Proposed school redistricting causes resource concerns

BY NORA HEATON | MARCH 02, 2010 7:30 AM

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As the redistricting debate heats up in the Iowa City School District, some community members have expressed concern over the practicality of shifting resources among and in schools.

Five elementary schools in Iowa City receive Title I funding — a federal designation denoting a high percentage of students from low-income families — which pays for resources such as reading recovery or English Language Learners.

But shifting free- and reduced-lunch students between schools could force the district to shift resources as well, officials said. That’s troubling to some parents, who said they’re concerned about whether the schools those students transfer into will have those services.

Royceann Porter, who founded Youth Empowered to Serve in the South East Side community, attended the public forum on Scenario 2 at Wood Elementary on Feb. 24. Her preferred solution to the free- and reduced-lunch imbalance, she said, is to focus on providing for kids who need extra attention — wherever they happen to be situated.

“They should bring in more resources to Wood, if necessary,” she said. Under Scenario 3, some Wood families will move to Longfellow Elementary. “Are they going to bus those resources out to [non-Title I schools], too? The kids are already here.”

Parent Shannon Leveridge said she feels Twain teachers are “hip to deal” with any issues that might arise with their students. She worries about the “mentality shift” of students being transferred to a school with different grants and programs, she said. Teachers at current Title I schools are already accustomed to helping low-income students, while teachers at other schools might not have that experience, parents said.

But John Bacon, the principal of Lemme Elementary, a non-Title I school, said parents need not worry about the teachers’ level of training.

Every Thursday, district teachers spend two hours after school doing professional development training. On alternate weeks, teachers work with districtwide or building-specific training criteria.

As a result, much of teachers’ professional development trainings are particular to each school rather than being uniform, said Valerie Nyberg, the district’s assistant project director for Safe Schools, Healthy Students.

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The redistricting scenarios allow time for any shift to take place. Most changes on the Scenario 3 map are slated to occur in the 2012-13 school year. District officials, building administrators, and teachers would have those transition years to work on shuffling resources and accommodations, in addition to adjusting building-specific teacher training.

If redistricting creates a greater integration of free- and reduced-lunch students, some non-Title I schools might become eligible for that additional funding, Bacon said.

But teachers said they feel loyalty and affection toward their schools. Despite some residents’ perception of Wood as a “poor” school, kindergarten teacher Molly Severson said its quality of education is excellent.

Jenna Gillespie, a teacher at the Title I-funded Twain Elementary, echoed her sentiment.

“I am proud to work where I work and I am proud to teach the children that I teach,” she said. “And personally, I want to leave things the way they are.”

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