Amid calls for more transparency and doing more for children, school district officials presented data Tuesday evening endorsing the redistricting of .
Schools Superintendent Margaret Dolan’s report on intermediate school enrollment showcased enrollment totals for Roosevelt and Edison Intermediate Schools which shows the two schools close to capacity entering the third year of the redistricting. The Board of Education voted in 2009 to redistrict part of the Washington neighborhood from Roosevelt to Edison, a vote confirmed in December of 2010, following an order from the state education commissioner. The redistricting, one of the most controversial decisions in BOE history, touched off a firestorm of opposition from Washington area parents.
“All of the work that went into the new attendance zones has paid off,” Dolan said. “We are able to offer all of our intermediate students all of the support that they need. For all of those people who are no longer on the board or active in the community groups, I think your efforts paid off.”
Dolan said that the projected sixth grade enrollment for the 2011-2012 school year will have 307 students at Edison and 257 at Roosevelt, for a total of 564 students. She said the approximate sixth grade capacity for Edison is 316 students with the approximate sixth grade capacity at Roosevelt being 250 students, for a total of 566 students. She said redistricting helped to keep the total numbers in this range.
The projected enrollment for the 2011-2012 school year for the seventh grade is 477 students and the projected enrollment for eighth grade is 501 students. Dolan said that the average class size for the next school year for sixth graders in academic subjects will be 24 at Edison and 23 at Roosevelt. For non-academic subjects, Dolan said the class size will be 21 at Edison and 20 at Roosevelt.
Assistant Schools Superintendent Anita O’Neil said the district has been planning for the increased student body, including hiring more two-fifths teachers for the intermediate schools, along with redistributing existing staff to the intermediate schools and utilizing the team teaching concept.
“We have been planning for this for a while,” O’Neil said. “We have been doing it carefully and strategically.”
A large contingent of Washington parents packed the audience, with several questioning Dolan’s data, along with two of the BOE members elected from the neighborhood in an on-going response to the redistricting vote. The Washington neighborhood has become a potent political force in school elections since the 2009 vote, providing large pluralities to three neighborhood residents – Rich Mattessich, David Finn and Mitch Slater – and a Jefferson resident aligned with the trio – Mark Friedman – in successful board races.
The original redistricting vote prompted several suits against the board, including over proper bussing to Edison from the Washington neighborhood and the process used to make the change. The state education department ordered the BOE to provide bussing for the students and last November, former acting Education Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks had violated the by-laws in adopting the original policy and ordered a new vote in December.
The new vote , with Mattessich, Finn and Slater voting no. In addition, the board voted 5-4 to apologize to the Washington neighborhood on how the policy was communicated to the residents. BOE members Ann Cary and Jane Clancy joined Mattessich, Finn and Slater in the apology vote.
Mattessich, the board’s vice president, questioned Dolan on how the data was put together, including if she and her staff looked at multi-year data, including the impact on class sizes. Dolan said Roosevelt would have had 850 students if there had been no redistricting, above the 750-student capacity calculated by Dolan and her staff.
Mattessich questioned how the 750 number was developed. He said parents he has spoken to who attended Roosevelt have said there were more than 750 students in the building at the time. Dolan confirmed the larger student population, but that there have been changes in education trends, including no study halls.
“The schools are completely different from when I went to school,” Dolan said. “Everyone was in large classes and most special education students were not in our public schools, they were shipped out. There were no computers. I can vouch for the fact that my teachers, and they were wonderful, were not into differentiated instruction.”
Mattessich also questioned Dolan over whether other options, including a split schedule were discussed during the original redistricting. Dolan said several split schedule ideas were considered but dismissed based on population.
Nicole Morris, whose son was one of the first students redistricted from Roosevelt to Edison, took issue with the class size numbers mentioned by Dolan in her remarks. She said her son’s math class at Edison has 30 students in it, while his orchestra class has 40 students.
“I am concerned about the quality of the education we’re giving these kids,” she said. “I am concerned on how equal. It has always felt that there was something being hidden from us and that there was politics of one school being favored. Make it fair and make it transparent. It is not fair and it is not transparent.”
Morris pressed the board for more data to be revealed on the class sizes, including calling for the board to release raw class size data to the public and all board members.
“What would be really helpful for the board is a year-by-year, side-by-side, class-by-class data,” she said. “I encourage you not to spin the data. If the data shows it is an equal experience, then great. If that is the case, can you show it? It would give us more faith. You made that decision to do that to our children and made them the redistricted kids. This is about transparency. We have budget issues. Let the public get behind you by being transparent and not showing the spin.”
O’Neil took the podium in response to Morris to refute her class size accusations. Armed with a spreadsheet, which she said contained intermediate school class size data; O’Neil addressed Language Arts and music classes for Edison and Roosevelt. She said the Edison Language Arts classes do not exceed 25 students. Upon questioning from Slater on the math number, O’Neil said the largest math class at Edison has 27 students, with the largest class at Roosevelt containing 24 students.
Mattessich asked Dolan if the board members could receive copies of the data that O’Neil was referencing. He said he has asked for it before and has not received it. Dolan said that she could provide the information.
“When you see the data, you will see there wasn’t a spin,” Dolan said. “The classes are balanced.”
Mattessich and other Washington residents have been pressing for more material related to the redistricting decision. During the December debate, Mattessich expressed concern over the lack of committee reports and memos regarding alternatives to redistricting Washington students, suggesting the reports had been “cleaned up.” BOE member Ann Cary refuted Mattessich, saying that no minutes had been taken at the relevant committee meetings and the records Mattessich asked for had not been created.
Audience members questioned the board on the social impact of the redistricting, saying that Washington students at Edison cannot participate in Roosevelt activities with friends. (See sidebar for complete story on this issue.)
Mattessich and parents asked if the redistricting will end after three years, as was originally thought, or continue going forward. Dolan presented data for young elementary school classes, including the present third grade, which has 569 students. The incoming sixth grade is the largest Westfield class since the WHS class of 1981, with the current third grade being larger.
Dolan said the data is being monitored by her office and the board’s long range planning committee on a regular basis.
“It is monitoring the enrollment,” she said. “We have not had major changes that have surprised us. You have to continually monitor.”