April 22, 2024

Newton may prohibit in-district transfers by next school year

Teachers say in-district transfers let them take on dual roles of parent and educator

Emilee Brisel, a first-grade teacher at Woodrow Wilson Elementary, speaks to Newton school board members on March 25 at the E.J.H. Beard Administration Center.

Teachers pleaded with Newton school board members this past week to consider voting against what they assumed would be upcoming action that would likely limit or outright prohibit staff from enrolling their children in the building they teach if they reside in a home that is within the boundary lines of another building.

In other words, if an Aurora Heights Elementary teacher lives in the boundaries of Thomas Jefferson Elementary, the proposed rule change would no longer allow their student to attend Aurora Heights. Three individuals at the school board meeting on March 25 spoke in favor of in-district transfers.

Brooke Kuker, a kindergarten teacher at Emerson Hough Elementary, said her children have been able to attend the same elementary school as her since 2015. She is grateful the policy allows after-school routines to be less stressful, and it also lets her take on the roles of mother and teacher simultaneously.

“And not feel like I’m cutting one short,” Kuker said during open forum at the Newton school board meeting. “As a kindergarten teacher, I need to be in the classroom. There is a chunk of work I cannot take home with me … Having my son, Grant, with me in the classroom right after school allows me to multi-task.”

When it comes time for parent-teacher conferences, Kuker said she is able to get her son home to the babysitter and get back to Emerson Hough to meet with her son’s teacher before going straight to her own conferences. If she had to travel for her son’s conference it would cut into her own meetings with parents.

“It’s very hard to pull things off,” Kuker said. “I’m not sure of the reasoning behind the possible change. Possibly due to the new boundary lines to make things even? My first thought on that is I feel like I, along with some other people here … we work very hard for students and the district.”

From her perspective, in-district transfers are a benefit to the school and to the community, and she said it may even attract families to the district.

Emilee Brisel, a first-grade teacher at Woodrow Wilson Elementary, said her son has been excitedly waiting to come to school with his mom for years. Emilee was, too. But she is disappointed to hear in-district transfers may not be allowed by next year. Historically, teachers have been able to do so for some time.

“I’ve been at the district eight years,” she said. “The entire time I’ve been with the district this has been the situation. Like I said, I’ve been really excited and so has my whole family for our son to be able to attend kindergarten at the school next fall. We’re really discouraged to hear this now might not be the case.”

Emilee was more upset teachers found out this information following the placement survey that was sent by district administrators. To her, it is not reflective of the school board’s commitment to be open and honest with all stakeholders in a timely manner, which is something they recite at every meeting.

She also heard a rumor a shuttle would be in place for teachers, but Emilee was not comfortable putting her 5-year-old on a shuttle to be driven across town when he could instead walk down the hallway and have his day at kindergarten in the building where she teaches.

“It just kind of seems unfair that someone who is not a resident of Newton can open enrollment their child in the school district based on Iowa Code 282.18, but our own teachers residing in the community could not,” Emilee said. “So I just would really ask our board to please do right by our teachers.”

Dustin Brisel, an officer on the Newton Police Department and the husband of Emilee Brisel, said both he and his wife are Cardinal graduates and are happy to live in the community. But Dustin is not comfortable with his 5-year-old walking a mile-and-a-half to his school building next year.

If the school district is worried about saving money, he argued the shuttle may not be best idea. By letting teachers enroll their kids in the building they work, there is no need to spend money on shuttles or drivers, he said. As a police officer, Dustin’s hours change and his kids are too young to be left at home.

“We’re going to have the same issue with our 9-month-old here in a few years when he joins the district,” he said. “Please consider allowing these teachers to continue open enrolling kids to the school they teach at. They give a tremendous amount of hours to this district and I think that’s the least that can be done.”

The school board’s approval of the new district boundaries during and following the building configurations over the next few years have laid the groundwork for the removal of in-district transfers. Newton Superintendent Tom Messinger did confirm with Newton News that action will be considered at a future meeting.

“It is going to be a board discussion with possible action at an upcoming meeting,” he said. “We have families — both staff families and school district families — that have inquired about the future of in-district transfers. And now that the boundaries are set, that’s going to be our next discussion.”

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.