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Posted December 13, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Shenandoah County Public Schools: Board discusses grade shifting

By Kim Walter

WOODSTOCK -- The Shenandoah County School Board continued its discussion on building capacity levels throughout the division Thursday night, and attempted to come up with alternative solutions instead of redrawing attendance boundary lines.

While a VCU study, completed several years ago, suggested a way to adjust attendance boundaries so that each elementary school would operate at 96 percent capacity, board members still had concerns.

"I don't see that it does enough good to be disrupting so many families," said board member Kathryn Holsinger. "But building new schools is totally out of the question right now, and will be for sometime, so we may have to think out of the box to find a solution."

If the school board chose to go with the study's solution, 361 families and more than 1,000 students would be affected, and transportation time would likely increase for students, said chairman Gary Rutz. Currently, elementary schools in the middle and northern campuses are operating over capacity.

Rutz told board members that he attempted to come up with other solutions.

"One is to adjust boundaries so not as many families are affected, but then the solution is as effective," he said. "Another is that we could take advantage of having the campuses, and have half of the fifth grade go to the middle school, and the other half stay in the elementary school."

Rutz said that because capacity levels weren't a problem in the southern campus, fifth graders wouldn't have to be split up.

Board member Karen Whetzel felt the move would be tough from an administrative standpoint, and it would also be nice to be consistent through the county with any decision that was made.

"I was just throwing it out there because it involves no changes to the families or transportation," Rutz said.

Superintendent B. Keith Rowland admitted that the capacity levels were a problem, but said that it wasn't necessarily something that needed be addressed right away.

"We may be able to take care of this through building the new budget ... we could add a mobile unit here or there," he said. "The bottom line is, though, that we're overcrowded in two elementary schools. Is it going to be worse this time next year? Probably not, but then again even in the neighborhood I live in there are three new houses being built, and families with students might fill them."

Rowland said another important thing for the board to consider is how long a solution would be effective, and asked if shifting the boundaries would still be helpful five or ten years from now.

"When you make changes to boundaries, you're kind of committing to the long haul," he said. "It's not fair to change lines this year, and then change them right back a year or two after that. There's a lot of turmoil, emotion and stress that goes into something like this at the family level."

Rowland then proposed shifting 8th grade students to the high schools, followed by shifting 5th graders to the middle schools. He said the move wouldn't require splitting grades up, or having to explain to parents why certain students were leaving, while others were staying at a school.

"Our high schools are not at capacity, so we have some room there," he said. "But this would require a bit of warning ahead of time, so you would need to make this decision very soon if you wanted to happen next fall."

He added that it would take place at all three campuses, in order "to maintain the integrity of the instructional program."

Board members agreed to table the item for now, and wait to get an official report back from Rowland which explores how the capacity levels would be affected through his suggestion.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com

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