School board and residents discuss redistricting criteria at work session

tjefferson@vagazette.com

The Williamsburg-James City County School Board ranked its priorities when it comes to redistricting criteria.

The school board decided among five categories when it came to redistricting middle schools: utilization, proximity, longevity, socioeconomic status and neighborhood concept.

The middle school attendance zones must be redrawn to accommodate James Blair’s September 2018 open date. In order to address redistricting, in July board members unanimously voted to hire California-based firm Cooperative Strategies to redraw boundaries for area schools.

The board as a whole ranked the five categories in order of importance as utilization, proximity, socioeconomic status, neighborhood concept and longevity, at its work session on Tuesday night.

Here’s how they defined each term:

  • Utilization: a reasonable balancing of enrollment among schools to avoid overutilization or underutilization of facilities. This criterion is intended to prevent or eliminate overcrowding and allow for future growth.
  • Proximity: minimize the need for student transportation and keep distances traveled by students as short as possible. This may result in students attending their first or second nearest school.
  • Longevity: give students and families a stable educational foundation and minimize disruption over time.
  • Socioeconomic status: balance socioeconomic status to the extent possible. Socioeconomic status is a measure of a family's economic and social position in relation to others, based on income, education and occupation.
  • Neighborhood concept: keep neighborhoods intact to the extent possible.

“If I look at those five I would switch neighborhood concept and longevity,” said Jim Kelly, board member, during the Tuesday work session. “I don’t know if we can say for certainty where we can say growth will be, longevity is a guess and not data driven.”

Board member Julie Hummel said her top three categories would be utilization, proximity and socioeconomic status. Hummel said she would round out the top five with neighborhood concept and longevity.

Board member Lisa Ownby agreed with Hummel’s rankings.

Board member James Beers said utilization is the most important category.

Board member Sandra Young said proximity, neighborhood concept, utilization are the most important categories.

During the public comment section of the meeting, a few residents said they didn’t agree with redistricting. About 50 residents attended the meeting and 10 spoke to the board.

Resident Travis Guse, the parent of a student at Jamestown, said problems in the school system won’t be solved only by redistricting.

“I do think there’s some students that if you redistrict it will benefit but I think there are others that it won’t,” Guse said.

Guse asked the board to invest in programs for students outside of redistricting.

Resident LeAnne Quinn and her family relocated to Williamsburg a few months ago for the school system but was concerned about redistricting.

Quinn said her number-one priority is proximity.

“I think every school in the county is a fabulous school but I’m concerned with proximity. If my kid is two miles from a school then they should go to that school,” Quinn said.

“We might be putting the cart before the horse,” resident Andrew Langer said. “We all want all the kids in the county to do well.”

Langer said redistricting will present a logistical nightmare and said rising juniors and seniors would suffer from being taken out of a school where they have formed relationships.

The board anticipates voting on the categories at its next meeting in two weeks.

They then will present the rankings to Cooperative Strategies, which will then draw the lines.

Superintendent Olwen Herron said the district wants to be finished with the redistricting process by February.

Jefferson can be reached by phone at 757-790-9313.

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