Sept 2010 Column

Change is on the horizon for Hobbs schools. You can see it every day as construction progresses on the new Freshman High School and the Alternative Learning Center.  What’s not so obvious are the other changes that must occur as we restructure the way we teach our children.
That’s where you, parents and interested members of the public, come in.
When the Freshman High School opens its doors next August, all ninth-graders will move to the HHS campus. This shift accomplishes two things: It reinforces to our freshmen that they are part of the high school student body and earning - or failing to earn in some cases - credits toward graduation.
The move also frees up an entire school at a time when many of our elementary schools are filled to capacity and spilling over into portable classrooms. So, based on the recommendations of the Facility Assessment Community Team and education experts who have determined that a middle school concept provides the best environment for learning, HMS will rebuild an educational structure that has been in place for decades in our city. Elementary schools next year will instruct grades K-5 while sixth-graders will join 7th and 8th graders in attending one of three middle schools in town.
Those schools will be Highland, Houston and the current Freshman High. To the delight of many of its alumni, that building will shift back to its old name – Heizer. The easy part of this plan is that our district’s sixth grade teachers will move to the new middle schools. What’s not so easy - and where we need public input - is how to determine which students will attend those schools.
 For nearly a year HMS has relied on the expertise of a demographics expert to break the city into three, equally populated middle school districts. Earlier this year a  committee comprised of teachers, parents and one junior high school student boiled down the company’s 26 option list to two redistricting possibilities. But the difference between the two is night and day.
One redistricting solution would result in a nearly even mix of student ethnicities and income levels at all schools. Unfortunately, because of Hobbs building trends, dividing districts based on this option would mean bussing students from north Hobbs to south Hobbs, and, in many cases, separating students from their elementary classmates.
The second option is simple cookie-cutting and creates districts that send students to the school located nearest their home.
Logistically, the first plan makes no sense. But historically we’ve experienced achievement gaps in low-income minority schools. Ensuring that all schools have an equal mix of students should improve learning for all students. On the other hand,
the second option would mean a savings in transportation costs and would allow students to attend class with their friends from elementary school.
As an educator I favor a system which would create schools with balanced populations. But as a parent, I see the obvious inconvenience of attending after-school events or driving my child to a school farthest from my house for tutoring or other extracurriculars. (Bussing will be provided for students who live more than a mile from their school).           
Before the district moves forward, it needs your feedback on this important question. We’ll hold public hearings at each middle school location in October, compile those results and present a redistricting recommendation to the Hobbs School Board. Those hearings are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Oct. 7 at Heizer, 6 p.m. Oct. 14 at Houston and 6 p.m. Oct. 26 at Highland.
If you are unable to attend or would prefer to submit written comments, please e-mail me. Please weigh in on this important issue.Your opinion matters!
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