Saturday, March 6, 2010

More info on School Redistricting

As a member of the Ad Hoc Feasibility Committee put together by the Board of Ed (and a person who has crunched WAY too many numbers on this topic), I'd like to respond to the previous post and say a few things about the potential school redistricting.

First, though the committee has met many times, the final vote on the final version of its recommendation to the Board of Ed won't come until Monday night. I'll be happy to share that here once it is final so that the public can see what those recommendations are before the board meeting on Tuesday night. For now, though, everything that I write from here on out is based on numbers and proposals that were discussed in public meetings, but NOT based on the final proposal, which hasn't been voted on or finalized yet. These numbers are still open to change between now and Monday night. And, let me also say that all of the math involved is my own math and (I admit) is as accurate as I could make it. I hope I got it all right.

I think it's great that the Eye is writing about this's really important for Middletown and important that parents and community members are aware of what's happening in our district.

But, I think that a few things in the previous story are misleading and could use a broader perspective.

1) The previous post says: "Many of the students moved will be from city populations of minority students, and students served by the free lunch program, most of whom are from families afflicted by poverty."

Yes, that is true. BUT, that leads you to believe that the district is (again) disproportionately harming those most vulnerable in our community. What's more accurate is the fact that over the last 10 years, Middletown has harmed those same communities by bussing them to schools that they didn't belong in. Schools that their neighbors didn't go to and schools that were hard to get to and not logical. Kids had to bus past (in some cases) multiple districts to get to their schools when, for many of the students, they lived blocks from the school that their neighbors attending. Most of those kids were poor students of color, and Middletown caused hardship to those families through this policy.

The committee (and I hope the district) has a primary goal of fixing this policy. It is bringing those kids back to the schools they should have been at all along. So, yes, this fact should be on the districts radar, but if the school board votes to move these kids, it would be a dramatic improvement over what is currently happening. And, it would be a return to neighborhood schools...something that I think everyone can agree is beneficial, even if it is hard.

2)The previous post says: "Not all numbers are firmed, or voted on by the committee but if the current proposal is passed, as many as 47 new students will be enrolled at Farm Hill School, and Moody's population will decrease by 54 students. Bielefield is currently slated for an increase of 19 students and Lawrence an increase of 12. Decreases will be seen at other schools including a decline of 2 at Macdonough, 26 at Snow, 4 at Spencer and 11 at Wesley."

This really only shows one aspect of the entire plan. The biggest changes (again, if the school board adopts the current proposal...) would happen at the schools that are losing the most kids and gaining the most kids. Just because a school is increasing or decreasing, doesn't mean it's the biggest change.

The post says "Biggest changes at Farm Hill and Moody". That's not quite accurate. Moody, for instance, has a fairly small change, by percentage of population, because they are losing kids but gaining very few. I think that's important to note because a significant change (meaning, the number of kids who are at the school right now who will still be there in September or the number of total kids moved in and out as a percentage of the total population) means more change and transition for the school community, teachers and families.

Moody looks like a big change, but it's really not. And, it will mean losing about 80 great kids, but the school will only have to transition roughly 30 kids into the school. They're population is only changing by 25%. So, I just want to be clear on what "change" means. As of now, the biggest changes are to the downtown schools.

Macdonough has to change dramatically to become a neighborhood school and comply with racial balance laws, losing roughly 80 kids and gaining roughly 80 kids. Farm Hill has to change to help the neighborhood school goal and to come closer to capacity, losing roughly 70 kids and gaining roughly 115 kids.

Another important goal of the committee was to make sure that buildings were utilized better. There are schools (like Farm Hill & Bielefield) that are drastically under-enrolled. So, part of the goal of the committee was to even out the enrollment as a percentage of the capacity. Under the current proposal (again not finalized until Monday), the capacity usage is far more equitable than it is currently (capacity at some schools is currently as high as 108% and as low as 72%). Farm Hill is currently using only 74% of its capacity, so it will be gaining students to get to 86%, a much more reasonable number when we consider that Moody, at its high point was 120% of capacity and will now be going down to 95%.

3) This is a small point, but deserves clarity. The previous post says:"While the redistricting affects the entire city, the committee consists of 4 representatives from Macdonough, two from Moody, one from Wesley and Snow. There are no representatives from Farm Hill, Bielfield, Lawrence, Snow and Spencer schools."

Bielefield and Snow are represented, so the schools not represented are Farm Hill, Lawrence and Spencer, though their principals were invited (and most did) to sit in on and participate in the committee meetings. And, while 4 representatives from Macdonough were originally named to be on the committee, only 3 ended up actually serving.

4) I agree that the committees recommendations are coming too late for the board to vote. I hope that they'll have a special meeting in a week or two so that they can vote on these recommendations after giving themselves and the community time to digest them. I also hope that they don't wait a whole month since the schools and the families that will be moving deserve the time to prepare for those changes.

As a member of the committee, I wish that we had started meeting sooner so that we could have come to a recommendation earlier, but I was not in charge of the timing.

While I have no idea of the outcome, I would be happy to talk with anyone who has questions about the process or the percentages. I don't know what happens in Central Office, but I know that the committee has been working tirelessly to get the recommendation done as fast and as fairly as we can.


fishmuscle (Stephen H. Devoto) said...

Izzi: thanks for your clarifications and perspectives in your post, and your participation on the Ad Hoc Feasibility Committee. It sounds like the proposed changes will lead to a much better distribution of students through our city schools. However, I am concerned about the representation on the committee.

The makeup ought to lead to ready acceptance of its recommendations by the Macdonough community, because the committee included not only the Macdonough Principal and PTA President, but also a second parent, a teacher, and yourself. In contrast, Moody's representation consisted solely of a teacher (the "Moody parent" is actually a former parent).

The minimal representation from any school other than Macdonough is a problem if parents of children at other schools disagree with the plan and/or feel they have not even been informed, let alone given an opportunity to provide input. I hope the ad hoc feasibility committee and/or an administrator visits a PTA meeting at each affected schools to present and discuss the changes BEFORE the Board of Education votes on them.

A redistricting like this occurs less than once a decade, it would be appalling if it is rushed through without opportunity for community discussion. The Board should release the report and give the community a month to provide comments.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mr. Devoto that a decision as big as redistricting needs to be very well thought out and have sufficient input from all of the community including representatives from each of the schools effected.

Yet, I have been hearing about the issues of the district lines for the last couple of years. The ad hoc committee was decided on at a public board of education meeting and all of the meetings were posted on the Board of Education website and open to the public. The issues of overcrowding at Moody and being out of racial compliance at Macdonough have been well documented and have to be addressed now.

I agree that the committees were not given much time to meet, (JCJ gave their last report in November and the committees started meeting some time after that - I don't know when exactly as I did not take part in them). I do think that at this point, those who were/are interested in having community input and discussion should have been attending the ad hoc public meetings and the JCJ presentations where the community was given a chance to participate. It seems hard to make an argument that the committees were not well represented when anyone from the public could have attended the meetings, been informed and addressed issues with those on the committee. Or for that matter, parents from other schools could have volunteered to participate in one of the committees had they been that interested.

Finally, while change is hard. Children are incredibly resilient and most can adjust to change, like going to a new school, better than most adults can. Yet, the sooner families are told, the sooner they can begin preparing their children for the change. I think if you go to all schools and talk to the kids, principals and teachers you would realize each school can provide a good education to all of our Middletown kids. Everyone needs to help make the inevitable and necessary redistricting as smooth for the many children and families who will be effected. The final decision needs to be made sooner rather than later.