COLUMBIA — Worried parents told Columbia Public Schools officials Wednesday that boundary changes at Gentry and Jefferson middle schools could affect their children's emotional health.
A proposed scenario could move 86 students from an overcrowded Gentry Middle School to Jefferson Middle School this fall.
Jen Harper, one of about two dozen parents who attended the first of two forums about the boundary proposal, has a daughter who will be in seventh grade next year. She said she was concerned for her daughter and other students who would have to move.
“They just got out of elementary school and have to go through more change,” she said. “Middle-school age is a difficult age. Stability is important to these kids in a social setting. I don’t think it’s healthy.”
Harper moved to Columbia this summer from Jefferson City so her daughter, Becca, could go to school with friends she’d made attending gymnastics in Columbia.
She said Becca is frequently anxious about a departure from Gentry.
“Kids at school keep telling her she’ll definitely move,” Harper said. “She asks me every day, ‘Have they decided if I have to leave?’”
Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said he hears the concerns of parents about their child’s social networks upending, but the district is prepared to help families navigate the transition with friendship groups and student ambassadors at middle schools.
“You can’t discount the emotional toll of change, and we’ve seen a ton of change because of our growing community,” he said. “The question I ask myself is, ‘What kind of supports do we put in place to help a child through the transition?’”
Future eighth graders currently attending Gentry will probably be allowed to stay,Columbia School Board member Jonathan Sessions said. For prospective seventh graders, the future is less clear.
Although there is room at other middle schools in the district, the board took Gentry parents' preferences for Rock Bridge High School into account, Stiepleman said.
Issues of overcrowding came up in October. Gentry had 868 enrolled students this school year and can only take seven more students.
Jefferson's current enrollment is 609 and the school can take 50 more without added space, according to district documents.
The district's attendance area committee, comprised of parents of the effected schools, has been discussing school boundary redraws since October, said district spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark. The committee will give the board an official recommendation in February so students can register for classes next year.
Parents can view the proposed boundaries and submit feedback on the Community Online Feedback page until Feb. 2. About 300 parents have responded to the most recent boundary proposal so far, according to Baumstark.
The boundary changes would be in place until construction of a new middle school in south Columbia, which will offer a more permanent solution to overcrowding concerns, Baumstark said.
The Columbia School Board voted Thursday to accelerate construction of the new school from an original opening date of 2022, instead of prioritizing additions to Lee Expressive Arts Elementary School.
That decision means fewer students will move to Jefferson Middle School than was originally planned.
The district's finance committee may determine an opening date for the new school at its next meeting in February.
Wednesday's forum was held at Jefferson Middle School. The second will take place at 5 p.m. Thursday at Gentry Middle School, 4200 Bethel St.
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