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LIVE: School boundaries forum from Rock Bridge High School

Thursday, November 3, 2011 | 7:03 p.m. CDT; updated 3:23 p.m. CDT, Friday, November 4, 2011

For background on proposed new school boundaries in Columbia, view maps of the redistricting options and read our previous coverage.

COLUMBIA — The second of eight community forums about realigning intermediate and high school boundaries is underway at Rock Bridge High School. The Missourian is live-blogging the discussion.

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Your blogger this evening is Missourian reporter Brendan Gibbons, a junior in science and agricultural journalism from Grand Junction, Colo. He's being assisted by reporters James Ayello, a junior in journalism from Elgin, Ill., and Melissa Gilstrap, a junior in journalism from Crocker, near Fort Leonard Wood.

Elizabeth Brixey, the Missourian's education editor, is in the newsroom receiving updates and posting them online. The forum is supposed to go until 9 p.m., although the one at Hickman High School on Tuesday went until 9:30.

This live blog archive is presented in reverse chronological order. You can start reading from the beginning of our coverage by clicking here.

9:16 p.m. Good night, folks. That's it for the live blog. We're going to revamp this blog to provide our Friday print readers with a recap of what happened. Thanks for joining us, and we'll see you again next week. The next forum is at 7 p.m. Tuesday at West Junior High School, 401 Clinkscales Road.

9 p.m. Wanda Brown: "Something to consider as well: Looking at demographics, we now have 40 percent of our total students on free and reduced lunch in this community. Forty percent. You have to factor that in."

In response to a question about how teachers will be selected, Brown says, "First thing we’re going to consider when moving people is what’s going to be best for that building. We want a team."

Preis calls an end to the meeting, and people immediately stand up and start leaving. The atmosphere is buzzing, but it feels neighborly. Small clusters of people remain behind, talking among themselves and to committee members.

Final thoughts from Preis, told to our reporters: "The people at Hickman didn’t think we were concerned with demographics enough. Here they didn't think we were concerned with travel. Those were the same arguments we heard in March from the same people.

“It went pretty well. It’s a challenging issue talking about people’s kids. People’s expectations for their kids’ public school careers are changing, and that’s an emotional issue. I think we’re moving in the right direction."

Final thoughts from Brown: "It was interesting. They talked much more about intermediate schools and not as much about the high schools. Mill Creek has a very strong family community. People love where they go to school."

8:55 p.m. Cathy Stanley has two children in public schools: “The friends my kids made in elementary school, I thought it would be devastating if they didn’t stay together. Later they get involved in band, sports teams and other things. They get involved and that’s who they hang out with. I would encourage whoever’s making these policies to make them quickly and make them known so that I can move quickly, and, if I don’t like these policies, to decide to move.”

Leigh Pate has a sophomore at Hickman: "He chose Hickman. We’re very proud there. I do have a major concern. He’s going to be a senior the year of 2013. There’s a possibility of 300 additional kids that year. Right now, I’m concerned about the hallway situation. What is the plan to hold 300 additional students that year?”

Tracey Conrad, Hickman principal: "They are building a new gym and additional classroom space. We know we can do it. I think the teachers will rise to the occasion. It’s temporary. We’ll only have these kids for a couple years, and I really think we can do it."

8:45 p.m. Melanie Forrest has three children in public schools and is a former teacher at Hickman: “Approach C was most flexible in growth areas of northeast and southwest. It gives a little more cushion room for people being able to move into those two areas. ... I prefer A for high school. C would be the backup. I don’t like the targeting of certain neighborhoods just to fulfill a demographic. (Approach) A intermediate has no sense of community at all ... ."

This group’s concern seems to be more on transportation, reducing overcrowding and keeping communities of students together. The forum Tuesday focused almost entirely on evening out demographics.

8:35 p.m. Laura Cole has three students in public schools: “Approach C seems to be the common-sense approach. It evens out the demographics of free and reduced lunch. It seemed to fulfill those big bullet points.”

8:25 p.m. Karen Smith has a child who is a senior, and four others who graduated: “None of this affects me at all. As a parent who’s been through all of this the last 20 years, I like that everybody likes the lines for the high schools, no complaints about that. Jeff has no air conditioning, West has no air conditioning. Will some of those things be evened out?”

