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East County Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018 4 years ago

Manatee School District prepares to move attendance lines

East County residents voice concerns about new Parrish high school.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

When Jenny Friese and her family lived in Ohio in the early 2000s, change became the new normal.

Her oldest daughter, Blaire Knodell, now graduated, attended four different elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools as a result of redistricting in the Olentangy Local School District, primarily in Delaware County, Ohio.

“It was tough, but when everything shook out in the end, it was completely fine,” Friese said, adding Olentangy was one of the fastest-growing school districts in the country when her firstborn started school in 2000.

Jenny Friese is again ready for change, which this time will affect her third daughter, Joei Friese, a seventh-grader at Carlos E. Haile Middle School.

As the School District of Manatee County addresses overcrowding at Palmetto, Lakewood Ranch and Braden River high schools, it is setting attendance zones for the future North River High School in Parrish, now under construction. The school is slated to open in August 2019.

“When you are in a good, fast-growing school district, this is the price you pay, or you move,” Friese said.

“When you are in a good, fast-growing school district, this is the price you pay, or you move."

Every North River High district under consideration includes the area east of Interstate 75 and north of State Road 64 — including neighborhoods such as Heritage Harbour, Mill Creek, GreyHawk Landing and others along that corridor — as feeding students to the new high school. The new school is approximately five miles from the Fort Hamer Bridge.

School board members delayed a vote Jan. 2 on setting attendance boundaries for the school to give parents more time to become educated and provide feedback before they vote, likely sometime in February. But their preferred option uses State Road 64 as the southern boundary for North River High and Interstate 75 as the western boundary.

Although some parents like the idea of sending their children to the new high school, most who spoke with the East County Observer said they would prefer to stay where they are currently zoned.

The parents’ biggest concern is the distance to the new school, which may impact their child’s ability to participate in extracurricular activities or pose safety issues with student drivers.

“A lot of people don’t want to move out there,” said Mill Creek’s Kim Schmidt, whose daughter, Erika, would start at North River as a freshman. “I like the idea of a new school, but I think living closer to it would be a major benefit. I would love to keep her at Lakewood Ranch because it’s a much closer drive. They call it North River for a reason.”

Schmidt would have a 12-mile drive to North River, compared to about five miles to Lakewood Ranch. She said that would translate into an additional 30 minutes on the bus, in either direction, or 20 minutes of drive time in good traffic.

On any given morning, some students to Lakewood Ranch High School must be at the bus stop by 6:30 a.m. to make it to class by 7:45 a.m. Parents said they were concerned their children would need to be ready even earlier for the longer trip.

“It’s a huge burden to put on these kids,” said Country Creek resident Clay Bruneman, whose daughters Lexi and Addyson attend Haile Middle School. “It takes away extra curricular and job opportunities. Hopefully, there will be options for families (to stay at Lakewood). Historically, there’s no (school) choice available.”

Under this redistricting plan, high school students in Heritage Harbour, Mill Creek and CreyHawk Landing all would attend North River High School in Parrish.

Jon James, who bought a home in Mill Creek in 2009 after renting in GreyHawk Landing for a year, purchased there because it was zoned to Lakewood Ranch High. His daughters Brooke and Leah, 13 and 11, respectively, both attend Haile Middle.

James would rather drive his girls to school and give them a chance to sleep more than make them take the bus. He said the extra rest will help them do better in school along with having other benefits.

Plus, the entire route to North River from his neighborhood is a two-lane road, which could pose problems if there are accidents. The roadways also are not lit in many areas, making them less safe for student drivers leaving home before the sun comes up.

“The safety part is a huge thing for me,” James said. “It’s a two-lane drive the whole way.”

Country Creek parent Lindsey Ryan said she already has experienced traffic problems with delays from people trying to use the Fort Hamer Bridge backing up Upper Manatee River Road south to S.R. 64,

“Once there’s an accident, there’s no alternative route,” she said.

Kristen and Brady Chapman, of GreyHawk Landing, review proposed attendance zone options for the new North River High School. All three options would send their children to the new school.

Mill Creek’s Valerie Sthreshley is concerned about busing issues, but otherwise does not object to the change in schools. She wants to know more about the new school’s athletic and academic offerings. But if those are high quality, then she’s OK with it.

“I don’t think (going to North River) is a bad thing,” she said. “The kids can make it what they want it to be.”

GreyHawk Landing’s Bridget Mendel, who has been outspoken about Lakewood Ranch High’s mold problem, said she looks forward to the improved construction and updated technologies the new high school should provide.

Some families who live along the S.R. 64 corridor also said they consider the greater Lakewood Ranch area their community.

“Very few of use who live in this area do life in Parrish,” Ryan said.

Parrish and Lakewood Ranch are different communities, added Brady Chapman, of GreyHawk Landing.

School board members will hold a workshop on a redistricting for middle schools sometime in February and likely will discuss high schools as well.

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