There will be one less classroom available for kindergarten at Ames School in Riverside next year, so some incoming kindergarten students who live in the Ames attendance area will have to go to another school.
Forty-four kindergarten students have registered and next year Ames will only have space for two kindergarten classes. Riverside Elementary School District 96 policy calls for no more than 20 students in a kindergarten class.
While former Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis proposed moving an entire section of kindergarten from Ames School to Blythe Park School, the new co-interim superintendents came up with another solution.
Their plan was to follow existing district policy and assign overflow Ames students to the nearest District 96 school with available space under the district’s existing flexible boundary policy.
So, as of June 29 seven incoming kindergarten students who live in the Ames attendance area have been assigned to another elementary school: three to Blythe Park School and four to Central School.
“We just followed the policy of proximity,” said Interim Superintendent Griff Powell. “We were able to get a formula that showed us walking distance from their homes to each building.”
District 96 Board of Education President Jeff Miller, an physicist by training, found an algorithm used in a school district in California that could precisely measure the walking distance from a student’s home to all District 96 schools.
The interim superintendents used this algorithm to determine which students would be moved from Ames. The students who lived closet to other schools were reassigned, along with two or three volunteers. Officials also followed the district’s policy allowing a student with an older sibling in one school to also attend that school.
“I personally think an algorithm is a fair way to do things,” Miller said.
Powell was impressed by the algorithm.
“Never saw it before in all my years,” Powell said. “It was very helpful.”
None of the students will have to travel much farther to get to school.
“In some cases the distance to the school they’re moving to might be just a couple minutes more than it would have been to Ames, but it’s all within reason,” Interim Superintendent Patrick Patt said.
The problem arose because last year Ames had only two sections of fifth grade, but next year Ames will have three sections of fifth grade and every other grade, except for kindergarten.
Last year the school was able to accommodate three sections of kindergarten. Ames has only 16 classrooms, so something had to give.
As of June 29, there have been 37 students assigned to kindergarten at Ames, 40 to the three sections of kindergarten at Central, 16 to Blythe Park and 21 to Hollywood School. The school board is likely to override the class size policy for Hollywood, because parents there generally prefer not to send their children to elementary school across First Avenue.
Powell said that by following the existing policy there was no need to hire an additional kindergarten teacher.
“We have seven sections of kindergarten approved,” Powell said. “We don’t see us going for eight.”
More kindergarten students likely will enroll as the start of school approaches, but Patt and Powell say it is extremely unlikely that the total will reach 160 students, which would trigger the need to hire an additional half-time teacher.
“I would hope that anybody who has a little munchkin out there would have come in and registered by now,” Patt said. “It’s hard to prepare when you don’t know how many kids are coming in.”
In the long term, the district is forming a Facilities Planning Committee and is looking for community members who might want to consider how to deal with the space challenges the district may face in the future.
“The charge is going to be taking a look at these issues and come back with recommendations in the fall,” Powell said.
Next year, the interim superintendents say that they will closely follow district policy and hope to have kindergarten assignments made by the end of spring break. Those who register later might have to be assigned a school outside their attendance area.
“We’re going to follow the actual policy,” Powell said. “As we looked into it, the actual date of registration and placement of students was not followed. The placement should have occurred by spring break.”