Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Update on elementary and secondary boundaries

Last night the board voted 4-3 to change the secondary feeder plan to assign the Kirkwood Elementary area to North West Junior High and West High. I voted in favor of the change, for the reasons I wrote about here. We did not reach a conclusion about the secondary path of the Alexander Elementary area, and we scheduled a work session to continue the discussion. I favor assigning Alexander to the Southeast/City path.

During the meeting, there was some suggestion that if both Kirkwood and Alexander were assigned to West High, West’s FRL (free and reduced-price lunch) rate would be 55%. This is almost certainly inaccurate, as started to become apparent before we ended the discussion. The board (including me) should not have been asking the superintendent to estimate those numbers on the fly. I assume we will get a more finalized calculation of the relevant FRL rates before our next meeting.

The board also voted 4-3 to adopt a set of elementary boundaries, most of which are to take effect in 2019. I voted against that decision. I believe the adopted boundaries are very likely to change, possibly considerably, when the board gets updated enrollment projections and reviews the facilities master plan. The adoption of those boundaries just gives people a false sense of certainty about where their kids will go to school, and it will cause people to be that much more upset when necessary changes are made. I don’t think we’re doing anyone a service by announcing boundaries when there’s a good chance those boundaries will change within a year. (I also have disagreements with specific aspects of the boundaries the board adopted; that’s a topic for another post.)

It was a pretty contentious meeting, as they go. There is wide range of viewpoints on our board and in our community, and there is sometimes vigorous disagreement in our meetings. I’m not bothered by that; I think that’s just how democracy works, and I’d rather have the disagreements hashed out openly so we can hear all the arguments. Community comment last night was particularly valuable and at times outright moving. As contentious as our meetings can be, there’s always a part of me that just feels privileged to be there and to experience the democratic process in that way.


Anonymous said...

As always, I appreciate the careful consideration you put into your research and your vote. I do disagree with your reluctance to act because of the probability of future changes. The district will never get to a static state wrt demographics or population. While I'm never going to be in the "we gotta do something so let's push ahead with a bad idea" camp, at some point I would like to see you relent on your insistence that work get done your way or no way. Instead, let's push the community to accept that our schools will always be a work in progress, because as with anything that we love, we want to see it achieve its full potential--and our ability to achieve that can only come through a process of regular evaluation and evolution.

Anonymous said...

Funny how the same people that have disingenuously been going on and on about the importance of "balance" for the last 5 years actually cheered at a Board meeting for 55% FRL at West and 30% at City.

So, it's not OK for the Kirkwood kids to have to go farther to Liberty, but they are completely OK with keeping the Alexander kids out of the closer City?

Wonder what the next cover story is they will use to try to hide their motives as they push for this unfinished project to stay this way - you know, now that they can no longer claim to care about "balance" and "What's best for the FRL families".

Sara Barron said...

Anonymous 9:17 is me... Blogger + my iPhone is a bad combo; I tried to sign my name but it posted as anonymous.

Anyway, I reread what I wrote, and I think it's a little too harsh about work getting done "your way or no way." Part of what drives my frustration with the constant noodling with ideas but little action is that there are SO many things that await your attention, and they are going largely unaddressed as we stay focused on boundaries, etc. Superintendent evaluation? The fact that even in our "most balanced" elementary schools, student proficiency for low-SES and/+ Black/Latino students is only slightly greater than 50%? How to boost co-curricular participation so that our choirs, bands and orchestras, teams, and clubs reflect our student body? We all know that boundaries are just one piece of achieving your board goals. Let's get to work on the rest of it.

Anonymous said...

So what exactly was passed last night? I looked for the documents on the district's website and didn't find it. The map that Chris posted--thank you, Chris--doesn't have enough detail once you try to zoom in. What about the timeline of implementing the new boundaries? I couldn't find any of these on the district's website, or at least they are not easy to locate. Fix this!

Frank said...


