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School board hears options for Maize student placement

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, at 9:59 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, July 15, 2014, at 12:03 a.m.

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Whichever strategy Maize adopts for its school placement system – boundaries, feeder patterns, reconfiguring grade levels or some combination – the transition could be long and contentious, officials said Monday.

But “kids are resilient,” said Maize school board member Wendi White. “If one of these options works out, kids are really resilient, and they’ll work with it as long as we’re all positive.”

Board members got their first official look at six options Monday, the work of a 40-member community task force that was formed last year after a group of Maize parents protested the way the district assigns students to schools.

Options include turning Maize South High School into a “freshman academy” and sending all 10th- through 12-graders to Maize High. Another would require the district to build a third middle school. Another would keep the current “family preference” system but let families choose a path at kindergarten that would carry their children through middle and high school. Still others call for drawing boundary lines.

Unlike most school 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 children to attend. The district assigns children to elementary schools during their initial enrollment and tries to keep siblings together.

Kevin Frye, an English teacher at Maize High and a member of the task force, said the current system can confuse or even mislead some families.

“Once they feel that they have a preference or a voice, they become invested in that,” Frye said. “So then they feel something’s been taken from them if they don’t end up receiving their preference.”

Task force members presented the options – along with pros and cons for each – to a group of about 100 people in a band room at Pray-Woodman Elementary School. The seven-member board asked questions but did not take action. They will discuss the options further at a workshop scheduled for Feb. 24.

Mike Domnick, a teacher and coach at Maize South High, said the plan he shared with the board received “the most votes” from the task force, although none were formal recommendations.

That plan would reconfigure several schools and establish a Maize South feeder pattern: Maize South Elementary would house kindergarten through fourth grade, Maize South Middle School would have grades 5-8, and all those students would go to Maize South High. Families would choose a path at whatever grade their children enter the district.

Board member Mike Downs questioned whether the plan might create problems with schools feeling the need to “recruit” students but that it would just happen at younger ages.

“As long as you have preference, you’re going to have some of those issues,” Domnick said.

Frye said Maize’s current preference system leads to high school open houses that become “a recruitment fair, a dog-and-pony show” to appeal to the same pool of students.

But some think the district could lose potential or even current families if it moves away from its family-preference model, said task force member Heather Blankinship.

“They could move out,” she said.

Though some of the plans call for drawing geographic attendance boundaries, the task force did not offer specific suggestions or boundary lines.

“Did you or any of the groups discuss where you think the boundaries ought to be?” asked board member Kent Voth.

No, answered Frye. But “from both a parent perspective and a committee-member perspective, there is that nagging question of, ‘Why can’t we when other districts can?’ ”

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

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