The consultant leading the Columbia Public Schools’ redistricting process better understands the district after conducting a series of community focus groups, said Randy Gooch, the district’s chief operations officer.
“It was a busy and productive week as it relates to boundary areas,” Gooch said at Monday night’s Columbia School Board meeting.
The districtwide rezoning process will accommodate a seventh middle school opening in 2020 in southern Columbia.
The community focus groups met last week to discuss and give feedback on preliminary boundary maps provided by Cooperative Strategies consultant Scott Leopold. In accordance with the company’s policy, Gooch said the focus groups were asked not to share the maps and information discussed at the meetings.
The focus groups wanted three factors to be considered in the redistricting process: socioeconomic status, students’ proximity to their schools and school capacity.
“Ultimately, everybody understands the major struggles that (Cooperative Strategies) are going to have to come up with some good boundaries,” Gooch said.
Leopold and another Cooperative Strategies consultant conducted the focus groups, which included:
- Twenty-three students.
- Eighteen parents.
- Eleven community members.
- Nine teachers.
- Seven building administrators.
- Seven real-estate developers and government officials.
Leopold is now assessing how redistricting will affect transportation and the district’s budget, issues that parents have consistently raised.
Three boundary maps will be presented to the board at 7:30 a.m. Dec. 20. They will also be posted on the district’s website with an attached survey that will close at midnight on Jan. 13.
The district will televise the Dec. 20 meeting on CPS-TV, which can be streamed or viewed on cable, district spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said.
Three open-house meetings will also be held for community discussion and feedback on the three maps.
Leopold will present one map to the board on Feb. 11, and the board will have until its March 11 meeting to make a final decision.
Substitute services provider
The district plans to issue a request for proposals in January for a new substitute teacher services provider. The district’s current service agreement with Kelly Services expires on June 30.
Nickie Smith, the district’s chief human resources officer, presented on the service agreement and the current state of substitute teaching in the district.
Smith said there has been an increase in substitute requests for multiple reasons: more people going on maternity leave, an increase in the number of personal days a teacher can take, and an increase in absences for professional development.
Teachers who are implementing new programs and initiatives usually go to district-directed professional development training, Smith said. The trainings happen during the school day and, as a result, require substitutes for classroom instruction.
The district averages 160 to 170 absences per day, and more than this becomes “a strain,” Smith said. The district currently fills 94 percent of substitute requests for its classrooms, what it calls the “fill rate.”
Board member Jonathan Sessions questioned whether the fill rate was equitable across schools. Smith estimated that there are higher rates of unfilled absences in schools with higher rates of poverty but said the district is working to verify that.
In the past, the school has done the substitute filling process “in-house,” but that is not really an option anymore. Smith cited the growing need for substitutes and the administrative complexities of keeping track of them as reasons to continue contracting out.
There are three or more service providers, including Kelly Services, that could fulfill district’s needs, Smith said.
In other action, the board also approved a one-year extension for Superintendent Peter Stiepleman’s contract to June 30, 2022. Any changes to Stiepleman’s salary will be discussed at another time, Board president Jan Mees said.
Comments from the public
During the meeting’s public comment period, Summer Allen, a seventh-grader at Smithton Middle School, voiced her concern about posters put up by the school’s gay-straight alliance organization.
One poster, which Allen’s family brought to the meeting, displays a series of multi-colored hands with terms such as gay, lesbian, transgender, asexual, pansexual and bisexual on each hand. The hands come together to be placed on top of a heart at the center of the poster.
Kenneth Allen, Summer’s father, said he “personally removed” the poster from Smithton.
Both Kenneth Allen and Tracy Turnbow, Summer’s mother, said they think the posters are a form of sexual education and their daughter is too young to be exposed to the terms presented.
Turnbow said that even though the posters are legal for the school to display, they were concerned that the district did not have enough informational material about the posters or the gay-straight alliance organization.
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