You wrote about Mr. Murley's 55% West High FRL estimate: "This is almost certainly inaccurate, as started to become apparent before we ended the discussion. The board (including me) should not have been asking the superintendent to estimate those numbers on the fly."

But you were happy to vote "on the fly" with your amateur, unvalidated, inaccuruate FRL estimates?

Actually, the board should not have voted on secondary boundaries AT ALL without revised Secondary numbers using the Elementary boundaries just approved minutes before.

You and the other (3) acted irresponsibly, hastily, and in the end voted in a plan that would have West High AT LEAST double, if not triple or more the FRL% of Liberty.

It is not your job to crunch numbers, even if you think you are better than others at it. As a Board member you should make a request of the Central Office CO, quiz appropriately, even outright question, and then make your point and vote.

arial said...

I was mad about the 55% FRL for West when I first saw it because I knew it wasn't possible. I guess everyone makes mistakes, but that 55% number is everywhere now including in at least one news article. I hope a correction is forthcoming soon.

Dan said...

Anonymous at 10:54 a.m.,

I think the cheering came from Kirkwood parents happy to be staying at West, as they would. Completely understandable.

However, there was NOT cheering when Mr. Murley announced that the Kirkwood move put West at 55% FRL and Liberty down to 15%. No one would cheer that. If even close to correct, it represents a large regression in ICCSD's stated goal of reducing FRL% disparity.

Frank said...


What do you mean by "correction"? Do you think the 55% is wrong, or do you mean correct the "Kirkwood move" vote itself?

If the 55% is wrong, it's only a little wrong...maybe it's 50%. That's still really bad imbalance. West will have 2-3 times the FRL% of Liberty.

Anonymous said...

If you are so upset that West has higher FRL than Liberty, then move some of the Liberty kids to West, and move some of the West kids to Liberty. Oh, wait, we tried that, didn't we? Here we go again...

Anonymous said...

I am Anonymous 1:19pm. Just adding to my own comment.
Honestly I don't understand what people are expecting to see, when they build a high school right next to probably one of the most affluent neighborhoods in IC. It is going to be a "rich" school if the school is surrounded by mansions. You want higher FRL, you will have to bring poor kids in. It is math. No other way around it.

The other side of it is: you want a lower FRL in West, then you need to put rich kids in there. Again it is math.

So who do you want to move? The people with SUVs or without? People who have stay home moms or dads, or people who work two jobs?

arial said...

The 55% is wrong. It is more like 44% if you average all the elementary schools that feed into West (Alexander, Borlaug, Coralville Central, Hills, Horn, Kirkwood, Weber and Wickham). If you average the West feeder elementary schools without Kirkwood it is 41%. The change is small for West, but it is larger for Liberty, just because of the way numbers work. I pretty much agree with everything Director Liebig wrote about his rationale for sending Kirkwood to Northwest and West. Balance is not the end-game, student achievement and success is.

Not Ted said...

Anonymous 1:19 – I know this would be really hard for Iowa City because there are so many smart people there, but you could try the common sense approach of sending kids to the closer school. If Kirkwood goes to West (which is closer and the right thing to do) and Alexander goes to City (which is closer and the right thing to do), there are fewer problems, less busing, and better balance than in this current plan.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 10:54 here.


Riiiiiiiiiiiiigght. Wink Wink. I got you.

No cheering last night when Alexander was kept out of City.... not from the people that have worked really hard for years to boot Twain out of City and claimed it was for their own good.....sure....we will go with that.

Just out of curiosity, if the board doesn't change this in 2 weeks, now that West will have the higher FRL and it is farther for the Alexander families, what BS will that group use as a reason as they push Alexander families out the door and try to tell them it is "for their own good"?

If the new number is 55% (or even the 50% the Save City people were so concerned about), how long till that group tries to convince the board to waive the weighted resource model at the secondary level (once they realize it could give West smaller class sizes?)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1:19 OR, move Alexander to City and move Lincoln (now at 40%FRL, right?) to NCJH and Liberty. Could move Mann but they are now at only 20% FRL, correct? Where did Alexander land?

