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Student opportunities addressed at seventh school boundary forum

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 | 11:00 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The realignment of intermediate and high school boundaries within Columbia Public Schools is likely to bring changes to Columbia's northeastern neighborhoods, and parents are hoping the changes will be for the better. 

About 35 parents and community members showed up at Lange Middle School for the second-to-last forum. Many of the students living in the neighborhoods surrounding Lange will be some of the first students at Battle High School, scheduled to open its doors in August 2013.

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The addition of a new high school is bound to affect growth in the area around Lange, said Don Ludwig, chairman of the secondary enrollment planning committee. The committee was charged with drawing up the different boundary scenarios.

Ludwig spent more time at this forum relating how the district’s decisions to build schools affect growth in certain neighborhoods. He said the addition of Battle will likely contribute to growth in this part of the city.

At other forums held at middle and junior high schools, parents asked specific questions about where their children would go to school when boundary changes take effect in 2013 and whether they will be allowed to transfer if they don’t like the end result, a question the board will answer after it chooses the final boundaries.

At this forum, these household-specific questions were also a central theme, but another common refrain was the excellence of all Columbia’s schools.

Kerry Haller, who has a student at Derby Ridge Elementary and another at Oakland Junior High, said she has been pleased with both schools.

“All the schools my kids have gone to have been awesome,” she said. “I don’t get too freaked out.”

Like most of the other forums, part of the discussion dealt with how Columbia’s demographics affected the committee’s goal of trying to balance out the percentage of students at each school receiving free and reduced-price lunches, an indicator the district uses to measure the percentage of students from lower-income households.

Lange and Oakland have the highest percentages of these students in every scenario except one, intermediate scenario A, in which Oakland and Jefferson intermediate schools are the highest.

Joanne Rainey had two students who went to Oakland, and she said they thought it was a great school and that poverty levels did not affect the quality of education.

“Just looking at the demographics doesn’t tell you how awesome our schools are,” she said.

In each of the possible boundary scenarios, lines determining which schools students would attend in the neighborhoods surrounding Lange fluctuate significantly.

Several parents whose homes will fall in Battle territory were anxious to know whether Battle would have the same opportunities for academics, sports and other activities as the other two high schools.

“Will Battle have everything the other schools have?” asked Joyce Callahan, who has a son at Oakland.

Callahan said her house is within Battle lines. She said she didn’t believe a new high school would appear on St. Charles Road until the district actually broke ground.

Once construction started, she said she considered moving. In the end, she decided to stay, and her son wants to go to the new high school.

Wanda Brown, assistant superintendent for secondary education, assured parents that Battle would have everything Hickman and Rock Bridge have.

“The nonnegotiable position of the board is to offer the same things at all three schools,” Brown said.

The board has yet to draft a policy on transfer requests, Brown said. She has said this work would be done in February or March, after the board has made its final decision on the boundaries.

Ludwig said the committee has collected 850 unique comments from forums, comment cards and the district’s website. He said each boundary map will be assigned a score based on positive, negative and neutral responses in each comment.

“From the comments and the score, we’ll see which two intermediate and which two high school maps are most appealing,” he said.

The final forum will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Gentry Middle School.


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