Shakopee Schools Assistant Superintendent David Orlowsky presented on the final two middle school rezoning options for the 2020-2021 school year to parents and family members on Oct. 29 and Nov. 7.
The rezoning is due to lopsided headcounts between East and West middle schools — a result of budding developments throughout the community.
There are 1,173 students enrolled at West Middle School and 746 students at East Middle School. Each building was designed to hold about 1,000 students. Orlowsky said the projected student population between the two schools continues to show a margin of about 400 students, putting West Middle School over its capacity indefinitely unless the district makes a change.
District staff decided to limit intra-district transfers to a 150-student difference between East and West middle schools, with priority given to incoming eighth-graders. If interest in intra-district transfers shows there will be more than a 150-student difference, a lottery will be used to limit the amount of students who can attend their formerly-assigned middle school, Orlowsky said.
The district will offer a shuttle bus that will transport those intra-district students from their assigned middle school to their preferred middle school for one year. The two schools are just over a mile apart.
The shuttle would either act like an added stop at one of the middle schools, or it would act as designated shuttle bus (more like a city bus transfer) that would bring students from one middle school to the next. Orlowsky said the district still needs to work out those details.
Some parents of students impacted by the rezone seemed skeptical of the plans to rezone. One mother whose child attends East Middle School and will be reassigned to West said she will allow her seventh-grade daughter to remain at East for her final year in middle school, but she isn’t keen on the shuttle bus.
“The shuttle isn’t going to be perfect,” the parent said at the listening session, adding she plans to carpool instead of allowing her daughter to take the shuttle from West to East. “I don’t want (my daughter) hysterically calling saying they missed the bus.”
Others impacted seemed to understand the need for the district to rezone, and didn’t seem fazed due to the intra-district transfer option.
Seventh-grader Alexis Schuler, who attends East Middle School and will be reassigned to West, was the only student to attend either of the listening sessions. She said she was originally worried she’d be forced to leave the school she’s attended for two years, but when Orlowsky said incoming eighth-graders will be given priority to stay in their schools, adding the shuttle bus would allow her to get to school without an issue, she said the rezone was “no big deal.”
Parents at the second listening session at West Middle School asked the school board to consider a phasing-in option, so no student would be rezoned to a different school except incoming sixth-graders, who wouldn’t know the difference.
“To be very honest, we love West,” one mother told Orlowsky and the board. “I just hope you would consider a grandfathered-in approach… I hated middle school, but my son wakes up loving middle school,” one mother said about her son who will be rezoned to East.
Another mother in the room added to the comment: “It’s a huge stress for the kids to learn a new school in sixth grade, and then have to learn another school all over again the next year.”
Orlowsky said this option is one the school board will consider, but along with this option comes the predicament of siblings who would not be grandfathered in.
School board member Judi Tomczik piped in, saying the board will be “very sensitive to those concerns” when making its decision.
Current situation problems
The district currently operates under a “feeder model” for its middle schools. Students who attend Red Oak or Sun Path Elementary will attend East Middle School. Students who attend any of the other three elementary schools — Eagle Creek, Jackson or Sweeney — will attend West Middle School.
“These attendance areas have been in place for nine years now,” Orlowsky said. “It’s caused West to continue to grow, and East has declined.”
The difference in student attendance at East and West middle schools causes roadblocks with the school district in terms of staffing, scheduling students’ classes, a crowded lunchroom and hallways at West Middle School, plus transfer requests.
The number of students who receive free and reduced lunch, the number of special education students and the number of English learner students are also factors outside of student population the school board will consider. Currently, 44% of students at East receive free and reduced lunch, compared to 34% of students at West.
Each of the two rezoning options mitigate that equity margin.
The two rezoning options, which will be narrowed down to the final option when the school board votes in December or January, will impact between 420 and 470 students, depending on the option chosen. The rezoning will allow a limited number of affected students — with priority given to eighth-graders — to continue attending the middle school they previously attended through an intra-district transfer. Most of the affected students currently attend West Middle School.