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COLUMBIA — Columbia Public Schools unveiled its three proposed boundary scenarios at a news conference Thursday morning.
In April, Don Ludwig, chairman of the Secondary Enrollment Planning Committee, divided the committee into three groups, each assigned a separate approach, by putting member’s names into a hat and drawing them at random.
Each group had seven or eight members who were told not to collaborate with the other groups. The charge was that over the next five months, they would draw the boundaries, starting with areas bordered by major roads and slowly progressing to smaller and smaller divisions.
Group A was to prioritize elementary feeder schools. It was asked to minimize the splitting of elementary feeder schools into new intermediate school areaES+s before defining high school boundaries.
Group B was to prioritize intermediate feeder schools. It first defined the boundaries for the three main high schools, including Battle, then defined two paired intermediate schools to feed into each new high school attendance area.
Group C was not to operate under a feeder school priority. It defined three high school boundaries, then defined intermediate boundaries.
School board members, district employees, journalists and about five parents attended the event to listen to Superintendent Chris Belcher and Don Ludwig, chairman of the secondary enrollment planning committee, explain the proposed boundaries.
The boundaries were redrawn during the past year to incorporate Battle High School, under construction on St. Charles Road. In 2013, the district will reconfigure high schools to serve grades nine through 12 and intermediate schools to serve grades six through eight.
"I can't think of any district that has completely redrawn secondary boundaries in this way," Belcher said.
"The one great fortune we have in this is that Don Ludwig has done this for the cost of zero," he added.
He thanked Ludwig for the time he put in narrowing the 125 maps down to six — three high school boundary scenarios and three intermediate school ones. Although the committee recommends choosing the intermediate and high school boundaries together, they can be chosen separately. Belcher said Ludwig had considered just about every possibility during the process.
"If you ask the question, 'Did you think of...,' the answer is yes," Belcher said.
Ludwig explained how the committee developed the maps, first by listening to community feedback, then by moving areas in and out of different boundaries, calculating the resulting enrollment and demographic data with the help of a consulting firm, RSP and Associates. Since May, the 25-member committee has met almost weekly, except in August, to experiment with different scenarios.
He said the committee's most important guiding principle was balancing the demographics of each school without causing issues in transporting students far from their homes.
There was also a trade-off between enrollment and demographics. The higher the enrollment, the lower the percentage of students receiving free and reduced-price lunch, which the district uses as an indicator of students' socioeconomic levels.
"It's a seesaw," Ludwig said. "Whenever enrollment was good, demographics weren't and vice versa, so we had to have a little bit of a compromise."
In all three iterations of the boundaries, Battle has at least 10 percent more students receiving free and reduced-price lunch than Hickman or Rock Bridge high schools.
In 2013, Battle will open with grades nine, 10 and 11, Ludwig said. Because there will be no senior class at Battle during its first year, Hickman and Rock Bridge will have more seniors that year than in the following years, Ludwig said.
The grade reorganization will also put the enrollment of all six intermediate schools below capacity, which will reduce overcrowding, he said.
Ludwig said November will be a time for the district to hear community feedback again and use it to eliminate one of the three scenarios.
"We very desperately need the feedback," he said.
Marie Tarr, a parent in the district, said she heard about the meeting online and decided to attend to see where her house fit in the proposed boundary scenarios.
"I thought that there would be more parents at this event today, but there will be more opportunities for them to attend in November," she said. "I was happy to learn of these outcomes after what must have been a very complicated and long process."
*Tarr has two children in the district, a seventh-grader and a ninth-grader. She said that under two scenarios, her house falls in Rock Bridge territory. In the third, it is within Hickman lines.
"I am glad that they are making the scenarios transparent to the community," she said.
Alan King, another parent, attended the meeting with his wife, school board member Christine King. King said he lives near Smithton Middle School, so it was easy for him to find out what schools his children might attend.
"I don't care where we end up as long as my kids get a good education," he said.
He said even though he is married to a school board member and knows some people on the committee personally, he didn't receive any more information than the rest of the community.
"They kept it confidential," he said.
He has two children, one in seventh grade and one in fourth grade. He said his children have not expressed any concerns at all.
"The parents care more about this than the kids do," he said. "The kids that have concerns are the ones with older siblings."
He said his seventh-grader has a friend who loves Hickman High School, as does the rest of his family.
"They bleed purple," he said. "But that's because his sister's there."
He also said the issue of which school students attend is less important than parents might think because students often get to know students from other schools. This happens through sports leagues and extracurricular activities that draw from students of different schools, he said.
"There's a lot more interconnectivity between schools than people think," King said.
The proposed boundary changes will not take effect until Battle opens in fall 2013.