The period the Webster Groves School District set aside for gathering public feedback on its options for re-drawing elementary school boundaries closed last Sunday, with a huge outpouring of participation.
About 1,600 district residents took part in an on-line survey concerning the redistricting, and 200 more attended open-house forums on redistricting the week of Jan. 26. Now the board has until early April — subject to change —to make a decision that will inevitably make some people unhappy.
“A lot of good ideas were aired, good points were made in a very respectful manner,” Superintendent John Simpson told the board at its Feb. 10 meeting. “ Now as a district, we have to stand true to what is best for all kids, even if that may not be popular.”
Cooperative Strategies, an analytical firm with offices in California, Colorado and Ohio, generated a statistical report on district demographics and logistics, accompanied by five “scenarios” for redrawing the boundaries for the district’s six elementary-grade attendance centers.
The report places the district in a sticky situation, as it upholds the Webster Groves District’s tradition of neighborhood-oriented schools but in at least two scenarios, would turn Givens Elementary into essentially a majority-black school, potentially undercutting the goals of diversity and equity.
Board member Kita Quinn said the process has engendered some “angst.”
“It’s obvious that community is important. A school is just a building; it is the people in the building that make the community,” said Quinn, the only black member of the board. “Change is hard, sometimes unwelcome. We get past it. We’re all good people, and we move on.”
Quinn chairs a committee that will be reviewing and making the results of the online survey public, which is expected to happen in February.
Simpson said the district initially hoped to decide on redistricting by the end of February, but affirmed that probably won’t happen. It appears more likely the decision will come as part of the district’s strategic plan, which the board could adopt in April prior to the new board being seated. One new member — either Brian McQueary, Allen Todd or Kevin Mitchell — will be chosen by voters, filling the seat vacated by Arnold Stricker.
The board has not publicly indicated what option described in Cooperative Strategies’ plan it may be leaning toward, or if it might even go a different route.
Another issue that has generated talk in the district is the plan to add 20 minutes to the school day at every school starting next year. As with redistricting, the district is seeking public opinion before it decides how the extra 20 minutes will be folded in.
The decision to add the time was announced in December, but the board and administration have yet to determine how it will be accomplished. The state of Missouri requires each school to host 1,044 class hours per year, while it has legislated that no school may begin the year prior to Aug. 23.
Superintendent Simpson said the simplest solution would seem to be adding the 20 minutes at the beginning or at the end of each day, but there could be other possibilities. He said it appears beneficial to align the elementary schools’ times and the middle- and high-school times.
Webster Lions Donation
The board accepted the donation of a Plusoptix S12R vision screener from the Webster Groves Lions Club, Superintendent Simpson announced at the Feb. 10 meeting.
The equipment, valued at $5,740, will be used in conjunction with the Ambrose Family Center’s Family and Community Engagement program (FaCE ). The equipment is for early detection and treatment of vision problems.