Changes proposed for school division’s southern campus

WOODSTOCK — Some students on the southern campus of Shenandoah County Public Schools could be transferred this fall to other schools in a move to alleviate overcrowding.

Division administrators would like to reconfigure grade levels for Ashby Lee Elementary, North Folk Middle and Stonewall Jackson High School. Superintendent Mark Johnston, as a way to plan for next year’s operations, is proposing to move Ashby Lee’s fifth grade class to North Fork Middle School and North Fork’s eighth grade class to Stonewall Jackson High School. This will make Ashby Lee a pre-K to fourth grade school, North Fork a fifth through seventh grade school and Stonewall Jackson an eighth to 12th grade school, which it was previously, Johnston said.

A series of staff and community meetings will be scheduled as needed in the coming weeks to allow for people’s questions to be answered.

“This helps Ashby Lee. This helps the kids. There is no down side,” Johnston said, adding that the move benefits young students.

Virginia institutes new graduation requirements next year for students entering 9th grade.

Eighth graders moving to Stonewall Jackson as part of the reconfiguration would be able to transition to the high school sooner, putting them in a better position to meet those new requirements. They can take advantage of the opportunities there, such as earning college credit and access to high school elective options, to go to college and be career ready, he said.

Moving fifth grade to the middle school would allow those students access to elective course offerings, Johnston said.

The proposed move comes as Ashby Lee was unexpectedly impacted by more than 50  arrivals to the division, pushing its total enrollment to 802 students.

Of those new students, nine were transfer students into kindergarten.

Johnston said that in first through fifth grade 10 were from out of state; five were from a private school and 25 were from another state public school.

The increase puts Ashby Lee at 106.9 percent of its official 750 student capacity. The transfer of the class would then drop Ashby Lee enrollment to a projected 654 students, or 87.2 percent capacity.

North Fork Middle School would see a student increase from 339 students to a projected 363 students, or 81.4 percent. Stonewall Jackson would see a student increase from 511 students to a projected 628, making it 79.2 percent of student capacity.

Johnston said school administrators would like to see student capacity in each of the schools at about 80 percent.

The move also saves the division money by avoiding additional administrative payroll, such as the hiring of another assistant principal that would be needed and support positions that would also be needed.

“I can get better use of our facilities on the southern campus, expand opportunities for students and put savings toward other needs such as keeping teachers (with salary increases),” Johnston said.

Last year, the division was one of two in the region (the other being Page County), that provided no compensation adjustment for its teachers.

A reconfiguration of classes would not be an option at the other campuses if those schools experienced overcrowding, he said.

“The Central and North campuses do not have the space,” Johnston said, adding that “reversing the boundary adjustments completed two years ago is not an option since W.W. Robinson Elementary in Woodstock and Sandy Hook Elementary in Strasburg remain at nearly 100 percent capacity while Stonewall Jackson High School is at 64 percent capacity.”