Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Lakota students face more changes

By Sue Kiesewetter and Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WEST CHESTER TWP. — Lakota Local Schools students have frequently had to change schools in redistricting forced by rapid growth in Ohio's eighth-biggest district But the plans for the most sweeping shifts yet upset many.

        “The whole idea (of redistricting) was kind of a shock,” said elementary-school parent Ellen Fogle, who moved here from Columbus five years ago. “Nobody wants to do it, but if you open a new school someone has to go there.”

  What: Lakota school board meeting on final redistricting plan
7:30 p.m. today
Lakota Freshman School, 5050 Tylersville Road
        About 60 percent of Lakota's 11,160 elementary and junior school students are faced with switching schools in fall 2003. That's when two schools are scheduled to open to accommodate families still pouring into southeastern Butler County.

        West Chester grew by 38 percent in the 1990s; the district's other township, Liberty, grew by 147 percent.

        That growth has propelled Lakota to become the Tristate's second-largest district behind Cincinnati Public and the eighth-largest in the state, up two spots from 1997.

        No other Tristate district has opened 12 new schools in 10 years, as Lakota did between 1988 and 1997.

        Lakota voters passed four bond issues and four operating levies from 1985 to 1994 to pay for new schools.

        For some, this latest plan was too much.

        When word hit in April that redistricting would switch many children from Adena Elementary to Shawnee Elementary, Adena parents took action.

        In less than 24 hours, they phoned one another and organized an e-mail campaign directed at Superintendent Kathleen Klink to keep their children at Adena. The plan has been revised to leave Adena's boundaries mostly intact.

        “Some parents were getting pretty ugly,” Adena parent Cathy Durko recalled. “Some parents had threatened that they would never vote for another levy if the redistricting went through as it was.”

        Today, Ms. Klink will present a final redistricting plan for approval at the school board's 7:30 p.m. meeting.

        Some changes stemming from public reaction have been made since it was unveiled last month. But those changes affected just small groups, with minimal impact on the overall plan.

        Some high-growth school districts, such as nearby Mason Schools in Warren County, have avoided redistricting because schools there are configured by grade level, not by neighborhood.

        Other communities will face redistricting as they partner with the Ohio School Facilities Commission to upgrade facilities and older schools are replaced with larger ones.

        In its master plan, for example, Hamilton Schools will replace 14 older neighborhood elementary schools with nine new ones.

        A similar plan under study in Norwood would decrease elementary schools by one.

        Fairfield Schools has not had a major redistricting since 1997, when a new high school and elementary school opened.

        This August, attendance boundaries for two Fairfield elementaries are changing after an unexpected increase of 240 children this year and the construction of new homes. The district is easing the change by offering affected families a choice for the next three years.

        Lakota West High School senior Michael Mingler knows well how redistricting works in Lakota. Between kindergarten and sixth grade, he attended three different schools.

        Michael changed schools every year from sixth grade through his sophomore year, even though his family never moved from their Providence Manor home.

        “I never really thought much about it. I wasn't the only one there that felt new,” Michael said. “Most of my friends went with me. It would have been a bigger problem if (none of my friends) moved.”

        During the mid-'90s, redistricting occurred every other year in Lakota. Only minor changes in neighborhood school boundaries have been needed the last five years as growth slowed from 500-800 new students a year in the peak years to 300-500 more recently.

        Redistricting is “a fact of life in Lakota,” said board member Joan Powell, whose daughter went to three elementary schools in four years in the late 1980s. “It's been a while since we've had to redistrict. It's almost another generation of elementary parents. They've never faced it.”

        So this year's massive change caught many families off guard, especially those who bought homes in established neighborhoods, didn't have school-age children five years ago, or newcomers to the district.

        Mrs. Durko protested because the redistricting would have meant the loss of nine key members of Adena's parent-teacher organization.

        “These are our kids, and it affects our lives,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like (school administrators) don't put faces with the names. It's just numbers to them sometimes.”

        Mrs. Powell said she understands parents' feelings.

        “The problem is everybody loves their school — and that's a good problem. It's how it should be,” Mrs. Powell said. “The challenge is to hear concerns and remedy what concerns we can. But every remedy affects somebody else.”

        Parent Heather Chaney, who teaches in Lakota's Early Childhood Center, went through the frequent changes when her two children were young.

        “It wasn't what I would have picked for them,” Mrs. Chaney said. “The up side was always that it was going to be less children in class. It is up to the parent to set the tone for the change.

        “The one thing you miss is you don't have the teachers that know you,” she said. “But it was — it is — the reality of living in Lakota.”


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