As the Williamsport Area School District prepares for a complete grade reconfiguration during the 2013-14 school year, members of its administration team discussed its controlled school choice policy and boundaries at Tuesday's board meeting.
Previously, the board had asked about various aspects of the policy, which David Wright, director of student services, and various elementary school principals addressed during the meeting.
Wright explained that a school choice policy allows the district to even out class sizes. He said that boundaries for attending schools are flexible in order to make sure they can avoid a situation where one school has 13 students in the third grade class and another has 30 in its third grade.
"School choice has helped us (create) efficient staffing and fairer class sizes," said Kirk Felix, principal of Stevens Elementary.
At request of the board, the policy was changed to switch the first two priorities for those wishing to change schools. Wright explained that in an effort to make boundaries for the new primary schools more "residence-focused," the first priority would be the students' residences and then which school they attended the previous year would be considered.
Dr. Robert Williams, Hepburn-Lycoming principal, said that the switch in policy made a more equal starting point for all students. He said that since Round Hills Elementary and Sheridan Elementary will be closing at the end of the current school year, those students can't choose to stay at their building.
"They're not going to have the option of staying (at their current school)," Williams said.
He added that it would create problems as younger siblings entered the district. William explained that if a student remains at a school that it was attending but it isn't their residence school, then families could be split apart as younger siblings begin school.
"The last thing you would want to do is have a brother and sister in a different school," Williams said.
When asked about why all students must fill out school choice forms when most want to stay in their current building, Wright explained with so much to figure out with class sizes, the forms will be needed for the next two years to understand what families' preferences are.
As for transportation, Wright expects trips to become shorter with the new boundaries.
Paul Daniels, principal of Sheridan Elementary, explained that he sees about 50 students leave from his school each morning and about 40 come on a bus from outside the school's boundary.
Wright expects with the new boundaries, students will stay closer to home. He said if the school is within walking distance or a shorter bus trip, families will choose to stay.
When Dr. Jane Penman asked if the district expects there to be more movement after PSSA results are released, the administration said no. Penman wondered if parents would move their children away from lower-performing schools.
Felix, whose school was included in a report for the lowest-performing schools in the state, said in his experience, most stay put.
"People stayed and they were supportive. I never felt so much support," Felix said.
"There weren't many people who wanted to leave," said Dr. Kathleen Kelley, superintendent.
Wright said even if a student cannot attend their residence school because of overpopulation, they can be placed on a waiting list until a spot opens up. He added that most students who cannot attend their residence school are those who move to the area right before the school year begins.