Rattlesnake Parent Boundary Study Meeting Summary

Rattlesnake Parent Boundary Study Meeting
5:30pm-6:30pm 2/20/2019
PTA representative notes (taken by Leigh G, PTA Co-President)

Attendance: 32 parents (best estimate from a quick count), 5 teachers, Principal Wright
Presentation and Q&A leader: Hatton Littman, MCPS Communications Director

The meeting was a full hour long, plus an additional 30 minutes of one-on-one questions, and therefore full minutes were not feasible. Below is a summary of some of the more important facts that were presented, the dominant themes, and particularly relevant questions, according to our abilities and best judgement.

Background as discussed and presented:

The demographic data already available shows that the population of the district will keep growing at least through 2023, at which time it may level out. It is currently thought that the district is likely to add 1000 elementary kids in the 10 year period from 2013-2023. The new demographic study to be released next week (2/25+/2019) should have more accurate and in depth information.

There are several reasons that Rattlesnake didn’t add lots more classrooms during the renovation from the 2015 bond, but the most simple explanation is that the best school capacity from the student, teacher, and district perspective is just under 500 students. This takes into account things like state accreditation standards, state based limits on individual classroom sizes, and the communities’ stated values in the 2013-2015 process to maintain friendly neighborhood schools, not mega schools.

How to get involved (see also our list on https://rattlesnakepta.org/2019/02/19/boundary-study-meeting-and-parent-representative-update/ ):

The meeting schedule is available on the district site (https://www.mcpsmt.org/elementaryschoolboundarystudy specifically page  https://www.mcpsmt.org/Page/13831) and is also posted on the PTA update from our school’s parent rep, here: https://rattlesnakepta.org/2019/02/19/boundary-study-meeting-and-parent-representative-update/ towards the bottom. The next Open House will be Monday, March 4; 6-8 pm at Russell School.

Anyone can comment on the Social Map, which is available here: https://www.mcpsmt.org/Page/13835 and you can comment more than once if you’d like. The “pins” are put where you want them- they don’t automatically show up on your house or anything. Anyone can see the comments, but only the district employees can see the emails that are entered as part of the commenting process.

Reach out to principal Pam Wright (pcwright@mcpsmt.org) and/or our parent representative (kristie.scheel@gmail.com) if you’d prefer to comment that way.

Next steps in the process, in general:

The new demographic data should be released next week (2/25+/2019) and will be put onto the district’s website along with all the other documents.

The next Advisory Committee meeting is 2/28/2019 and our representative Kristie Scheel will be there, as well as our librarian Robyn Nygren (she is also on the committee). At the end of the Advisory Committee meeting there is an opportunity for public comment, if desired, and anyone can attend as an observer and then use that opportunity to make their voice heard.

The next Open House will be Monday, March 4; 6-8 pm at Russell School. You do NOT need to attend for the full two hours, you can just come and look at the posters and talk to people on your own time frame.

After these three things are completed, the various options for the boundaries, and how those boundaries will be rolled out, will be considered by the Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee will also dive into questions like how long currently enrolled kids will be grandfathered into their current schools. For a short list of how these decisions will be formed and framed, see the information from our school’s rep Kristie https://rattlesnakepta.org/2019/02/19/boundary-study-meeting-and-parent-representative-update/. For the full Framework as written by the district, find that information here: https://www.mcpsmt.org/cms/lib/MT01001940/Centricity/Domain/3808/Framework%20for%20Selecting%20Boundaries.pdf

Towards the end of the process, likely in early to mid April, the Advisory Committee will whittle down all the options and ideas to likely three choices, which they will then work through to produce a final recommendation. They will then present the final recommendation to the elected School Board of Trustees. To learn about the Trustees, please visit: https://www.mcpsmt.org/domain/34

Comments and Questions by Parents and Teachers at the meeting:

There was a question about what grades at Rattlesnake had the most leveling (which is when later enrolling kids have to go to a different school due to high numbers). Hatton and Pam answered that right now, at Rattlesnake, that is grades 1, 3, and 4. Hatton explained that 1st grade is often a pinch point for schools due to kids that go to private kindergartens, and families moving to new homes while the kids are younger. As a whole, Rattlesnake is one of 4 elementary schools at 95% capacity.

Several parents expressed serious concerns along the theme that the middle school boundaries are not being studied and/or altered simultaneously. The conversation around this included the acknowledgement that it would be a lot more difficult to do these studies all at once because of the tremendous complexity, and that the staff time would be immense if they were undertaken simultaneously.  

The time scale of this process was a concern in several ways. One parent expressed frustration that some documents said the changes could theoretically begin as soon as Fall 2019, but other documents and verbal statements were not as clear and no set timeframe is being discussed right now. There was also concern that the process was too rushed- with the three advisory committee and open houses in three months. At the same time, it was mentioned that as each year goes by, more kids end up attending non-neighborhood schools due to capacity issues (“leveling”), and so keeping the process moving in order to help alleviate that is important.

