“I put myself in their shoes, and it’s a little unusual to be the only group in that [Northwest] junior high that is not going to West. They’re coming to City. I think of how that would feel if it were my child,” City High Principal John Bacon said. “I definitely feel personally responsible for making it an excellent transition for these families.”
Originally, students that were eighth graders who went to Lincoln and Hills elementary schools were supposed to attend City High in 2010.
“It’s been a four year process of redistricting, so there’s been a lot of communication with the parents and students that will be transitioning from Northwest to City,” Northwest Principal Gregg Shoultz said. “When the new superintendent came, he changed the policy that Lincoln Elementary kids would go to Northwest and it was delayed until this year.”
West High has a capacity of 1800 students and almost 2000 are currently attending the school. City High has about 1400 students and a capacity of 1600.
“When they pushed back the transitioners I thought, that’s fine but we have waited patiently and the time has now come that those sixth graders are now eighth graders,” Bacon said. “So it is game on again in terms of our responsibility to make sure that we are reaching out to those people.”
Amongst the students who will be transitioning next year is a current eighth grader at Northwest named Jim Geerdes.
“I found out that I was going to go to City High early my seventh grade year and when I heard I wanted to find out if I could get a transfer to West, but I wasn’t able to,” Geerdes said. “I’d rather go to West than City but that’s just because I’m at Northwest now and most people go from Northwest to West. It’s not really a problem about not having friends at City or anything because I know a lot of people there, it’s just that it’s normal to go from the school I’m at now to West.”
One of the problems with the transition is that students must change their alliances from West to City.
“Everybody is passionate about the school they go to,” Lucas Ptacek, the Assistant Principal at Northwest said. “And with only two schools in Iowa City there’s that obvious division of City and West which creates a big rivalry.”
Geerdes participates in Cross Country and basketball at Northwest, and plays club soccer. He also has an older brother who is a freshman at City.
“I don’t really think that City High isn’t as good as West, I think they’re both good schools,” Geerdes said. “I mean, I hear a lot of rumours here about what goes on at City and not all of them are good, but I can’t really go off of those because people are biased towards West here.”
Bohan Yao, an eighth grader at Northwest, has an older brother who graduated last year from West High.
“My older brother told me he felt bad for me when he heard I’d be going there,” Yao said. “But then I told him that I had friends there [at City] and he said I’d be fine.”
Some Lincoln Elementary students went to South East and Yao is excited to be reunited with them again next year at City High. He is also excited to participate in City High sports.
“I have friends at both schools, so I don’t really care which school I go to,” Yao said. “I plan to swim in high school. I’m excited to switch alliances from West to City because I’ve heard good things about the swim team at City.”
The change will also affect the parents of the students being transitioned.
“Some [parents] advocate for a ‘strict feeder system’, which is where you go to elementary school, junior high, and high school all with the same people,” Shoultz said. “Many other parents that went to school in this area didn’t grow up based on that system because there used to be Central Junior High. Those folks are generally more positive about a split feeder system because they lived it.”
The Iowa City community has had a strict feeder system since the 1970s, and many people have become used to going to school with the same people through High School. However, in other communities, being split up from your original class is not unusual.
“I came from a community that had three high schools and my junior high was split. It was just the fact, we didn’t know any other way. Some kids would go to one high school, others would go to different ones,” Shoultz said. “We didn’t argue about it, it was just the norm. I even remember going to dances at the other schools.”
2013 will be the first year that kids from Northwest are districted to go to City High.
“I think it can strengthen our community but I know that being the first group of people to transition will be horrible. I also know that the kids who transitioned because they moved are happy with which school they go to,” Shoultz said. “Once these kids report back that City High is a good school then we won’t have these problems.”
To help with the transition, Bacon has invited students from Northwest to come to City High for a night of football fun and experience what it’s like to be a City High student. As the year progresses, more emphasis will be put on high school and what to expect at City High for the select group of Northwest students.
Regardless of school rivalries and strict feeder systems, many Iowa City residents appreciate both City and West High in the same way that Geerdes does.
“Underneath it all, I don’t really think people care that much about which school they go to,” Geerdes said, “Because an education is an education, and both schools are great.”