Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

TOP STORY >>Growth in Cabot costing one city

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

There are 67 fewer white students attending Jacksonville middle schools this year than last, and 33 more white students attending the Cabot middle schools.

Recent growth in Cabot has outpaced growth in Jacksonville, and there are those who say that Jacksonville’s loss is Cabot’s gain.

Although the state Education Department has not yet released enough data to support the conclusion that students fleeing Jacksonville middle schools landed in the nearly all-white Cabot middle schools, the numbers don’t refute the long-held theory that area parents are locating in the Cabot district or moving their children to qualify for Cabot schools, schools elsewhere, private schools or in some cases are home schooling their children.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of such an enrollment shift.

“The vast majority of new enrollment comes from people moving into this area, and they research where they want to live,” said Jim Dalton, assistant superintendent of Cabot schools.

“Most are being transferred into the (Little Rock Air Force) base or the metropolitan area and they research the schools,” Dalton said. “One of our middle schools is recognized as one of the top 14 schools in the state.”

That school was recognized Friday by the state Education Department as a higher performing school based on state ACTAAP exams.

“It’s not as much flight as selection of location when they come,” Dalton said. State school assignment guidelines make it difficult or impossible for white students to transfer from Jacksonville schools, perceived by many as dangerous, decrepit and educationally inadequate — unless parents submit a home address in the Cabot district.

Cabot Middle School South increased its enrollment of white students this year by 61—a 10 percent increase from last year’s 625.

The number of black students in the district remained the same at 14. Cabot Middle School North did not fare as well, losing 28 white students—a 4 percent decrease. The number of black middle school students dropped from eight to five.

At Jacksonville’s Boys Middle School, enrollment among white male students for the 2007-2008 school year declined by 50 — a 26 percent decline compared to last year.

At the Jacksonville Girls Middle School, enrollment dropped by 8 percent, 35 students fewer this school year than last.
That school lost 11 black students and 17 white students.

“This puts an exclamation mark on the need for new facilities,” said Bond. Some long-time advocates for Jacksonville areas schools say the sorry condition of Jacksonville facilities — the middle schools in particular — are driving a migration out of the district and they are lobbying the board again for a new middle school to be included on the 10-year master facilities plan.

The group wants to raise or find money for new Jacksonville Middle School facilities.

State Rep. Will Bond, a Jacksonville school activist, says the district needs to break ground for a new facility in the next six to eight months.