COLUMBIA — Ridgeway Elementary School parents and faculty spent much of an informational meeting on Tuesday brainstorming ways to make the best of a difficult situation.
Ridgeway faces larger classes than ever before because of student transfers allowed under provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.
A group of about 45 parents and grandparents gathered in the gymnasium to hear Jack Jensen, assistant superintendent for elementary education, explain the details of how the act affects Ridgeway.
The act provides Title I funding for schools with a larger percentage of disadvantaged students. Because six of Columbia's Title I schools did not meet proficiency goals this year, the school district must give parents the option to transfer children from those six schools to a school that met the yearly goal.
Ridgeway is one of only five Columbia schools that met the standards. The district can't deny a transfer because of capacity at the target school.
In the past, Columbia Public Schools followed the state Department of Secondary and Elementary Education's guidelines for a "desirable" classroom size.
"I've always had this rule: If you get to the desirable level in the building, I do not approve the transfer," Jensen said. Now, the district has increased the number of students to the "maximum" limit.
Two Mile Prairie Elementary School, another school open to transfers, started the school year with its class sizes exceeding the maximum in two grades. The district sent three aids to help with the overflow. Jensen said he would ask the school board for more help if other schools hit maximum limits.
The deadline for submitting transfer applications is Friday. The rest of the transfers will be placed after that deadline.
Ridgeway is a magnet school that requires parents to apply to enroll and wait until selected from a lottery. This system kept the class sizes from fluctuating, Jensen said.
Ewell Lawson, the vice president of Ridgeway's Parent Teacher Student Association, said he worries about fitting kids into the classrooms. Already, a hallway doubles as a classroom.
"I just don't see how it will work," Lawson said.
The Title I transfers are placed in front of the waiting list because of the high demand. If the district doesn't transfer students, it will lose all of its Title I funding — $3.1 million. Jensen said this leaves the district few options, and closing Ridgeway to transfers won't leave space at the four other schools.
Although Ridgeway is the most popular request on the transfer applications, Jensen said proximity and transportation factors into student placement.
"I'm always going to work to make it as equitable across all buildings as possible," Jensen said.
Future transportation funding for transfer students is contingent upon meeting those goals, which concerned some parents in the crowd. Parents apply from all over the district to enroll their children at Ridgeway, so the school already has complicated bus routes.
Kelly Henke's son won the lottery this year to enter Ridgeway as a second grader. She said he loved his first days at Ridgeway, and she wouldn't transfer him if Ridgeway didn't meet the yearly goals.
Despite concerns, several speakers at the meeting expressed an eagerness to embrace the new transfers as part of the "Ridgeway family." The school hosted an open house for the transfers the day before school started.
Letha Wooten, a grandmother of two Ridgeway students, said she "gained a lot of knowledge" from the meeting.
"I'm still concerned about class size, but I don't see any other avenue Jensen can take at this point," she said, and added that she is less concerned than she was before the meeting.
Most of the crowd, and Jensen, accepted the possibility that Ridgeway might not always meet the yearly goal, which rises every year until 2014, when 100 percent of students are expected to test proficient.
"I see it as the high jump," Jensen said. "Because eventually, everybody will not make the bar."