My view on PES and redistricting

I have had several conversations with residents about the redistricting study that was discussed on September 8 at the UCFSD Board work session.    I would like to respond to concerns I have heard and provide some additional perspective on how I believe this study should address the potential space constraint at Pocopson Elementary School.   

Right now we have only one fact in front of us:   Pocopson is at capacity this year. If a few additional students came in at exactly the right grade distribution, we could perhaps accommodate them.  But, absent such statistical miracles, we are now full and out of seats for additional students.

Our district administration is concerned that if we make no changes to the present elementary school boundaries, and if enrollment increases again next year, then compromises may have to be made to class sizes, classroom sizes, programs, or all three.  And this is undesirable, and counter to our goal of providing consistently excellent education with the same program across all four elementary schools.  I do not want to compromise the experience of kids at any of our schools.  So I think the Administration’s concern is appropriate.

But let’s be clear.   This is a “what if” scenario.  It is a scenario that might not happen.    If you look at the multi-year trends, there is NOT a clear trend.  Yes numbers at Pocopson are up recently, but those numbers have been up before, and then gone back down.   And that’s why we need to bring in a third party to help us build a robust statistical model for the next 5 years, drawing on all available data including past trends, live birth records, new housing starts, migrations in/out, etc.    Let’s get the facts and develop an industrial-strength model of future enrollment. pie_chart

One possible outcome of the study is that there will be no expected increase in future enrollment.    If this is the case, we should happily conclude the study, stand down, and get back to work educating our kids within the current school assignments.

If the facts show that there is an uptick in enrollment coming, then we’ll need to move on to develop solutions.   Here are a few thoughts on how those solutions should be evaluated.

First, we are fortunate in this district that all four elementary schools are excellent, and that we have a consistently strong program in all schools. There is no step down or step up between one elementary school and the next.

Second, switching schools is an unsettling prospect to most families. While most kids are resilient to these types of changes, parents want the best for their children and stability is usually part of that equation. Kids have their circle of friends; parents have developed relationships with teachers, principals, counselors, and other parents that revolve around that specific school. Families who move into the District often choose neighborhoods to be in a specific elementary school. We should acknowledge that asking families to make a change is a significant event for most, and a traumatic event for some, and not to be taken lightly.

Therefore, if an uptick in enrollment is temporary, we should consider temporary solutions, including those that would avoid redrawing boundaries, such as relocating one or two programs out of the building temporarily, or adding temporary space on site (such as a trailer) for the one or two years it would be needed.

If there is a long-term space problem at Pocopson, we should find the least disruptive solution. We should not try to redraw and rationalize all of the boundaries in the district in a comprehensive way. Rather we should change the lines in smallest way, impacting as few residents as possible yet still addressing the capacity constraint.

Finally, we need to be financial smart about the solutions that we develop.   We have vacant space in Unionville and Hillendale elementary schools. We should do our best to use that space. We should not spend our resources on expansions or new construction if redrawing a boundary will solve the problem.