A representative from consulting firm Cooperative Strategies laid out the next steps to the Columbia Board of Education on Monday about the process of drawing new attendance area boundaries for the district’s elementary schools.
The firm will provide elementary attendance zone options to the board Aug. 10, followed by a virtual open house Aug. 20, during which the public can ask questions and get more detailed information. The final decisions on the adjustments will be made at a later school board meeting and take effect with the 2021-22 school year.
The options that will be presented next month grow out of feedback from focus groups which have already met with the consultants. There were five separate focus groups: two of the groups were composed of parents, one of community members who are not parents of Columbia Public Schools students, one of real estate agents and a fifth group of school faculty and staff.
According to Columbia Public Schools Chief Operations Officer Randy Gooch, a question-and-answer session will be conducted like an all-day open house, with members of Cooperative Strategies explaining their plans and answering the public’s questions. The presentations on the options will be repeated periodically throughout the day so parents and community members can listen in when it is most convenient for them, Gooch said.
Cooperative Strategies also plans to work with teachers to reach out to parents they are familiar with to help ensure that the district hears from a broader demographic group, Gooch said.
Cooperative Strategies was responsible for the attendance area adjustments for Columbia high schools and middle schools in 2018. Gooch said the decision to hold off on adjustments for elementary school attendance zones until now was intentional.
“Initially, two years ago, when we were looking at high school and middle school attendance areas, we decided not to include elementary to make it more simple and cleaner,” Gooch said.
As described by Cooperative Strategies representative Karen Daniel-Hamburg, the elementary school boundary planning process has been broken down into six stages, with a timeline of events spanning from June to October.
After establishing guiding principals and conducting data analysis, the group working on the elementary school boundary project was able to develop preliminary options for the attendance area adjustments and presented those to the focus groups.
The attendance area readjustment is designed to meet a projected upward trend in enrollment, with an additional enrollment of 1,500 students expected in the next 10 years, Daniel-Hamburg said.
In addition to discussion about the attendance area boundaries, the board also approved a resolution to move forward with the sale of up to $20 million in general obligation improvement bonds approved by voters June 2.
The $20 million school bond issue is for projects throughout the district, mainly for building additions and renovations. Those include $6 million in renovations to Jefferson Middle School.