The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 9, 2013

Some parents favor Joplin’s new school boundary plan; others find it ‘frustrating’

By Emily Younker
Globe Staff Writer

JOPLIN, Mo. — Shonna Koch has long-standing ties to McKinley Elementary School in Joplin. Her three older children are all graduates, her youngest is a first-grader and she serves there as PTO president.

But her family’s history with that school could end because of a proposal before the Joplin Board of Education, which is redrawing the district’s attendance zones for elementary schools and also changing where many elementary students attend middle school.

The plan, which educators say was spurred by the consolidation of several schools following the May 2011 tornado as well as a post-storm population shift in the city, was developed over the past two months by a committee of administrators, principals and parents from each elementary and middle school. If approved by the school board later this month, it would take effect this fall.

Koch, who served on the redistricting committee, said the proposal would move her young son to the elementary school that is under construction next to East Middle School. She said her family hasn’t yet decided whether to move him or keep him at McKinley, as the plan would allow.

“We want to talk to our son and really think and pray about that and think about what’s best for him,” she said. “He’s at an age where I think he would be fine either way.”

Under the proposal, all elementary students living in the zone of a school destroyed by the tornado will attend their rebuilt schools this December, when the two new elementary schools are projected to open. Existing boundaries of some schools are to be redrawn to ease overcrowding at schools already stretched to capacity and to free space at schools located in the tornado zone where growth is expected, according to Jason Cravens, the district’s director of instructional services.

The redrawn boundaries, which dictate the schools that students attend based on their addresses, would mean that:

• 24 students from the Jefferson Elementary School zone east of North Pleasant View Lane would be moved to Columbia Elementary School.

• 28 students from Cecil Floyd Elementary School and 22 students from Stapleton Elementary School, drawn from a corridor around and south of McClelland Boulevard, would be moved to Irving Elementary School, which is under construction.

• 84 students from the McKinley zone east of Duquesne Road would be moved to the elementary school at East. (That school will replace the Duenweg and Duquesne elementary schools.)

• 47 students from Royal Heights Elementary School, drawn from the College View neighborhood and eastward, would be moved to McKinley.

Affected students in kindergarten through fourth grade would have the option of remaining in their current schools, but transportation would not be provided by the district in that case, Cravens said.

At capacity

Gayle Hennessey, principal at Cecil Floyd, said her school is at capacity with about 550 students. The new plan would free some space for the school to accommodate students who move into the Cecil Floyd zone as a result of post-tornado redevelopment, she said.

“Looking at the neighborhoods around us, it looks like growth is possible,” she said.

Hennessey, a member of the redistricting committee, said one of her goals was not to displace too many students from their current schools.

“Change is always hard, but I am pleased” with the plan, she said. “I was pleased to see that some of the overcrowded schools get some relief.”

Parent Megan Hoyt said her second-grade daughter will not be affected and will remain at Cecil Floyd. She said she thinks the plan is the best way for the district to handle some of its post-tornado challenges.

“The tornado happened; that’s a fact. Our families have been redistributed around town; that’s a fact,” said Hoyt, who also was part of the committee. “How we deal with it is a whole new ballgame. This is just a whole other step to get over the tornado experience, if you will, and if we have to move some kids from our zone to Irving to have more facility space (for enrollment growth because of rebuilding), then it’s just what we have to do to accommodate our kids.”

Middle schools

The plan also would change the middle schools into which four elementary schools currently feed students. Cecil Floyd students would attend North instead of South; Royal Heights students would attend East instead of North; Kelsey Norman students would attend South instead of East; and Emerson students (combined with Irving students) would attend South instead of North.

Cravens said those changes are necessary to balance enrollment at the schools. He said South — the largest of the three middle schools, partly as a result of a post-storm population shift to the south and west parts of Joplin — would not be able to handle students from the combined Irving-Emerson school on top of students from Cecil Floyd and Stapleton, which are the largest elementary schools.

South currently has an enrollment of 648 students, compared with 472 students at East and 572 students at North. Under the proposal and based on current enrollment, South would have 630 students next year and 585 students during the 2014-15 academic year, while East would have 487 and 500 students and North would have 602 and 575 students during those two years, respectively.

Current middle school students will not be affected, Cravens said. This year’s fifth-graders would attend their new middle school next year, but those with a sibling attending their current middle school could also attend that school, he said.

In response to a question last week from school board member Dawn Sticklen, the district’s director of curriculum, Terri Hart, said teachers and students at the three middle schools have access to the same curricula and materials. Some extracurricular activities or clubs might differ among the schools depending on the individual teachers who sponsor those organizations.

Sticklen, a parent of two South Middle School students, said later that she asked the question for parents whose children will be rezoned to another middle school.

“I am only familiar with what is offered at my child’s school,” she said. “When your child doesn’t attend a different school, you don’t really know what’s offered.”

Parent reactions

Some parents disagree that the plan as proposed is the best option for students. Laura Fedie, who has two children at Cecil Floyd, said her fifth-grade daughter is upset that many of her friends have been redistricted to Irving. Those students will attend South Middle School next year, while her daughter and others who remain in the Cecil Floyd zone will attend North.

“It’s frustrating because ... it’s literally split down the middle,” she said of her daughter’s group of friends. “She is frustrated and stressing about it. She had her heart set on going to South, and now she’s going to North.”

Fedie said she thinks the redistricting plan should have focused only on the schools affected by the tornado. She thinks the plan as proposed causes an unnecessary shuffling of elementary students.

“What I told my daughter is that really the educational part of this is the main purpose so everyone’s in even classes, but at the same time, if the children are unhappy because they’re split up from their friends, they’re not going to be functioning at their highest capacity,” she said.

Stacy Smith, who has a fifth-grade son at Jefferson, said she thinks the plan is neither convenient for parents nor economical for the district. She said she thinks the middle school that students attend should be based on students’ home address, rather than which elementary school they attended.

She said students in the western edge of the Royal Heights zone, for example, live closer to North — their current middle school — than to East, where they would attend if the plan is approved.

“I wonder, with gas prices as they are, is it economical to take them from that area and bus them all the way to East 20th Street?” she said.

But Jennifer Wardlow, the mother of a kindergartner and a fourth-grader at Royal Heights and a member of the redistricting committee, is optimistic that the plan will free up classroom space so the school can get rid of its trailers. She also said the change of middle school isn’t a problem for her or her children.

“For me, personally, it didn’t really matter what middle school they go to,” she said.

Parent meeting

An information session for parents is set for 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18, at the Joplin Schools Administration Building, 3901 E. 32nd St.