Committee sets criteria for boundary changes

WOODSTOCK – At the first steering committee meeting, the 24 members learned what their roles and responsibilities will be in determining the new boundaries for the Shenandoah County Public School district.

Superintendent Jeremy Raley said, “This is a community process and we will all be involved.”

The 24 steering committee members are all members of the Shenandoah community. They are school employees, parents, citizens and members of the northern, central and southern campuses being equally represented.

Tracy Richter, CEO of DeJong-Richter, spoke to the committee about what will happen in the next several months in order to make the boundary adjustments possible for the 2016-2017 school year.

“You have to make the rules for yourselves as a community on how you want your boundaries to look in the future,” he said as all meetings will be open to the public.

The purpose of the boundary adjustments is to relieve overcrowded conditions at Sandy Hook Elementary and W.W.Robinson Elementary and to provide equity to the underutilized southern campus.

The elementary schools are currently 96 percent occupied, he said. Typically, he said, they try to keep schools 10 to 15 percentage points below this to account for influxes of students that occur from time to time and to avoid overcrowding. The Shenandoah County schools are almost at full capacity, resulting in overcrowding.

“It’s emotional, it’s personal,” he added, “Everybody agrees to the concept until it crosses over the fence in their yard.”

He said that the committee needs to objectively consider how they can do this and provide the best services for the students. The committee will have to work within parameters, such as limited funds and space. They will also be creating criteria to work within while creating new boundaries.

The committee agreed upon these criteria: Attempting to maintain neighborhoods and subdivisions; creating equity among campuses with students on free and reduced lunches; limiting transportation times; assigning locations of special education programs; attempting to maintain contiguous boundaries; working around natural and man-made boundaries; considering available space at feeder schools, such as the capacity of middle schools receiving the elementary students in future years; and maintaining cohorts.

Richter said, “You’re going to create your boundaries.” DeJong-Richter will be providing the data and tools to be used, but the steering committee will be creating the boundary adjustment options.

In order to do this, “You have to see this from a division perspective,” he said. He said the committee can’t be thinking about one school or campus, it has to consider what is best for the entire county.

To help the committee make decisions, Richter and GIS analyst with DeJong-Richter, Matt Sachs, showed a variety of maps, which included an estimated school-aged population growth map, student density map, socioeconomic stats map, historical enrollment and live/attend analysis.

Richter added that in addition to the work of the steering committee, the School Board will also need to consider some policy revisions.

These considerations include employee transfers, which grade levels might be grandfathered and if current transfer students should be required to return to their zoned schools, unless the reason for the transfer is program-related.

The rest of the boundary meetings are:

  • Jan. 25 – An options worksession for the steering committee from 6-9 p.m., which may run later. The meeting will be held in the county board room.
  • Feb. 10 – A community dialogue to get feedback on options from 6-8 p.m. at the Central High School cafeteria.
  • An additional meeting may be added between Jan. 25 and Feb. 10.
  • Feb. 25 – A presentation to the School Board on recommendations at 7:30 p.m. in the county board room.
  • March 2 – A public hearing on boundary adjustment recommendations at 7:30 p.m. in the county board room.
  • March 10 – The approval of boundary adjustments to be effective for September 2016. In the county board room at 7 p.m.

 Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com