COLUMBIA — The third of eight community forums about realigning intermediate and high school boundaries is underway at West Junior High School. The Missourian is live-blogging the discussion.
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 reporter James Ayello, a junior in journalism from Elgin, Ill.
Shaina Cavazos, assistant city editor for the Missourian's education section, is in the newsroom receiving updates and posting them online. The forum is supposed to go until 9 p.m. This live blog archive is presented in reverse chronological order.
You can start reading from the beginning of our coverage by clicking here.
And that's it for the live blog tonight. We're going to revamp this blog to give our Wednesday print readers a recap of what happened. Thanks for joining us, and we'll see you again Wednesday. The next forum is at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Jefferson Junior High School, 713 Rogers St.
Committee member Lisa Reed said she has been recording comments and putting them on a spreadsheet for the committee to use. She said she wished the committee had taken the families within the one- or two-mile walking distances of the schools and had them assigned to those schools. That way, people would be in the boundaries for the schools they are closest to.
As a committee member and a taxpayer, she said she can’t understand why people are not being sent to the school closest to them.
“We’ve got to have a better way of using our resources,” she said.
“I really think we were pressed for time," Reed said. “We had a lot of better ideas, but we just ran out of time.”
Preis said the transfer issue keeps coming up, and the board is going to have to make a decision on that quickly. He said he stopped trying to have expectations.
“The less expectations I have, the more open I can be to comments and questions,” he said.
Preis said the community has become more knowledgeable about the maps in the weeks since they've been released.
West Junior High School Assistant Principal Daniel Rector said he’s seen lots of kids at the school putting their comment cards in the box at the school. This is the first time childrens’ opinions have been discussed at one of these boundary forums.
Preis said overall transportation costs would be lower in all the scenarios than they are now.
Parents ran out of questions, and Preis concluded the meeting. Lots of people applauded.
Some people don’t seem to be in a rush to leave, though. The committee members are still fielding questions and comments from attendees.
The most discussed topics at this meeting seem to be transfer policies and splitting up feeder schools.
Things seem to be wrapping up. Preis is outlining the other ways parents can comment.
“I bet my son I could be home at 9 tonight. Looks like I’m gonna win that dollar,” Preis said.
Melissa Tague asked how the district would be moving teachers around at the intermediate levels. Preis said the faculty issue is often lost in this discussion.
“They will all be different. They’ll all have different feels because of different faculty groups,” Preis said.
School board member Jan Mees asked if there is any way to know if, in any of these scenarios, students from the elementary schools would stay together through high school.
Ludwig said he had that information, but it’s complicated because there are 18 elementary schools.
"This is a comment card, not a ballot right?” Tarr asked. He then joked about stuffing the comment box with his preferred scenario. Everybody laughed.
Preis said they would have a numeric value assigned to each comment, but they were looking for overall trends. It’s not going to be a scientific process exactly.
Margrace Buckler said that in one of the scenarios, her children would change high schools.
"What if we don’t want to?" she asked.
Brown said the board would make decisions regarding transfers.
“What I’m seeing is that first year, the Hickman enrollment is enormous,” Buckler said. She said it could be helpful if the district would allow her students to remain at Rock Bridge.
James Tarr also has a child attending school in the district.
“The first thing I’ll say is Columbia’s got great schools because our kids will do great under all the different scenarios,” he said.
Tarr said it wasn’t clear to him in the media coverage of the scenarios that there truly are five scenarios instead of three because of the possible combinations. Intermediate map B would only be paired with high school map B. The intermediate maps for approaches A and C can be paired with either A or C of the high school maps.
“I’m sure glad I came to this meeting,” he said.
Laura Shopp has two children, an eighth-grader and a ninth-grader at West. She likes high school scenario C because she thinks it evens out demographics the most.
“We’re starting behind the eight ball in terms of geographic demographic disparity,” she said.
Shopp thanked the committee for their hard work and said she couldn’t imagine how difficult it was.
