Some Home Place, WestClay parents especially concerned by Carmel’s middle school redistricting proposals


Carmel Clay Schools is redistricting its students because of the upcoming closure of one elementary school and the opening of another, but its effects on middle school attendance boundaries is a top concern for many parents.

Orchard Park Elementary will be shuttered at the end of the school year, with Clay Center Elementary opening next fall 5 miles to the northwest. CCS and consulting firm Cooperative Strategies released three proposed redistricting scenarios in late October and have been gathering feedback ever since through an online survey and at two community meetings this week at Carmel High School.

Currently, four elementary schools feed into Clay and Carmel middle schools and three feed into Creekside Middle School. But because of quick growth on the west side of town, the three feeding into Creekside equal nearly as many students as the four that feed into the other two schools.

Once the elementary school populations are more evenly balanced through redistricting, school officials said it wouldn’t make sense to have the same elementary schools — with Clay Center replacing Orchard Park — feeding into the middle schools because the populations would not be balanced. In that scenario, Carmel Middle would school end up with hundreds more students than the other two campuses.

The proposed shuffling has led to many Orchard Park parents being especially disappointed with the three proposed redistricting options, none of which keep their middle school students at Carmel Middle School, the nearest campus and where their kids now attend. All three proposals send some students from Home Place to Creekside Middle School and the rest to Clay Middle School.

Stacy Eggert, mother of a fifth-grade student at Orchard Park, was one of many Home Place residents to express concern about the middle school redistricting proposals at a Nov. 4 community meeting at Carmel High School for CCS to gather feedback on the three proposed redistricting options.

“It’s going to hurt enough losing Orchard Park Elementary,” Eggert said. “These scenarios have my daughter going to either Creekside or Clay, and to me, that logistically absolutely makes no sense.”

CCS Associate Supt. of Business Affairs Roger McMichael said after the meeting that he’s heard similar comments from other Orchard Park parents, with some indicating that south-central Carmel continues to get the “short end of the stick,” in part because its residents aren’t as wealthy and don’t have as many resources as those in other parts of the district. McMichael denied those allegations.

“We don’t drive decisions based on where you live or how much money you make or whoever you are,” he said. “You’d be naive to think it doesn’t have any influence, but in this process we don’t have conversations that go, ‘Well, we shouldn’t move this neighborhood because they’ll gang together, and we can move this one because they won’t say anything.’”

Several parents from the Village of WestClay also spoke at the meeting, asking district officials to keep their neighborhood together. Currently, Village of WestClay students attend College Wood and West Clay elementary schools, which are next door to each other, and all students go to Creekside Middle School.

In the first two scenarios, Village of WestClay students would attend College Wood, West Clay and Clay Center elementaries but still attend Creekside, while in the third scenario, Village of WestClay students would still attend West Clay and Clay Center elementaries and be split between Creekside and Carmel Middle Schools.

Keeping neighborhoods together is one of four redistricting priorities adopted by the school board, but McMichael said after the Nov. 4 meeting that having 5,000 homes in the Village of WestClay makes redistricting a challenge.

“I don’t think we’ve figured out a way to keep that neighborhood together,” he said. “If they stay and West Clay (Elementary) is overcrowded, who leaves?”   

Several parents at the meeting asked district officials to minimize the impact of redistricting as much as possible because 2020 has already placed tremendous strain on students, parents and teachers as they pursue education during a global pandemic. Many said they were especially worried about the impact on middle school students, who are already experiencing a time of dramatic change.

“I agree wholeheartedly with moving to the scenario that impacts the least number of families, especially in a year when everyone’s lives have been turned upside down,” said Victoria Hyatt Cahn, a parent of twins at Creekside. “For these kids having such an abnormal educational experience, then to think a large number of them are going to be impacted by redistricting is an awful lot to put on our young people and their mental health.”

The district will continue gathering feedback on the proposed redistricting scenarios through a survey that closes at 8 a.m. Nov. 9. Cooperative Solutions Senior Associate Director Matt Sachs said so far, option No. 1, which affects the least amount of families, appears to have the most support. Sachs expects the recommendation presented to the board Nov. 23 will likely not be an exact match with any of the proposed scenarios but will be revised based on feedback from the community. The board is expected to vote on the recommendation during its Dec. 14 meeting.

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