The Maize school board on Monday unanimously approved a new policy that calls for geographical boundaries to determine which middle and high schools students attend.
Following the vote, board members got their first look at proposed boundary lines, which would assign households in a southeast portion of the district to Maize South Middle School and Maize South High and the remainder of the district to Maize Middle and Maize High.
Board members are expected to consider specific boundary lines in coming months, after two community feedback sessions.
The vote comes after three years of uncertainty and debate over student placement in Maize, a district of about 7,300 students that includes parts of west Wichita.
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Board members opted to extend possible exemptions to the boundary assignments, allowing families of current elementary school students with older siblings to declare a preference for middle and high school by Dec. 15.
“It helps soften the blow of what we’re doing,” said board president Matt Jensby. “This has been going on a long time, (with) so many unknowns, and if we can do it, we should.”
Beginning next school year, Maize students will be assigned to one of the district’s two middle and high schools based on their primary address. The plan calls for a feeder pattern connecting Maize Middle School with Maize High and Maize South Middle School with Maize South High.
A transition plan calls for all current middle and high school students to return to their current schools, regardless of their boundary assignment, until they advance to high school or graduate. All current middle-school students will be allowed to request a high school during their eighth-grade year.
This year’s fifth-graders will attend boundary-assigned middle schools next year – except for some “legacy exemptions,” board members decided.
Younger siblings of current middle- and high-school students have until Dec. 15 to declare whether they wish to attend the older sibling’s schools rather than their boundary-assigned feeder-pattern schools.
If they opt out of their boundary-assigned schools, they will not be allowed to change that request prior to entering middle or high school. In addition, students granted the exemption would be required to provide their own transportation.
Natalie Plemmons, who has daughters in seventh and third grades, said she thinks the new policy and the proposed exemption plan are fair.
“I’m very happy they were able to continue that (preference system) for current middle-schoolers, because that’s so important,” said Plemmons, whose home is within the Maize High boundary according to the proposed map.
Her seventh-grade daughter, a cheerleader at Maize South Middle School, likely will request Maize South High because, “to her, it means a lot to be a Maverick,” she said.
She’s not sure, however, whether she will request that her third-grade daughter attend Maize South. “I’d like her to stick with our neighborhood, honestly,” Plemmons said.
The district will continue assigning elementary students to schools based on enrollment, class size, sibling legacy and other factors. Elementary schools will not be tied to boundary lines nor to particular middle or high schools.
Unlike most school districts, Maize has no geographical attendance boundaries that determine where a child goes to school. Since the district’s second high school opened in 2009, district leaders have let families choose – or at least request – which middle or high school their children attend.
At times, capacity concerns have prompted the district to deny some families’ preferences, leading to appeals and criticism of the placement system.
Board member Bruce Nicholson expressed concern Monday about extending exemptions for current elementary students, though he voted for the policy as presented.
“I’m concerned this is just stringing it out too far,” he said. “In our efforts to please, I’m afraid we’re cutting our own throats on the policy.”
Superintendent Chad Higgins said data on younger siblings of high school students show that exemptions would not threaten to overcrowd schools in the near future. Further into the future, though, projections get trickier.
“What I can tell you for sure I know is that I don’t know anything for sure,” Higgins told the board, which drew chuckles from the standing-room-only crowd.
Jennie AraSmith, a mom whose fifth-grader attends Maize South Elementary and had hoped to attend Maize South Middle School, said she was upset with the new policy. She and her husband built their home near the Maize South schools with the intention of sending their children there, she said.
“I want to cry,” said AraSmith, who lives near 29th Street North and Maize Road. “I’m not sure what we’re going to do.”
Higgins said the new policy is an improvement over the one the district has used since 2009.
“We’re not critical of parents looking out for their kids and wanting the best for their kids,” he said. “What we’ve really tried to work hard at is communicating the process, helping people understand the challenges, but also the need.”
The district has scheduled two meetings during which parents and others can ask questions and share feedback about the proposed boundary map. Those meetings will be at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 1 at Maize South High School, 3701 N. Tyler Road, and at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 2 at Maize High School, 11600 W. 45th St. North.