Thousands of Rockford middle and high school students are walking new hallways this year. Where they go to learn algebra and history is now determined by where they live, instead of where they choose. But the district's transition from school choice to attendance zones isn't over yet. Tuesday, board members will review committee recommendations on how to carry out the final phase.
"It will be interesting now to see whether they've been able to fit this square peg of elementary schools into the round hole of middle schools," says Rockford School Board Vice President Jay Nellis.
The recommendations establish "clusters" of elementary schools that feed into higher grades, instead of specific boundary lines. Nellis says it would be hard to draw lines because under the current outdated system, some schools are under-populated while others are vastly overcrowded. But for some parents, concerns over the transition run deeper than logistics.
"It further isolates and segregates our community. They said that zones would foster neighborhoods, but my kids know the kids in our neighborhood. Who they don't know are the kids in the other neighborhoods and i think that's really important to get a sense of community, you need to step outside of where you are," says Rockford parent Lisa Jackson.
Jackson worries schools in lower income areas will never provide as good an education as wealthier schools that have more resources and attract more experienced teachers.
Nellis says school leaders will be on guard against a relapse into inequitable schools: "If we don't allow that to happen then it really shouldn't matter how your children are assigned to schools. They should all be top quality schools."
Jackson hopes to see that vision become reality. She says she and a group of concerned community members are monitoring the situation carefully. If inequity arises under school zones. They may consider legal action. A 1989 race discrimination suit started school choice in the first place.
Another concern among some parents is that some elementary schools will be moved or closed, to accomodate new purposes. There will be several public forums before a final plan is approved. The transition could happen in 08-09 at the earliest.