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South Columbia parents concerned over new middle school boundaries

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Several Columbia parents say the current debate over middle school redistricting is dividing people in the affected neighborhoods.

People primarily from southwest Columbia brought their concerns to the Board of Education Monday night. The district is in the process of redrawing attendance boundaries for Gentry and Jefferson middle schools due to overcrowding at the former.

Superintendent Peter Stiepleman has long said the district needs a seventh middle school that would specifically serve the growing southwest side of town. CPS statistics show there are 859 students at Gentry Middle School, which uses trailers to accommodate the number of students - more than 100 students above the "comfortable capacity" of 725. Jefferson Middle School has 597 students, and has the same "capacity" limit as Gentry. The new middle school is not planned to open until 2022.

The current redistricting plans affect where students living in the neighborhoods off Scott Boulevard would attend middle school. Each of the four available options the district has worked on would send different areas from Gentry to Jefferson Middle School. This is an undesirable move, according to parents at Monday's meeting, due to the increased travel time. Gentry is just off Nifong Boulevard near Providence Road while Jefferson Middle School is next to the Columbia College campus on Rogers Street.

Parents that spoke Monday said the longer bus commutes from their neighborhoods to Jefferson Middle School could affect students' abilities to participate in after-school activities, and put a burden on families picking up their children. One parent said it could also affect parental involvement in the school community. Residents also said the plans made neighbors wary of one another, since many there wanted a plan that kept their child at Gentry Middle School.

"By doing this, you are ripping apart our southwest community," one woman said.

Southwest-residing students went through elementary school redistricting last year with the opening of the new Beulah Ralph Elementary School at Scott Boulevard and Route KK. Dr. Sara Gay, a school psychologist and mother of two children at Beulah Ralph, said the handful of students taken from Mill Creek Elementary to Beulah Ralph would be even more separated if taken to Jefferson Middle School.

"To move to Jeff [Middle] would result in the removal of another layer of friends my kids have made," Gay said.

Some parents even suggested the board do nothing about boundaries until the new middle school opens.

The district plans to recommend new boundaries at the Board of Education's February meeting. CPS offers the latest information about the changes on its website, and will take online comments until Jan. 12. District spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark told ABC 17 News that CPS has received around 500 submissions so far.

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