Iowa City School District discusses rezoning elementary schools

The Iowa City Community School District is discussing a plan to rezone and pair elementary schools together in order to be more demographically diverse.

Members+of+the+board+listen+as+a+member+of+the+public+adresses+the+Iowa+City+School+Board+on+Tuesday+June+13%2C+2017.+%28The+Daily+Iowan%2FNick+Rohlman%29

Nick Rohlman

Members of the board listen as a member of the public adresses the Iowa City School Board on Tuesday June 13, 2017. (The Daily Iowan/Nick Rohlman)

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

The Iowa City School District has rezoned the district in the past, but this time, officials have a different goal in mind.

The School Board has created the Attendance Area Development Plan, which is geared toward rezoning or pairing schools in order to make the district more diverse at the elementary school level.

The district is currently segregated by demographic groups throughout the elementary schools; mainly, these groups are composed of students who do and do not receive free and reduced lunch. Some schools in the district have low percentages of free and reduced-lunch pupils, and other schools have high percentages. There are no schools in between.

School Board Vice President Lori Roetlin said the district will do a combination of rezoning and pairing elementary schools to add more diversity. The ultimate goal is to improve the educational experience for all students.

“We want our students to experience the kind of diversity they will encounter outside their community,” Roetlin said.

Because of the rezoning and pairing, some children may see new classmates or move to a different school. In either situation, students will have new experiences in the classroom.

Most people are focusing on the boundary changes, Roetlin said. However, School District staff need more training and groundwork in their respective areas before they can move students around.

The concept of pairing schools brings up entirely new opportunities compared with only rezoning, School Board member J.P. Claussen said. Through pairing schools, one school could become a kindergarten through second-grade building, while another could become third through sixth grade.

Claussen said pairing smaller schools will mean larger class sizes as well as fewer teachers. Having more faculty teaching the same grade level in one building could allows professional development among the teachers, he said.

Superintendent Stephen Murley said pairing schools will have teachers working with colleagues who are teaching the same grade level and subjects. This will allow them to help each other with planning their curricula.

Potentially combining schools and moving students around will be an adjustment for families, Claussen said. Bus routes in the district may change, and families will have to adjust accordingly, he said.

Despite the challenges that arise with the Attendance Area Development plan, there will be benefits in making the elementary schools more economically diverse, officials believe.

“There’s fundamental experience with diversity,” Claussen said. “It causes students to interact with people different from them.”

The students are not the only ones who may experience big changes. Teachers in the district may move schools and have different colleagues.

Even when schools are combined, teachers will not lose their jobs, Murley said. The School District keeps growing by around 300 students a year, he said. Even if the district were to cut positions in some elementary schools, there would be a need for the teachers somewhere else in the district.

The School Board has discussed implementing the plan in past years, but it may be a few years before it happens.

“The board wanted to get the plan into place for the 2020 timeline,” Murley said. “It hasn’t been specified when the plan will occur, but the soonest could be the 2021 school year.”

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