The dividing line between two downtown schools will be erased in an effort to give families more options.
The District 20 (downtown) constituent school board has agreed unanimously to eliminate the attendance-zone boundaries separating Mitchell Math and Science Elementary and James Simons Elementary. That means students living in either school’s attendance zone would be able to choose where they want go.
The unified attendance zone for two neighborhood schools would be the first of its kind in the district.
“We’re making the local schools stronger for the community,” said Fran Clasby, a member of the downtown board and president of Wagener Terrace Neighborhood Association.
The change wouldn’t go into effect until the fall of 2014, and district officials weren’t sure yet how it would be handled. They could decide to appeal the constituent board’s decision to the Charleston County school board.
Paul Padron, an assistant associate superintendent who oversees school choice, said he is focused on the more immediate concern of James Simons and other downtown schools having smooth moves into their new buildings this fall.
Still, he was glad the district had some time to study the situation, and he questioned what would happen if students lived closer to one school but couldn’t enroll because it was full.
“We would have to look at what it means and what impact it might have,” he said. “There’s some thinking that will have to go into it.”
The downtown board offered a number of reasons for making the change, and a major impetus was attracting more neighborhood families to enroll. Only about one-third of the children at James Simons, and about half of the students at Mitchell, live in the schools’ attendance zones, according to the constituent board.
James Simons Elementary plans to begin transitioning this year to only offer Montessori classes. Mitchell puts an emphasis on math and science in traditional classes. The schools are separated by less than a mile.
The downtown board heard from James Simons parents who didn’t want the school to become Montessori, and Mitchell parents who didn’t want Montessori classes, which had been piloted there, to move to James Simons. Some parents would have requested transfers between the schools, and this makes the schools more open and inclusive, Clasby said.
The downtown board left the logistics of how the unified attendance zone would work to district staff. They didn’t specify what would happen if more students tried to attend one school than seats were available. Simons Elementary expects its enrollment to at least double this fall, in part because of its new and in-demand Montessori classes.
James Simons Principal Quenetta White said giving choice to families is good, but it’s not the solution that solves all problems. She said she’s concerned about students moving from one school to the other because that affects a school’s funding and stability.
“There’s a lot of dynamics to this,” she said. “We have to do what’s best for kids. To ensure we do what’s right for kids, we need to really put our heads together and work out all the kinks.”