Regrouping, not redistricting, planned for new Columbia high school

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 | 8:45 p.m. CDT; updated 11:45 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 17, 2008

COLUMBIA - Although no pen has been put to maps yet, school district lines will not be redrawn to determine who will attend the new Columbia high school, said Don Ludwig, chairman of the Secondary Enrollment Planning Committee. Instead, elementary and middle schools will be regrouped and reassigned to high schools.

The board will regroup schools based on current enrollment instead of geographical areas. Students will be assigned to high schools based on where they currently go to school.

The conversation is made slightly more complicated because, while regrouping the feeder schools, grades will also be reconfigured.

The system will eventually be set up so students attend elementary school for grades kindergarten-5, middle school for grades 6-8 and high school for grades 9-12, eliminating one school transition. Students currently make three transitions between elementary, middle, junior and high school.

The committee has three main goals to accomplish before making its recommendations to the Columbia Board of Education in May:

• Balancing enrollment to approximately 1,600 to 1,800 students per high school and 650 students per middle school

• Keeping an equal composition of the student body across all secondary schools in regards to the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunches and the percentage of students in different social and economic status

• Creating grandfathering recommendations for siblings of students who want to go to the school to which they were originally assigned instead of attending a new high school.

Ludwig has dealt with redistricting before. Most recently, he redrew the lines for seven elementary schools in consideration for the eighth, which is currently undergoing construction.

Simulating which school will feed into others on the computer allows Ludwig to see the potential composition of a school. For example, should a combination produce too high of percentage for a specific characteristic, the simulation can be altered and re-run until it is reflective of the Columbia community.

Redistricting for the elementary schools took Ludwig 35 attempts before it worked. He said he thinks the high school job will be easier since he isn't redistricting, but reorganizing.

Ludwig says challenges arise when students involved with athletics are moved. Parents and students who planned to participate on a particular team or squad might become upset when they realize they're going somewhere new and starting with a new athletic program, he said.

The committee will hold eight public forums in October to hear public input, comments and concerns.

Jan Mees, a board of education and Secondary Enrollment Planning Committee member, said she has no idea what people will say at the community forums. Mees said the committee will soon find out what issues are in the back of citizens' minds by what issues are highlighted at the forums and are in need of further consideration.

The committee is responsible for recommending boundary changes in order to incorporate a third comprehensive high school into the Columbia Public School District and regrouping Columbia's secondary schools, according to the Columbia Public Schools Web site.

According to Mees, some committee members were on the original planning committee when Rock Bridge High School was redistricted five or six years ago. Additionally, the committee sought representatives from schools that will be affected by the regrouping and community members who served on previous or similar commissions.



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