I'm becoming anxious about the new Student Assignment Plan. The Board has approved the framework, but the framework has yet to address the controversial issue that it needs to address: Spectrum.
Special programs like Spectrum are mentioned twice in the introductory paragraph for the new assignment plan. One of the plan's goals is to "provide equitable access to programs" and one of the plan's requirements is the "careful and intentional location of specialized programs". Despite the focus in the charge, there is scant mention of specialized programs within the framework.
This is a very tricky problem. There are three types of considerations to be balanced.
First are the academic considerations. A Spectrum program needs a critical mass of students to form a viable learning community. To be strong, an elementary Spectrum program needs to have at least 80-100 students. The Manager of Advanced Learning told the Board Student Learning Committee that a middle school Spectrum program needs a critical mass of 180 to be viable. There are a number of programs, both elemenatry and middle school, which are not nearly big enough to function well. If the elementary clusters are broken up into mini-clusters, will there be a Spectrum program for each mini-cluster? And if there is, won't that splinter the critical mass of students and preclude effectiveness? Or will some Spectrum programs reach across mini-clusters to bring together enough students to make the program effective? Similarly, when the middle schools each have their own reference area will they each have to offer Spectrum or would it be more effective if some of the schools pooled their Spectrum students to gather the necessary critical mass?
Next are the operational concerns. If the an elementary school is going to have 100 or 120 Spectrum students, when the District "right-size"s the school's reference area, they will have to take that into consideration. Lafayette may have room for 416 students, but if the District must allow for the possibility that there could be 140 Spectrum students there, the reference area shouldn't have more than 276 non-Spectrum kids in it. The District better think hard about where these programs are going to be, because if they set the reference area for Lafayette small to allow for Spectrum, but then they relocate the Spectrum program, they will need to reset the reference area. Similarly, they won't be able to move a program to a school without adjusting the reference area to account for the set aside seats. If one Spectrum site is going to serve more than one mini-cluster or middle school reference area, will the District provide transportation out of cluster or region for Spectrum? And what will the District do when a Spectrum program fills up? Once Wedgwood has filled their fourth grade Spectrum class, where will the next Spectrum student in that cluster go to school? Will that student not have access to Spectrum? Will the student have access to Spectrum in a neighboring cluster without transportation? Or will the District provide out-of-cluster transportation for that student for Spectrum?
Then comes the political considerations. How will people respond to the idea that a neighborhood reference area is shrunk to allow set aside seats for Spectrum? How will people respond to out-of-cluster or out-of-region transportation for Spectrum? If the District doesn't consolidate clusters for Spectrum and gather a critical mass of students, then they will not be able to provide equitable programs - no more than they are today. They will not have solved the problem they are trying to fix.
Finally, before any of this goes any further, will the District relocate the Spectrum programs that are not proving effective? The Manager of Advanced Learning told the public and the Board that she would close Spectrum programs that couldn't attract enough students to form a viable program, but she just left the position in the same year that she was supposed to fulfill that commitment. Will the incoming Manager of Advanced Learning feel obligated by his predessesor's statement?