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Albemarle redistricting committee continues debate

Following a public meeting that saw some community members push back against preliminary plans to redistrict students, Albemarle County Public Schools’ Redistricting Advisory Committee furthered debated Tuesday at a meeting at the county’s largest — and most crowded — school.

The conversation marked the committee’s fourth meeting to discuss alleviating overcrowding at Albemarle High and Greer Elementary schools. Any changes would take effect for the 2016-17 school year.

In April, the School Board directed the committee to develop scenarios to lessen overcrowding at the two schools.

Albemarle High, which has an enrollment of 1,930, is about 100 students over capacity. It is projected to be 200 students over capacity in five years. Albemarle also serves 60 out-of-district students, but 28 students who live in the northern feeder pattern attend Western Albemarle High and Monticello High.

Greer Elementary anticipates being about 80 students over capacity within five years. To date, Greer serves 22 out-of-district students, and six students who live in the Greer district attend other schools in Albemarle.

Students who move during the second semester are allowed to complete the year in their home schools.

The committee’s charge for the discussion Tuesday was to revise the three scenarios presented at the first public input session into two scenarios to be presented at an input session scheduled for June 2. The committee continued working on those proposals late Tuesday.

“I just want to encourage you to make sure that your recommendations are well thought out, well defended, and looked at through the data picture to make sure that we’re making the best decision for our kids,” schools Superintendent Pam Moran told the committee.

During the first public input session last week, numerous parents suggested moving the system’s Math, Engineering and Sciences Academy from Albemarle High to Monticello High.

Phil Giaramita, schools spokesman, said that while those comments would be reviewed by the committee, moving the academy would “present other problems.”

“It would negatively affect Albemarle High School’s curriculum and program offerings and that is beyond the scope of the advisory committee,” Giaramita said. “There also would be no guarantee that the number of students who move would be sufficient since students can opt out of MESA and choose not to move.”

“One incentive for choosing not to move is that, in order to continue in MESA, students would have to provide their own transportation to Monticello, which may not be possible for all students,” Giaramita added.

Jeff Prillaman, who directs the academy, said that while he’s willing to teach wherever the program is located, moving the program would require building new science classrooms at Monticello.

“We put this wing on here for MESA, but then to move the kids to Monticello would have an infrastructure cost,” Prillaman said, citing transportation problems that would be caused as well.

“It also changes the distribution of the academies, so it’s not one academy at each [comprehensive] high school,” said Tiffany Barber, a member of the committee.

This school year, the academy serves 232 students, 52 of whom are out of the Albemarle High district. Of those 52, 15 are from Monticello High and 37 are from Western Albemarle. Next year, the academy plans to serve about 260 students.

Other criticism of the possible redistricting scenarios ranging from increased travel time to a desire to hold English as a Second or Other Language students harmless to the relocation of programs.

One scenario presented at the first meeting last week would redistrict some ESOL students from Jack Jouett Middle School to Burley Middle School. But Kathryn Baylor, the principal at Jouett, said those students should not be moved, as the school and families have developed a successful relationship.

The division would like to build a 300 seat addition on Woodbrook Elementary that would serve as relief for urban ring students, but that project was not funded in the most recent capital improvement plan process.

Despite the project’s lack of funding, Barber asked if it is viable to put trailers at Greer with the hope that Woodbrook Elementary has an addition in three years.

The committee also is scheduled to meet June 9 and Sept. 15. The third public input session is slated for Sept. 22, and the committee plans to present its final recommendation to Superintendent Pam Moran on Sept. 29. Moran is expected to present her recommendation to the School Board in October.

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