There was some frustration and confusion regarding one of the older (2013) walk-to-school maps that has been used as a reference in this process (specifically, this map:  https://www.mcpsmt.org/cms/lib/MT01001940/Centricity/Domain/1378/ES%20Walking%20and%20BikingMap.pdf ) as the circles appear to exclude the Lower Rattlesnake. Parents were unhappy with the visual implications of the map. This seemed to be mostly confusion on the actual professional intent of the map (1 mile is the practical limit for walking to school as depicted on that map) vs what the other impressions of the map may be (for instance: that the circles are the priority areas, or represent actual neighborhoods, or guaranteed attendance, etc). Someone joked that due to the shape of the Rattlesnake Valley, we deserved an oval, not a circle. Jokes aside, this map was considered visually misleading and frustrating by several parents, as this map seemed to confirm the feeling that some parts of the Rattlesnake School attendance area, especially in the Lower Rattlesnake, were being left out of the big picture of the neighborhood.

East Missoula was a big topic of discussion. The question of when and how Mount Jumbo will return to use as an elementary school does not have an answer nor estimate at this time. The demographic study to be released 2/25+/2019 may shed some light on this topic, or may not, it is impossible to say without the study in hand.

The commute and relative isolation of East Missoula was discussed, especially as it relates to buses driving around the base of Mt Jumbo. At least seven people from East Missoula were in attendance (exact count unknown). The fact that the East Missoula neighborhood has been busing kids for more than 20 minutes since 2005- which is one of the values sets that this study seeks to reduce- was mentioned as important to remember.

The need to improve outreach to East Missoula families was brought up by more than one person. Suggestions included more flyers in Boom folders, posting flyers in community hotspots (the River of Life coffee shop, the Oles, etc), using the leaderboard that the fire department manages, giving a quick update at neighborhood council meetings, and other community based approaches.

The Mount Jumbo facility itself was discussed. Improvements to the front entry security will be needed, but the facility and grounds in general is in good serviceable condition. Once Mount Jumbo is determined to be a priority, these final renovations would be brought into discussion and budgeting by the district.

Prescott School was mentioned briefly in the context that the district will definitely not be reopening that school as a school facility. The renovation and rehabilitation needs of that historic structure are beyond the scope of what the district will engage in. It is also well known by the general community that Missoula International School intends to move to their future facility (roughly, near Osprey Stadium), out of Prescott School, in the next few years.

The various scenarios that parents have been independently discussing via private texts and emails were listed and mentioned- including the ideas of a K-2 3-5 split for Rattlesnake and Jumbo, adjusting the boundary somewhere into the Lower Rattlesnake to attend at Lowell, and others. These scenarios have not been discussed by the Advisory Committee or Administration at this point. Hatton reminded the group that in general, all ideas are being opened up as part of the information gathering process, which means it is theoretically possible these ideas and scenarios could be considered among all the options. After all options are determined and discussed, the Advisory Group will apply the values and framework to evaluate them each. This will take place in the next two months (late Feb, all of March, early April). To remind yourself of the framework, visit:  https://www.mcpsmt.org/cms/lib/MT01001940/Centricity/Domain/3808/Framework%20for%20Selecting%20Boundaries.pdf

“Grandfathering” of kids into schools was discussed on multiple occasions. There was discussion on how, essentially, the more you grandfather in kids, the slower the transition to new borders and more equal attendance will be. The fact that the Advisory Council has a framework with which to make decisions on this was mentioned.

Whether or not future Mount Jumbo district residents will be given the same grandfathering options to Rattlesnake was a stated concern as submitted to the PTA email- Hatton indicated that the scenario of opening Mount Jumbo and creating a new attendance boundary between Rattlesnake and East Missoula neighborhoods would be held to the same grandfathering standards as all other boundary decisions, and not a special case or different process.

For more information, see the PTA’s prior post on this subject: https://rattlesnakepta.org/2019/02/19/boundary-study-meeting-and-parent-representative-update/  or the official district clearinghouse for this study at https://www.mcpsmt.org/elementaryschoolboundarystudy 

2 thoughts on “Rattlesnake Parent Boundary Study Meeting Summary

  1. Maria Mangold says:

    I attended the info session and I don’t remember hearing the scenario of “adjusting the boundary somewhere into the Lower Rattlesnake to attend at Lowell” being mentioned at all. If this is an option being considered, I would strongly oppose it. Lower Rattlesnake residents pay high property taxes just as our Upper Rattlesnake neighbors do; we were attracted to purchase a home in the neighborhood in large part because of Rattlesnake Elementary’s reputation. My children could safely walk to Prescott School, but that is not an option. I would strongly favor the Mt. Jumbo and Rattlesnake Elementary grade division (K-2, 3-5) to splitting up the neighborhood.

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