Where you buy your home could impact student education. Here’s why

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The social makeup of the current high school districting is becoming less diverse as people try to purchase homes zoned for a particular area, said Supervisor Jim Ichenhour. (WYDaily/Courtesy WJCC School Board)
The social makeup of the current high school districting is becoming less diverse as people try to buy homes zoned for a particular area, said Supervisor Jim Ichenhour. (WYDaily/Courtesy WJCC School Board)

In Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools, the school board tries to keep each school at equal quality but as ideas spread of which school is “best,” people start buying homes zoned for that particular school.

And when that happens, the diversity of each school can change.

“The problem that might be exacerbated over time (as) we’re starting to see some perceptions that one school is better than the other and then people start to buy into certain attendance zoned neighborhoods,” said Amy Quark, a professor at William & Mary and a member of The Village Initiative, an organization developed to promote unity and equality in WJCC schools.

At a meeting of the School Liaison Committee on Sept. 27, members suggested that an outreach to Realtors was needed because “the mindset of people purchasing a home in a specific area to get kids into a specific school is encouraged by Realtors,” according to the minutes of the meeting. The problem might not be with the Realtors, but rather the community ideas of particular schools spreading.

“Although Realtors can help buyers locate district boundaries to ensure they will be purchasing within the school district they choose, they are trained to not say anything about the quality of the schools,” said Ellen Smith Gajda, president of Williamsburg Area Association of REALTORS, Inc.

James City County Supervisor Jim Ichenhour suggested in the meeting that a clear message be sent to Realtors and the public to reflect that buying a home in certain neighborhood within the district does not guarantee a student attending a particular school.

“These boundaries are not set in stone,” Ichenhour said. “The school board has spent a lot of time making sure they offer the same quality of education at one school as they do another, so when people say things like ‘Lafayette (High School) is the bad high school,’ it’s really frustrating.”

As the idea spreads the one school is the better school, Ichenhour worries that people will be buying a home to attend a particular school and become upset if their property is proposed to be redistricted to another school.

“Redistricting, if it is decided, is a decision that the school board would make for the public good,” Quark said. “People have to understand that your decision to purchase a home doesn’t purchase you a school.”

When people are buying homes in areas designated to a certain school, the prices can be driven up by ideas of which school in the district is better, Quark said.

When that happens it creates even less diverse communities. Parents might buy a home so their children can attend a certain school because they believe it is the school with the most resources.

“If it continues over time, then all the affluent people situate themselves in one school and that propels that school as better even more because affluent parents can offer more time and resources that other schools don’t get,” Quark said.

Right now more resources, such as number of Advanced Placement courses, are offered at Jamestown High School because it has the largest student population. But Quark argues size does not define need.

“People want the best for their kids, that’s understandable, but to me what’s best is having a school that reflects the diversity of the world we live in,” Quark said. “That means students of all races, classes and social backgrounds, not just the ones who can afford to live in a particular zone.”

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