Wednesday, March 9, 2016

It starts

At last night’s work session, the school board took some of its first steps toward discussing the elementary redistricting that will go into effect when we open two new elementary schools in 2019. We’ve been laying the groundwork for some time (by, for example, inviting public input), but tonight felt like the icebreaker for our own discussion. The discussion was still pretty preliminary—most of it was about what kind of maps and data we’d like to see before we start developing boundary ideas—but we’ll be moving onto more specific ideas very soon.

I know the board will be under a lot of scrutiny as we talk this topic through, as it should be. Some people will have to change schools as a result of the decisions we have to make, and we won’t be able to accommodate everyone’s preferences, so it’s easy to see why people feel strongly about the topic. To me, that just makes it all the more important that we have candid, uninhibited discussions at the board table. I don’t think we can reach a good result without going through a phase of brainstorming and thinking out loud. I hope people will understand that just because a board member raises a possibility, that doesn’t mean he or she is dead set on doing that thing or even thinks it’s a good idea. I’m sure I’ll say some things and take them back five minutes later. I’ll probably also play devil’s advocate to question ideas that I actually like. I just think that kind of conversation is the only way to figure out what the best (or least bad) possible outcome is.

In that spirit, I’m going to try (time permitting!) to write some posts here as we along. Again, these posts will just reflect partial, often very tentative thoughts (which is exactly what blogging is suited for). The whole point of airing them will be to hear the pros and cons and counterarguments. I would love it if people would chime in with comments. I can’t promise to reply to each comment, simply because of my time constraints. When I have too many comments (and emails) to keep up with, that’s sometimes a good problem to have.

I can speak only for myself, but I don’t go into this process with a fixed idea of what the final map should be. If anything, I’m confounded by what it should be.


Anonymous said...

Thanks! I really appreciate your work. Please keep it coming!
For me, the main issue is that the schools are geologically out of alignment with socio-economic distributions. What I mean is there are clusters of "poverty" and "wealth" and schools that are enclosed in these clusters are going to be out of balance. That is just a fact. Short of moving kids around, there is no practical way to "fix the problem" This is the main reason why so many parents are angry, on both sides of the wealth distribution.

I can see value of social engineering on the elementary level. But I don't believe it will make a difference once they are in high school or junior high. What I have seen is by that time, kids don't hang out with the "other kids"--whatever that means by their definition. We can debate and cite papers all day, but that is what I have seen as a parent and what I have experienced growing up. As a community, we need to decide how much it is worth social engineering the hack out of it or at what point we need to stop and let the family taking responsibility.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your candidness. I wish every board member would go into this discussion with the attitude you just expressed. These are not just numbers/stats to be manipulated in order to achieve a particular outcome. These are children and families, most of whom, have expressed the desire for neighborhood schools. As soon as possible, I would love to see programs, teacher training and community resources being discussed. In my opinion, we've wasted years trying to dilute the problems when we could have been implementing real solutions.

Anonymous said...

The district should focus on delivering good programs to all students. For example, in the near term the new Liberty High will not have good programs as those of the other two high schools. That is one of the reasons some parents are reluctant to go there. Why not focus on providing LH students the same opportunity to participate-sure you can wear a yellow jersey when compete for the LH football team, but why not let them train on the same field under the same couching team? If a kid loves math but SEJH doesn't have a good math team, then why not let her be a member of the NWJH math team? I admit there are a lot of logistics to be worked out, but I believe that is where we should focus our resource and energy. Our community is small. We have rush minutes. It takes 30 minutes to drive across town. We should be able to make this work.

Katy D said...

Chris, I greatly appreciate your blog and the information it provides! I know you all are in a tough position when it comes to boundaries and I know that not everyone will be happy with the outcomes. I just really hope that when you guys are discussing the rationale and the dreaded feeder system that you remember the Alexander families who have spoken very loudly about what these secondary boundaries will do to their families and the opportunities that may be taken away as a result for our kids. I would like to see folks realize that Johnson County as a whole is changing at a rapid pace. It's time to accept, adapt and work with the kiddos that are showing up to school everyday regardless of their FRL/SES status. Also, as someone pointed out on social media, in all of the feedback that the board received from neighborhoods about what was most important to them, not one neighborhood said the balancing of SES was a top priority. Most neighborhoods want proximity and walkability. Just something to remember when hashing all of this out.
Thank you.

MKiowa said...

Yes, thanks to Chris for keeping this dialog open! I think I have heard in the past some suggestion that we should focus district resources on the (elementary) schools where need is greatest. Other commenters have noted that most ICCSD families prefer the closest neighborhood school, certainly at the elementary level. If this results,as noted above, in schools with differing SES, then why can we not allocate resources preferentially to those school where the population is more economically challenged -- smaller class sizes, ESL classes, etc??
And please maintain consideration of the current Hoover Elementary School as a viable option for the neighborhood, noting that the SES balance at that school should be the model for others in the district!

Anonymous said...

If changes can be made for better SES balanced elementary schools (kids still within two mile distance) then I'm all for better SES balanced elementary schools. Or if kids are being bused anyways, and could be bused a slight distance more, and it would result in better balanced schools, that's OK too.

It is NOT OK however, to bus kids to schools that are 4-10 times farther away than their closest elementary, junior, or senior high school.

Please fix the current situation for Alexander, and North Lincoln in particular. Make sure ALL Kirkwood families know they can attend NWJH. Ideally, Kirkwood could go to West too. Until North Liberty has bus service, Liberty and the district may have a hard time ensuring secondary after school activities are attainable for low SES kids from any town.

Anonymous said...

Moving students around for the sake of SES balancing has been tried in a number of districts in the country. If you haven't looked at what is going on in those districts today you should. It is safe to say that the outcomes are negative when it comes to minority academic achievement outcomes and it is safe to say SES balancing and busing creates an accelerated weakening of the school district.
Motivated and mobile low income families will land elsewhere leaving space for other low income families who aren't as concerned about academics. And middle and upper income families will move to safe refuge that provides them an escape from the social engineering experiments instability. This isn't a guess at what will happen it's what happens. Have a look for yourself at the districts that have done it, the outcome patterns are clear and consistent.
With Solon and Clear Creek Amana growing and developing as they are the district will lose the strength of its core as families are willing to do some extra driving to work in IC in exchange for school stability and predictability. Solon and CCA will become the dominant districts and choice places to live for those interested in quality education and stable communities.
There are better ways to address struggling academic populations and the district would be wise to pay closer attention to today's data when it comes to this issue.