'Grandfathered' school changes will work well for WJCC

It was clear from the lengthy discussion at the W-JCC School Board meeting on Sept. 5 that planning for the eventual, inevitable, needed expansion of our high schools is simply not being considered at this time. Instead, the board appears committed to rezoning our current schools, and to do so in a way that creates the greatest amount of stability possible over the longest period of time.

It was surprising to me that the idea of rezoning only rising ninth graders and allowing current high school students to remain at their high schools, a policy colloquially known as grandfathering, was tabled.

If the board has long-term objectives for rezoning, a gradual, long-term solution should be adopted. The only reason a community would plunge headfirst into a radical, forced relocation of current students across the district would be to solve an immediate crisis. Based on the board’s discussion, however, no crisis presently exists.

That current graduation, college matriculation and completion rates are within just a few points at each high school went uncontested by the board. Indeed, there was broad consensus that, at the moment, we have three excellent schools. The fear, as expressed by one board member, is there may be a long-term trend toward even greater levels of socio-economic disparity, and, over time, this disparity could lead to eventual variances in academic achievement.

I agree that there is good social science to support this view, and the board should take action to address a potential problem. However, variances in academic achievement are not apparent now, and, if the trend is gradually pushed the other way — which can be done by rezoning only rising ninth graders — the long-term objectives can be achieved.

The students who will likely suffer most in forced redistricting would be students who quality for free and reduced-price lunch who are told to pick up and move. Every avenue they have developed for academic assistance will be ripped apart, and they will need to re-create those connections with just a few semesters left in high school.

The board should not embrace one body of social science and ignore another. If you do not need to do potentially irreparable damage to students’ academic lives, you need to avoid it. Grandfathering current students accomplishes this goal, and rezoning rising ninth graders adequately addresses the concerns for the future of our community.

Richard Chew

James City County

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