School board talks attendance areas, magnet schools
IOWA CITY– Chris Lynch presided over his first Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) Board of Directors meeting as president on Tuesday, July 8.
His duties included administering the oath of office to the board secretary and treasurer, moderating community comments, and leading the board through a packed agenda.
The board heard and discussed an update on attendance area development from Superintendent Steve Murley. It also approved names for four proposed schools (see article page A2); held first readings on a number of policy changes; and approved next steps in the facilities master plan.
The board had directed Murley and the district administrative team to develop new maps for the elementary school attendance zones, beginning with how they would look when the new elementary schools opened in 2015 and 2019. Murley presented two preliminary proposals of attendance zone boundaries and several options for discussion.
“We want to see something (more definitive) by August, before the community engagement process,” said Lynch. “If these are not going to help you I guess we should have that conversation.”
“Is there one (proposal) that you prefer over the other?” asked Director Tuyet Dorau.
“There are pros and cons of both,” responded Murley. “We do want to explore a magnet program in the district.”
A magnet program is a public school offering special instruction and programs not available elsewhere, designed to attract a more diverse student body from throughout a school district. Murley floated the idea of making Twain Elementary a magnet school in the southeast elementary school cluster in 2015, and making Lincoln Elementary a magnet in the northwest elementary school cluster in 2019. The discussion was inconclusive.
“It seems like two great options to let the debate begin,” said Lynch. “My biggest concern will just be, tick tock, time is of the essence. We need to figure out South Elementary and if we will do a magnet by 2015.”
“My biggest complaint is this board has been talking about magnets for the last four years and nothing has happened,” said Director Jeff McGinness. “Let’s get that process going.”
Dorau said she was ready to commit to a magnet school concept but wished not to rush the process. She suggested creating an intermediate step or boundary decision to enable families to learn about magnet schools and their ramifications. Dorau was concerned about barriers to inclusion for low-income students, and indicated the process of starting a magnet school may require more time than was available for a 2015 startup.
One of the takeaways about a potential magnet school from teachers at Twain Elementary, said Director Brian Kirschling, was an overwhelming sense of wanting to be active participants in the process of determining what type of magnet programming was feasible, and what would take place. Teachers seemed really enthusiastic about a magnet school, he added.
“When you have that type of energy and excitement from the group of people who are dedicated to the students at that school, you can do just about anything you put your mind to,” Kirschling concluded.
Lynch expressed an urgency to coordinate attendance zone planning with the timetable of the facilities master plan. He also suggested the district study the feasibility of a magnet school in the district, and an appropriate timetable for startup.
Murley is expected to return to the board with new proposals before the next round of community engagement sessions when school resumes.
In other business, the board held first readings on four policy revisions referred by the policy and engagement committee: public comment guidelines, superintendent directions, public examination of school district public records, and compulsory attendance. Details of the policy revisions may be viewed on the ICCSD web site at http://www.iowacityschools.org/files/_2CA3a_/77a6da8c267850693745a490138....
The board also approved next steps in appendix nine of the facilities master plan. Among the items approved was rescheduling the rebid date for the Van Allen Elementary School addition on Aug. 14. To control costs, the new bid will include a reduction in square footage and removal of some elements of the project from the original design. Construction is expected to begin on schedule in September. The bid date for the Penn Elementary School project was also approved.
The next meeting of the school board is a special session on July 21 to consider applications to fill a vacancy on the board, and potentially appoint a new school board member. The next regular meeting is on July 22 at 6 p.m.