Archive for Thursday, January 18, 2001

Board seeks volunteers for school boundary committee

January 18, 2001

The DeSoto school board has decided to seek volunteers for a boundary study committee although it hasn't yet fully determined what the committee will be asked to do.

The decision came at Tuesday's school board member after one east-side board member questioned whether such a committee was needed.

The board first discussed forming a boundary study committee at the suggestion of DeSoto High School Principal Debbie Lynn. Last month, Lynn told the board she was concerned the disparity in enrollment between DeSoto High School and the larger Mill Valley High School would create unequal academic opportunities.

When the possible creation of a boundary committee was discussed Tuesday, board member Bill Waye of Shawnee wondered if establishing a committee wasn't an over-reaction to Lynn's comments. The board was preparing to name a committee without investigating the issue further, he said.

Establishing a boundary committee could put the board in the position of accepting its recommendations to change school boundaries, which Waye said could be disruptive for students.

"I'm not hung up on keeping schools the same size," he said. "I am hung up at not being able to provide a quality education.

"What we want to do is provide more, different and better classes. I think we are kidding ourselves if we think the way to do that is to move kids."

Jim Thomas of Shawnee objected to the assumption that students in smaller schools were at an educational disadvantage. Studies have shown, he said, that small-school students do better than their larger-school counterparts.

Board President Jim Plummer of DeSoto noted that argument could be used to decrease the enrollment at Mill Valley.

Board member Sandra Thierer of DeSoto insisted students at DeSoto High School have already seen the curtailment of some activities because of decreased enrollment. Debate and forensics teams are not available this year, she said. Some vocal and band activities have also been dropped because the high school didn't want to be "embarassed" by the small number of students participating, she said.

As long as Mill Valley has a larger enrollment, advanced courses offered through long-distance learning classes will invariably originate in that school's classrooms and be televised at DeSoto High, Plummer and Thierer said.

Superintendent Marilyn Layman found consensus for the creation of a boundary study committee by reminding the board its task wouldn't be limited to considering the size of the district's high schools. Boundary changes are a fact of life in rapidly growing districts that are adding more schools, she said.

A study committee would allow the district to get community members involved in discussion of what should be considered when boundaries are drawn for district schools on the elementary, middle school and high school level, she said.

The study committee could research the ways other rapidly growing Johnson County school districts have addressed the issue, Laymen suggested. The process would open communication and earn the district allies when boundaries inevitably have to be changed, she said.

In the end, the board agreed to seek volunteers to serve on the study committee. However, it wasn't decided if the study group would be asked to make a report or recommendations. It was agreed discussion on the role and make up of the study committee will be continued during coming meetings.

Meanwhile, Layman said she would talk with Lynn about the concerns Thierer expressed at DeSoto High, which the superintendent said, had not been brought to her attention. There was general agreement the problems could be addressed by the district's two high school principals.

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