Goal: ‘Truly neighborhood schools’

FD will change the elementary school boundaries

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Nate Clute, right, walks his two children, Jaden Clute, 9, and Cassie Clute, 7, home from Cooper Elementary School Friday afternoon while the two children enjoy their yo-yos during the trek.

In an effort to have more students attend the school closest to their respective neighborhood, the Fort Dodge Community School District is considering new boundaries for its elementary schools, according to Doug Van Zyl, FDCSD superintendent.

“Hopefully, we can really develop what would be considered truly neighborhood schools,” Van Zyl said.

New boundaries would mean changes for some families. The boundaries directly impact where the elementary school students are sent based on geographic location.

Van Zyl said some families will naturally be more attached to the school their children are already attending.

“You may have a road that divides a neighborhood, so one family may feel strongly about wanting to go to one, but based off of where the boundaries are drawn, they may be going to a different school than what they thought,” Van Zyl said. “The board is trying to be as up front as we can be, but we know students and families will be impacted.”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Jaxxon Gurnett, 7, center, a first-grader at Cooper Elementary School, walks home with his mom, Laci Gurnett Friday afternoon.

RSP and Associates has been hired by the district to reconfigure the boundaries. The professional educational planning firm has clients in Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

Any proposed changes would go into effect for the 2018-19 school year, Van Zyl said.

Van Zyl said the current boundaries are a hindrance to transportation efforts.

According to Van Zyl, 373 students do not attend the school closest to their homes.

More than 170 of those students use school transportation.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Copper Elementary School staff crossing guard Mary Rethwisch holds up traffic as the first student to leave school Friday afternoon makes a beeline for the sidewalk leading home.

“Transportation is the biggest issue you have with that because you may have a small pocket of kids that either we as a district have said we need to move you to another building because we are at capacity in another building,” Van Zyl said. “Well, then you have a small section of neighborhood wonder why one child gets picked up and transported and not another child? So that creates some confusion when it comes to who is actually getting bused and why.”

The opening of the new Duncombe elementary school is another reason the district is revisiting its boundaries, according to Van Zyl.

The new Duncombe Elementary School will have a capacity of about 450 students. Butler Elementary can also hold up to 450 students. Cooper Elementary School and Feelhaver Elementary School can each house about 230 students.

“We want to balance out attendance in other schools, so there is room for growth in all of our elementary schools,” he said.

The district also wants to be prepared for any potential growth when the Prestage pork processing plant being built in Wright County near Webster County goes online in the fall of 2018, Van Zyl said.

“We need to be proactive in dealing with possible growth with Prestage coming on board,” he said.

Even without factoring in Prestage, the district could see an increase in elementary students in the future.

About 284 kindergartners were enrolled in the district at the start of this school year. That’s an increase of about 30 from last year.

Housing is another consideration, specifically with the announcement of new construction on the former Theiss farm property in Fort Dodge.

A 55-unit apartment complex and 48 single-family homes could be added in that area, east of Williams Drive. About 74 single-family homes, 20 duplexes and 60 rowhomes in 10 buildings of six units each could be added on the west side of Williams Drive.

“That has a direct impact on where kids are going to be,” Van Zyl said. “The more construction, growth that takes place in our community will also drive how some of that enrollment and boundaries change.”

Students near the Theiss farm property attend Feelhaver.

“Feelhaver doesn’t have a boat load of extra space,” Van Zyl said.

One possibility in the reboundaring is moving those students to Duncombe, he said.

The public will have two meetings in the coming months to view proposed changes to the boundaries.

“We are working on setting those dates,” Van Zyl said. “The hope is that after Christmas in January the board would be able to take information from the community and can weigh that and come up with a final decision so we can begin working with parents and the community on awareness and any changes we would need to make for transportation.”