Data on future enrollment, focus groups and students with disabilities’ inclusion in the redistricting process were at the center of Monday night’s Columbia School Board meeting.
Alex Boyer, a consultant from Cooperative Strategies, presented data on how enrollment would grow without the new middle school, which is scheduled to open in August 2020. Along with input from community focus groups, enrollment projections will be used to draw new district boundaries and determine how many students will attend the new middle school.
Scott Leopold, the consultant leading the redistricting process, said students who live in neighborhoods around Gentry Middle School but who attend Jefferson Middle School are most likely to be affected.
“Areas in close proximity to the new middle school site are expected to have the most change,” Leopold said.
The projections show past and future enrollment for middle and high schools but exclude the new middle school and all elementary schools. Leopold said he didn’t include data for elementary school enrollment because they may not be affected by the new attendance boundaries.
The enrollment projections show which schools are likely to be crowded in the future. According to the data, without the new middle school:
- By the 2019-20 school year, Gentry Middle School will be over capacity by 185 students.
- By the 2020-21 school year, Jefferson Middle School will be over capacity by 111 students, and Rock Bridge High School will be over capacity by 407 students.
Board members said they are more confident in this enrollment data than what’s been used for past redistricting.
Board member Teresa Maledy said she’s interested in looking more in depth at the numbers, as this is her first time going through redistricting as a board member. Maledy was elected to the board in April.
Maledy also said she was pleased the consulting company is taking parent concerns and desires into account. Many parents have said they want high school students to remain in their current school through graduation.
Brooke Thomas, a Rock Bridge High School freshman, spoke at the meeting and advocated for the Class of 2022 to remain at Rock Bridge through graduation. Thomas acknowledged the hallways are crowded but said everyone gets along well.
She also asked the board to take students’ mental health into account when making decisions about a possible grandfathering policy.
Leopold said he will provide a variety of boundary options that would cause the least amount of change possible while still following the board’s guiding principles for redistricting. Some options will cause more students to transfer schools but may be more in-line with the principles, Leopold said.
The guiding principles also came up during public comment.
Christina Ingoglia, who has a 3-year-old daughter with a disability, said the principles could be applied better to students with disabilities. For example, one principle recognizes “the power of a school to create community.” But Ingoglia said students with disabilities often are sent to schools outside their assigned attendance area, which affects those families’ ability to create community.
Maledy said she was glad Ingoglia raised the issue because it hadn’t been discussed in the “modeling and numbers” part of the process.
Leopold will draw several maps of potential new boundaries. He will narrow the options based on feedback from focus groups and present the maps to the board at its Dec. 20 meeting.
Boyer said there have been 236 applications to the focus group. There will be 12 to 15 people per focus group, Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said. There will be five focus groups, including parent groups, building administrators and teachers.
Applications to focus groups will be accepted through Wednesday. The community will also be able to provide feedback on the final options through an online survey.
In other action, the board approved an application to start the process of annexing Rock Bridge Elementary into city limits. An annexation of the school would prepare for a possible building addition.
The proposed annexation will be submitted to the city of Columbia on Dec. 3, and the Columbia City Council is scheduled to vote on the issue Feb. 4.
Board member James Whitt was absent from the meeting. Board member Jonathan Sessions attended by videoconference, which allowed him to vote.