Although still nearly two years in advance, with the addition of a new middle school to take place in the 2020-21 school year, redistricting attendance areas is top priority for the school board, according to RBHS principal Dr. Jennifer Rukstad.
The school board voted Feb. 11, 6-1, in confirmation of the slightly modified Option 2 plan after comments from the public in both strong affirmation and negation toward it.
Another implementation plan regarding the transferring procedures and transportation passed, as well.
Chief Operations Officer Randall Gooch estimates the cost of the transfer policy will be $200,000.
“We have given the community time to be involved in the process, to adjust and be prepared for implementation,” Gooch said. “Throughout the process, the work and the method and the cooperative strategies have been praised by the many stakeholders through the different events. This is a process that they’ve used throughout the nation. It has proved to be solid.”
High school lines changed slightly, with 90 students directly impacted in the gradual implementation process. The transferring procedures aim to grant students a four-year high school education all at the same school.
Current high schoolers are free to remain at their school for the remainder of their four years. Affected rising freshmen, however, must make a choice. They can either go to one school for their freshman year and transfer their sophomore year or go to their new high school a year early.
Freshman Braeden Songer lives closer to RBHS, but his neighborhood will redistrict to Hickman. Songer has a brother in eighth grade who will eventually transfer to Hickman, something he feels would be extremely inconvenient.
“We would have to have both [of] my parents go in different ways,” Songer said, “and they work at the same place so they will have to travel a lot more.”
Because the decision passed, Songer said his family plans to move to avoid the impending change.
Dr. Jennifer Rukstad, RBHS principal, said redistricting is always a contentious time for the community; however, it is necessary. Currently, RBHS is overpopulated and next year the projection shows the addition of 100 students.
“The process is a really emotional process for the community because people have identities with their high schools,” Dr. Rukstad said. “Our buildings have a capacity. Numbers alone, we have to redistrict because the city doesn’t always grow in a nice, distributed fashion.”
Besides separating siblings between schools, there are other controversies related to the redistricting plan. While Option 2 received a 64 percent positive feedback overall, there was still a 27 percent disapproval rate and more than half of those said they “strongly disapproved.”
The least approval came from Battle High School. Before the vote, some Battle administrators, teachers and students expressed concerns to the free and reduced lunch rate. According to Option 2, Battle High School’s free and reduced lunch population would raise from 54 percent to 55 percent whereas in RBHS, this rate would drop from 24 percent to 18 percent.
Former Battle High School counselor Amelia Howser called it “structural oppression.”
The socio-economic imbalance disturbs RBHS sophomore Shruti Gautam; she said the disparity among high schools is unfair and disagrees with the redistricting plan.
Redistricting called for other changes to RBHS, Rukstad said. One of the most dramatic changes involves Jefferson Middle School as students will filter to Hickman, not RBHS, and it will abandon its traditional school structure.
Jefferson Middle School will also transition to a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) school and complement the three lottery elementary schools, Benton STEM, Lee Expressive Arts and Ridgeway, Community Relations Officer Michelle Baumstark said.
Students who live in the Jefferson Middle School district will fill the school to around a 48 percent capacity, but to fully utilize the middle school, the plan projects 238 students elsewhere in the district will opt to Jefferson Middle School, according to the board meeting presentation.
Although Gautam does not support some aspects of the plan, she said it’s impossible to please everyone, and families should still play along even if it means switching schools.
“My sisters are going to have to go to [the new] middle school instead of Gentry even though my parents want them to go to Gentry,” Gautam said. “But you have to respect the district’s decisions because they can’t just look out for one individual. They are trying to do the best for the whole.”
Redistricting has and will continue to take place, Dr. Rukstad said. She remembers in 2000 when RBHS added floor space to alleviate then overcrowded Hickman. In 2013, with the addition of Battle High School came another round of redistricting as junior high schools and middle schools restructured to six middle schools that would feed into three high schools. Now, with a new middle school for 2020, redistricting is once again inevitable.
“Our city keeps growing and changing,” Dr. Rukstad said. “You have to react and predict what the growth will be in order to keep your buildings from being underutilized or overutilized. That’s the main reason we redistrict.”