Wichita teens talk about school boundary changes with superintendent

10/05/2011 12:00 AM

08/05/2014 4:22 PM

This was the question posed to a group of students:

What result do you most want to see after new attendance boundaries are drawn for the Wichita school district?

"A high school that works," one student answered.

"And is not crammed," another quickly added.

About 100 students met with superintendent John Allison and other district officials on Wednesday at the School Service Center, 380 N. Hydraulic, to offer suggestions about what should be considered when new boundaries are being drawn.

The students were members of the Superintendent's Student Advisory Council and others who had been recommended by their principals to participate in the discussion.

Broken into four groups, the students urged officials to consider many aspects, including how to achieve diversity and equality across the district, and how extra-curricular activities would be affected.

One student said she hoped things wouldn't change too much, while another said drawing up new boundaries should be seen as an opportunity for the district to try new things.

Allison said after the meeting that the students' input is important to the district.

"They are very forthright and honest, and won't be afraid to say what oftentimes adults kind of hedge around," he said.

New boundaries will be needed if five schools under construction as part of a $370 million bond issue are opened. They are due to be completed next fall.

One is a $31 million high school at 53rd North and Rock Road that is intended to relieve congestion at Heights High School and accommodate growth in and around Bel Aire. A K-8 school is under construction a mile to the west.

Another K-8 school is going up at 143rd East and Pawnee, intended to relieve crowding in the district's southeast quadrant.

And two elementary schools are scheduled to open next fall — one at the site of Lewis Open Magnet, near Seneca and 31st South, and Ortiz Elementary, at 33rd North and Arkansas.

Faced with substantial reductions in state aid and expecting potentially deeper cuts next year, district leaders have not decided whether or when the schools will open. If they do, boundaries will have to be changed and a new pattern of elementary and middle schools established that would feed into the new high school.

RSP Associates, an Olathe-based consulting group, is providing guidance in creating boundary proposals and gathering public input.

The district will convene focus groups and public forums through January. A new boundary plan will be presented to the school board in February.

The Legislature will be meeting at the same time the board will be voting on the new boundaries.

"What may happen in February and March in the Legislature may blow up everything we've put together," Allison said, "so we're going to have to be thinking about what's Plan B."

But at least Wednesday's meeting seemed valuable for the district and the students.

"I'm glad they're trying to connect with students," Janice Brittain, a senior at Wichita North, said after the meeting. "In the end, we're going to be the ones impacted, as well as the adults and parents."

"It's going to be really hard for the Board of Education. Not everybody's going to be happy," she said. "But I'm sure they're going to do their best to make everybody as happy as possible."

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