Determining new attendance area boundaries last month was the most time-consuming and public decision the school board has had to make for planning the opening of the district’s new high school in fall 2020.
While many of the important decisions like school start times and staffing that remain will be behind the scenes by staff, the board still needs to tackle grandfathering, which will determine what, if any, students will remain at their current elementary school even if their attendance area changed.
Superintendent Dean Gorrell added the district still has to prepare to get the new and shuffling buildings physically ready for students.
“Sooner than later, moving six buildings is going to happen,” Gorrell said.
Much of that moving will be done next summer, with school this year ending early. The new high school will open in fall 2020, with Badger Ridge Middle School moving into the current high school and Sugar Creek Elementary School moving to the current BRMS building. New Century and Verona Area International schools will move into the K-Wing while Core Knowledge Charter School – which is K-8 – will move into the main high school building with BRMS.
Many of the decisions from now on will be behind the scenes. District staff and consultants will work to streamline bus routes and the costs that come with them, determine how new building locations will affect start times and look at staffing levels with new student populations at each school. Gorrell said he would keep the board informed throughout and bring any “bigger than what you might anticipate change” to trustees for discussion.
One of the likely most controversial decisions, grandfathering, remains with the board. Board vice president Meredith Stier Christensen and president Noah Roberts told the Press on Monday they had received plenty of emails on both sides, with some supporting making the new boundaries effective for all elementary students immediately in 2020-21 and others supporting some sort of flexibility.
Both said they couldn’t support any plan before they see data from staff, which is expected at the next meeting, Monday, Aug. 19.
“Our goal is always to minimize disruption for kids,” Roberts said. “It all depends on the numbers at each school.”
All three district leaders praised the process that got them to last week’s boundary decision. Roberts said he couldn’t imagine the board having to “start from scratch,” and he said the Attendance Area Advisory Committee was key in getting them to a decision.
“They provided us with three very different options that prioritized different things,” Roberts said. “It was a great way to discuss and dive into the complexity of our district.”
Communication on both the boundaries and any other decisions that change routines for families will be important over the next 13 months. Roberts said the district will have to “clearly and repetitively communicate to families” about the upcoming changes.
Gorrell said using varied methods of communication will be important, as well.
“You can get things out via email or you can get things out via snail mail, and somebody will miss it,” Gorrell said. “Then it comes as a surprise, so you just gotta be cognizant of that and build in multiple ways and multiple times for informing people.”
He hopes parents whose children are changing schools under the new boundaries will talk with staff at their new school and take advantage of yet-to-be determined plans for “welcoming new to the school families.”
“We knew going into this process that this isn’t going to make everybody happy,” Gorrell said. “An encouragement would be to … reach out the new attendance area school, that administrator, take a visit, take a tour, take your child there, get familiar with it.”
While the board approved a “phased in” approach for the middle school boundary changes, that same idea is likely unworkable at the elementary level.
With twice the number of schools and grades, it would have a much larger effect on enrollment at each school.
Options include allowing only certain grades in 2020-21 to remain at their current school or choosing no grandfathering at all.
Roberts and Stier Christensen said the data will lead to board to its decision and might not leave much of a choice. Stier Christensen also said any grandfathering could be considered “disrupting neighborhood unity,” – counter to one of the board’s stated priorities – by allowing some students to attend one school while neighbors go to another.
Roberts said the board will not make a decision the same night the data is presented. Instead, he said, trustees will discuss it and make any further requests and plan for a decision at the following meeting, Sept. 2.
While district staff can begin work on some items related to new bus routes, that grandfathering decision will affect each of the other decisions, Gorrell said.
“Some of it we can get started on right now, some of it we can’t quite get started on it yet,” he said.
The work they’re beginning is with a consultant to determine Hazardous Transportation Zones, which help determine maximum walking distances for students. Those will affect the bus routes, which will require knowing where students attending each school live and therefore cannot be looked at in too much detail until the grandfathering decision is made.
Then comes school start and stop times, which have allowed the district to double up on some bus routes and have used the convenience of a middle school adjacent to a high school for years. That convenience will be gone in 2020-21 – a “big thing” to consider, Gorrell said.
Gorrell hopes the district will also have final staffing decisions in place by next March, which would be on the normal staffing timeline. There are likely to be more changes than a normal year, with populations shifting between schools and a need for staff to follow.