By Emily Younker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
The Joplin Board of Education on Tuesday night approved a plan that will redraw the district’s attendance zones, and send some students to different elementary and middle schools next year.
Under the plan, about 200 current elementary students at Jefferson, Cecil Floyd, Stapleton, McKinley and Royal Heights will be rezoned to different elementary schools. Students at Cecil Floyd, Royal Heights, Kelsey Norman and Emerson schools will be redirected to different middle schools.
The proposal was recommended by a committee of administrators, principals and parents to account for population shifts in the wake of the May 2011 tornado. Administrators have said the plan also is an attempt to balance enrollment, particularly among the middle schools, and to allow for growth at schools in tornado-affected areas.
In a statement read moments before the vote, board member Dawn Sticklen urged her colleagues to make their decision based on what was best for “the greater good” above the needs of a particular school or neighborhood. Some parents from Cecil Floyd had repeatedly said they were unhappy with the plan, which will redirect their children to North Middle School instead of South Middle School.
“I felt the administration was in the position to best assess what the future needs were going to be, particularly the principals of the schools, and I think that while parents are obligated to act in the best interest of their children, administrators are paid professionals to act in the best overall interest of the district,” Sticklen said. “And at some point, I think we have to trust that we’ve hired the best people to make those decisions.”
The dissent in the 6-1 vote came from Jim Kimbrough, who said he disagreed with the procedure the district had taken. He said he would have preferred that the district conduct focus groups and develop its committee from those meetings.
“I think we needed more input from the get-go,” he said.
Eleven people spoke on the plan during a public comment session. Several of them encouraged the board to approve it; one parent from Royal Heights read a letter that had been signed by 42 parents from that school who gave their “full support” to the plan.
Sheenah Briggs, a Kelsey Norman parent and member of the committee, said the board needed to make the best decision for the district as a whole.
“I think the proposal that the committee came up with addresses every concern from every school,” she said. “I think you (board members) have gone above and beyond everybody’s concerns.”
Several parents, mostly from Cecil Floyd, urged the board not to approve the plan and asked for more time to consider alternatives.
“Is this truly in the best interest of the students?” parent Patrick Martucci asked. “Because if we truly cannot say that it is, what is the reason that we should do this right now?”
Martucci and his wife, Jennifer, led a group of parents who earlier this month presented an alternative redistricting scenario to the district. Their scenario proposed to shift additional boundaries of Jefferson, Cecil Floyd and Stapleton schools, with one of its objectives being removing the trailers at some elementary schools.
The board considered that proposal during its work session, along with the proposal from the district that it ultimately approved. Jason Cravens, the district’s director of instructional services, said the parent group’s plan would affect nearly 400 elementary students and did not meet some of the district’s priorities, such as leaving room for growth at schools in tornado-affected zones and balancing percentages of students eligible for free and reduced-rate lunches.
Board member Phil Willcoxon said he supported the proposal and the need to realign attendance zones, but he asked why administrators were pushing it this year instead of waiting another year, as some parents had asked the district to do.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction, but the thing that still bothers me a little bit is why now?” he said during a discussion in the work session that preceded the meeting.
Superintendent C.J. Huff said he didn’t think waiting a year would change anything in the proposal, and that waiting could mean that overcrowded schools would continue to be stressed. He also said he wanted the changes to take effect by August because the two elementary schools and middle school under construction are projected to open in December.
“I think if we wait, we’re going to find ourselves potentially with our back against the walls, especially if we have some growth that is unanticipated,” he said. “I really believe that now is the time.”
Also approved Tuesday was a grandfather clause for affected families. Affected students in kindergarten through fourth grade will have the option of remaining in their current schools, although transportation will not be provided by the district. This year’s fifth-graders with a sibling already attending their current middle school can also attend that school, and busing will be provided at the middle school level for two years.
A previously discussed permit option at the middle school level had been withdrawn by administrators, who cited its unpopularity with parents.
THE JOPLIN SCHOOL BOARD chose Soaring Heights as the name of the elementary school under construction on East 20th Street. It will house students from Duquesne and Duenweg schools.
SEVERAL OPTIONS, including New Hope, Skyline, Cornerstone and Parkwood, had been developed by a committee of parents, staff and residents. Board members said some names, particularly New Hope and Cornerstone, sounded too “churchy,” while Soaring Heights, a top choice of the students who will attend the school, fit with the district’s Eagle mascot.