Diversity, proximity to schools among school board redistricting concerns

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

Students may be headed to new schools as the Williamsburg-James City County School Board works through the redistricting process.

Superintendent Olwen Herron has said the district wants to be finished with the redistricting process by February of next year to accommodate opening the fourth middle school by September 2018.

Board members spoke Tuesday with representatives from consulting firm Cooperative Strategies as the district moves through its process.

With board input, the firm will create maps for board members to review. Both middle and high schools will have new boundaries.

Scott Leopold, a partner at Cooperative Strategies, warned the members that no community is completely happy with new maps.

“There’s not going to be a perfect option,” he said.

Board member James Beers, who said creating socioeconomic diversity in the school system is one of his most pressing concerns, said past redistricting efforts have been complicated and he expects the same of this one.

“Redistricting is not easy,” he said. “It is by definition difficult.”

Board Chairwoman Kyra Cook said diversity is among her top concerns as the area is redistricted.

“We are fulfilling a self-fulfilling prophecy of inequity,” she said of the district’s current high school feeder system.

Cook thought the firm should use roads as dividers to determine the schools children attend, instead of using city and county neighborhoods.

“I don’t like using neighborhoods at all,” said. “I like the idea of using secondary roads.”

Members were split on the importance of students’ proximity to their school and on the concept of student disruption, or forcing students to change schools.

Sandra Young expressed concern about student disruption.

Her fear is that students who have created their group of friends may find themselves at a brand new school or find their friends have left for other schools.

Contrary to Young, Cook said student disruption did not rank very high on her list of concerns.

“In a growing community, it’s unreasonable not to expect some disruption,” she said.

Jim Kelly saw moving as a necessary part of redistricting. In his eyes, students have the opportunity to meet new people regardless of their location.

“I think they’re all fine by the second week of ninth grade,” Kelly said.

Board member Lisa Ownby said living in James City County is a stark contrast to other places she’s lived, including northern Virginia and Maryland.

In the county, she said, many people associate themselves with the specific area of the county they live in. She’d like redistricting to disrupt as few students as possible.

“We are distinctly different because we do identify ourselves by neighborhood,” she said.

A public hearing at the board’s Sept. 19 meeting will give residents a chance to speak to the board about its redistricting efforts.

Leopold, who has been aiding in redistricting efforts for 12 years, told board members some of their possible criteria — such as wanting to minimize the number of students heading to different schools and creating as much socioeconomic diversity as possible — will run afoul of each other.

“Maybe what we want we can’t have,” said board member Lisa Ownby. “We won’t know without looking at maps.”

They’ll decide on a concrete list of criteria at an October meeting.

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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