Transition difficult but necessary for growing Columbia School District
Topeka High School, Topeka, Kan.
For those involved with Columbia Public Schools, the future is now. With the construction of a new high school under way, officials are determining the best options for rezoning and redistributing resources among the high schools.
“I’m sure rezoning might be painful, but it probably needs to happen,” Pat Wehmeyer, Parent Teacher Student Association vice president, said.
The new school is set to open fall 2013.
In January, the secondary enrollment planning committee will convene to discuss options for rezoning.
“Our purpose is to redefine boundaries so that in 2013, one third of the kids go to each school,” committee member Don Ludwig said. “We have an interest in doing the best possible for CPS.”
The groundbreaking ceremony for the new school took place July 15 at the school’s new site on St. Charles Road.
At the ceremony, city officials, school administrators, contractors and students picked up shovels and dug in front of more than 100 spectators. The event represented the start of a new chapter for the school district.
“Today, we look in to the exciting future of CPS,” Jan Mees, president of the Board of Education, said in a speech given at the ceremony.
With the growth of Columbia, the two current public high schools, Hickman High School and Rock Bridge High School, have experienced overcrowding in recent years. The enrollment at Rock Bridge in the 2009-10 school year was 1,822 for grades 10 through 12, and at Hickman it was 2,001.
“Hickman is so crowded,” Hickman senior Tori Griggs, said. “You can hardly walk through the halls.”
The district currently sends students in grades six and seven to middle school and those in grades eight and nine to junior high.
With the new high school, all students from grades six through eight will attend school together and grades nine through 12 will be in high school. After the new high school is built, Mees expects each school to have between 1,200 and 1,500 students.
She thinks this new format will benefit the students.
“We’ll be moving our ninth-graders into their assigned high schools, which gives them better course offerings,” Mees said.
Some community members, such as Ludwig, think that the new school will give students more chances to get involved with their high school.
“It’s really a good deal because there are more opportunities for kids,” Ludwig said.
However, others believe that programs at the two current high schools will suffer as a result of students transferring to the new school.
“Right now all the clubs (at Hickman) are really big, and I think that’s better, but in the future, they’ll change sizes,” Griggs said.
One of the main objectives of the district is to avoid this imbalance of programs at each high school.
“A goal of the district is to maintain the same extracurriculars at all three of the comprehensive high school sites,” Mees said.
The cost of the new schools is set at just over $75 million. Although people agree that the new school will have nice facilities, some still have reservations about attending the new school. Griggs’ younger brother will be entering seventh grade in the fall and will have to attend the new high school in 2013.
“My whole family has gone to Hickman, so we’re all kind of upset about that,” Griggs said.
Along with rezoning for the high schools, the administration must also find an efficient way to reallocate resources and staff.
Mees said that they will staff the new building with some current ninth-grade teachers and teachers from the two existing high schools. The new school will need its own administrators, nurses, counselors and support staff, though.
Although many of these issues are critical to the school district, Ludwig said it is too early to know anything for sure.
Wehmeyer said the change may be difficult.
“It will be hard for those transition folks to deal with, but we need it,” Wehmeyer said.