When rezoning schools, economic diversity must be considered

In a commentary on Sept. 13, Richard Chew expressed opinions indicative of the precise “head-in-the-sand” mentality that ails some on the very School Board members he railed against.

Let me state unequivocally at the outset that while I concur with Mr. Chew’s conclusion — the W-JCC School Board should refrain from rezoning high schools — his premises are horribly wrong. Mr. Chew paints a picture that if the board rezones as the “small, but vocal group” sees fit, then we have a “ludicrous scenario” with all three high schools being over capacity.

There is nothing ludicrous about schools being over capacity; it is a reality that is coming whether the board makes adjustments now or not. Lafayette High School — the least crowded of the three — is at 88 percent capacity, the high end of the ideal figure the board used as guidance when we rezoned in 2010.

For a freshman who entered this month, such as my son, enrollment is expected to be 5 percent higher by the time he graduates. The only thing ludicrous in this scenario is that members of the board — one of whom has been there eight years — have not analyzed the data thoroughly and acted sooner to maintain productive learning environments for our children.

Chew then relies on hyperbole to make the argument that his logic cannot: He claims rezoning will do “irreparable damage to the students” and will be “catastrophic.” If that’s the case, when we build a new high school, should we then not redraw attendance zones to accommodate capacity for fear of the harm it will do to our apparently fragile teenagers?

Later, Mr. Chew gets to the heart of his argument: Go home people, there’s nothing to see here.

Pardon me, sir, but yes there is. A 20 percent gap between Jamestown and Lafayette students receiving free and reduced-price lunch is nothing to gloss over.

This alone points to the overwhelming lack of diversity at one school and the disproportionate diversity of the other. And for what? You can’t tell me it has solely to do with neighborhood vicinity when students are being bused to Jamestown all the way from Kingsmill. Surely we can all at least recognize the dichotomy and agree that equitable diversity helps create equitable educational experiences and academic success. He points to the graduation numbers being similar as evidence that everything is just fine. Let me redirect your attention to the fact that when it comes to SOL pass rates, Jamestown ranks in the top 15th percentile of the state and Lafayette ranks in the bottom 35th. Could that have anything to do with zoning? The similar graduation rates of the high schools are a testament to our teachers and students willingness to work hard to reach that goal.

Ultimately, I concur with Mr. Chew’s conclusion: No, the School Board should not rezone the high schools now. But my reason is practical, not pejorative. According to W-JCC’s Capital Improvement Plan, a new high school is anticipated for 2022 and zoning will have to be addressed then. So what sense is there to rezone now only to turn around and do it again so soon?

There are better, less expensive and less disruptive means to address overcrowding at Jamestown. But when the time comes to redistrict, I hope for two things: that I am on the School Board helping craft the new zones using all the relevant data, and that the “small, vocal group” and others continue to advocate for all students.

Middleton teaches English at Jamestown High School and is running for a seat on the School Board.

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