Oakland forum focuses on transitions for eighth-graders

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 | 11:31 p.m. CDT; updated 11:41 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 15, 2011

COLUMBIA — Eighth-graders in Columbia public schools will face tougher transitions than other students as the Columbia School District proceeds with opening Muriel Battle High School in 2013.

At the community forum at Oakland Junior High School on Tuesday night, parents were concerned about some eighth-grade students who will go through three different schools during their four years of high school.

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Community members at the Oakland forum also brought up travel distance and safety and diversity, which were important topics discussed at the West Junior High School and Jefferson Junior High School forums last week.

Parents at all three forums raised concerns about the distances students would be traveling and the safety of possibly having to drive on major highways. Many want to make sure the district balances diversity with reasonable travel distances.

“I don’t think we are going to go to extreme travel patterns to balance the schools,” committee co-chairman Don Ludwig said at the West forum. “It’s a big school district. We’re just going to do the best job we can to handle the diversity and minimize the travel.”

Although Columbia resident Pat Short wants to make sure travel distance remains a priority, he said he is also grateful for the work the committee is doing.

“They’ve done their homework for these presentations,” Short said at the Jefferson forum. “They truly do care about the input of the community."

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“When talk first started about the third high school, we were told that eighth- graders who started as sophomores at that high school would stay at that high school,” said Chris Temporal, mother of an eighth-grader at Oakland. “We were told they wouldn’t be part of that transition (to Battle) because it would be disruptive to their education.”

As the plan stands right now, current eighth-graders would stay in junior high as freshmen and enter high school as sophomores in 2012. They could potentially transition to a new high school again as juniors at Battle in 2013, depending on how the district boundaries are drawn.

Temporal’s concern stems from her own experience switching high schools.

“I didn’t feel like I belonged to either school,” she said.

Other parents echoed Temporal’s worry. Some wondered how kids could feel connected to their school and motivated to succeed if they switched schools every year. Fran Muench, who also has a child in eighth grade, suggested the transfer policy be more lenient for current eighth-grade students so the transitions are not as frequent.

“The eighth-graders are by far getting the rawest end of the deal,” Muench said. “The kids that are in eighth grade now who will go to Battle should have the option to change.”

Darin Preis, a co-chairman of the secondary enrollment planning committee, encouraged community members to give the committee feedback so it could better address the parents’ uncertainties.

“This is an emotional issue, and I appreciate and respect that you are bringing that emotion, because these are our kids that we are talking about,” Preis said.

He also said he thinks a more flexible transfer policy for current eighth-grade students once they enter high school would be supported.

“I can’t speak for the board, but I think that that’s going to be a strong recommendation that I would be surprised if we didn’t accept,” he said.

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