Discussion at Jefferson Junior High boundary forum shifts to poverty

Wednesday, November 9, 2011 | 10:09 p.m. CST; updated 9:25 a.m. CST, Thursday, November 10, 2011

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

COLUMBIA — Discussion at a forum to gather community feedback shifted from proposed boundary scenarios for Columbia Public Schools to how poverty affects children.

Forum Thursday

The next forum on school boundary realignment will be at 7 p.m. Thursday at Oakland Junior High School, 3405 Oakland Place.

About 10 community members turned out for Wednesday's event — the fourth of eight forums this month on redrawing boundary lines for the district.

That's the lightest turnout by far, down from about 30 at the forum Tuesday at West Junior High School and down by several dozen from the forums at Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools last week.

The changes will take effect in August 2013 with the opening of Battle High School and reconfiguration of middle and junior high schools to intermediate schools for grades six through eight.

The past three forums have focused on three issues integral to the boundary realignment process: Balancing enrollment among the two high schools and six intermediate schools, making sure there will be an equitable distribution of students in poverty at each school and making transportation distances and costs reasonable.

At this forum, however, community members seemed to be more concerned with how poverty can affect a student's ability to learn. 

Some attendees stated that socioeconomic factors don't have an impact on a student's academic performance. Other community members disagreed and said a child's home life spills over into the classroom.

Here's a sampling of comments made at the forum held at Jefferson Junior High School:

Steve Richardson has two children in public schools. "I'm here as a taxpayer first and foremost," he said. "I'm a little bit set aside on the great emphasis on moving around demographics being a great area of concern.”

He said that students' home environments are not going to change and that he just wants to make sure his tax dollars are spent wisely.

Ray Shapiro said he felt like there was a missed opportunity to address the academic achievement gap among students. He said he thinks the high schools should have been divided up into what type of schools they are or could be.

He suggested that each school could specialize in something different, such as the arts or college prep, and that students could be directed toward the right high school for them.

Cody Abram said tonight was the first night he realized the approaches could be mixed. There are three approaches, each with two maps — a map for proposed intermediate school boundaries and a map for proposed high school boundaries.

"I thought at first it was only approach A, approach B and approach C," Abram said. "When I look at all these, I see something that makes sense."

He supported the idea of keeping cohorts together. "What I'm looking for is a sense of community. In my opinion, A high school and B intermediate makes the most sense," Abram said.

Ryan McDaniels said approach A seems to make the most sense on the high school level.

"It's my feeling that it doesn't make sense to drive past one school to get to another one," McDaniels said.

Steve Richardson said the committee's focus on cohorts — that is, groups of children moving through school together — is phenomenal. He said he was born and raised in Columbia and went to Jefferson Junior High and Rock Bridge. He said many of the friends he has now are people he's known since elementary school.

LeAnn Stroupe wanted to know what the district is doing in terms of recruitment to keep the teacher-students ratios up.

Jan Mees, a school board member, said funding from the state is going down and that the board is going to have to go to the public for a tax levy increase.

"If we can't count on the state, we're going to have to go to our taxpayers," Mees said.

She said that if the district doesn't have the funding, they’re going to have make a lot of unpopular decisions.

Christine King, vice president of the school board, said 80 percent of African-American students in Columbia Public Schools come from poverty. "That's huge," King said. "When we don't have the revenues we need, the people that it really impacts are those kids in poverty."

Don Ludwig, committee chairman was asked about the process the committee is going through to take in and evaluate public comments. He said that in December, the committee will take all comments and consider them when deciding which two approaches to recommend to the board.

Missourian reporter Brendan Gibbons contributed to this article.

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Mike Martin November 10, 2011 | 11:38 a.m.

It distresses me to see discussions like the one reported here inevitably turn to a tax increase.

Since CPS got its $7.8 million admin building up lickety split, it borders on insulting for district officials to hold black children and low income persons hostage to higher taxes.

Given the dozens and dozens of tax increases that have occurred here over the decades, why is the achievement gap situation still so dire? Even more dire, if recent statistics are to be believed, than ever before?

It's a matter of priorities.

To see the REAL priorities, follow the money. Columbia, Boone County, and CPS have spent over $75 million in just 5 years building parking garages and new office space.

Add hefty administrative salaries and athletic programs, and you have the priorities that dominate the public sphere in CoMo, MU included.

Meanwhile, just like classroom trailers, just like air conditioning, just like poor maintenance in the older buildings, and just like teacher salaries, closing the achievement gap is in grave danger of becoming just another carrot held out to push for higher taxes.


(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield November 10, 2011 | 12:30 p.m.

More money isn't going to close the achievement gap. Only the dedication and hard work of parents and students can do that.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 10, 2011 | 12:57 p.m.

If money alone were the answer, this and a number of other situations would long since have been corrected.

(Report Comment)

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