October 27, 2008

Unified takes up redistricting report today

The Racine Unified school board will receive its long awaited redistricting report today -- a plan that tries to balance seemingly conflicting goals: neighborhood schools and diversity.

The report breaks down its recommended implementation into three phases stretching over three -- or more -- years, but even with that timeframe notes: "Much more is contemplated than can wisely be pursued; projects should only be undertaken with involvement of all stakeholders."

Phase one, during the 2009-2010 school year, would restructure the Special Education and English Language Learner programs. Even this, the report states, might have to take two years... or not be done until the 2010-2011 school year.

Phase two is scheduled for 2010-2011, but it "will possibly require three years for full implementation." This would involve the redistricting of all elementary school students, changes to the focus of some schools -- Jefferson Lighthouse could become an IB program, and move to Red Apple; Julian Thomas could become a dual language (English/Spanish) specialty school with a world culture, performing arts and leadership theme; Caddy Vista might adopt a science, technology, engineering and math them. And so on.

Phase three, 2011-2012, could involve construction of a new middle school, to reduce building size to the "best practice" recommended limit of 500, a new k-12 school replacing Franklin and Walden III, and many other changes.

The report mentions in a postscript that the district's three high schools are too large -- "Some research sets 800 as the largest size for a high school. The REAL School and Walden III’s successes are often attributed to their small size." -- and concludes:
"Major change to both High Schools and Middle Schools) is the most important and difficult reform currently being considered - if closing achievement gaps, raising achievement, and improving the work force are the driving issues. In many economic and social experts’ analysis, the traditional large comprehensive high school simply cannot provide a successful high school experience for all students AND provide the skills and knowledge needed for the future. The
district and the community must address this concern."

And: "The Community cannot be naïve about the resources and support the school district will need to bring about the improvement of student achievement and Secondary Transformation. Given the troubled and uncertain economic times we are in, this becomes even more challenging. But if we are NOT effective, the economic and social issues only become worse."
The report goes to the board tonight at 6:30 p.m.,

Here is a summary written by Dr. Jack Parker, who served as interim superintendent of the district last year, and who is shepherding the proposal, at least for the next two months:

In October 2007, the Board of Education assigned me to form a Redistricting Commission to present a plan on redistricting with the focus being improvement of student achievement with a “hybrid” plan that incorporated the best aspects of both “neighborhood schools” and schools with diverse student bodies that reflect the demographics of the community.

The attached document turns out to be a report, not a plan. The Commission could not develop an actual plan with proposed boundaries, or options between several proposed boundary plans (as such projects often contain) because the District did not have the capability to facilitate that work internally. External services were very expensive and could not deliver options within the time frames the Commission needed. The District recently obtained the software, and staff is in the process of getting the necessary training to conduct this work internally.

Other notes that are important when reporting on this redistricting report are:

o The report gives guidance to future redistricting plans and includes recommendations, especially for some first steps for 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, but should by no means be considered a plan for redistricting as it does not contain detailed scenarios with proposed boundaries.

o Feasibility of the proposed first steps awaits the examination of data and the running of scenarios, as well as the input of the new Superintendent. Deadlines for providing the Superintendent with the feasibility information are included.

o The report includes strong recommendations for community participation in the redistricting plan as well as emphasizing the importance of communication with the district’s stakeholders especially parents.

o The report includes 10 “Guidelines and Principles” by which to measure any proposed plans.

o The report reflects the Commission’s ideas in summary, but the decisions on which if any ideas should be implemented will be at the Board of Education’s direction with the recommendations of the Capacity and Planning Team and the Superintendent after appropriate stakeholder input.

o The charge to focus on the relationship of redistricting to student achievement created a very complex and challenging problem for the Commission. There is conflicting research and a wide range of opinion about this issue.

o The report contains a wide variety of ideas for future configurations of schools and programs, including new construction. Many more ideas are presented than could possibly be implemented, even in a 3-5 year time frame. The Commission is very conscious of the district’s limited resources and the difficult economic times. However, the Commission took seriously the need to improve student achievement for ALL students in suggesting the various possibilities.

1 comment:

  1. I would love to see smaller school and class sizes. The schools are overcrowded which decreases learning and increases violence. Teachers should be able to walk down a hallway and know the students by name.