When the Columbia School Board released its guiding principles last September for a process to remap school attendance boundaries, Jennifer Roberts wasn’t satisfied.
The seventh principle was to consider a transfer policy that would allow eighth- and 12th-graders, as well as siblings, to remain at the school they attended before boundary changes.
Had that principle been adopted, Roberts’ daughter, Meara, would have had to change schools in the middle of high school. Jennifer Roberts wanted high school students to be able to stay at the same school all four years.
Roberts led the charge as the creator of Start2Finish, a parent group that proposed allowing Columbia high school students to attend the same school for all four years.
This week, the board passed a transfer policy that made Start2Finish’s wishes possible.
“It’s been a long four months for me,” Roberts said Monday during public comment to the board, minutes before the policy passed. “As the founder of Start2Finish, I am so pleased to see that our high school students might have the opportunity to attend the same high school for all four years.”
The approved procedure includes an aspect called grandfathering, which allows incoming juniors and seniors in 2020-21 to stay at their high schools. Students who will be sophomores when the new map takes effect in the 2020-21 school year will have the option to start as freshmen at their newly assigned high school next year, or they may stay at their currently assigned high school and transfer to their new school in 2020-21. Incoming freshmen will start at their newly assigned school.
Roberts and other Start2Finish members conducted an organized push for a policy that would ease concerns of families who feel that switching schools would interrupt their students’ current academic, sports and college-search situations. Although the approved policy did not alleviate every concern surrounding grandfathering, Start2Finish reached its objective.
Meara is a freshman at Rock Bridge High School, where she’s a cheerleader for football and basketball games. If only eighth- and 12th-graders were allowed to remain at their previous school, she would have been forced to transfer to Hickman High School. Now, she can stay a Bruin all four years, which her mother called “very good news” for her family.
Roberts formed Start2Finish last September and created a Facebook page for the group, which reached about 90 members within a week, according to Roberts. It now has over 300 members. Those members raised money, distributed yard signs, showed up at board meetings and proposed a policy to school board members that would allow students to stay in their high schools for four years.
“They have been working very hard to compile studies to show positive effect of allowing students to remain at a school once they’ve started,” board president Jan Mees said. “(Roberts) has done a thorough job.”
One of Roberts’ notable moments at the board meetings came in October, when she passed out binders to board members with 20 examples of school districts that have employed grandfathering and transfer policies favorable to the group’s cause.
Start2Finish achieved its goal Monday. Roberts posted a celebratory post on the group’s Facebook page and thanked members for their support.
“You get to celebrate, too,” the post reads, “because without your likes and shares and donations and 3 minute speeches it would not have happened.”
It was a cause for celebration for the many parents and kids who have rallied behind her.
One is Stacy McCrary. She has three children, including Sam, an eighth-grader at Jefferson Middle School. Sam has grown up playing soccer with friends throughout Columbia and, according to his mother, wouldn’t have any problems transitioning from one school to another. But she wants to be able to send him to the same school for four years for academic and athletic purposes.
“I, personally, don’t want him to go to Rock Bridge for a year, be coached under their coaches, their system. And then the next year, he has to change, he has to learn under new coaches who have different styles and different systems,” McCrary said shortly before the meeting began. “Then he’ll be behind the other sophomores because they’ll have already been there for a year and have gotten to know the coach and their expectations.”
A last-minute tweak in the rezoned map allowed Sam to attend Rock Bridge regardless of the transfer policy.
Looking back at Battle
When Columbia rezoned for the opening of Battle High School in 2013, the district underwent a much different process. High schools, which had been three-year schools for sophomores, juniors and seniors, expanded to include ninth-graders. Junior high schools disappeared, while middle schools expanded to include sixth- through eighth-graders.
This meant all ninth-graders were new to their high schools. Incoming seniors for the 2013-14 school year were allowed to stay at their current high schools. Siblings of high school students were allowed to attend their older siblings’ school.
Another aspect of that redistricting process was that incoming high school sophomores had the option to start at their new high school a year early. The board voted similarly this time around to allow affected students to attend their new schools a year prior to the zone implementations.
Students who will be sophomores in 2020-21 and choose to start at their new high schools as freshmen next year will be provided school bus transportation in 2019-20 but not after that. Randy Gooch, chief operations officer for the district, said the price to transport these kids would be about $200,000 or less.
However, unlike the 2013 process, the approved transfer policy does not include a provision allowing younger siblings to attend their older siblings’ school.
Sarah Crites has a daughter who is a freshman at Rock Bridge and one who is an eighth-grader at Jefferson. Under the approved option, the two are assigned to attend different high schools for the 2020-21 school year and beyond. Crites was the last person to offer public comment prior to the board’s approval of the policy.
“I kind of expected them to say, ‘We already grandfather siblings’ or ‘We might consider that,’” Crites said after the meeting. “At this point, our two daughters will go separate ways — and they’re a year apart.”
Crites said she was definitely going to reach out to board members about the issue and acknowledged that her family’s case is likely not very common in the district.
The stakes of grandfathering
Over the past several months, many parents expressed reservations over switches in sports and extracurricular activities, which require more devotion at the high school level.
David Luther, director of communications for the Missouri Association of School Administrators, said that where it becomes the most challenging for school districts to grandfather is for high school students.
“In those cases where a student is college-bound, they may need a letter of reference from a teacher or counselor,” Luther said.
Cara Owings, a parent who lives in the Shepard Boulevard neighborhood, the same as Roberts, voiced similar concerns.
“Switching to a different high school with new coaching, new counselors, a new career path going forward, possibly — it’s just not feasible,” Owings said.
Owings has three kids in the school district, including Theo, a freshman at Rock Bridge who plays both football and basketball. When his mom brought up the potential of switching schools, Theo refused.
“He’s got his core group of teammates; he already knows the coaches,” Cara Owings said. “There’s a lot of time, money and dedication in being active in a sport or a club.”
When the district’s new boundaries set in, Owings will be entering his junior year. Under the transfer policy adopted Monday, he’ll be able to stay at Rock Bridge.
With the wish of Owings and other families granted, Start2Finish’s goal became complete. In some cases, like Crites’, there’s still work to be done. But for now, Roberts is satisfied.
“I had a goal that was reached tonight,” she said after the meeting. “I feel like those specifics probably need to be taken on by families who are more affected by those types of policies. I may pass the torch to those families.”
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.