Anonymous said...

Not Ted here.

Anonymous 2:52 - Good idea if someone has to move.

Dan said...

Anon 10:54 and "Not Ted",

Ad hominem attacks aside, what do you favor?

If you think any high school should have 2 to 3 times the FRL% than another high school, as was voted last night, then we are done here. We are too far apart philosophically.

However, if you think the only modifications to the May 2015 plan is that 1) Kirkwood should go to West and 2) Alexander to City, then I would say it's not a good balance, but I at least get the argument. I was expecting that was what the beard was headed to last night, but they are two disfunctional to package things into one cohesive motion for vote.

I am not in favor of going to extreme measures to try to fix FRL balance issues for Elementary schools. It won't work...people live where they live. But high schools are not neighborhood schools, and we should do what we can to ensure the 3 high schools are equally viable.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:54 here - can't speak for "Not ted"

I am against allowing certain groups to stack one high school while claiming it is because they care about the FRL families. They demonstrated what they really cared about when they were fine with Kirkwood families moving back to West but were against letting Alexander stay at City.

The original plan that lots of folks worked on for a long time had numbers that were less far apart than the current mess - the board is not done with the Alexander decision so hopefully they will do what is right.

Dan said...

Anon 10:54,

I asked what you are in favor of, and you answered with what you are against...and then threw in a comment about "certain groups" behavior (which I will not defend or condone).

So, again, what are you for?
1. The plan passed last May
2. The plan voted 4-3 last night (#1 above, but putting Kirkwood to West)
3. #2 above, but also send Alexander to Liberty.
4. Something else entirely.

I am for #1, for many of same reasons you used: a LOT of people put in a lot of time, it was the best of many flawed plans, and the board voted 6-1 in favor.

I would live with #3, though I would be disappointed and I think it will set the stage for some bad unintended consequences in the coming years.

As for #2...well, it might not even be legal.

Dan said...

My bad. Typo. Should have said Alexander to CITY in #2.

Amy Charles said...

Chris, since it's probably a given that the new boundaries are going to create transportation issues for some families, what kind of info collection is starting to establish where the problems may lie and how we can fix them? Can you put a sticky on your blog to let people either email you or post the problems they're anticipating having?

Thanks for trying to look out for people, by the way. And honestly if someone's voting for policies that you know will create transit issues for vulnerable families I think you should have to sign up to help get those kids to school yourself.

Anonymous said...

Dan, Anon 10 54 here - Last night with KW and Alexander going to West and City respectively is my preferred choice. I could live with #1 but it REALLY sucks for the KW and Alexander families. I don't think what will be gained by #1 for individual kids is enough to inflict the problems on all those families. I think it makes numbers look better for reports but don't think it will make some big difference for kids because all our HS's are pretty good. I'm not convinced those levels of difference at the HS level warrant that much expense and inconvenience.

I do not think that having City and West close in FRL with NL a little lower is going to create huge issues. I believe NL is going to boom no matter what due to it being in the sweet spot between IC and CR.

Dan said...

Anon 10:54, Dan here.

Appreciate your answer. I don't think the board intended to JUST move KW to West last night. I think 4 Directors also wanted to move Alex to City, but the motions were stated poorly and it fell apart. So we ended up with about the worst FRL situation you could imagine.

If Alex moves to City (and I think that is what they will try), we will end up with about 40/40/20 FRL. I don't think that is the worst thing in the world TODAY, but will accelerate disparity over time. I think in 6 years you would have 45/50/10 without anyone moving any boundaries.

Another side effect: the GO Bond will never pass in 2017. So Liberty won't get their expansion. No one in IC and bulk coralville will vote to approve the new, "white" school getting larger.

Anonymous said...

