Few things are as important as neighborhood schools. They can help reinforce a sense of identity and belonging. Many people can relate to this important experience of youth through either being able to walk to school each day because of its proximity or coming away from the school with significant memories of teachers, staff, classmates and surroundings.
It is those kinds of important developmental moments the Amarillo Independent School District is embracing with proposed revisions to a voluntary desegregation plan that will emphasize the unique attributes and advantages of having a neighborhood school. Actions are specifically focused on the city’s North Heights Neighborhood, according to our story Sunday.
By way of background, the original plan dates to 1975, when the district received a letter from federal authorities saying the “concentration of African-American students in North Heights schools were disproportionately concentrated in the black community.” The notification prompted school trustees then to address the issue, which resulted in busing students out of the neighborhood to other schools in the city.
One consequence was children who lived near each other often did not attend school together. Neighborhood residents recently asked the board to re-visit this issue, and the board voted in December to approve changes, which now must be ratified by the Office for Civil Rights, the federal overseer of the district’s plan. AISD officials say this could take up to a year, and the plan can be accepted, rejected or modified, according to our story.
Proposals address elementary and middle schools and should provide families in the neighborhood with more flexibility concerning where their children attend. For example, our story pointed out the plan includes an option of attending Carver Early Childhood Academy or Carver Elementary School (depending on the student’s grade level) or attend school at the campus where they are assigned.
Students also can choose to stay where they are with transportation provided in a proposal that would be phased out over a seven-year period. Finally, students can transfer to a school other than Carver Early Childhood Academy or Carver Elementary or the assigned school by using the district’s intra-district policy. Transportation is not provided with this option.
As far as the critical middle-school years, the proposal outlines a process where students in the Carver attendance zone can choose the feeder pattern they wish to follow. The decision is to be made by May 1 of a student’s fourth-grade year. As our story pointed out, once students choose a feeder pattern, they are permanently assigned to that pattern as long as they live in the Carver attendance zone. Any changes afterward would fall under the district’s transfer policy.
The proposals have gained traction with parents and advocates alike who favor an end to the busing of North Heights elementary school students. It is impossible to overestimate the impact of neighborhood schools upon the young minds that enter their doors. Likewise, a school that is just around the corner (compared to across town) adds to the comfort level of parents, who often become much more involved in the life and activities of the school.
There is no doubt that neighborhood schools breathe life into the communities they serve. The district’s decision to re-visit and revamp its policies to serve the best interest of students and families is a great step that federal authorities should endorse as quickly as possible.