Kim Dampier has three school-age children and an 8-week-old: “I think it’s really obvious that we can see that splitting up Mill Creek into four different intermediate schools under (approach) A. Maybe it really does need to be split up. Does the city ever consider the infrastructure of the school? Most of us are liking C for intermediate plans, but Gentry is closest to capacity. We’re breaking this out, but then again, we’re near capacity again — and that doesn’t take into account new growth coming up."

Preis: "We may need to do this every five to seven years, redraw the boundaries. I mean, I won’t be volunteering." Everybody laughs. "I think the reality is Mill Creek will need to be split up."

Dampier: "Does the city take into account schools in new development?"

Ludwig: "No, there’s not an integrated city-school district plan."

Dampier: "Is that smart? Our children will be paying for it with their education."

Annelle Whitt has a ninth-grader: “I’m on the comprehensive planning committee for the city. There was not a strategic plan for development, it kind of just happened.

"My comment now is relative to listening. I hear that this is a very passionate issue for us because we all want what is best for our children and community. There is no perfect plan we’re going to get. I hope we can think beyond just ourselves, because the issue really is about all the children. I hope that we as a community want to be the best what we can be, and I think if it means we might have to sacrifice in a small way, there’s so much more for the community.”

Applause.

Preis: “Someone said on Tuesday night, if we could just tear down the schools and put them where they all need to be, we could solve the problem.” A few people chuckle. “I really wish we could do that.”

Tom Boren, community member of the secondary enrollment planning committee: “Our first problem was, down south we only have Gentry. We have too many kids in the southern part of town to fit in one. When we split the elementary schools, we split the large ones up. So even though Mill Creek will be split, a lot of those cohorts will stay together.”

8:15 p.m. Janine Stichter, parent of two children in public schools: "A lot of us in the south end up driving, and I think people take that for granted. The reality is that we end up driving. We don’t have data on how many of us don’t use the bus. I want our schools to have the resources they need and not to spend it on gas. Based on Mill Creek’s overcrowding and where I live, it would be option C for me."

8:08 p.m. Dearld Snider, who has a third-grader and a fifth-grader at Mill Creek: “We’ve talked about driving by the school, and that’s our situation. We'll be driving through the MU campus and downtown to get there. We’ll be driving right by Gentry Intermediate School. We live in Heritage Meadows, Heritage Estates and Heritage Woods area, and since we live a few miles from Gentry, many of our kids could easily ride their bikes to school. But that will be taken from them if they have to go to Jeff Junior High.

"In option A, which I don’t like, we’ll stretch it all the way out across town. You really kind of strip away the community under that option, in addition to Mill Creek being divided up into groups. In our neighborhood, the best scenario would be C.”

Preis: "We didn’t aim for one neighborhood or one household. We tried to have a balance."

Sara Fougere, who has three children: "Intermediate approach A doesn’t make sense for those of us who live on the south side of town. We’re a mile and a half from Gentry. We walk to Gentry because of the community. The people who live near Gentry can see it from their house, and it doesn’t make sense for them to go to Jeff."

8 p.m. Mindy Van Eaton, who has a third-grader and fifth-grader: “I’m curious about approach A. It’s supposed to be an elementary feeder school scenario, but Mill Creek is split. Mill Creek is a great school, but we haven’t had a lot of board support or district support. We have an overcrowding issue.” She says RSP didn’t have accurate data for her school. 

Anna Zacherl: “They’ve (the children) built relationships to get them through the next five years. I don’t like any of the scenarios because each one removes her (her daughter) from her friends. You can’t build this all on demographics.”

Preis: "There are circumstances where students don’t end up where parents thought they were going to end up. The silver lining is all these schools are really great schools."

7:54 p.m. Preis has returned to the front of the room, and the hubbub is dying down.

One of our reporters, Jim Ayello, just asked Brown who is receiving the comments from the public. She said Ludwig, but he’s not going to look at them until December to avoid any bias. They’ve had 300 hits on the site so far and lots and lots of comment cards.

