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School district boundary approaches draw mixed response at first forum

Tuesday, November 1, 2011 | 11:19 p.m. CDT; updated 8:26 p.m. CDT, Thursday, November 3, 2011

To see maps of Columbia Public Schools' redistricting options, click here.

COLUMBIA — Change is really difficult.

Forums this month

Community members will have many more opportunities to give the district feedback on the three scenarios. There are seven remaining meetings, all of which will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. in the schools' media centers. Here is the schedule:

  • Thursday, Rock Bridge High School
  • Nov. 8, West Junior High School
  • Nov. 9, Jefferson Junior High School
  • Nov. 10, Oakland Junior High School
  • Nov. 15, Smithton Middle School
  • Nov. 16, Lange Middle School
  • Nov. 17, Gentry Middle School

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That was how Wanda Brown, assistant superintendent of secondary education, began the first of eight public forums this month on boundary realignment proposed for Columbia Public Schools.

About 75 people showed up at Hickman High School to learn more about a half-dozen boundary maps proposed for intermediate and high schools in the district. The changes will take effect in August 2013, when Battle High School opens in northeastern Columbia and middle and junior high schools transition into intermediate schools.

Parents and teachers listened as Don Ludwig, chairman of the committee charged with coming up with the proposed boundaries, said community input will have a major influence on what the committee recommends to the Columbia School Board in February 2012. The feedback will be used to narrow the three scenarios to two. 

"We would really like you all to ask questions or to make comments on as many aspects as possible," Ludwig said.

And they did.

Enrollment

"I think the committee did a good job because Battle had the highest percentage of free and reduced-lunch students, and they're the smallest in enrollment," Tranna Foley, mother of one student at West Junior High School and another at Hickman, said. "That’s great. That’s how it should be." 

But Foley is concerned that the committee did not accomplish its stated goal of ensuring that the school with the highest percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch will have the lowest enrollment.

"Hickman has the second highest percentage of free and reduced-lunch students," she said. "But we have the highest enrollment."

Distance to schools

Arnel Monroe said about travel, "Every time we talk about demographics, we talk about travel time, distance and safety. Travel time where? In Columbia? Travel time on a bus across Columbia is 30 minutes."

Peter Wilden said there might be more behind the discussion of transportation than just getting kids to school. Wilden implied that some parents masked their concerns about balancing demographics with concerns about travel time.

If the committee did not consider this, Wilden said, then "there was a level of naivety that was not expected." 

Diversity in schools

"My biggest thing and what you (the committee) said was your overriding principle is demographics," said Susan Griggs, a teacher at Hickman. "Demographics are the most important factor to consider. To me, scenario C makes the most sense." 

The maps are divided into approaches A, B and C. Each scenario has two maps, one for high school boundaries and one for intermediate school boundaries. Although the committee recommends that they be chosen as a pair, they can be chosen independently.

"I've taught in the district, and I understand socioeconomic balance," said Kristine Hays, mother of three students in the school district.  "I worked at Oakland, Lange and West. I would love to see it balance."

Darin Preis, a co-chairman with Ludwig and Brown of the secondary enrollment planning committee and a former school board member, said economic disparities in the community are not going to be solved by these boundaries.

Some in the crowd agreed.

"This is a deeper issue in our community when you have disparities between what you can do at Hickman, what you can do at Rock Bridge and what you can do at Battle," said Annelle Whitt, parent of a student who will attend Hickman. "If you balance free and reduced-lunch (students), when those kids are together, they are going to want to be a great school."

The next forum is at 7 p.m. Thursday at Rock Bridge High School, 4303 S. Providence Road. The public can also comment by calling the district at 214-3960 or by going to the district's website, www.columbia.k12.mo.us/scenarios.

Missourian reporter Brendan Gibbons contributed to this article.


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