When people threaten the bond over a 40/40/20 FRL difference, they might need to be reminded of everything that is on the bond. No bond also equals no $11M Mann historical renovation. No $30 Mill, 150 seat addition and upgrades at City. No $14 M addition and upgrade at SEJH. The list is long and addresses needs across the district. If you want to hurt kids all across the district, not voting for the bond is a great way to do it. Yes, you'll stop the addition at Liberty, but it will also hurt City and West. Cut off your nose to spite your face.

And, meanwhile, Alexander went over 70% FRL and Lucas, Lemme, New Hoover, Shimek, Mann and Longfellow are sliding toward "white," lower FRL schools. Hmmmm.

Anonymous said...

Dan - anon 1054 here.

IF (and that is a big IF) it ever got to 45/50/10, we could look again. It won't.

Condos and duplexes get older and cheaper - there is a life cycle. NL has lots of them. As they get older and cheaper, FRL levels increase. IC is growing and making their own new rich area. IC concentrated poverty is being broken up by outside MN companies and some changing rules for new developments.

IT IS NOT RIGHT TO HOSE TWO ENTIRE SCHOOL ATTENDANCE AREAS FOR WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN. (Not yelling - just want emphasis). Particularity when it is supposedly to "help" the families in those two areas and they have said THEY DON'T WANT IT.

Any area not passing the bond would be cutting off their nose to spite their face. Just prompt more growth in the CCA area of NL.

Anonymous said...

Tilley has noticed something interesting:

From Tilley's Topics in Education

There was much of note from last night's Board meeting. One thing that hasn't been discussed is that the new elementary boundaries on the East Side will most likely make east Iowa City look like a 1960s southern city with the railroad tracks as the dividing line between affluence and poverty, between most of our black and Hispanic students and our white students. My guess is that Lucas will have significantly lower FRL rates (20-30%) once these plans take effect, and once the Windsor Ridge area fills out, so will New Hoover. Lemme will become the East side's Wickham, and Longfellow, Mann, and Shimek will be its counterparts. I know these boundaries are subject to revision, but it does reveal a vision--and a vision that I think is pretty awful. ‪#disappointed

Anonymous said...

Incorrect statement. It was not the same people cheering. It was the Kirkwood people cheering to go West. Every east side person I have ever met wants equity between all schools!

Dan said...

Anon 10:54, Dan Here.

Your condo example is timely. Like so many of the anecdotal projections and stories thrown around, it is an uneducated guess. I am NOT trying to insult you, only saying your condo example is typical of this discussion. We let anecdotes be weighed with actual data. We lose track of scale...13,000 children. 13,000 should be run by facts, not things like Lori Roetlin's silly story about a sick child at school trying to get home.

I don't know why ICCSD (and a lot of our local town councils) always act as we are smarter and know more than other cities and school districts across the country who have done this before. NOTHING that has happened in ICCSD hasn't happened in dozens and dozens of cities before. But we - including the author of this blog - think we know better; that we are unique. We ignore well tested data.

There is a REASON we don't want schools to go above 40% when we can...because it is better for the low-SES students and the higher-SES students. There are reams of data supporting this.

There is also a lot of data on what happens when you allow schools to drift too far apart socioeconomically....the disparity ACCELERATES quickly. Your condo example simply does not hold up against actual case histories.

I cannot disagree that there are challenges to K going to Liberty and Alex going to West. But those are LOGISTICAL challenges. The K students will perform much worse, as will their peers, at Liberty versus a 55% FRL West. Unless I see actual data that disputes the overwhelming data which indicates the strong tie between high FRL% and performance, I will consider this a FACT.

Listen to Latasha...she said she would WALK her kids miles to Liberty if it meant a better education.

Out goal is to BEST educate 13,000+ students. I tire of anecdotal stories of 1 or 5 or even 20 parents and their logistical challenges. How about "your child will be MUCH better off when he is at school." Lori R seems to care more about a kid missing a bus or what happens when he gets sick one day instead of the other 180 days the child is getting a better education.

KT said...

