'Change is a positive thing'

Ask any parent what it's like forcing a child to change schools, and their answer is likely synonymous with "awful."

This is what a number of Williamsburg-James City County families face as the division prepares to open the new James Blair Middle School in fall 2018.

By February 2018, the School Board plans to have redrawn attendance boundaries to fill the new building with up to 600 students. Because of how overcrowded the high schools are — each between 88 and 112 percent full — those are on the drawing board as well.

That means students like Jamestown sophomore Adam Allred, or sisters Sydney Yeats, a Lafayette freshmen, and seventh-grader Lydia Yeats could see major changes where they attend school in 2018.

And it won't be the first time for some families.

The 2018 opening of James Blair will mark the third time in 11 years W-JCC has redistricted its schools. High school and elementary school boundaries were redrawn ahead of Warhill High and Matoaka Elementary opening in 2007. Three years later, elementary and middle school zones were adjusted for Lois Hornsby Middle and J. Blaine Blayton Elementary, both of which opened in 2010.

The Allreds sent five children through W-JCC schools; Adam is the youngest. In 2007, they moved from Rawls Byrd Elementary to Clara Byrd Baker Elementary and in 2010, they watched many friends leave Berkeley Middle School for Hornsby.

The Yeats' oldest, Emma, will graduate from Lafayette in a little over two weeks time. In 2007, between Emma's fifth and sixth grades, her zoned middle school changed from Toano to Hornsby.

Tara Bowman's only daughter, Satin Williams, also moved from Toano to Hornsby for her eighth grade year. Williams graduated from Warhill and is a rising junior at Ferrum College, in southwestern Virginia.

The Virginia Gazette sat down with the three families to talk about their experiences in 2007 and in 2010.

Staying together

"I think a new high school is by far the hardest thing to pull off because all of those kids really care about their friends at this stage," said Kristyn Allred, Adam's mother. "In fact, they're spending much more time with their peers than their parents so to change a high school is a major, major thing."

Adam will be a senior in 2018 when the new boundaries take effect. A change then would be difficult and fraught with complaints, he said.

He said it would be better if the same kids stuck together all 12 years.

"Even though you don't get exposed to these new people, I would rather have the people I knew from elementary school go all the way, because those relationships you made with them are stronger and better," Adam said.

The division doesn't have feeder patterns, where each elementary school is zoned for one middle school and all students from a middle school go to the same high school. Most W-JCC schools are split two or three ways.

Emma Yeats knew going from Hornsby to Lafayette would be difficult because most of her school — 54 percent — moved on to Jamestown.

But she wouldn't change a thing.

"I know it was hard for me when I was trying to meet new people, and I know it was hard for Sydney … and probably will be for Lydia, but I don't think that was necessarily a bad thing because I learned how to make friends," Emma Yeats said. "I think it was a growth thing and that's part of what going to school is all about in the first place."

She agrees that staying with the same crowd of students would make the tough high school transition easier. Creating feeder patterns, so that kids stay together, would require a remix of attendance boundaries at all three levels.

Overcrowding

Adam said a big change-up will be worth the chaos for those directly affected.

"(Redistricting) has to happen sometime. I definitely wouldn't like it (my senior year), but I don't think it's fair just to push it off," Adam said. "(Reducing overcrowding) is going to benefit so much that even though one whole grade is going to struggle a little bit, it's going to help so much — especially for the people working the hardest, like the teachers and the staff."

Jamestown is at 112 percent capacity, and it shows, Adam said.

He said it's clear how full the school is when some of his classes have 25 to 30 students in them, which takes away from individualized learning. He sees the effects most often in mandatory classes like physical education, or lower-level reading and math.

In 2010, the crowds at Toano were one reason Satin Williams was excited to move to Hornsby, even though she had only one year left in her middle school career.

"I was excited about it, I always thought that Toano was super crowded ... so it was good that they built a new school," Williams said. "I don't think the technology really hit me until my first week there, and I realized (Hornsby) provided so much more to me than Toano ever did.'"

Hornsby was also much closer than Toano had been — a five minute commute rather than 20.

Changing demographics

As redistricting brings new students into schools, the make-up of the student body and classes change.

All three families agreed that's a good thing.

Kristyn Allred was heavily involved in Berkeley's parent-teacher association while the school underwent redistricting in 2010.

"We had a lot of diversity change at Berkeley, we became more diverse, we had different socio-economic (classes), we had different races, we had different religions and I liked that a lot," she said.

Bowman said Hornsby was more diverse than Toano — an improvement for mom and daughter.

"Being a woman of color, I live it, therefore when certain situations were brought up at the school, I didn't feel that care or compassion that was shown to other parents," Bowman said. "(Hornsby) didn't have that negative impact or small mindedness that I felt at Toano, it was a little more diverse."

Which is good for all students, she said, and especially students of color. She welcomed the last redistricting, and said adjusting the boundaries is supposed to be an improvement for the division.

"I look at change as a positive thing," Bowman said. "Unless it was going to bring detrimental harm to my child, I think it would be a good thing. If you are in a school where everyone looks like you, then it can be a positive experience to see something new and if these schools are overcrowded, then it's a positive effect for these kids to get the education they need."

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

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