WJCC Schools forego high school redistricting

Jimmy LaRoue
Contact Reporterjlarouejr@vagazette.com

With a new James Blair Middle School set to open this fall to alleviate overcrowding at its other three middle schools, the Williamsburg-James City County School Board already knew redistricting had to happen.

But redistricting was not a foregone conclusion for high schools, even though Jamestown High School has been over capacity for the past decade. The division's two other high schools — Lafayette and Warhill — are each above 85 percent capacity, according to a recent study.

At a School Board work session Tuesday, vice chairwoman Holly Taylor (Stonehouse-JCC), James Beers (Roberts-JCC), Jim Kelly (Jamestown-JCC) and Sandra Young (Berkeley-JCC) all said they are opposed to redistricting high schools. With a distaste for redistricting, board members must decide whether to expand the existing buildings or use temporary trailers as classrooms — or a combination of the two options. Money also does not exist in the schools five-year capital plan to expand the three existing high schools.

Board members said moving trailers onto the high school properties may ease overcrowding at Jamestown, which has an enrollment of 1,317 for a building with a 1,208 student capacity. The board also informally agreed on how to proceed with middle school redistricting.

Superintendent Olwen Herron said 18 teachers at Jamestown do not have their own classroom and must share space with other teachers.

Herron estimated initial setup for each trailer would cost about $111,000 and leasing each trailer would cost about $1,700 per month, though she cautioned those estimates could change. She estimated two trailers would be able to support four classrooms with an average of 25 students in each.

Kelly has 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 Warhill is also heading for overcrowding issues in the next five years, meaning the capacity issue is growing.

Public input

More than 1,300 people weighed in on a high school redistricting survey, with 48 percent indicating they do not want to see any redistricting at the high schools. None of the other four choices, which involved some form of redistricting, had more than 26 percent support. One of the options — Option 4 — was eliminated right away by the board because it included expanding Jamestown and Warhill high schools.

During a public hearing Tuesday before the board made its decision, six people spoke out against high school redistricting, while three spoke in favor of it.

Andrew Langar, a parent of students at Hornsby Middle School and Jamestown High School, said pursuing redistricting in the immediate future will do more harm than good.

“Redistricting right now will cause enormous disruption to potentially hundreds of students — rising seniors and juniors, underclassmen with special needs who have developed important relationships within their current high schools (and) families with students who might potentially be going to different schools,” Langar said.

Creating equality

Four residents from Powhatan Secondary — including one Jamestown student — also spoke against redistricting. Two of them — Jennifer Morton and Mike Envy — said the board should develop a strategic plan to handle overcrowding in schools.

“We should acknowledge that there are inequities between the schools,” Morton said. “This is a separate issue from redistricting. In no way should Lafayette (High School) be experiencing shortcomings because the board requires a higher headcount or whatever other reasons are given. In no way should those demands require the uprooting of other students.”

Amy Quark, a College of William and Mary professor and a member of the education-advocacy group The Village, spoke in favor of redistricting, arguing that it is the only way to create diverse schools and is a fiscally responsible choice. Putting trailers at Jamestown, she said, would be irresponsible.

“What we don’t hear about are the students at Lafayette and Warhill (high schools) who are being affected every day by the inequitable distribution of resources across the schools,” Quark said.

Jackie Bridgeforth-Williams, founder of The Village, said all three high schools need equity.

Board members Julie Hummel (Williamsburg) and Lisa Ownby (Powhatan-JCC), acknowledged they didn’t have the votes to move forward on high school redistricting. Still, they favored an option that redistricted about 700 students between the three high schools, balanced school use at 96-97 percent and socioeconomic attendance evenly at 30 percent at each high school.

“It sends a clear message to our funding partners: ‘Look, we’re redistricted and we still need space,’ ” Ownby said.

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

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