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Sunday, April 20, 2014

First-draft proposal would close five Wichita elementaries

By SUZANNE PEREZ TOBIAS
The Wichita Eagle

A first-draft proposal for new Wichita school attendance boundaries would close five elementary schools, add classes to eight existing elementary schools and shift where many students go to school.

The plan, presented for the first time to a district advisory group Tuesday night, suggests that five of Wichita’s 56 elementary schools be considered for closing: Bryant Core Knowledge Magnet, Lincoln, Mueller Aerospace and Engineering Magnet, Payne and Woodland Health and Wellness Magnet.

The draft would add one section per grade – six classrooms – to the following K-5 schools: Allen, Black Traditional Magnet, Earhart Environmental Magnet, Enterprise, McCollom, McLean Science and Technology Magnet, OK and Price-Harris Communications Magnet.

It also calls for the opening of Ortiz Elementary, which is under construction on North Arkansas as part of the 2008 bond issue.

“This is a draft. This is just to get your juices going,” said Rob Schwarz of RSP & Associates, a consulting firm hired by the district. “This is not meant to be a final boundary.”

Members of the advisory group met for the second time Tuesday to discuss the first major overhaul of district boundaries since Northwest High School was built more than 30 years ago.

For most of the meeting, members pored over large, color-coded maps with suggested elementary school boundary lines. (The detailed map is available on the district’s website and at Kansas.com.)

Schwarz said the schools suggested for closure were chosen based on size, location and age as well as the need for the district to operate more efficiently.

Where students from those schools would go is a work in progress, said Superintendent John Allison.

The first-draft map – consultants call it a “supposal” – shows much of the neighborhood around Mueller Elementary near 24th and Hillside being routed to a new K-8 school being built in Bel Aire.

Many students in the area near Woodland Elementary in North Riverside would go to Riverside Elementary to the south or OK Elementary to the west.

Portions of the area around Bryant Elementary, 4702 W. Ninth, would attend the new, larger Dodge Literacy Magnet Elementary that opened this fall as part of the 2008 bond issue.

And neighborhoods near Lincoln and Payne would be routed to a new school being built at the site of Lewis Open Magnet, near Seneca and 31st South.

Jan-Maeve Saggerson, a member of the focus group and the mother of a sixth-grader at Coleman Middle School, said she liked most of the plan presented Monday. One concern, though, is splitting the neighborhood near Mueller and other areas of the district.

“I know Mueller is one of the last true neighborhood schools in that area, and there’s been a long history and culture there,” she said. “You can say going to a newer, bigger school is better, but there’s also that emotional tie.”

Earlier this year, Mueller received a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to fund a new weather lab, flight simulator, broadcast studio and computers at the aerospace and engineering magnet. Several focus group members said they hoped the magnet program could be preserved and moved to a different building if Mueller closes.

Several focus group members said one strength of the draft proposal is the plan to send students from closed schools to new, bigger schools.

But that could lead to longer bus rides for some. For example, students living near Lincoln Elementary, 1210 S. Topeka, would pass several other elementary schools on their way to Lewis.

Allison, the superintendent, cautioned families, teachers and others from panicking over the early-draft plan, which could change significantly in coming months. Even so, he said he planned to talk this morning to principals of the five schools suggested for closure.

“What does it say there in the corner in big letters?” he asked the group.

“Work in progress,” they answered.

“I know that level of concern is elevated already, probably with the first Facebook post,” Allison said. “But remember this is a work in progress. This is a beginning.”

The advisory group is scheduled to meet again Dec. 15 to review any changes to the elementary proposal and see the first suggested boundary lines for middle and high schools.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com.

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