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With potential change in boundaries, D-428 looks to balance students’ needs with available space

Students at Cortland Elementary make their way to the buses after school Monday. Boundary lines that determine where DeKalb students go to elementary school could soon change.
Students at Cortland Elementary make their way to the buses after school Monday. Boundary lines that determine where DeKalb students go to elementary school could soon change.

DeKALB – Boundary lines that determine where DeKalb students go to elementary school could change as early as the 2014-15 school year.

At their meeting today, DeKalb School District 428 board members could vote to open a pre-kindergarten/early childhood education center at Chesebro Elementary School. If they approve the proposal, the board would also decide whether to open the center in fall 2013 or fall 2014.

Moving the early education classes out of Brooks, Jefferson and Tyler elementary schools would create open classrooms, space district officials say is needed. But shuffling students creates a ripple effect.

“That is why we asked the board to work with a demographer,” Superintendent Jim Briscoe said. “That’s going to create some spaces in certain buildings. It doesn’t mean we’re able to move 28 students back somewhere.”

Briscoe said one of the district’s major priorities is to create as little disruption as possible for students.

To do that, he said, officials need time. Regardless of when the board approves the opening of the pre-kindergarten/early childhood center, any accompanying boundary changes wouldn’t go into effect before the 2014-15 school year.

Briscoe also emphasized that the board has not made any decisions about boundary changes yet.

“If the board decides to open the EC/Pre-K center, we’re going to have to look at where to move students,” said Briscoe, adding there are many variables that affect the placement of students.

One factor is which schools have “overflowed” students. These are students who are moved to another school in the district when they are unable to fit in their home school. Most of the district’s 168 overflowed students are kindergarteners.

The district last altered school attendance boundaries in 2011, when it also instituted a class-size cap of 28 students at the elementary schools, Briscoe said.

Part of the reason for the change was that the district had closed the old Cortland and Malta elementary schools, opened the new Cortland Elementary School and combined some other elementary schools.

“We spent an entire spring and summer with the demographer trying to look at all of the capacities [of the schools],” Briscoe said. “We balanced everything out, and it worked out really well.”

Briscoe noted that the 28-student cap is a maximum; many class sizes are smaller.

“Students don’t come to you in perfect numbers,” Briscoe said.

In any boundary change, Briscoe said it is a priority to keep siblings in the same school.

The district hired Cropper GIS, an Ohio-based firm that generates maps based on complicated sets of information, to plot out the property changes in 2011.

Matthew Cropper, the president and founder of the company, said he’s able to show where every student lives in conjunction with nearby schools, roads, and other property information.

“You can get a good understanding of where kids are versus where all the other geography are,” Cropper said.

Cropper said they also take into account the distance between students and the school, as well as unknown factors like transfers and new students moving in.

“You can get a real good estimate of what would happen if a boundary change would take effect,” Cropper said.

Briscoe emphasized that students would receive the same quality education regardless of what building they attended.

“It is critical to remember our core curriculum is taught at a very high-standard across all of our elementary schools,” Briscoe said.

When it first opened, the new Cortland Elementary School had double the space of its predecessor. Now, as the district prepares for the 2013-14 school year, school officials are running into space issues at Cortland and Founders elementary schools.

“There’s so many variables – you have to be sensitive to students,” Briscoe said. “You don’t want to move students regularly unless parents approve of it.”

When budgets were better, the school district used to be able to lower class sizes and hire teachers to accommodate extra students. Briscoe said the district can’t do that anymore.

Briscoe said he’s aware of how this topic can be touchy, and said the district would do its best to communicate with parents if the board moves forward with boundary changes.

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