COLUMBIA — Race and economic diversity of a school's population matters more to community members than their children staying with the same group of peers from kindergarten through graduation, according to parents who attended community forums held Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
The comments were directed to the secondary enrollment planning committee, a 25-member group responsible for recommending boundary changes to incorporate the third comprehensive Columbia public high school, slated to open in August 2010. The committee also handles reorganizing school structure so grades 6 through 8 attend middle schools and grades 9 through 12 attend high schools.
Mark Blount, a teacher at Hickman High School, asked on Tuesday and Wednesday night how the committee plans to manage diversity among the three high schools while simultaneously trying to keep students together from kindergarten through graduation.
"Balance is more important than keeping kids together with their friends," Blount said. "Perhaps moving (to a different school) makes for a more well-rounded kid. Breaking up classes to make new friends and have new experiences is important."
This year's second-grade students will be the first class to experience the full effects of the decisions made by the committee. Students now enrolled in eighth grade or higher will not be affected by regrouping of grades or the new high school.
The first phase of the transition plan places 250 ninth-grade students in the new high school when it opens in 2010. An additional 250 ninth-graders will be added in 2011, for a total of 500 students. In both 2012 and 2013, 500 ninth-graders will be added, for a total of 1,500 students.
On Tuesday, Wanda Brown, assistant superintendent for secondary education, assured parents the programming and academic offerings at the new school will be similar to those offered at Rock Bridge and Hickman High schools. Academic offerings will expand as the student body grows, Brown said.
Additionally, she spoke of how the students would benefit from attending a smaller school.
"There are good quality small schools," Brown said. "It will allow students to go out for things they might not have done so in a large school since there aren't so many people competing for the spots."
Numerous parents have asked for specifics about which middle and high school their child would attend, but the committee was unable to provide that information. Ludwig said the committee will start working on who goes to what school in late December or early January. Final recommendations will be presented to the school board in May.
All forums are held from 7 to 9 p.m. in each school's media center: Tuesday at West Junior High School, Wednesday at Jefferson Junior High School and Thursday at Oakland Junior High School.