MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

June 30, 2013

Neighborhoods key to new school attendance zones

District eliminates 'islands' used for desegregation

By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Muskogee Public Schools officials are seeking to give their elementary schools a more “neighborhood” focus.

New elementary school district boundaries, approved recently by the school board, remove most of the “islands” that were set up when the district bused for desegregation in the early 1970s.

The new boundaries apply only to students new to the district and kids entering kindergarten with no older siblings in elementary school. Students already attending an elementary school may continue to attend that school.

Superintendent Mike Garde said the new boundaries are part of the district’s effort to let students attend schools in their neighborhoods.

“We’re hoping to get more kids who want to walk or bike to school,” he said.

John Little, the district’s chief financial officer, said: “We tried to do it in the least intrusive way possible. We’re not saying that if you went to a school four or five years, you have to go to a new school.”

Little said the new boundaries could affect 200 kids a year, primarily those new to the district and kindergartners with no older siblings. As kids move to junior highs, all students living in the new school boundaries would attend that school, unless they transfer.

Little said the boundary changes were prompted partly by population changes in different areas.

For example, under the old boundaries, students living in Summit, south of Muskogee, were assigned to Grant Foreman Elementary on Muskogee’s east side. Under the new boundaries, they are assigned to Ben Franklin Science Academy on Muskogee’s west side.

“We had a bus on the west side of U.S. 69 already going to Ben Franklin,” Little said. “And the number of children living in Summit now is significantly lower than it was 25 years ago when we annexed them. So, since we already had the bus there, we moved the students to Ben Franklin.”

A Summit student who already attends Grant Foreman will still attend that school unless the student transfers to another school, Little said. And, although BFSA’s new area looks far larger than its previous one, it is mostly rural and sparsely populated.

Also, because of open transfer, students living in one elementary district might already be attending another school, Little said.

“Under open transfer, if you want to go to another school and there is space available, we allow you to go to that school,” he said.

Open transfer will continue under the new boundaries.

For example, students living in the area north of Shawnee Bypass around Whispering Pines Apartments near Walmart were assigned to Tony Goetz Elementary, Little said. However, many of the students already transferred to Harris-Jobe Elementary. Under the new boundary, students will be assigned to Harris-Jobe, he said.

The area bounded by Okmulgee Avenue, Military Boulevard, Junction and 24th streets was assigned to Creek Elementary, Little said.

“But the students were actually going to nine other elementary schools because of open transfer,” he said. “We have four or five buses in that little neighborhood.”

New students in the area will be assigned to Pershing Elementary, he said, adding that students still could apply for a transfer.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.