At the beginning of the first public forum after the Iowa City School District announced a draft plan late last week, Assistant Superintendent Ann Feldmann addressed the audience sitting in City High School's Little Theatre, some of them watching from the balcony due to crowd overflow.
"We are all very very passionate about our kids, but let's try to keep our discussion purposeful," she told the crowd of more than 80 people in attendance. "We want to know what other ideas do you have for us, or whatever comments or concerns or positive thoughts you have for us."
There were certainly comments from the attendees, definitely a lot of concerns, and even a few ideas.
As for positive thoughts? Not really.
The crowd of concerned parents layed into the plan with critique after critique, questioning the district's overall vision, the historical lack of facilities improvements for east side schools, the timing of the planning, the chaos caused by redistricting, the district's transfer policy and even the very numbers that were the basis for the plan.
After several questions about numbers could only be answered by Feldmann and other administraters by them stating it was the best estimate that she and the committee could make at the time based on maximum potential enrollment for each attendance area, the parents became even more frustrated.
"I think people are feeling it's disingenuous because it's all very wish washy, and when you're called into account you don't have an answer for it," said crowd member Lori Kramer, a Longfellow parent.
The plan, developed by a committee made up of administrators and building principals from all the directly affected school buildings, in its first draft calls for changes to the following attendance areas:
- 106 students to moved out of Grant Wood to Longfellow (Dolphin Lake Pointe and Bon Aire)
- 104 students out of Longfellow to Twain (Windsor Ridge and Redwing Estates)
- 69 students out of Twain to Hills (Lake Ridge)
The PDF of the projected affects of this plan are attached to the document.
Feldmann said the committee has been charged by the school board to give a recommendation on elementary and junior high redistricting by May, and this recommendation first unveiled last Thursday will be potentially changed by public input. The board members will then be able to take whatever action they want regarding the committee's input.
The plan also called for the shifting of Wickham Elementary students from North Central to Northwest Junior high, but since the meeting was held at City High near many of the potentially affected elementary schools, the focus was primarily on the elementary level Thursday night.
There were a few suggested alternatives to the plan, but primarily the feeling in the room was just a sense of general disatisfaction and frustration with it.
Dan Shaw, another Longfellow parent, said that one of his concerns is the fact that district was looking at changing enrollment boundaries before learning the results of Iowa's quest to receive a federal waiver from No Child Left Behind. The waiver's fate likely won't be known by the school district until the summer.
Among many factors, No Child Left Behind's School in Need of Assistance designation for schools like Twain had led to transfers away from those schools. The end of this program and the resulting transfers, Shaw said, could have a big difference on the eventual populations.
"It really calls into the question the timeline to come to the conclusion by May," Shaw said.
Feldmann said since the fate of NCLB is uncertain, for planning purposes the district will just have to assume that the waiver will not be granted, even if it is likely that it will be.
Among all of this, there were a few that argued for some of the potential benefits of the plan, pointing out that studies have shown that lower income learners perform better when mixed with higher income students.
Jason T. Lewis, parent teacher organization president at Twain Elementary School, said that he and other Twain parents see the redistricting as good step toward improving Twain's 71 percent free-and-reduced lunch rate, a sign of low income students. According to plan projections this rate would be reduced down to 54 percent.
Lewis said that even though the audience members were frustrated and critiqued the plan heavily, he actually viewed the forum as an overall positive.
"From an administrative standpoint, it's really hard to please everyone," Lewis said. "At least this gives people the opportunity to air their concerns and get them adressed."
Lewis also took the opportunity to praise Twain for its high quality instruction. He admitted that he had been sceptical at first to enrolling his child at Twain due to the school's SINA-inforced reputation of being a poor school, but he now feels his great personal experience with the school shows these rumors about Twain were false.
The next forum will be on March 21st at Northwest Jr High from 7:00-8:30pm.