Fifty-four students are entering sixth grade this fall at a school that’s different from their anticipated attendance area school, once new boundaries go into effect in fall 2020.
The Verona Area school board plans to decide how to handle that over the next few weeks. It will be the easier of two discussions on how much flexibility it can allow parents of students for whom a change of schools might be imminent.
Later this summer, after it sets the new attendance area boundaries for elementary school students, the board will discuss policies for students who would change elementary schools after this transition year. That will be a much higher number than those changing middle schools – 177 in the option with the fewest changes – and with six years in elementary school, any grandfathering would have a longer phase-out period.
After a 45-minute discussion on the policy for middle schools Tuesday, June 18, the board wasn’t ready to decide the middle school option. Board members asked for more data on how various options would play out and planned to further discuss the topic Tuesday, June 25.
Board member Tom Duerst, who had children in the district when the last major redistricting took place, discouraged the rest of the board from overcomplicating the decision on who should change schools, and said, “If the parent handles it well, the child will handle it well.”
“I would strongly encourage we keep this simple,” Duerst said. “Don’t put too many layers to it.”
The main considerations June 18 were whether to allow the students to switch a year early or to allow their younger siblings to join them at their non-attendance area school while they are still in middle school.
The solution for 2019 – eight weeks away – could end up the same at every school and grade level, but it also could vary even by which school the students are attending. There are, for example, eight times as many students who would have to move to Badger Ridge a year early than would move to Savanna Oaks.
Badger Ridge principal Alan Buss said those extra 48 would cause “significant” congestion, require an extra teacher and necessitate using the only extra space the school has for a classroom. The six students who would move to SOMS early, meanwhile, would be able to fit into the sections already planned.
A survey sent to the families of the 54 middle school students who would move got 50 responses, with 32 saying they would take the option to move a year early if available. The district did not ask which school those students attended, so it remains unclear whether those 32 include the six that would move to SOMS.
It’s a relatively small set of students among the more than 1,000 middle schoolers in the district, which led board member Kristina Navarro-Haffner to suggest finding a solution to minimize their transitions, suggesting a phase-in approach to the new maps.
“Fifty-four kids is such a small number that we could do that incrementally,” Navarro-Haffner said. “The maps don’t change that significantly, so it feels like something we could do at the middle school level that would allay a lot of peoples’ concerns.”
As the discussion dragged on, superintendent Dean Gorrell reminded the group this was a small piece of the major decisions that remain. That prompted the group to finalize the list of data it needed for the June 25 meeting to continue the discussion as it works toward what will likely be an even more challenging decision later this summer.
“There’ll be at least as robust, if not moreso, conversations around this with elementary school,” Gorrell said.
One of the board’s considerations June 18 was allowing the smaller cohort of students to move a year early while keeping the larger group at one school and having them move for seventh grade.
Board member Meredith Stier Christensen said the size of the groups should dictate how they handle the situations, given both limitations on space for 2019-20 and how it would play out socially. She suggested it could be more challenging for the smaller group to acclimate at a new school in seventh grade.
“Forty-eight students going from Savanna to Badger, that is a significant enough cohort that there is that social support,” Stier Christensen said.
That conversation, along with the survey results that showed not all families would choose to move early, created a question of whether the board should allow an early move option or make it a requirement. Stier Christensen expressed concerns that if it’s a choice, that social aspect could be more complicated.
“If we made it an option that is available to choose, you take away the support of the cohort,” she said.
Administrators recommended allowing the smaller cohort to move to SOMS a year early while keeping the larger group there, as well, and having them move in 2020.
Phasing it in
The most complicated of the suggestions June 18 was a phased-in approach to the new maps.
It would give students no options for the upcoming school year, requiring sixth-grade students to continue in their current attendance area school. After that, they would have the option in seventh and eighth grade to continue at that school or move to the new attendance area school.
Sixth-graders beginning in 2020-21 would be required to attend the school under the new attendance boundaries. That would mean the boundaries would be in full effect for middle school by the 2022-23 school year.
Navarro-Haffner suggested the idea, which some others on the board expressed interest in exploring, but needed more data to know how it would effect enrollments for years beyond 2020-21.
The main question board members had with such an approach is how younger siblings would be affected: If a student were one or two years behind their sibling who will be in sixth-grade this year, would that student also be allowed to attend the old school if their family desires? And how long would that be allowed if there were multiple younger siblings?
Data to show how many students that could affect was to be presented at the board’s June 25 meeting.