SHERIDAN — Changes to local elementary school boundaries are likely coming soon.
Due to enrollment increases at Henry A. Coffeen Elementary School in recent years, boundary shifts will occur to make student populations more even in Sheridan County School District 2 beginning in the 2019-20 school year.
As a result of the changes, Coffeen Elementary would likely lose about 50 students, while the other four elementary schools would see slight upticks or downticks in enrollment.
The SCSD2 board of trustees heard information about potential boundary changes during its March and April meetings and received updates from SCSD2 assistant superintendent Scott Stults during its Monday meeting as well.
Stults was initially going to present changes for final approval at Monday’s meeting but moved the decision back one month after hearing extensive feedback from parents potentially affected by the changes. The board is now scheduled to make a final decision during its regular board meeting June 17.
At the April 8 board meeting, Stults initially presented three possible changes.
One: Meadowlark Elementary School’s boundary would expand to include Gladstone and Sumner Streets beginning at East College Avenue and going south until the streets end. That would move 14 students from Coffeen to Meadowlark.
Two: Sagebrush Elementary School’s boundary would expand to include the Stadium Apartments located west of Mydland Road and north of Fifth Street. That would move 17 students from Highland Park Elementary School to Sagebrush.
Three: Woodland Park Elementary School’s boundary would expand to include Carlin, South Canby, South Carrington, Frank, Ponderosa, and Washington Streets from East College Avenue going south until the streets end. That would move 26 students from Coffeen to Woodland Park.
At Monday’s board meeting, Stults said the district received the most feedback on this potential change. Students in that area would have to travel about three-and-a-half miles to Woodland Park despite residing about a half-mile from Coffeen. If that change occurred, Stults there would be a specific bus route for those students to travel directly from their homes to Woodland Park.
These three proposed changes would generate the following enrollment adjustments next year: Coffeen will decrease from 369 to 320 students. Highland Park will decrease from 323 to 309 students. Meadowlark will increase from 321 to 323 students. Sagebrush will increase from 306 to 315 students. Woodland Park will increase from 318 to 324 students.
Stults said all parents who would be affected by those three changes have been contacted either by him, a school principal or school secretary. He also said the changes should not impact staffing at any schools.
Stults aims to be sensitive and empathetic throughout the process.
“It’s extremely complicated,” Stults said. “It’s very, very sensitive, and we understand that. I am extremely empathetic to the situation and that we know that parents and children are vested in the school that they currently attend.”
At Monday night’s board meeting, Stults mentioned four additional changes that could be considered. Those options are: shifting boundaries to move the Morrison Ranch subdivision from Meadowlark’s attendance area to Woodland Park’s attendance area; shifting boundaries to move the Aspen Grove subdivision from Meadowlark to Woodland Park; increasing the north boundary of Meadowlark from Eighth Street to 11th Street, which would move about 14 students from Coffeen to Meadowlark; decreasing part of Coffeen’s western boundary from 11th Street to Fort Road and moving that to the Sagebrush attendance area.
All students in fourth and fifth grades during the 2019-20 school year and their younger siblings impacted by the changes will be allowed to stay at their current schools until the older sibling completes fifth grade. At that time, the younger children must attend their new neighborhood school.
Parents would also be responsible for providing transportation for their children who stay at their current school.
When the changes are finalized, Stults said communication lines between elementary schools will be open so families can learn more about the new school and vice versa.
“Not just saying that [a child’s new school] is a great school, but then actually being able to attend that school and to see that school and to physically walk through it and have those connections, is vitally important,” Stults said. “… Not knowing also increases anxiety. If we can provide more familiarity with the child and the parent to the school and do all of that prior to the first (school) day in August, then we think we can aid in that transition.”
SCSD2 trustee Wayne Schatz thanked Stults Monday night for his sensitivity to students’ needs.
“That’s where it really counts, is the students’ needs,” Schatz said. “… I know it’s tough on families to switch schools.”
The last time boundary changes occurred in SCSD2 was ahead of the 2012-13 school year. Those shifts were done to increase enrollment at Coffeen, but it was an overcorrection that is being addressed now.
In the April 8 board meeting, SCSD2 superintendent Craig Dougherty mentioned that families may not want to leave Coffeen, which is a good problem to have.
“There will be probably a parent or two that will give you a jingle, probably not on the happy side of things,” Dougherty said to the board. “That’s a great thing. I mean, what a wonderful thing to have that people don’t want to leave Coffeen.”
Stults said the discussions this year have mostly remained cordial.
“I’ve had conversations (in previous years) that have been much, much stronger, and much more unprofessional,” Stults said. “… Parents have been unbelievably understanding. They have been extremely professional in articulating their concerns, and that’s been much appreciated, because this can be extremely emotional and emotionally-driven. And, putting on your parent hat, you understand that. So that’s why it’s critically important that hopefully they feel like they’ve been listened to and have been heard.”
SCSD2 has also tried to forecast future population increases so it doesn’t have to make changes again in a few years. Stults said the process involves educated guesses but is an inexact science.
“Part of this is trying to look into a crystal ball and speculating — where are the families going to be, where are they going to stay, how many of these are transient families — to try to create a border that is going to address all of these moves and changes,” Stults said.
Stults acknowledged the difficulty for both students and their families.
“We’re asking them to change, and that’s hard,” Stults said. “The solace in that is that we can guarantee that they are going to get a quality education at their new school. That’s the confidence that makes this conversation easier, if there is such a thing. We can guarantee them — and I don’t use that word lightly — that their new school will provide them exactly that.”
Dougherty shared comments about the recent death of six-year-old Esperanza Lagunes-Aarstad, a former Woodland Park student who died last month due to injuries suffered during an incident with a school bus at Coffeen Elementary.
“Losing Esperanza is devastating to say the least, and we continue to mourn the loss and pray for the family in their time of grief,” Dougherty said.
He said the community rallied around the tragedy and expressed appreciation toward first responders, counselors, psychologists, the transportation department and staff at Coffeen and Woodland Park.
“Esperanza was a bright little light in her Woodland Park kindergarten class,” Dougherty said. “Her classmates will miss her, her school will miss her, and her family grieves … To everyone who has lent support, and it’s been too many to mention here, we just want to say thank you and we appreciate your prayers.”
The board also held a moment of silence for Lagunes-Aarstad before the meeting.