Update 2: The School Board

For the second leg of my research, I watched hours of recorded WJCC school board meetings from April 2017 to February 2018, the period of time in which the board discussed redistricting at both the middle and high school levels. In doing so, I wanted to see how the board’s goals and priorities for the county changed over time with respect to the middle schools, specifically how they weighed achieving socio-economic balance across the county against the idea of neighborhood schools or the capacity issues at the middle school level. Though I did gain some insight on the middle school redistricting process, I also learned about how a school board functions as a whole.

The board made it clear from the beginning that redistricting for the middle schools was inevitable, triggered by the construction of a fourth middle school that needed to be filled for the upcoming school year. Thus, there was not as much contention as I expected, from the community or the board members, when it came to choosing between the maps. While there was some discussion of minimal impact (affecting as few kids as possible with the new attendance zones), it was not a high priority for the middle schools. Most of the tension came from the discussion of high school redistricting, which was on the table until December.  The board then decided to use trailers to expand the high schools and add capacity instead of redistricting high schools. Community members came to public hearings and school board meetings in droves to first advocate for redistricting high schools and then to protest it once it seemed that moving the students would not reduce overcrowding for the long term.

Most of the discussion centered around establishing criteria for creating maps for the new attendance zones, since clearly communicating the board’s goals to the consultant would ideally result in the best three maps to choose from. Capacity was a main concern — since WJCC is a growing community with a shortage of schools — as was proximity due to issues with transportation funding and parent protests against long bus rides. Several board members also advocated strongly for achieving a socio-economic balance (measured by percentage of students on free or reduced lunch) in each middle school that closely resembled the district average. One board member even acknowledged the inequity and segregation in WJCC schools created by the last redistricting process, saying, “We’re already not taking kids to their closest school. Currently we’re doing it for socio-economic segregation. … and I would like to change that for socio-economic integration.” This did prove to be a priority all throughout the process, as the board finally voted to choose a map that compromised longevity in terms of school capacity for a plan that had all four middle schools within 10% of the district average for students on free or reduced lunch.

Watching all of the board footage gave me a few new avenues for research in the coming two weeks. Several William and Mary professors actually came to the public hearings to speak about redistricting, so I will be reaching out to them to get their thoughts and gauge the impressions of the community about the final choice for the middle school map and the decision to wait to redistrict high schools. The discussion about the high school process also proved to be emotional and of great interest to the community, so I may include a section in my final paper about that issue as well. The final weeks of my research will additionally be spent looking at school report cards from the Virginia Department of Education to see what happened when the board redistricted in 2007 and 2010 and predict how the new zones will affect student outcomes in middle school going forward.

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