COLUMBIA, Mo. - Southwest Columbia residents whose children attend either Gentry Middle School or Jefferson Middle School were able to take their concerns over redrawing attendance boundaries straight to Columbia Public School officials Wednesday evening.
The district hosted the first of two open forums at Jefferson Middle where Superintendent Dr. Peter Stiepleman gave a slideshow presentation on the attendance area committee and Board of Education's latest boundary proposal.
"You're talking about moving children," Stiepleman said. "You want to be assuring them that if your child is changed that we're going to take care of their social and emotional needs as they make that transition."
Currently, Gentry Middle School is more than 100 students above "comfortable capacity" due to an increase in residential developments in the southwest part of the city.
Parents have addressed their concerns over the redistricting at prior Board of Education meetings, including how the new boundaries would affect students' ability to participate in after-school activities.
"These are kids. They're not numbers, they're not kids in a seat. These are children that are being affected," said Jen Harper, who has daughters in 6th and 8th grade attending Gentry Middle School.
Harper said her family moved from Jefferson City to Columbia specifically so their children could go to Gentry.
"I really just think that it's in the children's best interest to let them remain there," she said. "Middle school is such a hard time for kids. These 6th graders that are there, they just made a huge transition coming from elementary school to middle school."
At Wednesday's forum, Stiepleman said adding more trailers to Gentry wasn't an option.
"This takes time because we don't want to make an arbitrary decision," said Jonathan Session, vice president of the school board. "We want to hear what our community says and make sure our decisions are not only helping alleviate the overcrowding at Gentry, but taking into account our community."
The Board of Education voted 6-1 at a work session on Jan. 19 to "accelerate" the construction of the middle school as a higher priority. The original deadline for a new middle school was scheduled for 2022, Stiepleman said they're currently looking for land and hoping to have it built in the next three years.
Another open forum is scheduled for Thursday from 5-7 p.m. at Gentry Middle School.
The area attendance committee will then take the parents' comments and concerns and make a final boundary proposal. The school board is scheduled to make a final vote on the issue on Feb. 13.
"I just hope that they continue to take the comments and consider all of the needs of these kids," Harper said.