BURLEY— Plans for Burley’s new neighborhood elementary schools, which include new attendance zones for students and new teacher assignments, are nearly complete.
Cassia County School District’s board will take a final look at the plans mid-January before sending notices out to parents.
The shift will also mean a tightened open enrollment policy for the district.
“We know there will be some anxiety and growing pains,” said Debbie Critchfield, spokeswoman for the district. “But we are starting early to minimize that. It will be a change for Burley, but I think it will be a positive change in the eyes of families.”
The change will be implemented at the start of school in the fall.
“I think it’s going to be a positive move,” Superintendent Gaylen Smyer said. “Neighborhood schools are really the norm.”
The schools in the outlying communities, he said, have always been neighborhood schools.
The new attendance zones run in strips from north to south inside the city and extend jaggedly into the surrounding rural areas.
The board made the decision to implement the four neighborhood schools during the 2015 construction bond when patrons indicated they would prefer it to having the K-3 elementary schools and all Burley students in 4-6 grades attending White Pine Intermediate School.
John V. Evans Elementary School, built with bond money, allows the district to make the switch.
The new configuration means students will change schools one less time before junior high school, Critchfield, said.
“We are trying to reduce the number of transitions from schools,” Critchfield said.
Each time a student changes schools, all the institutional knowledge that teachers and principals had of that child is lost.
“The new school has no knowledge of that student unless the parents share it,” she said. “And having that knowledge can help the student be more successful.”
Changing schools can also be hard socially for children.
The fewer times students switch schools, the less “king of the hill” behavior is seen, she said.
“There is a lot of data suggesting neighborhood schools have some advantages,” Smyer said.
One benefit for parents is keeping siblings at the same school longer.
For some parents that will mean a one-stop drop off and pickup, and parents can put all their support into one school, Smyer said.
The district also anticipates the bus routes will operate more smoothly.
Critchfield said meeting notes from 1993-94 revealed the logic behind the district making the change to K-3 schools at the time.
She said when White Pine was new there was considerable patron contention over which students would attend the new school.
“So the board devised a way for every kid to have a chance to go to the new school,” Critchfield said.
A patron’s committee helped formulate the neighborhood school plan and then the information was put into a software program that drew the boundaries.
Every single home in the city was identified, including how many children were in the home.
The north-south boundaries ensure that cross sections of socio-economic demographics are included at each school.
“It’s a mathematical program. There is nothing subjective about it,” Critchfield said.
All of the district’s schools are south of Main Street.
Critchfield said that is because there was no property available on the north side of Burley when the district was purchasing property several years ago.
Changing the configuration of the elementary schools also meant making new teacher assignments.
Teacher surveys were sent out asking them their first preference for schools and grades.
In many cases the district was able to meet both preferences and in very few cases the district could not meet any of the preferences.
The district also tightened its open enrollment policy grandfathering families in an area east of Burley, where some families chose Declo schools and some Burley. Once property is sold in that area, the new boundary lines will apply.
Cases where parents apply for open enrollment will be considered on a case-to-case basis.
At the end of the 2017-2018 school year, the district will also hire a new principal for John V. Evans Elementary.