Pocatello-Chubbuck patrons push back at prospect of nixing ‘school of choice’ policy

POCATELLO — The Pocatello-Chubbuck School District is facing blowback from patrons over the prospect of nixing its “school of choice” policy and carving up new mandatory boundaries for high schoolers.

An 18-member committee last month recommended ditching the policy, which lets incoming freshmen choose which of the district’s three high schools — Highland, Century or Pocatello — they want to attend.

Trustees have yet to vote on the potential shakeup, which is aimed at balancing out enrollment disparities and curbing socioeconomic gaps between the schools.

But a slew of local parents have been voicing concerns on social media.

“Who cares where you bought a house and choose to live,” Pocatello-Chubbuck parent Michelle Mitchell wrote on Facebook Nov. 30. “The (district) is choosing you and your new boundaries in an attempt to improve ‘a number.'”

Here’s what patrons should know about the possible changeup:

Who will be affected?

It’s hard to say, since trustees won’t likely vote on either the open-enrollment policy or boundary change until January.

But current enrollment numbers reveal that hundreds of families could see a change. Some 1,050 students are taking advantage of the district’s open-enrollment policy. Here’s a breakdown of the numbers, by school:

  • 235 Century students live in Highland’s boundaries
  • 247 Century students live in Pocatello’s boundaries
  • 159 Highland High students live in Century’s boundaries
  • 73 Highland High students live in Pocatello’s boundaries
  • 155 Pocatello students live in Century’s boundaries
  • 175 Pocatello students live in Highland’s boundaries

The policy provides families with flexibility, but it also skews enrollment. Currently, more than 1,600 students attend Highland, more than 1,200 students attend Century, but only about 1,000 students attend Pocatello.

These numbers are especially troublesome for educators at Highland, where much of the district’s population growth has occurred over the past decade, said Pocatello-Chubbuck spokeswoman Shelley Allen.

“Right now, if all of students in Highland’s boundaries chose to go to Highland, we couldn’t accommodate them,” Allen said.

Would students have to attend the school tied to their newly drawn boundary?

Yes, with few exceptions.

Allen reiterated that the district would retain a school-transfer policy, but only on a case-by-case basis and with administrative approval.

Several factors would have to be considered, she said, from disciplinary infractions to student attendance to sporting rules.

The committee has yet to recommend whether next year’s incoming freshmen, sophomores, or both, would be subject to the new boundary rules.

Where are the newly proposed boundaries?

To further minimize the enrollment gap among the schools, committee members proposed reshaping the district’s current high school boundaries.

This change would affect patrons in two major parts of the district:

Proposed high school boundaries. (Click to enlarge.)
  1. Students living in Chubbuck, south of Reservation Road and west of Hawthorne Road, would switch from Highland’s boundaries to Pocatello’s.
  2. Century and Pocatello students living in a smaller swath north of Alameda Road and west of Hawthorne Road would switch to Highland.

Pocatello-Chubbuck administrators estimate that the proposed boundary change would boost Pocatello’s enrollment to 1,182 students, while slightly reducing enrollment at both Century and Highland to 1,140 and 1,579, respectively.

Click here to view the district’s current high school boundaries.

Is it all about balancing enrollment?

No. Administrators are also interested in reducing socioeconomic disparities between the three high schools.

Pocatello High School, located in the heart of the city’s historic Old Town area, serves a much higher ratio of free-and-reduced lunch recipients. Here’s a comparison of students that received free-and-reduced lunch at all three high schools in 2016-17:

  • Pocatello: 48 percent
  • Century: 37 percent
  • Highland: 28 percent

Committee members believe that extending Pocatello’s boundaries north into a sea of Chubbuck’s newer, middle-class neighborhoods will level out the school’s higher share of poorer students. Moving Century and Pocatello students from neighborhoods north of Alameda Road and west of Hawthorne Road into Highland’s boundaries would further reduce this disparity.

Will patrons have a say?

Yes. Allen said trustees will soon begin collecting public feedback at both district meetings and via a dedicated email account.

“The school board will take input and consider this information before they vote,” she said.

Allen didn’t say when patrons would be able to start providing feedback.

The committee is also currently mulling middle school boundary changes, but hasn’t yet finalized a proposal.

Stay with Idaho Education News for more on this developing story. 

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

Devin was formerly a senior reporter and editor for Idaho Education News and now works for INL in communications.

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