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District proposes River Crest boundary change

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education River Falls, 54022

River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

The Hudson School District's newest elementary school, River Crest, is filling up faster than anyone expected.

Less than five months since opening, the school is at 92 percent capacity, with 541 students. The school was built to hold 588 students and, based on projections last February, the school was expected to open with an enrollment of 478. Opening enrollment was around 535.

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All five sections of second grade are above the class-size guideline of 18-22 for grades K-2. All four sections of first grade are at 22 students as are three of the five sections of kindergarten.

The school district administration is proposing a change in the attendance boundary for River Crest to address the issue. The proposal calls for the neighborhood just south of I-94, east of the Ban Tara commercial district, west of Hwy. 35 and south of Hanley Road to become part of the Rock Elementary attendance area. The neighborhood is on the southern edge of the Rock attendance area and is located roughly halfway between the two schools.

The district says that as of its most recent account, 114 K-4 River Crest students live in the neighborhood. The plan allows for students who live in this area who are attending River Crest now to continue to attend the school until entering middle school, and transportation will be provided. But any preschool siblings or new students moving into the area from another district elementary or from outside of the district will attend Rock Elementary.

Parents of students now attending River Crest who live in the affected neighborhood will have the option to enroll their children at Rock if they wish to keep siblings together at the same school.

Parents and the public were asked for their comments and opinions on the plan as part of a "listening session" before school board members on Tuesday night before the regular board meeting. Deputy Superintendent Nancy Sweet made a report to the board at the meeting. The board is expected to vote on the proposal at its Feb. 10 meeting.

What happened?

Why is enrollment at River Crest larger than expected and why is it continuing to grow?

Sweet said the first problem was the size of the kindergarten class. The estimate for kindergarten class size is based on the size of the outgoing fifth-grade class districtwide. It was a pretty accurate estimator at the district's five other elementary schools but not at River Crest.

Sweet said that the district consulted with St. Croix County and municipal planners and developers about the potential for residential growth around Hudson. "Everyone told us that the most likely area would be in the towns of Hudson and St. Joseph impacting Hudson Prairie and Houlton. (The town of) Troy was not expected to see the growth that is has."

The district noticed the influx of students into the River Crest attendance area beginning last spring, continuing through the summer and fall with three students entering the school just last week after winter break.

Sweet said the information that was provided to the district using Edulog, the consulting firm that helped develop last year's new boundaries, was on target at every other school in the district except River Crest.

In hindsight, Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten said that if they had known earlier that the kindergarten class would be so large and that the development would be in Troy rather than in the town of Hudson, the district would have drawn the boundary differently last year to include more in Rock's boundary.

"I think there is a misconception out there that all of these numbers are out there for us to use, but that's not the case. This is a dynamic situation that regularly changes and that can prevent us from being as accurate as we would like to be," said Bowen-Eggebraaten.

The district did ask if any families would volunteer to return to Rock, but there were no takers.

Some parents in the affected neighborhood have already voiced their concern about the new plan (see letters to the editor on page 8A).

While students now attending River Crest can continue to do so through fifth grade, any siblings will be required to attend Rock Elementary, and families object to having elementary children attending separate schools.

Parents are also concerned about children who have already made the transition to a new school this fall have to do so again next fall. And with some students opting to stay at River Crest and others attending Rock, children in the same neighborhood will not be attending school together.

Sweet said that even though parents may not see it that way, they still have a choice as to where to send their children, whether that is to Rock or to Rock and River Crest.

Bowen-Eggebraaten said she understands parents' concerns about the proposal. "But as the district continues to grow, we will continue to face challenges like this. We have tried to find the best solution possible and still give parents some choice.... Our job is to provide equity of the educational experience for all of our students while making the maximum use of staff and our buildings."

The superintendent says she expects that the district will be at full capacity at the elementary level again unless growth in Hudson stops. "When and if that will happen, we just can't predict.

For more information about the proposed school boundary change, go to the district's Web site at www.hudson.k12.wi.us or call (715) 377-3702. A follow-up story on the listening session and the school board meeting will appear in next week's Star-Observer.

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