Town Cited for Racial Imbalance
By Barbara Heimlich
Stratford’s nine elementary school boundaries will be reviewed and redrawn next year as part of a long-awaited redistricting plan. The Board of Education is to prioritize equal class sizes between the nine elementary schools, while disrupting the least number of students when they consider options for a new map.
In a survey seeking the public’s input in what is expected to be a months-long redistricting process, a plurality of nearly 1,400 parents, residents and school staffers identified three goals as their top preferences that are outside the mandated state requirements. According to Yvonne Temple, Supervisor of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the school system, those 3 goals are:
- Continue neighborhood schools concept
- Ensure equal class sizes across elementary schools
- Disrupt the least number of students
Board Chairperson Andrea Corcoran said a team of consultants hired to study the district’s demographic makeup and draw up different redistricting options will now use the three priorities to guide their work. The school board is working with the Glastonbury-based consulting firm The S/L/A/M Collaborative (SLAM) to develop the new elementary school boundaries. The consultants have said they expect to complete their study and present redistricting options to the board as early as February.
“Once they get these criteria, then they can do their demographic study,” Corcoran said. “And then they’ll bring back to the board scenarios, which I would imagine will elicit much conversation going forward.”
The school system is embarking on a redistricting process to balance out the number of students assigned to a building based on its capacity, but also to address impending racial imbalances across the district.
According to the Connecticut Department of Education, Franklin School and Stratford Academy Johnson House were among twenty schools in Connecticut last year that had impending racial imbalances, with schools having minority students make up 15% to 25% more than the district average for minority students. The state considers a school racially imbalanced when the proportion of minority students exceeds 25 percentage points of that district average.
In Stratford, the district is 73.80% minority, Franklin school is 88.93% minority. This is a difference of 15.13%
The district last approved new elementary school boundaries five years ago when it returned to a neighborhood school model, a change in part aimed at reducing the cost of bussing students. Some parents welcomed the move at the time, while others complained it led to disruptions for students enrolled in specialized programs. As of November, the number of students attending elementary schools, a group that includes pre-kindergarteners and sixth graders, stands at more than 3,400. District records show that most classes have about twenty students, but some have as many as twenty-five children while others have as few as fifteen.
Temple said the redistricting survey also found that most respondents were not particularly interested in moving sixth graders from elementary to middle schools, and were not especially concerned with minimizing the time students spend riding the bus. About a third of the survey participants expressed interest in moving the sixth grade into middle school, highlighting the split in views among the town’s residents.
“There’s a little spectrum there,” Temple said. “There’s a little bit of people in the middle who are saying I could go either way, or I’m closer to one end than the other.”
The final decision about the exact location of the new lines will be decided by a new Republican-controlled school board. The GOP secured a four-seat majority on the seven-member commission earlier this month, and the new members are set to be sworn in on December 11th.