The Iowa City Community School District Board of Directors voted on Tuesday night to adopt new boundaries for the district’s elementary schools. It was the culmination of the multi-year effort to bring a greater socioeconomic balance to the student bodies of the district’s pre-K through grade 6 schools, but members of the board stressed it is not the end of the process.
Director Ruthina Malone said that “after years upon years of discussing it, we remain woefully segregated by income levels and race in many of our schools.”
“Boundary discussions, and ultimately, decisions are never easy,” Malone said. “Because there will always be people who feel they are being asked to make too many changes, while others are being protected from any. It’s unfortunate that these changes have been labelled as such.”
“Since the boundaries have to change in 2019, because we’re closing a school and we’re opening two other schools, for me this is the time we need to make a change to minimize disruption,” Director Lori Roetlin said. “We need to do this now, because we’re already making a change and if we wait, we will be causing a second wave of disruptions.”
In the next school year, a new Hoover Elementary will replace the current Hoover and another new school, Christine Grant Elementary, will open.
The new school attendance boundaries are intended to create a more equitable educational experience for all students, but especially for students of lower socioeconomic status (ses), as determined by whether a student qualifies for free or reduced price lunches, and students classified as English language learners (ELLs).
None of the board members were entirely satisfied with the boundaries. Most, like Malone, felt the changes did not go far enough to address the issues facing the district. “But I recognize that we can’t dismantle decades of segregated learning environments in one fell swoop,” she said.
But Director Phil Hemingway expressed concerns that too many changes were being made, and the district was not providing families with enough stability. “Sometimes we need to leave these things alone,” he said.
That was a sentiment expressed by the 10 parents who addressed the board during the public comment period prior to the vote on the boundaries.
Matt Newkirk explained that two years ago, boundary changes meant his oldest two children had gone from Horn Elementary to Weber. The new changes would send the children back to Horn.
“I must ask, why were we moved in the first place? Were goals accomplished?” Newkirk said. “Does it make sense that we are being asked to move back two years later? The stress of a move is real, so we should be sure that our goals for doing so are meaningful, clear and actually being fulfilled.”
Board President Janet Godwin called the boundary changes a “historic step forward,” but acknowledged “this plan does not go nearly far enough.”
“We’re providing better balancing around socioeconomic status at our elementaries, but we’re also relieving some capacity concerns at some of our higher poverty schools, and I think those two things in combination are making significant improvements at our elementaries,” she said.
According to the district’s estimates, the biggest percent increases of students of a lower socioeconomic status will be at Lincoln and Longfellow, with 28.2 and 19.7 percent respectively. The largest declines in such students will occur at Penn, 11.3 percent, and Mann, 10.9 percent.
(The new attendance area maps, with information about changes to the student bodies of each school, are below.)
“If all we do is move students from school to school, and do not focus on climate and how students feel… we will not be successful,” Godwin said. She added that it will take more than the teachers and staff of the district to achieve the board’s goals.
“It’s going to be our entire community that needs to rally around the school to have every one of our students have an equitable experience in the classroom,” she said.
The vote to adopt the new boundaries was unanimous.