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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New boundary proposal for Spokane Public Schools to be topic of Wednesday board meeting

UPDATED: Tue., May 25, 2021

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street.  (JESSE TINSLEY)
The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street. (JESSE TINSLEY)

The Boundary Review Committee for Spokane Public Schools went back to the drawing board this month, but the new lines proposed have remained largely the same.

During a special meeting Wednesday night, the district’s board of directors will discuss a new version of a boundary change proposal that’s almost identical to the one that went public on March 30.

Since then, the district held a series of public forums that resulted in thousands of comments on how it could have been done better.

But after what Superintendent Adam Swinyard called “careful consideration,” the committee is sticking to a model that prioritizes the concepts of neighborhood schools and cohorting, or maximizing the number of students who will attend the same schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.

It addresses the concerns raised during public forums, but largely sticks with the original proposal.

As it stands, beginning in the fall of 2022, about 99% of students who will stay in the same residence will remain with their peers throughout their school careers.

In the bargain, the district won’t be able to placate some families whose children would be sent to different schools, or those who believe that the changes would widen the gap between top-performing schools and those at the bottom.

No action will be taken during Wednesday’s meeting, which is intended to give board members one more chance to take a critical look at the proposal.

More public input will be taken on June 2. Final approval is expected later in June.

More than a thousand comments were directed at the decision to move students in the River Run area from South Hill schools to the northeast. However, staff pointed out that the move is intended partly to ease overcrowding at Sacajawea Middle School and Lewis and Clark High School, as well as ease transportation issues.

The only major adjustment is in the southeast corner of the district, where students at Adams and Moran Prairie elementary schools were originally split between Chase Middle School and the new South Middle School on 65th Avenue.

After some adjustments in boundaries, the committee is now recommending that all Adams students move on to the new middle school and Moran Prairie sixth-graders go on to Chase.

The question of equity – especially at the middle school level – is expected to draw scrutiny from board members, some of whom campaigned on that issue.

The proposal would create two new middle schools that would sit at demographic extremes. The attendance area for the new South middle school would include mostly middle-class neighborhoods, with a 32% free and reduced-price lunch percentage that would be the lowest in the district.

Meanwhile, the new Northeast middle school would have the lowest socio-economic demographic in the city, with 88% receiving free and reduced-price meals.

In documents posted this week, the district acknowledged that “these boundaries don’t come without some challenges to unbalanced (free and reduced-price lunch) rates and proximity-related frustrations.”

But after more than a year of meetings, the board concluded that keeping students together is a greater priority.

“This aligns with how the research defines an environment where programmatic supports, and the elements of quality and effective schools, can naturally thrive,” the committee reported.

Board documents also touted the benefits of cohorting, including a sense of belonging, stability and the chance for better parent-school collaboration.

The district hasn’t undertaken a major change of boundaries in about 40 years; however, the adjustments are necessary because of the addition of three new middle schools and the shift of sixth graders into those schools.

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