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Grade Configurations - December 2016
By Leslie Wright

Leslie Wright, member of the Facilities Master CommitteeI joined the Cedar Rapids Community School District Master Facilities planning process in September of this year. I said ‘yes’ to this opportunity because both of my kids have had the opportunity to be educated in this district. I value what they have received and see the challenges that our district faces every day. I also said ‘yes’ to this opportunity because our schools are the heart of who we are and who we become as a community and I want to do my part in shaping that, both now and in the future.

I received a subcommittee assignment to serve with several others focused on how our student grade levels are configured.  This includes the alignment of District boundaries at the elementary, middle school and high school levels. These are two challenging topics. Several of us on the team had experiences -- both good and bad -- with the last boundary changes. The discussions were passionate and reflected all our different perspectives. Everyone in the room – parents, district staff, teachers and interested community members – came back to the same grounding principles.  These three essential pillars are 1) excellent academics, 2) a positive culture and 3) sustainable economics for the district.  Essentially, these pillars keep us focused on what would be best for the kids.

These subcommittee conversations are only one part of the process as the district works towards a master facilities plan. After our conversations, public focus groups will be held.   All the subcommittees of the master facilities planning group will bring their work together and create an integrated plan based on research, community input and our guiding beliefs.

Our subcommittee was asked to consider the following:

  • What are our community values?
  • How would we prioritize boundary criteria?
  • What improves the student experience?
  • How do we define neighborhood as it pertains to schools?

After many hours of conversation and reflection, the team created two sets of belief statements to guide our collective decision-making. Here are some examples of those belief statements.

Boundary Criteria Belief Statements

  • We believe the district should utilize their resources to provide optimal student-centered opportunities to learn and be successful.
  • We believe boundaries should preserve students’ sense of community.
  • We believe boundary criteria should be based on the teaching and learning need.
  • We believe in phasing in changes which do not increase district operational costs.
  • We believe and understand that a building may look underutilized for the first 3 years based on demographic changes and future growth.
  • We believe that different criteria need to be established for Elementary School, Middle School, and High School.
  • We believe in making a full commitment to learning options.
  • We believe in curriculum options that help students identify their strengths and interests.

Grade Configuration:

  • We believe that the grade configuration should be determined by the learning needs of students.
  • We believe that feeder teams create and maintain quality relationships between students, teachers, and parents.  This is vital.
  • We believe in curriculum options that recognize and honor different types of student learning styles.
  • We believe, acknowledge and encourage different rates of learning.
  • We believe the ideal number of sections at each school should be between 4 to 5 sections where there should be no more than 25 students in each class.
  • In middle school, we believe there should be between 250 and 300 students per grade for a total building capacity at each school between 750 and 900 students.
  • In high school, we believe there should be between 400 and 450 students per grade for a total building capacity at each school between 1,600 and 1,800.
  • We believe there should be minimal transitions for students.

These are beliefs that are student-centered.  They are designed to support the recommendations of the other teams that will come to us with their recommendations about student learning and other key factors in the master facilities planning process. If you would like to share your thoughts and participate in this process, please watch for the public focus groups that will be announced soon. The issues we face are challenging. All of us will be laser-focused on how we create the kind of academic environment and culture that equips all our kids to be college- and career-ready. We must also create a plan that is financially sound in a challenging economic environment. Solutions like that will take creativity and, more than anything, trust. So I invite you to lend your voice but also to extend these many good people your trust in building the future of the district at the heart of our community.

Leslie Wright is a CRCSD parent and Vice President of Community Building at United Way of East Central Iowa;