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Education
An in-depth look at our region's emerging economic, social, political and cultural identity.

CMS Draft Student Assignment Guidelines Raise Profile Of Magnets, Diversity

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The CMS board is looking at how to re-draw boundary lines for schools.  It’s clear magnets and creating more diversity in schools will have a higher priority than in the current student assignment plan.  The board’s policy committee met Thursday to discuss two proposals to guide that process.

These proposals are still vague. They’re drafts of theories behind student assignment. CMS staff compiled them based on comments from the board. The policy committee started discussing them Thursday without any real specifics.

Committee Chairmen Tom Tate said the board won’t have final guidelines for several months. The board plans to send a survey to parents in coming months. The plan would go into effect in 2017-18. Come November, the board will add at least one new face.  Three at-large seats are up for grabs.

School options – magnets and neighborhood Schools

This would put magnets on equal footing with home schools. The phrase in the draft is: “The student assignment plan will be built on a foundation of home schools and magnet schools.” Most, if not all, board members have said they want to expand magnets. Over the past couple years, magnets have been playing a bigger role. The district has added several of them and there are plans for improving transportation to them. Under this proposal, even home schools would have some element of specialized program you might see in a magnet. Many of them already do.

Diversity

CMS has a lot of schools with high concentrations of poverty. Research shows students in schools like that have less of a chance to succeed. Several board members say a new student assignment plan needs to break up these concentrations. The first draft proposal addresses that this way: “the board will make every effort to minimize high concentrations of students from low-income families and high concentrations of low-performing students.” The same would go when prioritizing students in magnet lotteries. The current student assignment plan mentions diversity, but much further down. 

Proximity

Quite a few board members have said increased busing is not an option. There’s the concern that busing kids longer distances would push parents to put their kids in charters or private schools. Transportation didn’t come up at the meeting, but questions about proximity did. This proposal, like the current one, says “Every student will be guaranteed an opportunity to attend a home school within proximity to where he or she lives.”

Board member Ruby Jones asked, “How are we defining within proximity?” Board members didn’t really get into that.  They just acknowledged it’s a tough one. Even now students aren’t assigned to the school closest to them. 

Choice within zones

CMS has a saying, “We want all schools to be schools of choice.” That’s really what this would do. The wording in the draft is vague. “We provide every student an opportunity to attend a choice school.” Board member Eric Davis said boundaries divide. He envisions “boundary-less areas where parents have an array of choices.” For example, it could be based on how close the school is to home or learning a language.  Students could choose not only to go to a magnet school, but any other home school within a designated area. 

Scott McCully who is in charge of student placement at CMS pointed out CMS used a strategy based on a concept like this in 2002-03. CMS divided the county into four areas and students could choose which magnet or home-school they wanted to attend. Parents ranked schools and all students were guaranteed a spot at their home school. But this led to overcrowding at many schools. McCully said another strategy would be to draw smaller zones, including only four or five schools.    

Board members’ reaction to proposal

Several of the seven board members in attendance said they’re open to exploring this idea more. Davis said he wants to learn from the district’s “failed attempt in the past.” He noted everybody’s going to remember that and “throw that in our face.” Davis wants to look at other districts that are using the strategy like Hartford, Connecticut and Louisville, Kentucky. Board members wondered whether such a strategy would still guarantee students a place at a school in their community. Board member Rhonda Lennon said she wouldn’t support a plan that does away with that. 

Flexible caps for diversity

The draft proposal calls for keeping a school’s level of low-income students at no more than 10 percent higher than the district level whenever possible. CMS estimates 54 percent of students come from low-income families. The draft says, “We will be as creative as possible in doing this.” The board did not get a chance to discuss this. Board member Tom Tate said they might as well slash it off the list, since it doesn’t seem to have much support.

Watch video of the meeting here.