New Elementary School and New School Districts Coming in 2013

By Geoff Green and Ruby Sinreich

With the the new Northside Elementary School, a.k.a. elementary #11, set to open next summer (as well as Frank Porter Graham Elementary School's transition to a dual-language magnet school), we'll be forced to go through another dreaded reassignment process to balance enrollment and capacity at our oft-crowded elementary schools. Superintendent Tom Forcella issued a memo on August 2 (PDF) about how this could go.

Forcella says he expects to reassign over 1,000 elementary school students. A redistricting team of 8 staff members has already been created. They are charged with creating three plans to be reviewed by a Redistricting Advisory Council, made up of staff and parent representatives from all the elementary schools and from Carrboro High School, which will recommend one to the School Board. 

The superintendent's memo reviews the recommendations of a committee that evaluated the last redistricting (for Morris Grove Elementary in 2008), but chose not follow their advice in some situations to various legal and logistical considerations. He recommends the following factors be considered in the reassignment process:

  • Minimize capacity problems at all the elementary schools.
  • Use more accurate data on students by pulling information after the 20th day of school, rather than the previous year's data as done in the past.
  • Develop a communication plan to reach all parents, including "parent letters, post cards, radio and media releases, electronic phone call system, videos, and a comprehensive website."
  • Seek socioeconomic balance by looking at average home prices in each "segment" (the unit of neighborhoods used in assignment). The school system cannot look at the number of students receiving free and reduced school lunches for this purpose, according to the state and the USDA.
  • Seek achievement balance by looking at the end-of-grade (EOG) scores of students in each segment. Other assessments may also be included.
  • Consider dual language implications.
  • Attempt to place at least one Pre-K classroom at each school.
  • Be sensitive to middle school feeder patterns.
  • Move some students out of Carrboro High school which is already over its designated SAPFO capacity.
No problem, sounds like a cinch! 

It seems like opportunities for public comment will be fairly limited, mostly channelled into e-mail/web comments and two public hearings. I can tell you right now that people will be complaining about this. Here are some key dates from the memo:

Redistricting Advisory Council Meetings 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Carrboro High School Café Commons

• Monday November 5, 2012

• Monday November 12, 2012

• Monday November 19, 2012

• Monday November 26, 2012

Public Hearings 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

• Monday December 3, 2012 Carrboro High School Auditorium

• Wednesday December 12, 2012 Chapel Hill High School Auditorium Board of Education

• Thursday December 20, 2012 7:00 p.m. Work Session at Lincoln Center

• Thursday January 17, 2012 7:00 p.m. Discussion & Action at Town of Chapel Hill Town Hall 




This Thursday, hopefully before the President gives his acceptance speech, the school board will consider designation of the walk zone for Elementary #11.  These are the homes which will not receive bus service and are expected to walk to school each day.   The basic criteria is closer (by car) than 1.5 miles, don't cross major streets.  So that leads to a projection of 130 elementary students who will definitely be assigned to Elementary #11 if this passes. Recommendation is here --    -James, CHCCS School Board member, although any opinions here are my own, not spoken for the board.

I read the recommendations, and I'm thrilled to see that my entire neighborhood (VIllage West) is included in the walkzone for the new elementary school. It's great to know that my son will go to a nice new school that is in walking distance from our home and that we'll never be moved to a different district. 

This walkzone designation is based on the distance to walk on streets with sidewalks. The route makes the school about 1.2 miles from my house. That might be little long for some kids (and parents) but more importantly, it includes walking up an extremely steep hill on Pritchard Avenue Extension.*  There are two much shorter walking routes of which I and my neighbors will surely be taking advantage. I hope the Town and School System will support this use make these paths safer and more accessible.

One alternative utilizes the Town of Chapel Hill's Tanyard Branch Trail. This path is quite rugged and not very well maintained (ie: requires the wearing of solid walking or hiking shoes), but it reduces the walk to just under a mile, and avoids the extreme slope of Pritchard Avenue Extension.

There's an even shorter route utilizing Jay Street and an informal crossing over Bolin Creek that cuts the walk to less than half a mile. However, this relies on the good shoes, good weather, and the creek being low. I made a Google Map attempting to illustrate these options.

View Northside Elementary & Tanyard Branch Trails in a larger map

I couldn't be happier about being included in the walkzone for Elementary #11, but I also hope that the School Board will encourage the Town of Chapel Hill to improve pedestrian access to the school. I read somewhere recently that there was once a footbridge over the creek near the end of Jay Street.

Perhaps this would be a good time to reinstate that bridge along with improving bike and pedestrian connectivity more generally in this dense and semi-walkable neighborhood which will be soon be served by the expanded Bolin Creek Greenway. For example, re-opening and formalizing the Merritt Crossing would improve mobility for thousands of people by providing a safe connection between the greenway and downtown Carrboro.

(* I'd like to mention that there would probably not be any sidewalk on Pritchard Avenue Extention had it not been for Tom Jensen and I proposing and advocating it when we were both on the Chapel Hill Planning Board. If not for that sidewalk, the entire Umstead Drive area would probably not be included in this walkzone at all.)

