Sunday, September 25, 2022

WJCC School Board votes to redistrict high schools

James Blair Middle School construction on Ironbound Road. (Lisa Vernon Sparks/WYDaily)

As redistricting looms on the horizon with the construction of a new James Blair Middle School, parents and community members are asking the Williamsburg-James City County School Board to diversify local schools.

Over 45 people attended the WJCC School Board meeting Tuesday night to discuss redistricting, emphasizing topics such as balancing the socio-economic status of schools and reducing overcrowding.

“Society now is becoming too divided, and unfortunately that’s becoming more reflected in our middle schools,” said Williamsburg resident Harmony Dalgleish. “And the high schools aren’t much better.”

Tuesday night, the School Board voted unanimously to hire national consulting firm Cooperative Strategies for $96,625 to redistrict both middle schools and high schools. The School Board initially budgeted $150,000 at their May 18 meeting to cover the cost.

James Blair Middle School is scheduled to open in September 2018, and the School Board must redistrict to populate the new 600-student school.

The WJCC school division has been redistricted twice in recent years, in 2007 and 2010, which caused some “heartache and tumult,” School Board members have said at previous meetings.

City and county residents stressed the School Board must develop specific criteria for redistricting while working with the hired consultant. Several speakers at Tuesday’s meeting referenced economic disparities between Williamsburg-James City County schools, such as a varying percentage of students who receive reduced price lunch.

Over 45 people packed the Williamsburg-James City County School Board meeting on redistricting. (Sarah Fearing/ WYDaily)

School Board member Julie Hummel said at an April 11 meeting that she felt the last consultant in 2010 “clearly did not know our community” when they redistricted.

“No matter what neighborhood [residents] live in, their children will be going to a school they are comfortable attending,” Hummel said.

A William & Mary professor, Salvatore Saporito, also suggested the School Board develop clear criteria for diversifying schools at Tuesday’s meeting. His concentration is the sociology of education, stratification, racial and economic segregation, human geography.

“You can achieve diversity pretty easily,” Saporito said. “We live shoulder to shoulder with people of all walks of life here.”

Board member Lisa Ownby echoed Saporito’s sentiment, saying redistricting could help balance each school’s socio-economic status.

“Capacity can really only change so much — we are at capacity in all our schools except D.J. Montague, but equity issues can certainly be addressed,” Ownby said.

Reducing overcrowding at various schools was one topic many parents echoed concerns over.

“Great schools are not overcrowded,” said Amy Quark, a parent and William & Mary associate professor of sociology.

One goal of redistricting is to get all three existing middle schools – Toano, Berkeley and Hornsby – down to 85 percent capacity, school division spokeswoman Betsy Overkamp-Smith said at a previous School Board meeting. Toano and Berkeley are over capacity and Hornsby is at 99 percent, according to School Board documents.

At one point during the meeting, nearly all audience members stood to demonstrate who was in favor of redistricting high schools in addition to middle schools. Some audience members said the redistricting would alleviate overcrowding at Jamestown and Warhill high schools.

WJCC students built a model of the new James Blair Middle School, which was displayed at Fridays joint budget meeting with the School Board, Board of Supervisors, and City Council. Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)

The three schools, Jamestown, Warhill and Lafayette, are at 110, 90 and 88 percent capacity, respectively, according to School Board documents.

Parent and 1982 Lafayette graduate Adrienne Carter said she was concerned her son, a rising freshman at Jamestown, would not get an “equitable education” due to the school’s overcrowding.

While most meeting attendees were in favor of redistricting high schools with middle schools, some School Board members were concerned redistricting high schools would only “kick the can down the road” a few years before another school needs to be built anyway.

“The question is, how much does it fix us to redistrict the high schools,” board member Jim Kelly said. “The can is still kicked down curb, then we have to do something, whether its building a new school, put in new mobile [classrooms]… There’s still a certain element of kicking the can down the curb.”

School Board chair Kyra Cook said the board would ensure a criteria for the consultant to follow would be developed and the public would have opportunities to give input throughout the process.

WYDaily archives were used in this story.

Fearing may be reached at sarah.f@localvoicemedia.com.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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