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School ‘proximity’ plan gets nod

By Staff | Jan 16, 2020

The School District of Lee County will explore a redistricting plan that would keep elementary school students a little closer to home.

The school district, at its Tuesday board meeting, unanimously approved the hiring of Davis Demographics and Planning, Inc. for its Proximity Student Enrollment District Plan for elementary schools.

Rob Spicker, district spokesperson, said the goal is to shrink the school choice option to four to six closest elementary schools to their home, instead of more than a dozen. For example he said in the East Zone, subzone two, there are 17 elementary schools and more than a dozen in the subzone two for the south and west zones.

“The board hired a consultant that will help us develop a new proximity zone plan for our elementary schools,” Spicker said. “We hope that while we are working through this project for elementary, we might be able to manage this program . . . manage it for ourselves if we decide to use it for middle and high school.”

The four-year contract, beginning on Jan. 14, 2020 through Jan. 13, 2024, includes renewal options for two additional one-year periods. The cost of $280,000 is for the first year elementary proximity plan for Jan. 14, 2020 to Jan. 13, 2021.

If it is decided to use the firm for phase two, middle schools, and phase three, high schools, the board would have to approve spending additional money.

Spicker said the goal is to roll out the new proximity plan in August 2022 when parents are making school choices for the reduced proximity plan for elementary schools.

An advantage of keeping students closer to home is shorter bus rides, which may allow the district to make other adjustments to have fewer students waiting in the dark for the bus.

“If we are able to change dramatically the elementary schools, it could have affects on transportation and ripple through the rest of the district,” Spicker said.

A meeting was held for the school board on Jan. 10 to further discuss the Proximity Enrollment District Plan.

One of the topics discussed was hiring a someone local to work with the district to help with marketing community engagements.

Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins said although the nationally recognized consultant expert will be part of getting out in the community and meeting with community groups, the district would like to have someone be the face of the district to share the information.

“We do need this role to go out and engage our community. This is about all types of community engagement issues district wide. We want one face for community engagement in Lee County,” he said.

Adkins went on to explain that working with the consulting firm, the district will not only gain knowledge, but have training with proximity. He said it allows the district to have in-house individuals, such as those working in the planning department, who already do this type of work, to gain that additional expertise.

Adkins said the district started with a boundary system, but with constant growth, the boundaries changed every year. In the mid 2000s, he said they had three zones — south, west and east — and decided to move towards subzones to move closer to proximity, the mechanism used to assign students to a school.

Cape Coral and North Fort Myers are in the West Zone. Lehigh Acres is in the East Zone. Elementary school children who live on the islands already typically attend the school in their community.

“We engaged a firm to help us with that work. It worked out really well because we relied on their expertise while they trained staff at that time,” Adkins said. “We are going an additional step. We are engaging a firm that has expertise in doing this. Part of what you are paying for is that natural learning staff is going to get — working with the operational team, planning department and community engagement person.”

The movement, according to the district is to take the best of all worlds, creating a community concept with transportation as a primary lever, while conducting a balancing act of education, socioeconomics and community.

“Proximity-based student assignment gets us to a point where we have more diversity,”Adkins said.