USD 457 board continues talks on middle school boundary change

2/19/2013

By RACHAEL GRAY

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

The USD 457 Board of Education Monday night continued a discussion on potentially moving the boundaries for Horace J. Good and Kenneth Henderson middle schools.

School officials cite overcrowding at KHMS as the reason for the proposed boundary change, in addition to housing developments going up in the northeast part of the city.

Jean Clifford, board president, expressed concerns about the boundaries being changed so quickly.

In 2008, when the district came up with a long-range facilities plan, district officials knew the middle school boundaries would have to change. Those boundaries were changed in 2011 with a more “neighborhood” schools concept, where students went to the closest school.

Clifford said growth can happen in any part of the city.

“...We can’t keep switching these boundaries around on the community. We need some stability,” she said.

Clifford also called for the district to look at reinstating transfer requests for students who want to attend certain schools.

USD 457 Deputy Superintendent Steve Karlin said the proposed border change was caused by overcrowding already occurring at KHMS and housing developments that went up after the plans were made for the boundaries.

“Any time you draw a boundary, you come to a point where you’re going to need to re-do it,” Karlin said. “Unfortunately, we had to after a year. I think that’s going to give us enough room that these boundaries should last about five years.”

Lara Bors, board member, asked whether the board would consider waiting another year, to see where more housing developments are going up in the city.

Karlin recommended that the board decide this year to address the overcrowding at KHMS.

Gloria Hopkins, board member, said she encourages the new boundaries for next school year.

“One thing I like about doing this now is it gives an equal student-teacher ratio (at both schools). It keeps the class sizes the same. That keeps the community from having a favorite middle school. I think this needs to happen. It’s better to acknowledge the shortcomings in the current boundaries, adjust for it and move on,” she said.

The KHMS target for the 2011-12 school year, when the boundaries were redesigned, was about 400-450 students. Actual enrollment in the fall of 2012 was 475 students, according to Karlin.

Factoring into that high number were about 70 seventh-graders who opted to stay at KHMS for their eighth-grade year, but actually live in the new HGMS boundary.

Karlin said that in the fall, officials found the large number of students created some big challenges in the building.

He also said with the way Garden City is growing, and with more development in the northeast part of town, it only makes sense to leave those areas as KHMS areas.

Under the staff’s recommendations, Horace Good Middle School may pick up students who live in the area north of Mary Street, west of Belmont Street, south of the bypass and east of Third Street. Students in that area currently are designated to attend KHMS.

Another section of town where students may be sent to HGMS is between Center Street and Campus Drive, and between Kansas Avenue and Johnson Street/Crestway Drive. Both areas are currently adjacent to HGMS areas.

The boundary changes will only affect incoming sixth-graders. Seventh-graders will get to finish in their current schools, Karlin said.

The district has held more meetings with families and made phone calls inviting the families to the meetings, Karlin said Monday night.

The sections in town in question are adjacent to HGMS boundaries, officials said.

The board is expected to consider making a decision at its March 4 meeting.

Monday night’s meeting also included information about an Instructional Transformation Initiative that would be a comprehensive plan in launching students to literacy, as well as lining curriculum up with Common Core Standards expectations.

In January, 70 staff members heard from Susan Szachowicz, a retired principal from Brockton High School in Massachusetts.

The school has similar traits to USD 457, in that the school is majority-minority, has a high poverty rate and English Language Learners.

The school took brought its test scores up between 1999 and 2012.

Over that time period, they focused on rigor, relevance and relationships in their school.

“Literacy formed the foundation of the work they did,” Darren Dennis, assistant superintendent of learning services, said.

USD 457 hopes to mirror what Brockton did. They hope to get staff members involved and excited about the process, Dennis said.

“This is in the beginning stages. We’re excited about the prospects. We are really hoping to build some buy-in with the staff. We may have up to a sixth of the staff involved in committees,” Dennis said.

Leigh Ann Roderick, coordinator of elementary education, and Dennis plan to take 12 more staff members to hear Szachowicz speak.

The curriculum model would focus on literacy, reading, writing, language and reasoning.

Hopkins said the model sounds like it would coincide with the expectations of Common Core Standards.

“What it seems like you’re doing is teaching the student how to learn. ... I think we’re going to wire them from the beginning on how to think and solve problems. I think that’s awesome,” he said.

Bors said the new model sounds as if it’s going to add more time and responsibilities on to teachers.

“Are we going to take a hard look at what we’re asking our teachers to be teaching in the allotted time?” she asked.

Dennis said the initiative focuses on instruction and that every student can receive a good education if they have proper instruction.

Bors said the school budget then is critical.

“Without funding, there won’t be any instruction,” she said.

Rick Atha, superintendent, is in favor of the initiative.

“I do think the teachers have bought into Common Core. Not all of them, though. But most think we should have been doing that five to 10 years ago. I think this will catch on, too,” he said.

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