Parental firsts likely aren't as significant as the actual new experience for a child, but I'm guessing we'll remember the milestone better than they. At least for awhile.
This past week, Jennifer and I joined a few hundred other parents of kindergartners-to-be for a roundup at Hays High School. The August start might be four months away, but preparation is well under way. Not so much from our perspective, but USD 489 will be working with four elementary schools next school year instead of five. Administrators and teachers need to know how many total kindergartners they'll be working with, and where parents would prefer their children attend.
The whole parental choice component is something new for us, as neither of us have lived anywhere such an option existed. Even if we had grown up in Hays, we still wouldn't know what it was like. Back then, kids just went to school at whatever building was closest to them. If you didn't like it -- too bad. Options were limited to attending that school, switching to the Catholic school, or behaving so badly you got expelled -- and then had to scramble to meet the statutory dictates until you were 16.
Somewhere along the line things changed in Hays. Parents were given the option of where to drop their kids off or, up until this year, where a bus could drop them off. As I'm not sure when that option became available, I don't have comparative demographics to present between then and now.
But the now is readily available. Building data provided by the Kansas State Department of Education reveal interesting if not surprising statistics. The most recent figures are from the 2012-13 school year, but it's a safe bet they're similar to the current semester.
For example, Wilson Elementary School is 92.5 percent white, 4.8 percent other, and 2.8 percent African-American or Hispanic. Free and/or reduced lunch eligible children make up 29.6 percent of the student body.
Roosevelt is 91.9 percent white, 3 percent other and 5.2 percent Hispanic or African-American. The economically disadvantaged population is 42.8 percent.
O'Loughlin is 84.7 percent white, 9.4 percent other, and 5.8 percent African-American or Hispanic. Free and/or reduced lunches are available for 35.5 percent.
Lincoln is 76.3 percent white, 5.3 percent other, and 18.4 percent Hispanic or African-American. The disadvantaged population is 48.5 percent.
Washington is 41.7 percent white, 5.3 percent other, and 53 percent Hispanic or African-American. The economically disadvantaged population is 87.9 percent.
Granted, with Washington being the smallest of the five schools, it doesn't take large numbers to move percentages significantly. And it is the only building south of the railroad tracks, so its natural base draws from parents living near downtown or the university. Still, it seems more than coincidence and parental choice that regularly assembles such a dramatically different looking student body.
It comes as no surprise that supporters of Washington are extremely concerned about the upcoming assimilation into other buildings. The learning environment there has been outstanding -- and beneficial.
The number of licensed teachers doesn't seem to differ from school to school. Lincoln, Roosevelt and O'Loughlin all report 100 percent. Wilson and Washington's data was not available, but I would guess it's the same.
When it comes to student test scores, O'Loughlin had 97.5 percent testing at least proficient in reading and 94.3 percent in math. Roosevelt had 97.8 percent in reading and 90.4 percent in math. Wilson was 87.8 percent in reading; 77.3 in math. Washington was 82.1 reading; 73.2 math. Lincoln was 78.3 reading; 73.9 math.
We did not discover such information by attending the kindergarten roundup. In fact, I was surprised the principal from each school didn't get a chance to speak. All the information presented that night was general and applicable to all four surviving elementary schools. Following that, parents were instructed to take their completed forms to the individual buildings' table.
It was at that point a clear distinction emerged. There were parents who already had made their decision and more than likely had reserved a spot at the chosen school. And then there were parents who assumed the roundup was the beginning of the process. Given the number of people in the first category, frustration ensued for those in the second. There are waiting lists at some schools. With approximately 250 kids identified for kindergarten, and a target maximum of 23 per class, the existing 11 sections (three each at Roosevelt, O'Loughlin and Wilson, and two at Lincoln) should be enough. They just might not be distributed in such a way that all parents get to exercise the aforementioned parental choice. Or at least their first option.
We have Sophia's spot secured, so you can guess which group we were in. We over-plan for everything. Heck, we had her signed up for preschool shortly after she was born. We visited all three schools in our neighborhood, talked with the principals and toured the buildings.
Frankly, it would have been much easier if the district simply looked at our address and said: "You'll go to this school." Oh well, it probably is a good reminder of what lies ahead. Sophia is a member of the Class of 2028.
Patrick Lowry is editor and publisher
of The Hays Daily News.