“It was kind of fun in a geeky sort of way,” Preis replied.
Nora Drown has four kids in the district. She said her daughter went to West and is now at Rock Bridge. She said it’s hard for her because, under the current system, half her daughter’s friends went to Hickman and half went to Rock Bridge.
Brown said this wouldn’t happen in scenario B because that approach focused on keeping the intermediate schools together.
Melissa Tague has two sons: a 2010 Hickman graduate and a ninth-grader at West.
“We bought the house, and we were in Hickman. And lo and behold, you changed the districts. And now you’re doing it again,” she said.
She said her ninth-grade son would go to Rock Bridge under current boundaries but will be at Hickman in 2013. She wants to know if he will have to go to Rock Bridge for one year, then Hickman the following year. She said she likes option C because it is more balanced.
Wanda Brown, assistant superintendent of secondary education, told Tague that her son would be allowed to transfer a year before changes take effect.
People are finding their way back to their seats. Preis looks like he’s about ready to begin.
“All right, is everybody perfectly clear now? Does everyone know exactly what’s going on?” he asks, jokingly.
For the next hour and 15 minutes, the committee members will hear from parents, one by one.
“I will ask you, constantly, what scenario you prefer and what scenario you least prefer,” Preis said.
West Junior High falls within Hickman territory in every scenario.
The committee won’t recommend placing approach B with any combination of A or C to the board. However, approaches A and C can be mixed between intermediate and high schools.
Darin Preis, a committee member, takes over, asking attendees to take 10 minutes to look over the maps and presentation. He asked committee members to raise their hands and said if parents have any questions, they could ask them. About 12 hands went up.
Conversations blossom among the crowd. One table discusses free and reduced lunch percentages. Committee members form central nodes of little quizzical pods, answering questions and helping parents understand the data.
Ludwig said his current data shows Columbia Public Schools enrollment information from fall 2010. He said in January, they’re going to update these numbers for fall 2011.
Hickman High School’s current percentage of students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch is 36 percent, and Rock Bridge High School’s is 21 percent.
Ludwig said the committee was not able to equally balance enrollment between the schools without requiring unreasonable travel times. At the last two forums, this relationship between percentage of students at a school receiving free and reduced-price lunch and travel times was a huge point of discussion.
“You’ll see it’s not perfectly balanced from an enrollment or demographic standpoint,” Ludwig said.
Ludwig outlined the committee’s guiding principles, drawn from the first set of community forums last March.
“The overarching principle we followed was to balance demographics to the extent that driving distances are reasonable,” he said.
Ludwig said the consultant, RSP and Associates, divided the city up into more than 1,200 planning areas based on demographic information. Sometimes the planning areas did not accurately reflect neighborhoods, Ludwig said, “but it’s better than hand-drawing them.”
The presentation ends, and Don Ludwig immediately takes the floor.
“I really thank you for coming. The purpose of this meeting is to review the process we went through.”
Ludwig said if you look at this for a long time, staring at maps and moving lines, you don’t get the flavor of the community. That’s the role of parents in these forums.
The group listens quietly as the PowerPoint explains that the reconfiguration of middle schools and junior high schools into grades six through eight is intended to create more extracurricular opportunities and parental involvement.
Wanda Brown, assistant superintendent of secondary education, stands up in front of the small crowd, now about 30. Like the last two forums, she explains that attendees will see a PowerPoint about the overall context of reorganization. Then she says Don Ludwig, committee chair, will explain the process.
“Then we’ll turn the work over to you,” she said. “The work of the committee deserves our respect, but we certainly want your input."
About 20 people have arrived. The forum is in West Junior High School’s cafeteria B. People driving by on Clinkscales Road would see a group of parents filing in and sitting down through the cafeteria’s floor-to-ceiling windows.
Two sets of maps are at the front of the room and another has been set up in the hallway.
This is the lowest attendance we’ve seen so far at any of the forums.