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Diversity dream meets attendance area reality

ICCSD board sends controversial policy back to committee

IOWA CITY– The Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) paused at its Sept. 9 school board meeting, as it prepared to implement the district’s diversity policy approved in 2013.
During a lengthy discussion of the policy and related attendance zone changes for the 2015-2016 school year, the board responded to Superintendent Steve Murley’s request for relief from diversity policy mandates. The board sent the diversity policy back to the policy and engagement committee for revision on a 6-1 vote, with Director Orville Townsend Sr. dissenting.
What was a mandate to balance enrollment of free and reduced-price lunch students throughout the district is expected to become an aspirational goal, thus relieving administration of a complex and potentially disruptive task of compliance, while enabling them to pursue the spirit of the diversity policy.
“The current language in the diversity policy prevents the creation of an attendance area for Alexander Elementary School or adjustment of the attendance areas for Hills, Twain and Wood Elementary Schools that comply with the diversity policy mandates without significant disruption to multiple elementary school attendance areas,” explained Murley in a Sept. 9 letter to the board.
Murley suggested attendance areas be created out of compliance with the diversity policy, and offered the board four options in finalizing them: significantly disrupt the current attendance areas and transportation of students in a large portion of the district; suspend the diversity policy for an indefinite period of time; suspend the diversity policy for a fixed period of time; or revoke the diversity policy. If the board would not pursue one of these options, Murley said, then administration would have to withdraw the proposed attendance zone maps and re-write them to be in compliance with the diversity policy.
“As we went through and looked at maps, we knew the direction of the board was to relax the diversity policy mandate,” said Murley. “We considered that to be a directive to be flexible where required, but to adhere to the mandate where it was possible. Our intent was to adhere as closely as possible to those mandates.”
After a clarifying discussion, the board approved a motion to adopt changes in the attendance areas for Alexander, Hills, Longfellow, Twain, Weber and Wood elementary schools. The board adopted all of Murley’s recommendations, with the exception of the Breckenridge neighborhood and a Longfellow attendance island which were to be assigned to Alexander Elementary.
Murley noted that with the opening of Alexander Elementary, the free and reduced-price lunch eligible student population will range from 70.3 to 75.0 percent at Alexander, Hills, Twain and Wood Elementary Schools. The participating special education student population will range from 12.6 to 16.9 percent, and the English Language Learner program will range from 18.8 to 23.5 percent.
After approving the attendance areas, the board considered and approved four motions to support the inter-school transfer process. The board voted to close open enrollment at the high school level; close open transfers from within the district at City High, West High and Southeast Junior High schools; restrict open transfers at the elementary level to be an annual process; and when new schools are built, students who live in the attendance areas of their resident school will be assigned to those schools. All motions passed unanimously.
In other business, Pamela Ehly, director of instruction for the district presented reports on academic achievement.
“Data from the various reports indicate student achievement is high compared to the nation in multiple grade levels as well as subject levels,” wrote Ehly in her formal report.
The reports found district student achievement is increasing over time in the elementary grades and is stable in the secondary grades.
She also noted that for the class of 2014, student achievement is high, with ACT scores exceeding both the state and national averages.
The board also recognized Ross Wilburn for his service as the district director of equity since 2008. Wilburn had accepted a position with the Iowa State University’s Extension and Outreach as an associate director of the community economic development team. Wilburn will also serve as its diversity officer.
The next school board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 6 p.m.