Mapping the opinions on WJCC school redistricting options

Mapping opinions on middle and high school redistricting options for Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools will likely be more challenging than what it took for Scott Leopold and Cooperative Strategies to create them.

About 80 people came out Thursday to Warhill High School in what was billed as community dialogue about redistricting to explain the current options for middle and high schools.

Those who attended received a card with a QR code to take an online survey. The survey is also online at the school district’s website, and the results will be forwarded to the School Board. People’s thoughts were as varied as the neighborhoods in which they live.

With James Blair Middle School opening for the 2018-19 academic year, the School Board is committed to redistricting for the four middle schools.

In July, the seven School Board members voted unanimously to hire Cooperative Strategies, a California-based firm, to redraw middle and high school boundaries for $96,625.

Middle school boundaries were always part of the plan due to Blair’s opening, but after learning that doing a separate high school redistricting study at a later date would increase the study’s cost substantially, the School Board opted to study both middle and high school redistricting simultaneously.

But what dominated discussions at Tuesday’s meeting, and what appears to be a more contentious issue, is what to do about overcrowding at Jamestown High School.

Four of the School Board’s members have not committed to redistricting the three high schools. However, board chairwoman Kyra Cook decided to keep high school redistricting on the board’s December meeting agenda. Cook said the board would make its final redistricting decisions by February.

Lee Laska, 49, who lives in Green Springs West, is concerned about large class sizes at Jamestown. He said he has a daughter there who has more than 30 students in a geometry class.

“With two of the options they are talking, our children would go to Lafayette,” Laska said. “My main concern is that Jamestown is alleviating the overcrowding. Having classes of 30-plus students is not conducive to a learning environment.”

Laska said if the School Board decides to redistrict high schools, “all they’re doing is punting the issue ... for a couple more years” because all three high schools will be at near full utilization in coming years. He said the board needs a long-term strategy to deal with growing schools.

In all four high school redistricting proposals, all three schools would be at a minimum 94 percent capacity.

“Rezoning for the sake of that, especially when we’re so close to capacity once you disperse everyone, is not the answer,” Laska said. “We need expansion. We have trailers. We’ve used them before. We should use them again.”

Megan Costa, 38, who lives in the Skipwith Farms neighborhood, has one daughter who attends Warhill and another who graduated from the school. She would not be affected by any of the current high school redistricting options.

“It’s very much a relief to me,” Costa said. “I’m glad that there’s not a change in high school.”

The last two times W-JCC schools redistricted — 2006 and 2010 according to an October 2016 Virginia Gazette article — the process was a months-long, emotional ordeal, according to School Board minutes, Gazette archives and interviews with former board members.

Costa’s older daughter was affected during previous redistricting when the old James Blair Middle School closed in 2010. That year, the board hired consultants to redistrict elementary and middle schools, since the district also had two new schools — J. Blaine Blayton Elementary and Lois Hornsby Middle School — opening in 2010.

At that time, her daughter attended Berkeley Middle School, and Costa said out of all of the students who went through that middle school, just 13, including her daughter, went to high school at Warhill. The others went to Jamestown and Lafayette.

Costa said students from her neighborhood, under the recently unveiled middle school redistricting options, would attend James Blair, and she was comfortable with that.

With twin daughters at Lois Hornsby Middle School, Kim Rich, 47, of Ford’s Colony, said there is a chance they would attend James Blair. She felt comfortable with all three middle school redistricting options, but thought the first option was the most inclusive and balanced for James City County.

“I don’t have a problem with any of the middle school options,” Rich said. “I don’t even know if it’s a fair representation, but it all depends on what you’re looking for and what your families are looking for. I think it’s a personal decision.”

Rich, who has lived in Ford’s Colony for 16 years, has had children attend Toano, Hornsby and expects her twins will attend Blair.

“I was most concerned with the twins,” Rich said. “I have one that has special needs. … Change can be an issue. But she asked me a few questions and she’s OK with it.”

Superintendent Olwen Herron said overcapacity at Jamestown needs to be addressed. .

“In the long-term, we need to be planning for more space for high school students,” Herron said.

Laska said if high school redistricting goes through he’ll understand, but Jamestown’s overcapacity has to be addressed.

“Doing nothing should not be an option,” Laska said. “You cannot do nothing.”

Want to go?

What: Redistricting community dialogue

When: 5-8:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Where: Lafayette High School, 4460 Longhill Road.

Details: From 5-6:30 p.m. high school maps will be on the agenda; middle school maps will be discussed from 7-8:30 p.m. Scott Leopold, a partner with Cooperative Strategies, will give presentations on both.

For more information on redistricting, including maps for proposed redistricting options for both middle and high schools, go to wjccschools.org/redistricting. Residents can fill out the survey at wjccschools.org/redistricting until 11:59 p.m. Dec. 12.

W-JCC Public Schools current utilization percentages

Berkeley Middle: Capacity: 779, Utilization: 128 percent

Hornsby Middle: Capacity: 952, Utilization: 98 percent

Toano Middle: Capacity: 711, Utilization: 122 percent

Jamestown High: Capacity: 1,208, Utilization: 109 percent

Lafayette High: Capacity: 1,314, Utilization: 93 percent

Warhill: Capacity: 1,441, Utilization: 94 percent

Through Sept. 30, Jamestown’s projected enrollment was 1,339 students, which is 131 students more than its capacity of 1,208, according to data provided by Williamsburg-James City County Schools. If nothing changes, the school division expects Jamestown’s enrollment to grow yearly, to more than 1,500 students by 2026.

At Lafayette High School, the school division projects enrollment to grow, but still stay below its capacity of 1,314, while Warhill’s projected enrollment stays below its capacity of 1,441 through 2022.

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

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