Friday, January 23, 2015

On the Administration's Proposal to Modify Twain and Hills Boundaries

The ICCSD administration has proposed that the School Board approve revised boundaries for Hills and Twain (starting on page 227). It takes a neighborhood that is presently assigned to Twain, was going to be reassigned to Hills, but under the administration's recommendation would continue to be assigned to Twain. Two primary reasons are offered for this:

First, the administration believes that it will help a relatively low-income area by keeping it at Twain. It is suggested that this will be better insofar as it provided a stable school situation for the community in question. and for properly utilizing buildings at Hills and Twain respectively.

Second, it will keep Hills from being overcrowded, which likely would have resulted in temporary buildings be used at Hills. Furthermore it would keep Twain from having too few students--which would likely have resulted in increased costs and/or hurting peer-to-peer collaboration by reducing the number of teachers at Twain (or both).

I think these reasons are important and should figure heavily in our decision-making procedure. What I don't see, however, is a consideration of whether this change moves us in the right direction toward addressing educational justice concerns arising from socioeconomic imbalances. That is, will it exacerbate Twain's challenges by increasing its population of low-income students? I know the district shouldn't talk directly about FRL rates at this point, but it should at the least be able to answer whether this will make matters worse than the redistricted approved by the board just a few months ago? My guess, based on the demographics of the area in question, is that it will lower the percentage of low-income students at Hills while increasing it at Twain. Perhaps I'm wrong about that?

But if I'm not, then perhaps it would be wise to consider alternatives that would accomplish the administration's goals while also addressing the much more significant worry that this proposal make educational justice worse in our district.

For example, might it be helpful to consider making Twain a sister school with Longfellow. Sister schools would have one of the campuses serve lower grades (K-2/3) while the other campus serves the upper grades (3/4-6). Here are the benefits, as I see them, from making Twain and Longfellow sister-schools:

Distance and Busing: Longfellow and Twain are a walking distance of 0.9 miles and a driving distance of 1.1 miles from each other. Twain and Longfellow already both have a significant number of students who are bused to both schools (Windsor Ridge for Longfellow and a large subsection of Twain's students), so it wouldn't likely be a significant change in that respect especially given the close geographical proximity.  

Educational Justice/Poverty: Based on rough calculations based on last year's FRL rate, the combined FRL rate of the two schools would likely be less than 50%. Next year with Twain's redistricting, it would likely be lower (perhaps not, however, with the Hills/Twain change?).

Class sizes: When you combine the two schools cohorts by grade level, you would be able to reduce the number of classes that exceed or are under the district's aspirational class goals. This year, there were 4 classes at the schools that were over the class size goals, and there were 4 that were well under the class size goals. Under a sister-school system, none of grades would have any classes outside of the aspirational goals. You would have 25 students in first grade classes at Twain, nor would you have 25 students in second grade classrooms at Longfellow. Furthermore, you would haven't 18 students for 5th and 6th grade classrooms as we do this year at Twain.

Here is how the sections might have broken down this past year had Longfellow and Twain been sister schools (the class sizes would be slightly smaller next year given Twain's redistricting):

K: 5 sections of 19
1: 5 sections of 22/23
2: 5 sections of 22/23
3: 4 sections of 25/26
4: 4 sections of 24/25
5: 3 sections of 27
6: 3 sections of 28

Saving Money: Pairing Longfellow and Twain as sister schools this year, would have meant that the district could have had the class sizes outlined above while having two fewer teachers assigned to those schools. Those teachers could have been reassigned to lower class sizes elsewhere, or they could have presented a significant operational cost benefit to the district. And as the budget will be tight again this next year assuming the budget increased as proposed, we need to think of how we can save more money.

Capacity: The district has projected, under their proposal mentioned above, that Twain would probably likely have no more than 240 students. That would put Twain at exactly 62 students under their building capacity next year. Fortuitously, Longfellow was exactly 62 students over its building capacity this year.

Academics: One of the methods that the district's SINA schools and high-FRL schools are using to address educational justice concerns is peer-collaboration. This method has proven to be extremely effective, and having a larger cohort of teachers in each grade level would likely result in improvements here.

So, why not take what the administration has proposed, and be more forward thinking about how to begin addressing, in part, some of the larger problems in our district regarding educational justice and finances.

*I also think that a possible pairing of Shimek and Mann would make a great deal of sense as well. See my Facebook post about that, if you are interested.