Piecing together the boundary review puzzle

Once again, the growing Camas School District is going through the boundary review process as it prepares to open its sixth elementary school. And perhaps predictably it has stirred up some powerful opinions and emotions from those who will be impacted by the final results.

As detailed in an article in today’s Post-Record, a number of parents who spoke up during last night’s public hearing focused their concerns on “socioeconomic balance.”

When it opens in fall 2013, Woodburn Elementary School will have a higher percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced price lunches than the other five elementary schools in the district. The criteria for qualifying for this benefit is determined by the federal government, and is dictated by household size and income. For example, a family of four that makes $41,348 or less annually would qualify.

The assumption at least some of the parents who have launched this criticism appear to be making is that a school with a higher percentage of students from lower income families, in Woodburn’s case 32.1 percent, will create an environment that offers an overall lower educational standard for all of its students.

That’s painting the situation with a pretty broad brush, particularly in our current economy where many families who once made good livings now find themselves in less-than-desirable financial situations.

To be fair, legitimate published studies do suggest that children who come from a low socioeconomic status develop academic skills more slowly than others, and in a public school classroom situation this could impact other students. But many of the children included in such studies come from geographic areas that are as a whole also considered impoverished, and attend schools in districts that often fail to meet academic benchmarks because they have access to few resources.

These characteristics do not accurately describe the Camas School District, which is known across the country for its academic standards and successes as well as its emphasis having options for students of many different abilities, strengths and interests. Camas High School, for example, was once again recognized as one of America’s top high schools in “U.S. News & World Report.”

When considering the boundary recommendation, it’s important to remember that it was not made lightly. The Boundary Review Committee includes parent and non-parent citizens, and as such have good reasons to want to make sure the final recommendation is as fair as possible and allows the district and its students to be successful now and in the future.

The committee considered many factors as it formulated its recommendation including anticipating future growth, matching enrollment with capacity at each school, providing socioeconomic balance, minimizing cumulative student travel and transportation costs, considering neighborhood connectivity, aligning middle school attendance boundaries with elementary feeder schools, and including walk areas in each school attendance boundary.

All of these factors are important, but some weigh more heavily than others. One element that plays a significant role is “anticipating future growth.” While Woodburn Elementary will have capacity for 624 students, only 346 students are expected in the fall of 2013. It is predicted that 400 new homes will be built in the area within the next five years, which will drive up Woodburn’s student attendance and put its socioeconomic percentages more in line with other Camas schools.

Given the amount of public input, as well as the research, deliberation and consideration of all of the important factors that have gone into this process so far, we now need to trust that our Camas School District officials, elected leaders, and Boundary Review Committee members have the best interests of current and future Camas students in mind with their recommendations.

As stated by School Board member Doug Quinn: “What I also know is that Woodburn Elementary will be a brand new, state-of-the-art school staffed with great Camas teachers. I have confidence in them to be successful.”

And with the Camas School District’s history of success and high standards for student achievement in mind, we should all share that confidence.

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