I don't have any data to support any of this - just my thoughts. Won't the three high schools will be large enough that they will have similar offerings regardless of if it is 20% FRL or 60% FRL. If a FRL student goes to a 20% FRL high school they aren't magically going to become a straight A student just because there are more non-FRL students at the school. If a FRL student takes school seriously and puts the effort in then they will be in the more advanced classes, if they don't they will be in regular or remedial classes. When I was in high school 15 years ago the high school classes within the school were naturally segregated by abilities. Assuming all three schools will have the same offerings available I guess I don't see how moving kids around to achieve perfect balance accomplishes much besides providing additional barriers. I think any FRL student would perform the same or better at a closer high school at 55% vs a much farther away high school at 20% if they really wanted to due the the ability to get to and from the school easier and parents ability to be more involved at the school, etc.

KJ said...

I don't think anyone is saying that they don't want what's best for our children or that we don't want the best education possible for our children. It’s ludicrous to insinuate that any of the current board members want differently or have made these motions in haste. Have those of you that are pointing fingers at the board sat down and talked with the families that will face great barriers in transportation due to these boundaries? Furthermore, as a parent that has a child in the brand new Alexander elementary, one that opened its doors at 74% FRL mind you, going to a high school with a 55% FRL compared to where we're at now would be amazing. What would some of you say if this was your child that was being bussed up to 2 hours a day to a school that they are unable to walk to should they miss the bus? What would you do if the school board decided that they were going to finally buckle down and do something about the balance situation at the elementary level? This may mean putting your kid in the northern district on a bus and bussing them down to the south...all in the name of balancing. I'm not sure you would find a single person that would be ok with putting their child on a bus for up to 2 hours a day just to balance the FRL population. If City High or West High were running at 55% FRL, I would still want my children to go there because we have amazing teachers in this district and I am confident in their ability to teach every child. I urge you all to stop with the finger pointing at our board members. They are doing what they feel is best for ALL of our children and to make sure that ALL of our children are successful and get a good education. If you want to be pissed at the board for something in regards to balancing, speak out about the discrepancy in the elementary schools, that’s where the real focus should be. For those of you that have such a strong opinion about this, go spend a few hours in one of our 5 elementary schools that have over a 70% FRL population and sit down with our students and their families, find out what real life problems really look like or what a day in a school with over 70% FRL looks like and then, come back to me and tell me if you think bussing these kids all over is really a good thing. Heck, tell it to their families if you still agree. Until it’s YOUR kid that’s being bussed all over, I’m not really sure you know what it’s like to be on this side of it, so please, be respectful and see the whole picture…these are children we are talking about here.

arial said...

The thing is, Kirkwood kids are not getting this amazing low FRL education by going to Liberty. If Kirkwood kids are assigned to Liberty their FRL rate is around 30% vs if Kirkwood is assigned to West it has recently come out it is around 35% (it would be slightly lower without Alexander there too). If I am a struggling parent who has seen my kid through 7 years at a 75% FRL elementary school, 30% vs 35% is nothing. A school where parents and kids can take the city bus or carpool (with people from surrounding schools) there is WAY more important. I have looked at this 6 ways to Sunday and I wish it made sense to balance the schools to within a couple percent points of each other, but it doesn't. So now why does Kirkwood have to be assigned to Liberty? To punish North Liberty for not having enough poverty? To punish Kirkwood for having too much poverty? Because Kirkwood just needs to "take one for the team", because we haven't done enough already? The elementary boundary process and decision proved to me what I predicted, that by assigning Kirkwood to Liberty some on the board would be unwilling to change the demographics at Kirkwood for the better. Kirkwood is not hurting anyone by going to West. Stop trying to insist it is.

Dan said...


I would highly suggest that you read the Hanover Research Report posted on the front page of the school board website. It will be enlightening.

Schools above 40% FRL struggle in acheivement, both the low-SES students and the high-SES students. When it gets to 50%, it goes bad fast. These are data driven facts based on tons of test scores throughout the country.