Preis: “When you have a comment, please give us your name and tell us if you have any school affiliation. If you could wrap up your comment by telling us what your favorite scenario is or what your least favorite scenario is.

“At this point, I’d like to open it up for questions or comments.”

Deanna Sharpe: "My fifth-grader would go to Smithton. Under any scenario, he would go to West or Jeff. As a child who doesn’t do transitions well, I’m trying to see how he can get support.” She also has a ninth-grader.

Preis: "Something we haven’t talked about with scenario planning is a lot of faculty will be transition to different buildings as well."

“I do not like approach A,” says Kay Hake, who has a third-, seventh- and 11th-grader.

7:44 p.m. A few parents go to the maps at the front of the room. They trace their fingers over the boundaries, searching for their homes.

7:37 p.m. Ludwig explains how Battle not having a senior class in 2013 will boost enrollment at Hickman and Rock Bridge. The number of Hickman students zoned for Battle is much higher than Rock Bridge.

One new slide says “5 possible scenarios.” The first three options pair approaches A, B and C. But then there are mix-and-match possibilities.

“Someone said Tuesday you should make this clearer.”

Darin Preis, committee co-chairman, takes the floor. “I have the thickest skin, so I was chosen for this part of the job.”

“We had our light moments, but through this process we understood the weight of the decisions we were making.”

“We’re going to take about 10 minutes to talk to your neighbors, start formulating your questions.”

Conversations sprout up all over the crowd.

7:23 p.m. Ludwig describes the differences among the three scenarios. There are murmurs of, “Oh, I get it now.” 

“There’s clearly growth in the northeast. There will be a lot of growth after the new high school comes in. That’ll all be confirmed when we get the new numbers from RSP (the consultant).”

“School proximity was a heck of a problem. When they designed the schools, they didn’t think of this at all.”

Ludwig continues: “If you look at Lange and Oakland, about 60 percent of the population is within the walking area.”

“Only Gentry Middle School is purely unencumbered in terms of walking area.”

Unlike Tuesday night, they’re showing current percentages for the number of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch for all the high schools on their graphs.

7:17 p.m. Ludwig reiterates the committee’s charge and guiding principles.

“Balancing demographics will be the driving principle to the extent that transportation distances are reasonable.”

“One thing we didn’t do yet is recommend a transfer policy because it’s very complex. We’re still not sure until we narrow it down and get the updated data.”

The data he refers to is new enrollment data for this year.

7:13 p.m. The presentation ends. Committee chairman Don Ludwig gets up in front and addresses the crowd.

“Sincerely, thank you for being here.”

“In May, we started working in earnest every week over at Smithton Middle School and concluded this effort early in October.”

“I just want to mention we have six forums ahead of us. You can come back if you wish or tell your friends.”

Ludwig says the slides for future forums will be slightly different because they will address intermediate schools.

“We want to calibrate what we’ve done based on your feedback.”

“In the first week of December, we will recommend two scenarios to the board of education based on your feedback.”

“Every school has a set of maps and comment cards, and you can drop them off there if you wish.”

7:10 p.m. Everyone listens closely as Brown’s PowerPoint outlines the paths of students in grades five through nine. The only other sound is a toddler burbling in the back of the room.

7:07  p.m. Brown's presentation, “Understanding Redistricting in 2013,” begins playing on a large projector in front of the crowd. Everyone listens in silence.

7:04 p.m. Wanda Brown, assistant superintendent for secondary education, introduces herself. She calls it “arguably the most exciting redistricting process in district history.”

At this point, about 75 people are in attendance.

"We are here tonight to do three things: The first is to show you a very brief PowerPoint. Then we’ll let Don Ludwig take you through the process of how the committee worked. Then we’re going to take a break, and Darin Preis, co-chair, will lead the community discussion."

"In your comments and questions, please respect the work of the committee."

7 p.m.

Seats are filling up fast. There are some familiar faces here from Tuesday’s forum. Now there are about 65 people.

Secondary enrollment planning committee members are wearing name tags, and they’re dispersed throughout the crowd talking to people.

There appear to be more committee members here than Tuesday night.


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