By Emily Younker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Two parents who are concerned about the Joplin School District’s proposal to send hundreds of elementary and middle school students to different schools next year said Wednesday that they hope the district will solicit more feedback on the plan over the next month.
“I think the people who are here (at the board meeting) are the people who care enough about their kids ... to want to have that input,” said Jennifer Martucci, who has two children at Cecil Floyd Elementary and two at the high school. “All we’re asking is to contribute to the solution and be part of the solution, and I think what you’re getting from people, their anger or their resistance, is not being allowed to be part of that.”
The Board of Education on Tuesday pushed a vote on the redistricting proposal to its March meeting after five people asked for more time to consider it and for more input from parents. Four of them, all parents of Cecil Floyd students, had made similar comments last week.
The plan would redraw some of the district’s attendance zones, which dictate the schools that students attend based on their addresses. About 200 current elementary students would be rezoned to different elementary schools next year. It also would redirect Cecil Floyd, Royal Heights, Kelsey Norman and Emerson students to different middle schools, and would introduce a permit option at the middle school level.
The plan was developed by a committee of 30 administrators, principals and parents from each school who met twice to review redistricting scenarios generated by an outside firm, Business Information Services.
Administrators have said the plan is an attempt to balance enrollment, particularly among the middle schools; to ease overcrowding in schools already filled to capacity; to free space at schools in the tornado zone, where growth is anticipated; and to balance percentages of students who are eligible for free and reduced-rate lunches.
Neal Smith, who has children at Cecil Floyd and South Middle School, said that in asking the board for more parent input, he is not necessarily looking to change the outcome or create a new proposal.
“It (the proposal) has such a big impact on our community in so many different ways that I think it’s just fair to not be too hasty in making the decision,” he said. “If the results are still the same at the end of the process, that’s fine.”
Megan Hoyt, a parent member of the redistricting committee, said it “doesn’t hurt” to take more time to review options. But she said she thinks the committee considered potential issues with the plan before presenting it to the board earlier this month.
“That was the whole point of the committee,” said Hoyt, who acknowledged that her second-grade daughter at Cecil Floyd is not as affected by the plan as older students. “I felt like we were well-represented.”
A handful of Cecil Floyd parents have said they are unhappy that their children would attend North Middle School instead of South. Martucci said her two older children attended South, and she and her husband got to know the principals and staff in anticipation of sending their two younger children there.
“For me, it’s a level of comfort that I have with South,” she said. “For us, it’s not a North-South issue at all. We’ve built those relationships, and those are important relationships.”
Superintendent C.J. Huff said he has heard from other parents who think that North isn’t a “quality school.” To try to ease concerns, district officials invited fifth-graders to tour North. Parents from North have encouraged those from other middle schools to tour the building, and meet the principals and teachers.
Administrators have said the three middle schools are academically comparable, and that curriculum, materials and core programs are the same among them.
“We have three fantastic middle schools,” Huff told parents during Tuesday’s meeting.
Student proficiency on standardized tests at South ranged from 51.1 to 55.5 percent between 2009 and 2011 in communication arts and from 46.8 to 51.9 percent in math, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. During those three years, student proficiency ranged from 45.6 to 52.1 percent in communication arts and from 50.4 to 51.8 percent in math at North. East posted proficiency rates of 47.8 to 52.7 percent in communication arts and 49.8 to 52.6 percent in math during those years.
The percentage of students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches is less equitable among the schools, although it is increasing at all three. That rate rose from 43.9 percent in 2010 to 51.4 percent last year at South; from 63.1 to 67.8 percent during those years at North; and from 62.2 to 62.7 percent at East, according to the state department.
Some parents said the proposal was being considered too hastily by administrators.
Angie Besendorfer, assistant superintendent, said the plan should be approved as soon as possible so administrators can prepare for staffing changes. She said recruiting teachers for next school year is already in full swing among most districts.
“We had planned for meeting next week to begin that discussion to try to see where our staffing (needs) are,” she said. “The cream-of-the-crop teachers are being hired today.”
Huff said he wants the plan in place by August so students can move into the new elementary and middle schools when they are complete in December. Under the proposal, all Duenweg and Duquesne students would attend the elementary school at the East campus, as would 84 students from the McKinley zone. Those students, plus those from McKinley, Eastmorland and Royal Heights, would attend East Middle School.
If the plan is delayed, East and the adjacent elementary school would be partially full next year, Huff said. South Middle School, meanwhile, would be crowded with students from Cecil Floyd and Stapleton, the two largest elementary schools, as well as the new Irving and Emerson elementary school, he said.
THE REDISTRICTING PLAN proposed for the Joplin School District was publicly introduced Feb. 5, the same day that parents in the affected schools were notified by letter.