June 25, 2014

Maize school officials recommend geographic attendance boundaries

Maize administrators say geographic attendance boundaries would be the best way to solve the ongoing issue of how to assign students to schools.

Maize administrators say geographic attendance boundaries would be the best way to solve the ongoing issue of how to assign students to schools.

“Of the solutions in front of us, we felt like it’s the best option … the most viable,” said Doug Powers, Maize superintendent.

Powers presented the recommendation from the district’s administrative team – a group of principals and department directors – during a board workshop this week. Board members are expected to discuss the issue further and possibly vote at their next regular meeting July 14.

Unlike most school districts, Maize has no boundary lines that determine where a child goes to school. Instead, families with students in fifth and eighth grades submit preference cards indicating which middle or high school they would like their children to attend. The district assigns children to elementary schools during their initial enrollment.

The school board has been grappling with the issue of student placement for more than a year. A community task force was formed after some Maize parents, whose children initially did not get their preferred school assignments, urged the district to explore boundaries or other options that would better clarify which schools students attend.

Nearly all Maize students – about 86 percent – live in west Wichita.

A scientific survey of Maize patrons last month showed little support for boundaries. A majority of respondents said they supported creating a feeder system or keeping the current system for student placement.

However, an online survey of 284 staff members showed that 44 percent wanted boundaries, 36 percent favored a feeder system, and 18 percent liked the current system.

Powers said his team looked at student placement options and quickly ruled out the current system because, “We don’t know how would we tweak it to make it any better.”

When Maize South High opened in 2009, the district decided not to draw attendance boundaries, as Andover and Goddard did when they opened second high schools. Maize opted instead to let families choose – or at least request – which high school their children attend: Maize High, a Class 6A school near 119th Street West and 45th Street North, or Maize South High, a smaller school at 37th Street North and Tyler.

The district tries to assign about two-thirds of freshmen to Maize High and one-third to Maize South. If too many families opt for Maize South, however, some may be assigned to Maize High instead, as happened in the spring of 2013.

That year, about 50 students didn’t get their preferred schools. About half appealed the decisions to the board, and all those appeals were granted.

A feeder-pattern system, in which elementary students would move as a group to a middle school and then to their assigned high school, could create similar problems, Powers said.

“But we just put it at a different level,” he said.

If board members opt to establish boundaries, they could draw lines themselves or hire an outside consulting firm, as the Wichita district did when it redrew boundaries in 2012. Powers said Wednesday that he would favor boundary consultants, who investigate enrollment trends, birth rates, housing starts and other factors.

“We don’t have that expertise,” Powers said. “So we’re going to have to rely on somebody who does demography as a profession.”

Should they opt for boundaries, board members would have to decide whether students would be grandfathered to their current schools – and if so, for how long. They also could look at program options at the two high schools and decide “how we’d make them accessible to any student in the district,” Powers said.

“If we draw boundaries right, especially at the high school level, I could see those being very stable for a good long while,” he said.

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