Here's the thing: It feels like the Board and the staff could have cut up the Growth Boundaries plan, section by section, thrown the pieces in the air and picked 10 off the ground. I honestly worry that somewhere in there is something that many will have overlooked and/or will not like.
I want to have faith but when the SCPTSA says the process wasn't good, it wasn't good.
When Kellie, Meg and others who really see the weeds AND the big picture and are worried, it isn't good.
When a program gets moved around before its review is finished, it's not good (that would be AL).
When a school gets changed from a neighborhood school to an Option school without a single meeting of the school community, it's not good (that would be Dearborn Park).
When parents cannot understand what is written or what it means, it's not good.
As usual, parent Kellie LaRue distills it best and I hope the Board listens. What she has written could either be the roadmap to the future or tea leaf reading for what may come if they don't listen.
Whatever the Board approves, will it turn out to be disasterous? Probably not but it WILL set the course for the district to equitably serve students or continue to limp along in a hodge-podge and less-than-clear fashion.
Please prioritize the Student Learning experience first, capacity second and everything else thing else last. Above all, get 2014 right.
In my humble opinion, this would be my list of priorities and this list informs my recommendations.
1. Do the least harm. There will be some change but all change must have a transparent benefit that out weights the switching cost of changes.
2. A roadmap for BEX would be wonderful but we have to get 2014 right.
3. We must have a realistic and clearly articulated sense of what limited capacity and negative capacity really means. In many parts of town, the capacity problem will get far worse, before it gets better and it may not get better. It is very possible that continued enrollment growth will outpace the capacity that is coming from BEX IV.
4. Program placement is important but special education comes first. It is imperative that special education gets first placement with new capacity. While it would be nice to have advanced learning closer to home for many students, this must come after general education seats..
5. Feeder Patterns may be what we are constrained to work with, but it should at least be acknowledged that feeder patterns create only an illusion of stability. For communities in the center of a feeder pattern there are real benefits to this plan. However, for every family that lives near a boundary, they will be disrupted with every change, twice. In the current incarnation of the plan, they are getting forced school changes for both elementary and middle school, in some cases more than once each.
On the day of such a large vote, it may seem an odd question to ask everyone to take a brief moment to articulate precisely “What-are-we-trying-to-accomplish” with this growth boundaries project. However, I believe it is imperative with so many changes in the mix, that everyone take a very brief moment to articulate the “Exact Problem” that we are trying to solve. After all, we are going to be doing this again next year and the year after. We should at least stop pretending that the Annual Capacity Management Plan is going to get any easier.
Unfortunately, I believe the Superintendent has completely failed to articulate a shared vision for what this plan is intended to accomplish. Shared questions build more community than shared answers and I don’t believe we have a shared question for this project.
In the absence of any shared vision, Board Directors and Community Members have attempted to comment and amend this plan according to their individual concepts as to what should be accomplished by this plan. Therefore we have a wild mixture of competing priorities coming from the communities, represented by a raft of more than 25 sometimes-conflicting amendments, creating a level of complexity that makes even the stone-cold heart this operations-manager blanch.
In the absence of a shared vision, here are a few of the individual concepts I have seen come out in the current free-for-all.
· Some are crisply focused on the nuts and bolts of capacity management and are bringing a sharp focus to ensure that capacity is balanced amongst over-crowded and less-crowded buildings.
· Some are vigorously focused on program placement and insisting on program placement decisions that forward a very specific notion of what language immersion and advanced learning should look like, regardless of whether or not there is adequate or sustainable capacity to support this notion going forward.
· Some are very focused on the student learning experience and going to great lengths to ensure that a watchful eye is keep in place to ensure that there are stable communities of learners and are driven by a cost/benefit analysis for any change.
· Some are trying to ensure that there is a roadmap for the entire BEX IV levy and that there are identified communities with an ownership stake associated with this capital investment.
· Some want to build the feeder patterns for the three new middle schools. Regardless of whether or not feeder patterns make sense for this purpose.
That is just a brief summary of the many competing visions that the plan and amendments are attempting to solve. By simply reviewing this list it is very easy to see why there are so many mutually contradictory elements being presented simultaneously implement.
In the absence of a clear and shared vision, how is anyone to know how to follow the bouncing ball of the ever-shifting boundary lines, interim housing plans and grandfathering or geo-split status? While I do appreciate that updating plans is a confirmation that community feedback is being brought into the process, without a clearly identified set of priorities, there is simply no way for the average family to follow this process without a clearly identified set of priorities. Frankly, even as a specialist on this topic, I have also been struggling to follow the evolution of the plan.