It’s not going to be easy, but the process of changing attendance areas in the north and central parts of the is under way.
The Parkway Board of Education heard an update, which included a proposed timeline for changes, at its Wednesday board meeting. Changes could be voted on in the fall and would take effect in the 2012-2013 school year.
Overcrowding at several elementary schools in the north part of the district has prompted the potential changes. and Craig elementary schools are of particular concern; those schools have about 550 and 440 students, respectively. Most district elementary schools have closer to 400 students or less, data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education stated.
Other north area elementary schools are Ross and . Those aren’t quite as crowded, district spokesman Paul Tandy said. At McKelvey and Craig, the need is more dire. There aren’t any more available classrooms at McKelvey, Tandy said. The solution is either to change the attendance areas or set up classrooms in trailers, something Tandy said most district parents oppose.
Elementary school students from the north part of the district could be moved to elementary schools in the central part of the district, such as in Chesterfield. Any changes made in elementary school attendance boundaries could impact where a student goes to middle or high school, too.
Changing attendance areas—and other options to ease the overcrowding—have long been discussed in the district. Project Parkway, the district’s multi-year strategic planning effort, had a task force devoted to examining possible changes.
“People know conversations are going on, and I think there’s a pretty good understanding of the need. Through the two years of Project Parkway, the need has been very clear and very upfront,” Desi Kirchhofer, assistant superintendent for secondary schools, told the board.
A committee of staff members has begun work with Tyler Technologies, a company that makes educational software. In this case, the committee uses a program called VersaTrans that allows them to examine and manipulate attendance boundary areas while taking bus routes into consideration. Kirchhofer told the board that to consider changes, they will be breaking attendance areas into smaller areas, called neighborhood planning units (NPU). Each NPU is set with natural boundaries, such as neighborhoods or highways. Breaking attendance areas up this way makes sense, Kirchhofer said.
“This is a manageable way to make changes without moving a huge number of students at any one time,” he said.
The committee will continue to work with the software and the consultant from Tyler Technologies. Soon, a survey will be sent to parents of children who attend north and central-area schools. That survey, which Tandy said would come in the form of an emailed link, will ask parents about the guidelines the district uses to determine attendance areas. Currently there are nine guidelines in district policy:
- To support and further the "neighborhood school" concept on all levels so long as the design capacity of a given school can both educationally and physically furnish a quality program.
- To favor students presently enrolled in Parkway schools over prospective new students.
- To avoid moving a child to another school for one year only.
- To consider the safety factor of students on the way to school.
- To equalize the load as nearly as possible in each building according to facilities available.
- To enable each student, insofar as possible, to attend the school nearest his home.
- To assign, when practical, all students of a subdivision to one school.
- To coordinate attendance areas of elementary and secondary schools.
- To change as few students as possible from schools they are now attending.
Tandy said currently those guidelines aren’t prioritized. The parent survey should help the district understand which guidelines are more important to parents than others, he said, which is important because in some cases the guidelines will conflict.
“We want to know, are there any that stand out as being No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3?” Tandy said.
The committee will use the feedback from the survey, which should take less than 10 minutes to complete, to guide their decisions.
Over the summer, the committee will work to develop a possible change to attendance area boundaries that will ease the overcrowding. Public meetings on the changes should be in the fall and a school board vote on the issue could come before the end of the year. Any changes would take effect in the 2012-2013 school year.
Board members stressed that the process needs to be as open and transparent as possible.
“We’ve got to roll up our sleeves and show there’s absolutely nothing up our sleeves,” board member Bruce Major said.