A Request For Proposal was developed to solicit outside assistance to evaluate the facilities. The evaluation included capacity planning, enrollment projections, and future trends. Penn said the group quickly identified inefficient use of space, lack of facility design standards, aging facilities, and significant transportation issues.
Penn said the consultants quickly realized that the existing attendance zones had been in place for 30 years. The phase one study identified enrollment and safety issues that initiated the move of Forest Park Academy students where attendance was low. The end of phase one concluded with the decision to merge Oakland elementary with Preston Park and move Noel C Taylor students to Oakland.
Consultants suggested that RCPS reduce the number of overly small elementary schools. Penn defined “overly small” as under 300 students. Making all elementary schools K-5 was also recommended.
Phase two includes these recommendations along with geocoding that uses GIS software to study changes in real time. Penn compared the software to “putting stickpins into a map” pinpointing who and where all the students live. Only this software would include a student’s gender, grade level, race, test scores, and whether or not they get free or reduced lunch.
The plan is to develop potential scenarios that would then be “thoroughly publicly and collaboratively critiqued,” said Penn. The scenarios are being developed now and will be shared publicly for feedback. But to get to that point said Penn, “we have to create a set of design standards …what would we like our facilities to look like in a perfect world.” The plan would have schools with 300 to 550 students. An example of the need to redraw attendance zones was a comparison between the Westside zone with 900 students and the Highland Park zone that had only 85 students.
“The new policy will focus on what is in the best interest of the children first and foremost,” said Penn. As part of the second phase RCPS will anticipate and prepare for growth, maximize the proximity of students to schools, and provide equitable means of transportation.
Penn concluded by saying RCPS has not made any decisions and “there are no holy cows.” The public will have “due notice” on any major changes. Scenarios are already being developed. Penn said the cost to implement the change in the attendance zones would be $12 million over a 5 to 7 year period.
Mason asked Penn how they would account for students living in attendance zones that do not attend the zone school. Penn replied saying that an evaluation in 2007 – 2008 indicated that roughly 25% of the student body do not attend their zone school. Students could be in gifted programs, special education programs, or using the school choice option but Penn admitted the percent was too high.