Student enrollment growth and a surge in requests by parents to transfer their students this school year is forcing the Shawnee Mission School District to consider potential changes to elementary school attendance boundaries next year.
“The odds of us having to (change) at least some elementary boundary attendance areas next year is high,” Superintendent Jim Hinson told several dozen parents during a “Super Chat” held Tuesday night at Hocker Grove Middle School in Shawnee.
Hinson had few details of the plan, including how many or which schools would be affected. But he stressed that the district was not looking to move elementary students out of the feeder zones that determine what middle and high schools they eventually attend.
That said, Hinson said that one potential change was moving sixth-graders to middle schools, which currently only include the seventh and eighth grades. Whether and how to add sixth-graders into the middle schools is part of the ongoing discussion as some schools are less crowded than others.
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This change would, in some cases, free up space in overcrowded elementary schools.
“If we see a significant increase in elementary enrollment, will we have to add additional elementary schools in the Shawnee Mission School District? The answer is probably yes,” Hinson said. “But if we move sixth grade to middle school, we won’t need additional elementary schools. See how that’s such a moving target for us right now?”
Hinson added that the increase in school transfers, as well as parent complaints about how long it takes to get a decision, has led the district to revamp its transfer process. He said details of the new process will likely be released in the coming months, but transfers for the next school year are on hold in the meantime.
As announced earlier this month, the district this fall saw the largest gain in attendance since 1992, and those numbers are expected to grow further, especially with additional residential developments being built in the district and existing neighborhoods evolving as older families and “empty nesters” make way for younger families with children.
“A challenge for us right now is what does our enrollment look like three years from now, five years from now, and that’s really difficult for us to predict,” he said.
Parents added their own concerns. Dana Hoffman of Leawood said she was disappointed by the class sizes her third-grader was facing at Brookwood Elementary School.
“It’s crazy to have 26 third-graders in a classroom and that teacher is trying to differentiate education and meet their needs,” Hoffman said. “If they’re going to be that high, there needs to be more help or there needs to be smaller classes. There are far too many kids.”
Hinson said that if parents demanded it the district could make significant changes to move students to schools with vacant classrooms, but those solutions often run into opposition.
“Any time you start changing attendance boundaries, people get upset,” he said.
Other parents complained about a lack of resources for special education students, teachers spending so much time managing students with behavioral problems in the classroom that other students were short-changed, and wide disparities in the benefits that students received from remedial classes. They also questioned the district’s efforts to prepare students not bound for college with the skills to immediately start careers after graduation.
For many of these topics, Hinson said he lacked firm answers but that district officials are re-evaluating how they handle those needs and whether their current efforts are leading to positive outcomes for students.
“I think one of our biggest challenges is, ‘Are we changing as a system to address the ever-changing needs of our students?’ ” he said after the meeting. “We have some resources that we need to use differently. That’s where we have these really frank conversations where we have to say we are spending money here and we don’t have any outcomes, so let’s change what we’re doing.”
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Tuesday’s “Super Chat” with Hinson was the first of five scheduled over the next six months in the district, said Tash Davis, president of the Shawnee Mission Area Council PTA. The other meetings:
▪ Oct. 21, Trailridge Middle School Library, 9 a.m.
▪ Nov. 12, Westridge Middle School Library, Noon.
▪ Jan. 20, Indian Woods Middle School Library, 7 p.m.
▪ March 31, Indian Hills Middle School Library, 10 a.m.