We all have stories and anecdotes, and exceptions exist. But no school district that can possibly help it should allow a school to go above 40% FRL. Elementary schools are harder...we cant fight city zoning and people like neighborhood schools. In that case, we throw resources at it and try the best we can. But secondary is different.

Anonymous said...

Dan, Anon 10:54 here. Long (probably offensive to some) post - sorry for the length in advance.

Please don't try to BS me with non-peer reviewed garbage from Kallenwhatever his name is. Don't assume because I disagree with you that I am uneducated. I just haven't swallowed the koolaid. I have read some of his stuff and also other materials that are critical of his stuff. The misuse of his research in this district is borderline criminal.

A few quick things: his studies used voluntary movement and were conducted in truly high poverty areas. 40% low SES won't show up as a tipping point in his research and we have some of the best high schools in the state. So we are somewhat comparing apples to oranges trying to apply most of his work to our area. Additionally, higher SES kids' scores have gone down with these efforts in some of the research - which gets ignored or swept under the rug by the true believers in this district.

I understand test scores are not the end all be all. I understand there can be value to being around others who are not like you. I also understand that it can suck to be one of the poor kids in an upper middle class school. Nothing's perfect.

Focusing on SES doesn't necessarily lead to the outcomes that some promote - see Rochester: http://wxxinews.org/post/new-report-rcsd-graduates-lowest-rate-black-males-us

I get tired of listening to upper middle class white people suggesting wretched ideas like making lower SES people get out of their school - for their own good. I also don't want or need to listen to Latasha. I choose to listen to the families who will be impacted who say "We don't want this - it will make our lives harder."

All that being said, I am not against working toward more balance - particularly at the elementary level where there is more disparity and it is still early in development and it can have more impact. Magnets, weighted resource models, and sister schools seem like things that could all be part of the solution. A different Governor and better school funding could help as well.

Final thoughts - 1. I'm sorry you don't like your neighbors but proposing to bus them all over hell to make the school better for your kid (while telling your displaced neighbor it is for their own good) is transparent and icky to me.

2. If the new FRL numbers are not BS, the difference in FRL is not really all that much.

3. Funny to hear the cries of certain people about "Liberty is the white HS! We won't pass the bond.” So, seems to me that what they are desperately trying not to say is "We didn't fix what we really wanted to using FRL, so how can we ship some more minorities to NL?" Let's threaten the bond issue over something......(we are back to #1 on my final thoughts list).

Dan said...

KJ and arial,

I hear you. I WENT to a 75% FRL school.

And yes, 45% may seem amazing after being in the difficulty of a 75%FRL school.

But the world is not static. There have been many districts that have made the "close enough" mistake. 10 years out from a 45/45/18 balance, they find themselves with a school at 80%. Happened in Des Moines, happened in Minneapolis, happened in Greensboro, happened in Aurora Colorado.

The scenario on the ICCSD site shows FRL% of 43/45/18 for City/West/Liberty using the aggregate elementary schools. Liberty would be 80% white. 80%.

That's not good for anyone.

Amy Charles said...

Good God, Dan. I know you have nothing but contempt for people who struggle to get their kids to school, but I am also beginning to be seriously disgusted by this "don't let the ghetto kids surround my kid" thing. This is a district marvelously rich in educational resources -- not least the university community and the generally high level of parental education -- and unusually willing to fund ed initiatives. I think that if we spent less time fighting about FRL and more time actually figuring out how to help the kids -- and their families -- in high-FRL schools, and doing it, through not just budget line items but volunteerism, you'd see things improving to a pretty fair degree.

It's time for you to grow up, Dan, stop freaking out, and put down those prejudices you developed in those 75% FRL schools. And stop leaning on these garbage consultancy reports drawn from studies of areas nothing like ICCSD.

I am really, really tired of people in this area refusing to come to terms with the real demographic changes that have taken place here and recognize that something is required of them now.