Saturday, January 22, 2022

Windsor Forest residents to school board: Explain your redistricting decision

“The Board’s inaction favors a minority of vocal and well-organized residents of Jamestown High School over the needs of the entire community,” the Windsor Forest Association Board statement reads.
“The Board’s inaction favors a minority of vocal and well-organized residents of Jamestown High School over the needs of the entire community,” the Windsor Forest Association Board statement reads.

After the Williamsburg-James City County School Board decided Dec. 12 to hold off on redistricting high schools, one James City County neighborhood has set its stance counter to the board’s decision.

The Windsor Forest Association Board issued a statement Monday urging school board members to reconsider and explain their decision to quash high school redistricting, after months of consideration on the topic.

Redistricting continues to be a contentious issue for parents. Some parents have said they hope to redistrict to balance the socioeconomic status of each high school, and others saying redistricting will uproot and disrupt their children’s education.

While the debate has remained centered on either point, the statement issued by the Windsor Forest Association Board means the neighborhood is collectively asking the school board to reconsider redistricting high schools.

“The Board’s inaction favors a minority of vocal and well-organized residents of Jamestown High School over the needs of the entire community,” the statement reads.

See the full statement below:


Statement by the Windsor Forest Association Board on the WJCC  School Board’s High School Redistricting Decision

The Windsor Forest Association Board believes that the WJCC School Board has failed its responsibility to address inequities amongst area high schools by refusing to consider the redistricting proposals submitted by the independent consultant. A significant problem of inequity and imbalance exists amongst the three WJCC high schools, a clear solution has been proposed by an outside expert, and yet, the Board has decided not to act.

Background

A significant problem exists. Changes in development and population redistribution have led to decreased enrollment at Lafayette HS, which unfortunately has resulted in resources being diverted away from LHS to the schools with larger enrollment. Example #1 – Jamestown HS students are offered more Advanced Placement classes than LHS and Warhill HS students. In the past three years, 894 more AP exams were taken by JHS students than by students at LHS. Example #2 – Student proficiency levels in 2016 in Math, Science, and History are lower by 8%-16% at LHS as compared to JHS. Example #3 – JHS has 18% of its students on free and reduced lunch; LHS has 38%, WHS has 28%. Example #4 – Post-secondary enrollment is 5-10% higher at JHS than at LHS and WHS. Example #5 – 20% more students graduated with an advanced diploma at JHS as compared to LHS in 2017.

The problem is even bigger than what these facts capture. School funding in WJCC is enrollment-based and need-blind, which means resources are allocated to students regardless of their financial background. We do not take a position on that policy. But, if that is a policy that WJCC is going to adopt, then it must make great strides to balance economically advantaged households across all of the high schools. Economically advantaged parents are a tremendous asset to any school — they have more time, resources, and political clout to demand rigorous classes and raise funds for additional programming. JHS has a significantly bigger population of economically-advantaged parents, which is a primary reason that the facts above exist.

The solution is clear. The consulting firm provided an economically viable way to equalize enrollment numbers and balance the percentages of economically-advantaged students across the high schools without splitting additional neighborhoods. And, importantly, some of the proposals were limited in their impact. Options 1-3 contemplated shifts involving fewer than 170 students (less than 4% of total high school enrollment) from a school that does not have capacity to a school that does. Moreover, the shift with options 2 and 3 would not have increased busing distance for the students coming from other neighborhoods to LHS any more than is currently the case. While relocation is never easy for any student, the proposed solutions accounted for those hardships and greatly limited them, especially as compared to the inequities faced within the school system.

Not acting is a waste of resources. The WJCC School Board received objective solutions from an outside expert that solved a clear problem. And it chose to do nothing. Instead, it is likely to provide more resources to the most well-funded school. The Board is considering adding trailers or expanding Jamestown HS. The decision belies common sense. One high school is over-crowded, another high school has excess capacity – the solution is to equalize enrollment, not waste taxpayer money with unnecessary expenditures. Additionally, the Board spent nearly $100,000 of taxpayer money to obtain recommendations of the outside experts only to ignore them.

Concerns

We draw two conclusions from this background. First, the Board chose to favor less than 4% of the students at Jamestown HS over all students at Lafayette and Warhill. Second, the Board chose to divert more resources to the school with the highest concentration of wealthy students that already receives the most funding. The question is: Why?

We understand that some Board Members wish to delay redistricting until a consensus can be found and/or inventory can be expanded. But those explanations lack merit. It is our experience that redistricting consensus is illusory, and it is our understanding that inventory expansion is many years away. The WJCC Board’s responsibility is to serve the entire community and make tough decisions, and Windsor Forest is concerned that the Board is shrinking from that responsibility. In particular, we have two concerns:

First, Windsor Forest is concerned about procedural irregularities of this decision. Last Tuesday evening, the Board abruptly came to a decision without a public vote 1-day after a public survey was completed. It was impossible for the Board to digest the comments and data of the survey in such a short amount of time. Further, three of the Board Members are currently zoned for Jamestown HS and their homes are subject to redistricting under the current  proposals. We would like to know how they voted. Transparency and accountability are hallmarks of good local government.

Second, the Board’s inaction favors a minority of vocal and well-organized residents of Jamestown High School over the needs of the entire community. We respect and admire the passionate advocacy of our friends and neighbors in the Jamestown HS community, who fought for the best interests of their children. But, as the data suggests, Jamestown HS is doing very well. More deeply concerning is the growing perception and desire for Williamsburg to have a “best” high school. That perception and desire is inappropriate. We are all WJCC taxpayers; all of our children deserve an equivalently good education. But, without further explanation for this decision, we are left to believe that the Board supports this notion of a “best” high school.

Conclusion

This is a harsh reality but here is where we are: We are concerned that the Board does not have the best interests of all of the children in our community in mind, and that instead, it favors a particular group. We want to give the Board an opportunity to explain its decision and restore our faith that it is working for our children as well.

With that in mind, we ask the Board for a public response to the following questions:

1) Why was the survey deadline cut short by two days?

2) Why were the results and comments of the survey not used?

3) Which Board members voted to discontinue the discussion?

4) What were their specific reasons for doing so?

5) And most importantly, what are their specific plans for addressing the current inequities faced by students and teachers at Lafayette and Warhill as noted above?

We invite Members of the WJCC Board to contact us at wfa.hoa@gmail.com and come to a town hall meeting in Windsor Forest to address our concerns.


To contact a reporter about redistricting email info@wydaily.com

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