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Cherry Hill begins redistricting process for middle schools

Next town hall on the subject will take place in January

The township’s Middle School Redistricting Committee has recommended options four and five of those presented to the board of education at its Dec. 7 meeting.

Option four involved using Rosa International Middle School as a school solely for sixth graders, while seventh and eighth graders would attend either Carusi or Beck middle schools, based on the distance of the elementary school from the two buildings. 

Option five involves splitting students from Barton between Carusi  or Rosa International based on whether they live north (Carusi) or south (Rosa) of Route 70.

Each of the five options would face an obstacle with regard to Rosa, either because the projected number of students would be more than the building capacity or because the enrollment would be too low, making it inequitable. If the school is over its capacity, the building would have to be expanded.

The committee began its presentation with the district’s redistricting history and showed how the last major redistricting to happen was in 1998.

“You have to understand that Rosa (International Middle School), which wasn’t named that at that time, was the grand experiment,” explained Janet Cohen, administrative assistant to Superintendent Dr. Joseph Meloche. “And the district, with their proposal, didn’t know whether they would have enough students to sign up for Rosa to make it a viable option. But they also knew that they better come up with a plan if too many students enrolled, and hence, here is policy 511 7.1, which created the high-school open enrollment and also the Rosa lottery process.”

In November, the board revised a policy that changed Rosa from a magnet school that used a lottery system to allow any students within the sixth to eighth grade range to attend, to one assigned to students based on boundary guidelines beginning in July 2022. While the committee recommended those two options, it is up to the board whether they want to consider all options or tweak any of them. 

Other options included sending students from four elementary schools to each middle school based on proximity; sending an uneven amount of elementary-school students  to the middle schools based on proximity, with the exception of Knight students,  who would attend Carusi; and redistributing the number of schools to better meet building capacity.

The presentation showed a breakdown of each option’s strengths and weaknesses and a breakdown of enrollment by race and economically disadvantaged students to create comparative representation at each school.

Following the presentation, the board discussed how special education might be impacted and how it was factored into the breakdown, which the committee said it did take into consideration. But because of individual learning plans, the board was unable to compile data for specific students.

The board also discussed the potential of grandfathering kids in so they can graduate with the classmates they started with, since the changes would go into effect for the 2023-2024 school year. The idea was echoed by parents during later public comment.

To see how each school is specifically affected by redistricting, see the full presentation at https://www.chclc.org/

The following ideas were heard during the meeting’s public comments portion:

  • Redistricting by neighborhoods rather than by where the students attended elementary school
  • Weighing bus time more heavily
  • A question about whether the middle-school redistricting should have taken place after the elementary redistricting, and if it would skew the breakdown by race or economic disadvantage.
  • The negative effect of having an additional transition (in Option Four) on students after the disrupted education from COVID.

The district is seeking feedback on the recommended options 4 and 5 and other options  through Thought Exchange on the district website, which will be open through Jan. 21. 

The next board of education meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 21 at Cherry Hill West High School at 6:30 p.m.

The next town hall on the redistricting will be on Jan. 26, at a time to be determined.

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