middle School, a building across the street, in order to accommodate the students from South-Young.

Holston closed as a high school and reopened as a middle school. Most of its high school population went to Gibbs with some going to Carter or Austin-East.

A-E was renovated as the high school magnet.

Jablonski’s memo relates some consequences of the 1991 rezoning:

■ When Rule High was closed, the Golden Bears and all their memorabilia went into storage. The majority of the Rule kids were reassigned to West High, she said, and although renovations and additions were done there, nothing was done initially to welcome or accommodate the kids from Rule. West remained the Rebels and the Rule kids just had to adjust.

■ The Gibbs community never embraced Holston as part of its school community, even though 80 percent of the Holston Middle School kids go to Gibbs High School.

■ Gibbs is not the only community without a middle school. There is no middle school in District 4.

West High takes kids from Bearden and Northwest middle schools. Hardin Valley Academy takes students from Cedar Bluff, Farragut and Karns middle schools.

Incredibly, Northwest Middle School sends its students in five different directions for high school.

■ Some South-Doyle kids travel as far as the Gibbs students. That’s the result of living in a rural area.

■ Finally, wrote Jablonski, the magnet program was initiated at considerable cost to fulfill the compliance agreement. Only after the magnets were upgraded and expanded did the school board start replacing portable classrooms to relieve overcrowding. Hardin Valley, Northshore, Amherst, Cedar Bluff and Carter elementary schools have been built since the rezoning.

A recent study indicated no need for new middle schools in Knox County, yet we’re about to build two – in Gibbs and Hardin Valley – at a cost of $70 million.

Was Gibbs hurt by rezoning? Absolutely. Was Gibbs the only community affected? No way.

Ponder a final quote from Edmund Burke: “Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle which fits them all.”

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