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JCPS board candidates define vision for education equity

JCPS board candidates define vision for education equity

March 18th, 2018 by Phillip Sitter in Local News

The addition of Capital City High School has prompted Jefferson City Public Schools to examine its boundary lines in recent months.

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The aim of the work is to achieve and maintain some equity between Capital City High School and Jefferson City High School in terms of enrollment and the percentage of students at each school who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch — a standard indicator of the level of poverty among students.

The News Tribune asked the four candidates running for two available seats on the JCPS Board of Education to define equity and how they would like to see it maintained in the district.

Incumbent board members Michael Couty and Pam Murray — each with one term on the school board — face challengers Ken Enloe and Lindsey Rowden in April 3 municipal election.

Murray said: "It would be equitable when all our schools are performing relatively the same. Currently, we have differences in our schools in poverty, demographics and achievement."

She said the district's two middle schools — Lewis and Clark and Thomas Jefferson — are pretty equitable now, and that bodes well for creating equity between the two high schools. But she also wants demographics such as race, ethnicity and English language learner status to be brought into the conversation about high school equity before the middle school attendance boundary lines are finalized — so as to avoid inadvertently creating other inequities.

Murray said the elementary schools are the larger problem, and the easier way to address that would be to focus on maintaining equitable student achievement — though not necessarily through boundary line changes.

Enloe said the free and reduced-price lunch indicator is a good measure of equity for the middle and high schools.

He would consider looking at other indicators of equity — such as achievement scores and percentage of minority students — at all education levels, but added he doesn't want to "shuffle kids all over the city simply to achieve a statistical number."

"My goal would be, as a member of the board, that every parent in every part of our district is able to look at the school that their student goes to and say, 'I'm very pleased,'" he said.

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Couty said another way to look beyond the current measures of free and reduced-price lunch eligibility and enrollment would be to use achievement scores, but cautioned that could be problematic.

"I would have a problem using that as a basis because of the movement," he said of especially young families moving around the district.

While there should be equity across the population of the district's schools, he said, he doesn't think it would be feasible to use free and reduced-price lunch eligibility percentages as an indicator on the elementary level, unlike the middle and high school level, because "then you're going to be telling folks where to live."

"Elementary is much more difficult because people move, and we're not going to be shipping folks (across town)," Couty said.

Rowden said equity should be a realized expectation for families that their child will get the same education in each of the district's buildings — with the same quality of teachers in all buildings and balances between all schools in terms of poverty.

She said achieving equity at the elementary level will be the district's biggest challenge, but for that reason, it also should be the primary focus. "That's where it all starts," she added.