Archive for Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Middle school boundaries up for grabs again in western Shawnee

January 15, 2008, 7:07 p.m.

Updated: January 17, 2008, 12:00 a.m.

— Middle-school boundary lines that sparked heated discussions before they were approved just one year ago are on the table again in the De Soto School District.

Superintendent Sharon Zoellner Monday night presented a plan to the De Soto USD 232 Board of Education that would change attendance areas for Mill Creek and Monticello Trails middle schools. The plan, which will be discussed by the board at its Feb. 4 meeting, calls for all subdivisions in the Horizon Elementary School attendance area to attend Mill Creek in the 2009-10 school year in order to make room for high school satellite classes at Monticello Trails, which is located on the same campus as Mill Valley High School. Currently, Horizon students attend both middle schools. High school students enrolled in a satellite class would walk to Monticello Trails where their classroom would be located.

The plan is a response to the needed space for high school students in the district. By the 2009-10 school year, the district will have reached its capacity of 1,750 high school students. About 1,080 of those students are projected to be at Mill Valley, which has a capacity level of 1,000 students. Enrollment at De Soto High School is expected to be 670 students, with a building capacity of 750 students.

Voters rejected high school expansions listed on the November 2006 and September 2007 bond referendums, which would have addressed the district's growth.

The plan addresses a concern that the board is violating the promise it made not to change boundaries after emotionally charged discussions regarding elementary and middle school boundary changes were finalized in January 2007. According to the plan, "the promise was predicated on the successful passage of a school bond issue."

In response to the Sept. 2007 bond failure, middle school boundary changes were suggested as a last-minute growth solution at the Nov. 5 board meeting.

Bret Church, teaching and learning director, presented considerations to the board to help guide them when considering grade configurations. One factor was curriculum considerations, if the district decided to move all ninth-graders to the middle school level. Church said in his November report to the board that moving ninth-graders out of the high school would limit elective and advanced course offerings. He also said state requirements for the Opportunity to Learn format only applied to grade levels that are part of the district's high school program. Opportunity to Learn allows students in ninth and tenth grades to take state assessments early and be checked off if they meet requirements.

"If you use classroom space as a satellite classroom, if you will, it would meet the state requirements," Church said at the November meeting. "It would be similar to looking at a modular. They may not actually be in the building but they would be in classrooms designated to that building."

Subdivisions that would be in the Mill Creek attendance area if the plan is approved include Woodland Park, Monticello Farms, Copenhaven, Hills of Forest Creek, Lakepointe south of Clear Creek Parkway, Parkwoods, Crestview Heights, Enchanted Lakes, and residents along Midland Drive.

As the district's plan would not take place until the 2009-10 school year, all current fourth-graders at Horizon would attend middle school at Mill Creek. The district's plan also suggests current fifth-graders begin sixth grade at Mill Creek next year. Sixth-graders at Monticello Trails who will be affected by the boundary lines also may transfer to Mill Creek next school year.

Church said the district looked at two things when determining which option was best to meet the district's needs.

"We wanted to make sure it was educationally appropriate and that it affected as few students as possible," he said.

Both schools would keep their current schedules and classes serving high school students would likely be in the same area of Monticello Trails. Church said if the plan was approved, passing period time would be discussed and the principal would help determine which classes would be located at the middle school.

Church said he also didn't expect the plan to cause any significant changes for staff members, and that staffing patterns would be changed as necessary.

One thing Church said he does expect is a lot of questions from the community, especially those who would be affected by the proposed plan.

"Boundary lines are always and emotional topic," he said. "The best we can do is make decisions based on what we expect to happen. We did not anticipate having two bond elections not pass. We have known that this growth was going to be a factor in our school district all along.

"It's not from a lack of planning that we are in this situation. Bond issue don't pass and then you are put in a new situation. You have to meet more immediate needs and serve student learning as best you can."

The board will take action on the plan at its next board meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 4 in the District Administrative Building.

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