Dividing the District

Alvin Ritz, of Edinburg, listens as Tracy Richter, CEO and facilities planner for DeJong-Richter speaks during the Shenandoah County School Board's boundary options public meeting held Wednesday evening in the Central High School cafeteria in Woodstock. Ritz, a parent of two children in the school system, was joined by a room full of other parents and community members. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – More than 200 people attended the Shenandoah County Public Schools community dialogue meeting on Wednesday night in the Central High School cafeteria to voice their opinions on the three attendance boundary options created by the steering committee.

Superintendent Jeremy Raley told the public that he is glad so many could attend and voice their input on these important decisions.

“There’s no doubt that this is a very important conversation for our community,” he said, “These are important decisions that we will make going forward, they are personal decisions, they are emotional decisions, and they have an impact on a lot of people.”

CEO of DeJong-Richter, Tracy Richter, spoke on the process of getting to this point in creating boundaries and why this option was chosen over other overcrowding solutions. He also spoke on why these three boundary options were created by the steering committee and explained the data they used in the process, such as enrollment data, birth data and current utilization rates at each school.

The goals of the boundary adjustments are to relieve overcrowded schools and to provide equity among the three campuses.

Michelle Gorrell, of Toms Brook, thumbs through data during the Shenandoah County School Board's boundary meeting held Feb. 10 in the Central High School cafeteria. Gorrell has two children in elementary school. Rich Cooley/Daily

“We’ve looked at demographics, we’ve driven transportation routes,” he said, “We’ve walked your facilities, trying to get to the right conclusions to do those two main objectives.”

Each of the 24 committee members led a small group discussion with the public explaining how the three options were created with help from the consulting firm, DeJong-Richter. With more than 200 in attendance, not everyone could be a part of the committee group discussion, but the rest talked among themselves about what they thought of the options.

Community members at each table explained why they agreed or disagreed with the presented options. The committee leader at the table helped facilitate constructive dialogue within the group.

Each community member received a questionnaire to fill out about which options they prefer and a section to add any additional comments they may have on the issue. One question also asked the public what they thought about grandfathering students of employees, and grandfathering ninth, 10th and 11th graders.

The questionnaire is also available online for those who want more time to consider the options and for those who could not attend the meeting. The questionnaire will be available until Monday.

Tracy Richter, CEO and educational facilities planner for DeJong-Richter, addresses meeting groups during the Shenandoah County School Board's boundary meeting held Wednesday evening in the Central High School cafeteria. Rich Cooley/Daily

Heather Holsinger, 44, of Edinburg, said that she isn’t thrilled about the idea of reassigning boundaries.

“I feel like they are putting a Band-Aid on a situation that’s been neglected for a long time and it’s not going to create a lasting solution and it’s impacting a disjointed amount of people,” she said.

She has four children in the school division in 10th, eighth and seventh grades. In Option B, her children would be required to attend the southern campus.

She said she lives 12 miles from the southern campus, but only four miles from the central campus.

“So if my kids end up moving, simply getting them to and from school activities is a whole different ballgame,” she added, “not to mention I think the value of my house that I own will go down, because who in their right mind would want to buy a house that’s four miles from the school but that’s not the school they are going to go to?”

Jeremy Raley

Tammy Scott, 45, of Edinburg, has three children in the school division as well as one child who recently graduated from Central High School. Two children are currently at Central and one at Peter Muhlenburg Middle School. In Options A and C, her kids would be attending different campuses.

“I know that this is something that probably needs to take place. I think it’s a hard decision,” she said.

Along with the boundary changes, she is concerned about what will happen with grandfathering once the policy is made.

“I think there’s a lot to be taken into consideration with children that are already at high schools that are already working towards academic scholarships as well as athletic scholarships, and if they have to change locations, does that go with them at the new school,” she said. “I think it’s going to be difficult if you have children at different locations.”

She added that she has lived here all her life and has lived in the same house all her life and she and her siblings all graduated from Central High School, but she has prepared her kids that there could be a change.

Karen Whetzel

Veronica Gilmore, of Edinburg, has six children in the schools. Four are in high school, and the two in elementary school will be moving on to middle school next year.

She is in support of Option A, as options B and C would move her kids to the southern campus.

One of her main concerns is how grandfathering handles families with children in multiple grade levels.

“I am all for the grandfathering, but I don’t want them to split families,” she said.

She added that she supports teachers taking their children to the same campus where they work.

“I think that they do a great job and I think that we need to give them that added benefit,” she said.

Members of the School Board were present at the public meeting to answer questions posed by community members.

Chairperson Karen Whetzel said she was pleased with the turnout of the public for the meeting.

“I’m glad to see so many out because we will rely a lot on the public opinion that goes into making the decision,” she said, “It’s not going to be easy.”

“I do feel proud that we are involving the community and not just making our own decisions.”

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

Attendance boundary options:

Three attendance boundary adjustment options were presented to the community at the Community Dialogue meeting held Wednesday night.

The boundary changes are designed to alleviate overcrowding at W.W. Robinson and Sandy Hook elementary schools, which are both over 100 percent capacity, as well as provide equity to the southern campus.

All three options distribute the elementary level population, bringing the utilization rates to 96 to 98 percent at all three elementary schools.

OPTION A: This moves the fewest number of students, 339, to a new campus. With this option, 47 elementary students, 18 middle school, and 23 high school students and 110 elementary students are moved from the northern campus to the central campus; 59 middle school and 82 high school students are moved to the southern campus.

OPTION B: This moves 395 students to a different campus with 52 elementary students, 28 middle school and 40 high school students being moved from the northern to central campus; while 122 elementary students, 69 middle school and 84 high school students are moved to the southern campus.

OPTION C: This also moves 395 students to a different campus with 47 elementary students, 18 middle school and 23 high school students moved from the northern to central campus. This option also moves the greatest number of students to the southern campus, with 123 elementary, 76 middle school and 108 high school students attending the southern campus schools.  This option best creates more equity at the elementary, middle and high school levels at the southern campus.

All options allow for equal program offerings at all three campuses as Stonewall Jackson High School and North Fork Middle School receive more students, but with any option, the core spaces at W.W. Robinson and Sandy Hook elementaries will still be stressed.