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Maize school district clarifies high school placement process

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, at 3:01 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, July 15, 2014, at 12:03 a.m.

In coming weeks, parents of fifth- and eighth-graders in the Maize district will submit preference cards indicating which middle or high school they would like their children to attend next year.

District officials say they’re trying to clarify and inform families about the process, which last year prompted protests from some parents who weren’t given their first preference.

“We’re hoping to really stress and emphasize how the process works,” said Lori O’Toole Buselt, spokeswoman for Maize schools.

A new question-and-answer sheet being shared with families “reiterates why Maize has a placement policy and explains how the appeals process works, just so everyone’s on the same page at the beginning of the process,” Buselt said.

Unlike most districts, Maize has no geographical attendance boundaries that determine where a child goes to school. Instead, families with students in fifth and eighth grades submit a preference card indicating which middle or high school they would like their child to attend.

The district tries to assign about two-thirds of students to Maize High and one-third to Maize South. A line on the preference card says: “I understand signing this card indicates a preference and does not guarantee my student’s placement.”

District policy dictates that students who want to follow the same path through middle and high school as an older sibling will be given preference.

Last year, because more eighth-graders opted for Maize South than in previous years, nearly two dozen families initially didn’t get their first-choice school. After a lengthy appeals process, most of those families’ preferences were granted.

Since then, the Maize school board has changed the process, doing away with in-person hearings at the district level. According to the new policy, parents wanting to appeal school assignments can request a transfer and discuss concerns with the principal of the building their student is assigned to attend. If they don’t agree with the principal’s decision, they can file a written appeal to a district review committee.

The district also formed a task force – which includes parents, administrators, school board members and others – to explore the district’s placement process. The group convened in May and has met regularly, but is not expected to present findings to school board members until January. It’s unlikely the district will change the way it assigns students to schools before the 2014-15 school year, Buselt said.

Maize families with students in middle school were invited last week to a Showcase Night at both high schools, where they could see what Maize High and Maize South, which opened in 2009, have to offer.

Buselt said it’s hard to say how many families may not get their first preference for schools.

“There certainly is the potential for that to happen if a lot of people prefer Maize South,” she said. “But this is a different class of eighth-graders coming through. Maybe in this group, more people will prefer Maize High. Until we see the numbers … we just don’t know.”

Another difference this year: Maize High recently was reclassified for football as a Class 5A school, like Maize South, at 37th Street North and Tyler. In past years, Maize High, near 119th Street West, was a Class 6A school in the sport. Maize High remained a 6A school for other sports this school year.

As in past years, the names of any students denied their preferred school will be selected using a computer program that generates random numbers, similar to the system the Wichita district uses to fill slots at magnet schools.

Buselt said the selection process has less to do with building capacity than with achieving the target balance – about two-thirds of eighth-graders attending Maize High and one-third attending Maize South.

“The great thing is, truly we have two fantastic high schools,” she said. “From our end we’re just trying to make sure that everyone knows (the policy) and just be very clear that the placement process has started.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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