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Public input on elementary school ‘proximity zones’ continues

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Jan 13, 2021

news@breezenewspapers.com

The community has two more opportunities this week to weigh in on four potential elementary school proximity zone plans, including a public session here in Lehigh.

The public meetings began Monday in Dunbar with a second session then scheduled in Cape Coral on Tuesday.

Public input continues today and Thursday:

• 6-7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 13, at Three Oaks Middle School, 18500 Three Oaks Parkway, South Fort Myers.

• 6-7:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 14, at Varsity Lakes Middle School, 801 Gunnery Road, N., Lehigh Acres

Spanish and Haitian-Creole live translation will be provided during the meeting.

The public meetings feature an introduction of the proximity plan process, presented by the technical working group, as well as a discussion of the four plans. Community Engagement Coordinator Adam Molloy said there will be an opportunity for feedback, questions and an option of examining the maps during the public meeting.

Information about those plans will be posted at www.leeschools.net/proximityplan, providing individuals with the opportunity to get that personal engagement in a specific draft plan and how that choice would have an impact on them.

“They will be able to have that more intimate connection with the plans and be able to email our team any concerns, feedback that they have,” Molloy said, adding that they will feed those concerns into themes and use them to make any necessary changes of what they are hearing.

District Spokesperson Rob Spicker said the online interactive tool allows individuals the opportunity to dial down the plans to see how it would affect them. He said it will show them what choices are the same, or might change.

The interactive tool is live and community members are already emailing proximityplan@leeschools.net.

“If you can’t make the meeting, shoot an email and your feedback gets included in the conversation,” Spicker said.

One of those concerns revolves around “grandfathering.” Molloy said they are developing and finalizing a plan for existing students that would “grandfather” them into the existing plan if that was their choice/ The district administration is hoping to present the policy to the public by the end of January.

The four potential plans, according to the district, will foster community-based schools with the choice options close to the student’s home, therefore providing families with fewer choices during the open enrollment period. Molloy said the proximity plan is intended to design a new plan that is better and more efficient related to student distribution, transportation and community schools.

One of the draft plans stems from feedback and the impact from the community and stakeholders throughout the fall.

The district formed a small stakeholder group, which has been working together since September on the elementary school proximity zones. He said the group is comprised of a list of stakeholders that have an immediate interest engaging in proximity, have been involved in the process historically or are community group leaders.

The stakeholder group met a number of times in person, virtually and hybrid with Davis Demographics, the consulting firm the district hired a year ago.

Spicker said when district personnel realized they could not put together a proximity plan on their own, they sought out expertise and hired the consulting firm.

Molloy said Davis Demographics’ expertise and GIS mapping has been monumental in terms of the next phase of student assignment.

“When it came to layering the data, that was something we needed the collaboration with Davis,” he said. “We have all the student data in new draft zones and pools. We are excited with the amount of data and the strategic nature of the data and the way we used it to create smaller zones (resulting in a) stronger community based choice.”

Molloy said the proximity plan also ties in the important issues related to transportation, travel, wait times and bus stop safety for 5- and 6-year-old children. He said they are using the plan as a guide and they are excited about the potential outcome with “proximity plus with stronger neighborhood choices.”

This year, 2021, is the year of engagement, as the plan is expected to go before the school board in July of this year for approval, Molloy said. The new zones are anticipated to begin for use during the elementary school open enrollment period in 2022 for classes to start in August 2022.

A virtual option of the public meetings is being planned for January. Molloy said they are working with Davis Demographics to get the same presentations online to make it accessible for the public.

Another presentation with Davis Demographics and the stakeholders group is tentatively set for March. Molloy said based on the feedback of those plans, it will become closer to the final proximity plan for presentation to the board in July.