School Board hears boundary change recommendation

WOODSTOCK – The Shenandoah County School Board was presented with a revised boundary option at Thursday night’s meeting.

CEO Tracy Richter, of DeJong-Richter, and GIS analyst Matt Sachs presented the board with Option C as the best available option to alleviate overcrowding and better equalize the population at all campuses.

“I know it’s new, I know it’s difficult and emotional,” Richter said.

Superintendent Jeremy Raley also said he recommends that the board consider Option C, based on the work of the consultants and the district’s steering committee.

Of the three original options created by the steering committee, Option C affects the greatest number of students, which is seen as both a strength and a challenge, and it has the largest increase in utilization at the southern campus.

At the start of the meeting, chairwoman Karen Whetzel said that the community has been involved with this process since it began.

“We had many opportunities for community input over the past several years as we work to relieve the overcrowding at two of our elementary schools and providing equitable utilization of programs at all of our schools. During this school year we’ve had the chance to speak with many individually, as well as in groups. We’ve received public comments at a February School Board meeting and each of us has heard from our community through many email messages, written statements, phone calls and face to face conversations,” she said.

Board member Katheryn Freakley, relayed a history of this process, starting back in 2014. She said she has heard comments from the community about the pace this process has taken, with the public saying it was rushed. She referenced emails and social media postings from the School Board office, newspaper articles and commentaries, and board meetings since August 2014 when the Space Committee was created, which informed the public at each step of the process.

Richter added that boundaries will need to be examined routinely, and recommends that all school division review their boundaries on a regular basis.

Whetzel said that as part of the proposed policy to be voted on in March, the school division will revisit boundaries and utilization rates at least every five years, but not necessarily change boundaries.

“We recognize that in the past we have not been as forward thinking as we needed to have been,” she said.

The accuracy of addresses provided to schools was another noted concern from community members brought up by the board. Raley replied that the school division has been working to discover any inaccuracies and will be requiring those who register for school to provide a driver’s license or other government issued identification, as well as two other proofs of residency before beginning school.

Board member Cynthia Walsh said she has also received comments from the public that the board doesn’t care that this is happening to the kids.

“I can tell you, I think about it every hour that I’m awake,” she said.

“I feel for everyone that’s affected. But this is a necessary thing that we need to do, not just to alleviate the overcrowding, but to make sure there’s equity,” she added.

Upcoming meetings on boundary changes will be held:
• At 7:30 p.m. March 2, a public hearing will be held on boundary adjustment recommendations in the W.W. Robinson Elementary School cafeteria
• At 7 p.m. March 10, the School Board will vote on the boundary adjustments in the County Board Room.

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