By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- The results of the Virginia High School League redistricting and reclassification hearing, held Monday morning, were surprising, if not unprecedented.
The redistricting and reclassification committee heard appeals from William Monroe, Central and Sherando pertaining to the committee's plan to reclassify the latter two schools, and to keep the former school in a classification it probably didn't belong.
All three appeals were voted on and passed by the committee, with Central and Sherando getting unanimous 12-vote decisions.
William Monroe's appeal was approved when committee Chairman Dave Melton broke a 6-6 tie.
Central will stay in Group A, Region B, but will move from the Shenandoah District to the Bull Run District for a two-year cycle beginning in the 2011-12 academic year. Sherando will remain in the Group AA, Region II, Northwestern District.
Many at the hearing expressed surprise that all three appeals were passed, considering the committee was concerned that voting in favor of the appeals may set a precedent for future decisions.
As many as five reclassified schools whose student populations hovered around the maximum requirement of one classification, or just below the requirement of the next, did not submit appeals. The committee does not want to hear appeals from eight schools two years from now.
"We hoped that we would have an opportunity for an honest appeal and to have the facts presented, heard and responded to, and that did happen today," said Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent Patricia Taylor, who attended the hearing on Sherando's behalf along with Sherando athletic director Jason Barbe and Principal John Nelson. "That's really all that an appeal should be about: Listening to what the circumstances are and responding to those in a thoughtful manner."
The committee's "final alignment plan," which was drawn up last year and modified on Jan. 26, proposed that Central move up to the Group AA, Region II, Northwestern District, and Sherando move up to the Group AAA, Northwest Region, Cedar Run District.
Central and Sherando made recommendations to the committee before the modification deadline, but their requests were denied -- yet another reason why their unanimous victories were so surprising.
On Monday, a representative from each school gave a five-minute presentation to the committee, with requests similar to those they proposed in January.
Nelson spoke for Sherando, and Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Keith Rowland represented Central.
Rowland's justification for leaving Central in Group A was that Central's population of 751 students doesn't meet the VHSL's minimum requirements for qualifying as a Group AA school. According to the "modified alignment plan" released in January, Central had 761 students. Rowland said there are 10 students who live within the attendance boundaries of Strasburg and Stonewall Jackson high schools who attend special programs offered at Central, but are incorrectly counted as Central students. Those 10 students are ineligible to play sports at Central, and they will graduate from either Strasburg or Stonewall Jackson.
Central has bounced back and forth between Group AA and Group A for the past decade, prompting athletic director Susan Fleming to acknowledge in January that the Falcons want consistency, no matter how they are classified.
Of course, Group A is the reasonable fit, according to the numbers.
"I think now it gets us an opportunity to establish a continuity within our school," Rowland said, "and hopefully encourage our students to come out and participate more."
Rowland cites an additional eight students who live within Central's enrollment boundary, but attend school at either Strasburg or Stonewall Jackson, bringing Rowland's official count down to 743. The committee's revised alignment plan still counts those eight students as being enrolled at Central.
Sherando's justification dealt more with the rezoning of its attendance boundary for the 2010-11 academic year. The rezoning, which was approved by the School Board earlier this year, will send about 60 Sherando students to James Wood, though any seniors involved in the change have the option of remaining at Sherando.
An additional 20 students were removed from Sherando's official population because they are either enrolled in an alternative program, or they're older than 18, the VHSL's maximum age requirement for student athletes.
While the loss of those 80 students does not change Sherando's current student population of 1,571, the school's projected enrollment drops significantly over the next three years: In the 2010-11 academic year, Sherando is projected to have 1,493 students; 1,487 in 2011-12; and 1,484 in 2012-13.
The VHSL committee saw those projections as good reason to keep Sherando in Group AA.
William Monroe, which has been in Group AA for the last 10 years, will move down to the Group A, Region B, Bull Run District, where it will compete with Strasburg, Clarke County and Central.
"It's just wonderful, we're just ecstatic," Fleming said. "Our coaches will be so happy, and giving our athletes that chance to play in single-A ... we just had high hopes.
"The committee did the right thing for all three schools."