A version of this comment will be sent to the School Board in advance of their Thursday meeting. 

I recently learned that the School Board shares my concern about the walkability of this walk zone, and they are committing $150,000 to help the Town improve the area. The Town is applying for Safe Routes to School funds, and planning a paved bridge over Bolin Creek from Jay Street. (i.e.: the orange route in my map above, which is half a mile shorter than the Tanyard Branch Trail.)This is from the agenda of an upcoming (11/28) Greenways Commission meeting:

5. Tanyard Branch Trail:  The Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools has offered the Town $150,000 to design and build a segment of the Tanyard Branch Trail from Elementary School #11 to Jay  Street in order to increase the school’s walk zone. According to the offer the trail would have to  be paved and involve the installation of a pedestrian bridge over Tanyard Branch.  The project would be the orange line on the map. This proposal matches the  recommendation to pave the Tanyard Branch Trail found in the draft Greenways Master Plan.  The proposal also addresses one of the alternative routes found in the Carolina North/Main Campus - Campus-to-Campus Report. The cost of the project will likely be larger than the offered funds. We have submitted a pre-application for a National Trails Program grant that if successful should address the remainder of the needed funds. If the grant application is unsuccessful the Town would have to provide any remaining funds. The Council is scheduled to review this offer on December 3, 2012. The Commission may want to make a recommendation to the Council concerning the project and the offer of funding. the letter from the Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools- 

Agenda is now posted for Dec 6th meeting.  This item is on the consent agenda --  It provides for $150k from construction funds for Northside Elementary as our share of the bridge.  Expects completion by start of school 2014.   

In addition to helping us walk to school, this will be a great connection to the new bike lanes on Estes Extension and bike path to Wilson Park. 

When will the expanded Bolin Creek Greenway be completed? When I moved back to Chapel Hill a year and a half ago, all I could learn about the trail was written in 2010, and I haven't seen any updated information.I wonder if it might be useful to provide a crowd-sourced list of current construction projects in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, along with up-to-date information about what's happening. I know construction projects take forever, particularly in the U.S., today, but knowing whether the completion of a project like Bolin Creek expansion or the Tanyard Brance renovation is months or years away would be nice, if only to set my expectations appropriately.

The Parks department limits construction to one greenway project at a time because they do not have enough staff to do more than that. The current plan is to begin construction on Bolin Creek phase three after construction on Morgan Creek phase two is completed (which is slated for completion winter 2013/2014). There is a monthly Parks and Rec capital development newsletter that goes out that has news about greenway projects (among other things) Email Bill Webster ( to sign up. I think your idea of a comprehensive construction list sounds like a great idea. 

This would be a good page for TriangleWiki -- 

James --At first glance, the walk zone looks nicely sized, although the inability to cross MLK/Airport/Colombia is unfortunate. I understand the safety concerns, but in my former home town some school walk zones crossed five-lane roads with a light rail line running down the middle, with the help of a crossing guard, so maybe a blanket rule isn't the right approach and these should be made on a case-by-case basis. Given the poor state of pedestrian accessibility to cross MLK down in the vicinity of the school, however, it does seem foolish to expect parents with six-year-olds to be able to cross.I've got another question, though.  I'd be interested to know how the size of the walkzone at Elem 11, both in terms of geography and student population, compares to other schools', and what percentage of students at each school are within the walk zone. Is this data that is easily available from the CHCCS web site? - geoff

Anyone know where/when assignment maps will be available for all schools after the broader zones for Northside Elementary are established?

That is the entire topic of the post above. If it does not have enough information, please read the PDF of the Superintendent's report. 


Whoops. That's what I get for perusing OP primarily through the prism of the Latest Comments.

The Redistricting Advisory Council will complete its work next week. 
After that, hopefully by the end of next week, the redistricting plans
that will be presented to the School Board to consider will be posted here: The two public hearings will be from 7-10 on December 3rd at Carrboro High School
Auditorium and December 12th hearing at CHHS Auditorium. They will be podcasted and audio
recorded. The Board will then have a work session on the plans on December 20th at CH Town Hall.  That will be televised.  The Board's policy #4150, which addresses redistricting, is below. If you
read it, you will see that the Board's challenge will be to juggle the
criteria of balancing the schools by achievement, socioeconomic status
and proximity. We will be hearing from many parents.  If you don't have a child in the schools, but do have thoughts about which of
those criteria is most important if we can't achieve all three, I hope
you will feel free to weigh in.{F2A}&softpage=PL_frame

Does anyone know the process for expressing interest in attending the new FPG dual-immersion spanish magnet program?  Are there any upcoming meetings addresing this?  Any info would be much appreciated. Thanks!

All the forms for enrollment (which starts Feb 1 for the 2013-14 school year and includes signing up for dual language for K and 1st graders) are located here --

I would contact the Coordinator of Enrollment, Catherine Mau, at or 919-967-8211 x 28294.  She will be able to help with the "how" to apply to the program.  We have just shifted staff who oversee dual language and I don't recall the name of the correct contact person to answer other questions about the program but Ms. Mau should be able to help you figure that out.


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