Skepticism, criticism, old arguments revisited, and even a little bit of positive feedback.
Another Iowa City Schools redistricting forum in the books.
On Wednesday night the Iowa City School District held its second of two scheduled forums on new redistricting plans in first-draft form by the school district.
Ann Feldmann, Assistant Superintendent and emcee of the forum, told the crowd of roughly one hundred visitors in the Northwest Junior High School Little Theatre that the plans they were to discuss during the evening were the same plans that were pilloried at the previous redistricting meeting at City High School . The administrative team is still considering ideas from that feedback.
"We didn't feel that we had them fleshed out enough to come out with a set of new scenarios," Feldmann said.
As this forum was held in a Coralville junior high, the forum focused more on the proposed junior high redistricting than the previous forum did.
The first draft of the proposal calls for moving 128 students from Wickam Elementary School to Northwest Junior High School to relieve overcrowding at North Central Junior High in North Liberty.
Wickam parents in attendance expressed doubt about the district's enrollment projection numbers, and criticized the district's apparent lack of "long-term planning" and "big-picture thinking."
A major subtext of this concern over long term planning appeared to be what this move would mean for the high school feeder system for Wickam, where students currently attend West High School after going to North Central. There was also some concern over future of the long discussed third comprehensive high school.
Suzanne Summerwill, a Wickam parent, said many parents worry the school district would use the Wickam move as a pretext for moving Wickam students to City High School, which was discussed at the last redistricting discussion two years ago and roundly rejected by Wickam parents for safety concerns related to students traveling on Interstate 80.
"It would become easy at that point for the school board to say those students should go to City High, and that is unacceptable," Summerwill said.
The parents also criticized the plan for only basing the enrollment projections on current enrollment trends, and not factoring in future growth into the mix. The parents pointed out that if current growth continues without expanding North Central's capacity beyond 450 students, this would not help matters much in the long term.
John Weihe, a Wickam parent and former Coralville city council member, summed up another theme of the meeting by saying that he felt that the junior high and high school levels are so connected that he didn't see the sense in developing redistricting plans for one without the other.
"I think the junior high and the high school really need to be discussed at the same time," he said.
Meanwhile, at the elementary school level, there was some support for elements of the plan during the forum.
A group of teachers from Grant Wood Elementary School were among those at the meeting who spoke in support of the district's efforts to adress overcrowding at a school like Wood, while also trying to balance free-and-reduced lunch rates at schools like Wood and Twain, which are both above 70 percent.
Molly Severson, a special education teacher at Wood, spoke passionately about the need to mix students of different economic backgrounds, as she said research has shown reducing the free and reduced lunch rate to even 50 percent improves the learning for both high and low income students at the affected schools.
Severson said after the meeting that the teachers came together because they felt it was important to let the public know how these isolated pockets of poverty in the district really affect instruction.
"It was important for us to come here together because we see this as a huge problem, and change needs to happen," she said.
Feldmann said during the forum that at least one more forum is likely going to be scheduled sometime in April, and that the public would have a chance to respond to any new scenarios the team generates.
This recommendation is scheduled to be delivered to the school board in May, at which point the school board can do whatever they please with it.