WJCC school board gets first look at redistricting options for middle, high schools

Jimmy LaRoue
Contact Reporterjlarouejr@vagazette.com

The Williamsburg-James City County school board got its first look Tuesday at redistricting options for middle and high schools, though the board is split against including high school redistricting in the discussion.

While the school board is committed to redistricting on the middle school level with the opening of James Blair Middle School to start the 2018-2019 school year, it had not committed to doing so with high schools.

Four members of the board — vice chair Holly Taylor (Stonehouse-JCC), James Beers (Roberts-JCC), Jim Kelly (Jamestown-JCC) and Sandra Young (Berkeley-JCC) said after a presentation on the redistricting options that they opposed moving forward with high school redistricting.

The other three board members — chairwoman Kyra Cook (Williamsburg), Julie Hummel (Williamsburg) and Lisa Ownby (Powhatan-JCC) — were in favor of moving forward.

“The majority of the board is not in favor of moving forward,” Cook said after board members had each had a chance to weigh in on going forward with discussions about high school redistricting. “That said, as part of this process, we have been inclusive of items in moving forward out of deference to a minority. So with that in mind, I’m going to ask the chair’s prerogative to keep this on the agenda for the December meeting, at a minimum.”

Cook said she will ask that the public’s feedback be shared with the board. She also asked superintendent Olwen Herron to look into which high school redistricting option would move the fewest students and whether there would be an opportunity to phase in high school redistricting.

Kelly said he wanted to wait on moving forward with high school redistricting options until a strategic plan was in place for the division’s schools. He said the board needs to determine what to do about overcapacity at Jamestown High School and the potential for that at Warhill High School — whether to build additions at each of the three high schools, put in trailers or modular classrooms, or decide to build a fourth high school.

Beers and Taylor said the board should wait at least a year before deciding on potential high school redistricting.

Hummel said she preferred to move forward with including high school redistricting in the discussion.

“I think we can move forward without actually deciding to do anything with it yet,” Hummel said, “but at least get feedback on different options.”

She said the board was in a tricky position due to Jamestown’s overcapacity and said the school division cannot keep putting decisions off.

Under current boundaries, according to a presentation from Cooperative Strategies, Jamestown is at 111 percent capacity — with 1,335 students in a school designed for 1,208. Lafayette (1,219 students) and Warhill (1,349 students), are at 86 and 91 percent capacity, respectively.

At the middle schools, Berkeley is at 112 percent capacity, with 870 students in a school designed for 779. Toano is at 106 percent capacity, as it has 841 students and a capacity of 790. Hornsby is at 97 percent capacity, with 922 students in a school built for 952.

Board members have said redistricting now could have all three of the district’s high schools hovering at about 98 percent capacity, meaning another redistricting effort in a few years’ time.

The public will get two chances to view the proposed redistricting options for both middle and high schools at what’s being billed as a community dialogue, first from 5-8 p.m. Thursday at Warhill High School. The second takes place from 5-8 p.m. Dec. 5 at Lafayette High School.

Herron said a decision on redistricting would need to be made by the board’s regular February meeting.

See the Redistricting Presentation here.

LaRoue can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342, by email at jlarouejr@vagazette.com or on Twitter @jlaroue.

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