High school redistricting process highlights demographic gap

Tuesday, June 3, 2008 | 2:14 p.m. CDT; updated 10:54 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

From Andy Materer, Columbia

The previous redistricting process for the high schools in Columbia Public Schools was a failure of fairness and equity. Our outward goals as a community were to represent the demographics of the community equally at both schools, yet the opposite occurred. Many affluent neighborhoods that were in the Hickman district were changed to the Rock Bridge district. Conversely, areas that should have been switched from Rock Bridge to Hickman district, to diversify our socio-economic population, were not switched. Teachers at Hickman High understand the negative impact of the last redistricting and speak of the “impoverishment” of Hickman. When asked, students bluntly state that Rock Bridge is for rich kids and Hickman is for the others.

Examining local areas in town, including my own affluent neighborhood that is close to the MKT Trail and Stadium, raises a red flag of concern. I am a brisk walk away from Hickman, but my children would attend Rock Bridge. Due to proximity, areas south of Broadway yet north of Stadium should have been moved or remained in the Hickman district. Areas like the Old South West are close to Hickman and should be Hickman district.

Even areas around West Boulevard, north of Stadium, are Rock Bridge district. While having dinner with the family of a Ph.D. geologist who lives on Rollins, I spoke with their kids not about finals at Hickman High, but at Rock Bridge.

The flawed reasoning for these decisions was to diversify the schools by sending students from central areas to south of town. Of course, the opposite occurred because these chosen central neighborhoods are composed of professors, professionals, doctors and other more affluent people. Finally, the Fairview area should have entirely stayed in the Hickman district if we wanted equality, yet half of the Fairview area was designated to the Rock Bridge district.

The negative impact of the redistricting is that Rock Bridge has less diversity compared to Hickman, and Rock Bridge has more affluent families in its attendance area. According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Hickman had a 23.3 percent free and reduced lunch rate in 2007, while Rock Bridge had only a 9.8 percent rate. Also, 81 percent of students at Rock Bridge took the ACT, while only 61 percent of Hickman students took it. In effect, we have a two-tier school system in Columbia where complex and rambling district lines control where children learn and associate. Hickman had long been known for academic excellence yet only retains that fading distinction by the courageous effort of its teachers.

While this is the opposite goal of the of CPS administration, the last redistricting perpetuated this disparity instead of improving it. Unfortunately, the upcoming redistricting is shaping up to be no different with the same people providing leadership. Education is the equalizer of the American Dream, and our community owes our children fair and equal district boundaries. I hope next time we get it right.

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