The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 5, 2013

Joplin School District to conduct additional parent sessions on redistricting

By Emily Younker

JOPLIN, Mo. — A series of meetings will be scheduled next week at several Joplin schools to inform parents of the district’s proposed plan to redraw attendance zones.

Parents will likely be notified of the dates, times and locations of the information sessions via letter, according to Jason Cravens, director of instructional services. He said the sessions will allow administrators to get feedback from the parents whose children will be directly affected by the plan.

Those sessions sprang out of a Tuesday morning meeting of the 30 administrators, principals and parents who formulated the redistricting plan, which was introduced last month. They are the next step for the district after the Board of Education last week postponed a vote on the proposal, instead asking for more parent feedback. Also in attendance Tuesday were a handful of parents who were observing the meeting.

Meanwhile, about a dozen parents, including several who have publicly voiced disapproval of the proposal, met Tuesday night to discuss alternative plans that they could present to the district as early as next week. Patrick Martucci, one of the organizers, said all the parents in attendance were there “because we don’t agree with the current plan or we don’t know if we agree with it.”

They said they would pursue drafting a plan that would redraw attendance zones for elementary schools based on population projections from the city, current enrollment numbers and the capacity of school buildings. They also said they would try to honor the same priorities that the district identified in its original proposal, such as affecting the fewest number of students possible.

The plan as proposed by the district 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.

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.

Concerns about the plan have come from parents who have said the plan has moved too quickly through the administration and that they weren’t given ample opportunity to provide input. Some parents, primarily those from Cecil Floyd Elementary School, have also said they are unhappy that their children would attend North Middle School instead of South.

Marcia Long, a grandmother of students at Cecil Floyd and South who attended Tuesday’s meeting as an observer, said she thinks administrators should revisit the proposal next year. She said waiting could give the district time to better determine where its students will be living as Joplin redevelops in the wake of the tornado.

“I just think you cannot say for certainty what areas will grow,” she said. “I would really like more input from people like me. That’s what I would like them (administrators) to entertain, is other opinions. The world will not stop spinning if we wait. Why do we have to rush?”

Administrators said they want the plan in place by August so students will be ready to move into the newly constructed elementary and middle schools when they are complete in December. Approving the plan this spring, they said, would give the district time to make necessary staffing changes and rework bus routes.

Parents who were involved in creating the plan indicated they think the proposal is the best solution for the district. Sheenah Briggs, who has a child at Kelsey Norman Elementary, said she is concerned that unresolved overcrowding at schools would place unnecessary stresses on teachers and students.

“Is my child going to be left behind because there are 35 kids in the class?” she said, noting that class sizes were that big at some Joplin schools but not at Kelsey Norman. “As long as she’s being taught and she has a future and can go on to college, I’m fine with it (the plan). And she may be hurt if she gets split up from her friends, but that’s life.”

Teresa Adams, principal of Duenweg/Duquesne Elementary School, said she thinks parents and school staff alike — and their concerns — were well represented on the committee during the drafting of the plan.

“(The steps) did seem to go quickly, but I don’t know that that’s a problem,” she said. “Could we have taken more time? We could have, but I think we would have come to the same conclusion.”

The committee also addressed some parents’ perception that South Middle School is a higher quality school than North. Cravens said he thinks North Middle School has an “old reputation” of being associated with a higher-poverty area of Joplin. Course offerings, the buildings and student proficiency on standardized test scores are comparable among all three middle schools, he said.

“I never thought there was a disparity between the schools,” he said.

Back to the board

The Board of Education will consider the plan at its March 26 meeting. The plan could be the same as it was presented last month or there could be changes to it as a result of parent input over next week’s meetings, said Jason Cravens, director of instructional services.