Heights board discussess options for increasing base

By Brian Sanders

What can be done to draw people to live in northern Jackson County and send their children to school in the Jackson Heights district?

One option discussed by USD 335 Board of Education members at a special Wednesday evening board retreat, held at Red Rock Guest Ranch near Soldier, was a day care center, with board members predicting that a large enough center could bring children into the district, even if their families didn’t live in the district.

Another option, board members noted, would be distributing a promotional video extolling the virtues of the Jackson Heights district to people looking for a new home north of Topeka. The only downside, board president David Allen noted, is the lack of “accessible housing” in the district for prospective families.

“How can we develop our communities to the benefit of our district?” Allen said.

Bringing new families into the district was just one topic of conversation at Wednesday’s retreat, in which District Superintendent and Elementary Principal Adrianne Walsh asked board members for suggestions to the district’s list of goals and priorities for the 2014-15 school year. Walsh also provided the board with an update on the district’s 2013-14 list of goals and priorities.

The list, updated every year by the district, is split into six categories — curriculum and instruction, personnel, school/community relations, student activities, operations and capital outlay. Each category is broken down into lists of long-range goals and short-range priorities, with most of the accomplishments on the 2013-14 list being noted in the short-range priority sections.

Short-range priorities that had been accomplished in the last year, Walsh said, included creation of the aforementioned promotional video, implementation of a greenhouse at the middle and high school level, lighting upgrades for the elementary parking lot and back sidewalk, replacement of a school bus and restroom upgrades in the high school commons area and at the football field.

One significant long-range goal from 2013-14 — the development of new math and grammar curricula at the elementary level — had been accomplished, according to Walsh’s list from last year. Board members’ suggestions will be added to the list, which will be modified and presented for approval this fall.

For the time being, board members voiced concerns about how to get more families to move into the district, and it had been suggested to give copies of the video to realtors in Holton and Topeka. But as Allen stated, trying to find houses and care facilities for prospective district families is somewhat “prohibitive.”

“There really is not a lot of accessible housing in our district,” Allen told the board. “We could put this video in the real estate offices in Topeka, and then we’ve got some potential, but then what do the buyers do? Buying acreage is not a really great option.”

One solution that had been discussed by board members at previous meetings involved the creation of a day care center, which Walsh said had been brought up in recent years when she attempted to obtain a grant for operation of a district day care center. However, she noted that the district did not get the grant, and new grant applications “haven’t come up again.” 

Still, board members showed favor to the idea of a day care center, with board member Melinda Wareham suggesting that a center “would bring people in, even if they didn’t actually live in the district.” Board member Doug Amon agreed, saying that a day care center “would be a draw, no doubt.”

But is there a place on the district’s upward 80 acres of land to put one? Board member Konrad Coe suggested the district could “donate a section of land” for construction of a day care center, but Amon countered that “it’s hard to take school funding and build something like that… You can’t, really.”

Middle and High School Principal Darren Shupe responded that there are some school districts in Kansas that have day care facilities on their properties, and Walsh suggested that “school-age children” could participate in a day care program if it were to be funded.