Over 100 individuals attended a Special Plymouth Community School Board on Wednesday evening in the cafeteria at Lincoln Junior High School. The informational meeting was to discuss the redistricting of the four elementary schools in the corporation.
Superintendent Mitch Mawhorter explained the reasoning for the desire to redistrict as “Making an experience equitable for all students.”
Looking at the various reasons the superintendent explained that the corporation currently only offers preschool at Jefferson Elementary. He said next year they are expanding it with two classes at Menominee Elementary and will begin work to expand the program to the next elementary school. This will help students have a better transition into kindergarten. A loftier goal is to also be able to offer daycare at each building.
The second reason given was a planned consistent curriculum. Currently, the corporation is doing a curriculum refresh for grades K thru 4 with a company called Equitable Education Solutions. They are also working on breaking down standards using Solution Tree. The goal is for all four elementary schools to be similar with collaboration and sharing among each other and buildings to create the best outcome for kids.
The third reason to consider redistricting is a project that has already started this year. The corporation wants to get each of the four elementary schools STEM certified. This is a three-year process. Mawhorter talked about Washington being the magnet school as the corporation’s Project Based Learning school which it still is, but the Indiana Department of Education is pushing schools to do something more. He quoted the IDOE
“Students are engaged in solving real-world problems using inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, and engineering design practices which require critical thinking and collaboration.” The superintendent said the PCSC wants that for all the students not just in one school. He also commented that they want Riverside to be STEM certified again.
The final reason is transportation. The corporation has 29 buses and most of them go to each of the four elementary schools every day. That has caused Washington Discovery to lose about 30 minutes of instruction daily. There are also some students who are on the bus for up to an hour and a half each way each day which is a “huge problem.”
Jerry McKibben was introduced as the demographer on this redistricting project. His company was hired for $9,500 to conduct this project. McKibben said his company has helped 150 Indiana School Districts with redistricting. While he is from North Carolina he is familiar with Plymouth. In 2007 he did a redistricting project here creating the current boundary map.
The unusual boundaries were created to make Washington a magnet school that would have a lot of out-of-district students coming into it. The plan was to have a relatively small service area for Washington and fill the rest with out-of-district students and balance the other three elementary schools with the other students.
McKibben said there is a push for equitability for resources, programs, and services in all schools in the district. The push is to be equal in all aspects of it such as teachers, classroom sizes, and programs. To make this happen the corporation needs to repopulate Washington Elementary. He said each building should be running at about 70% of design capacity.
There were two options presented. Option one would cause about 150 students to change elementary schools. The biggest impact would be moving students out of Menominee Elementary and into Washington and only minor changes to Webster and Jefferson.
The two options were determined with the actual number of students who live in the district and not including those out-of-district transfers, which are students coming from other communities. They are added on top.
Option two moves three times the number of students or about 350. It does provide better walkability; redistricting will last longer and it’s better for transportation. The downside is a much more radical change in the urban core area and the impact on the number of students affected.
McKibben said there is no such thing as a perfect scenario. The school board will have to balance what is more important to them during the decision-making process.
This picture is the capacity rating of each one of the schools. It shows the total enrollment and the current utilization. There are two types of utilization, design capacity, and operation capacity. The chart shows that Webster is at 93% of utilization while Washington Discover is at 54%. Jefferson is at 67% and Menominee is at 77% of utilization capacity. The goal is to get the numbers closer to 70% in all four schools.
In option 1 Menominee is a little light and in option 2 it’s much closer to the goal. At 70% it gives you room to add in a class or two and preschool with space still available.
The next chart is the Live Attend Matrices created by using the student address file with no names and plotting it out on the map. It shows that there are 248 students living in the Jefferson School boundary. 126 attend Jefferson School and 122 attend a different school. The chart shows that 107 live outside of the Jefferson boundary and come into the school, 26 are from out of the district, 31 are from Webster, 16 are from Washington, and 34 are from Menominee. This means kids are going all over the place.
McKibben showed that over 450 kids are going to a school outside of their attendance area. He said, “It’s not the boundaries that are the problem, it’s the transfers. That’s what is causing the balance issues.”
Putting kids back in their home elementary area where they are supposed to go is going to greatly reduce transportation costs and keep all classrooms about the same size.
The Special Session was only informational to share the options currently being looked at by the school board. No decisions will be made without further work and hearing from the community. While there were many questions asked during the meeting, there were no answers given. The school corporation is wanting to hear from more people with comments, questions, and concerns. A QR code was given to allow easy access to submit to the school corporation. There will be more meetings about redistricting before a decision will be voted on and announced.