Community weighs in on overcrowding solutions

Sandy Hook Elementary School technology teacher Heather Ashley, center, discusses overcrowding solution options with her group at the Wednesday night stakeholders meeting. Rachel Mahoney/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah residents took part in solution proposals to address school overcrowding at the final facility stakeholder meeting for the Shenandoah County Public Schools on Wednesday evening.

Participants filled half the Central High School cafeteria tables that were for groups of around eight people. This simplified the process of contributing feedback and suggestion data to school-hired consultants from DeJong Richter and HBA Architecture.

Superintendent Jeremy Raley gave a prelude to the meeting with his thanks and comments about the process so far, emphasizing that whatever solution recommended at the Oct. 8 meeting would need to be in accordance with the school system’s non-negotiable beliefs.

“All of our decisions will be based in the best interests of our kids,” he said. “That’s why we’re here, that’s what education is.”

DeJong Richter CEO Tracy Richter introduced the issue of overcrowding in terms of projected capacity and attendance numbers and the factors that go into those projections. He and fellow consultant Michael Ross from HBA Architecture then presented the seven solution proposals that building committee members had learned about last week.

After presenting, they tasked those present – administrators, teachers, parents and some students – to respond to their individual questionnaire with three levels of evaluation options: satisfaction with each option on its own merit, comparisons between the options, suggestions for combination and additional comments. In addition, there was an optional demographic form to register for those who participated.

Facilitators who had attended the previous stakeholder meetings led the groups in discussion and evaluation of the proposed solutions. They then drew a singular response from the group as a whole after compromise.

“I know this isn’t an easy discussion…but we’re here to help, and to give you data and collect that data,” Richter said.

Feedback from the meeting will not be the deciding factor on what options are considered; it will be weighed along with allowance for teaching spaces and educational programs that the schools operate on.

To get an initial idea for community feedback, the consultants requested that the facilitators mark how high their group ranked their support of the solutions and their top two favorite and bottom two least favorite options before they left.

Ross noted during the meeting that although many of the groups were initially saying amongst themselves that the county would never pass the year-round school scheduling option, they grew to consider it more and more with discussion. By the end of the night, it was marked as having the highest number of “most favorable” tallies on the paper.

The consultants told those present at the beginning of the meeting that if they can’t come to their own conclusion while at the two-hour meeting, they can choose to provide their input via an online survey.

That survey, as well as a copy of the presentation and a link to video footage of the meeting, was scheduled to be posted on the Shenandoah County Public Schools website  today, and will remain accessible to those who did not attend until next Tuesday morning.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com