Albemarle School Board approves redistricting in urban ring
The Albemarle County School Board on Thursday voted, 4-3, to approve a redistricting recommendation from Superintendent Pam Moran that could bring more than 200 elementary school students in the county’s urban ring to a new school in the next academic year.
The redistricting is intended to relieve overcrowding at Agnor-Hurt and Greer elementary schools, primarily by bringing more students to Woodbrook Elementary. Construction on a 36,000-square-foot addition to Woodbrook is scheduled for completion this summer.
With the new boundaries, 113 Greer students who live in the Landmark at Granite Park area and south of Solomon Road and Commonwealth Drive would attend Woodbrook next year.
Also redistricted for Woodbrook are 72 Agnor-Hurt students from the Branchlands and Minor Ridge neighborhoods and from homes along Rio Road between Pine Haven Court and Wakefield Road. These areas also will have their middle school assignments changed from Burley Middle School to Jack Jouett Middle School. This will affect 26 students next year.
Finally, homes along Townwood Drive will be redistricted from Greer to Agnor-Hurt, affecting 31 current students.
School Board members Kate Acuff, Jonno Alcaro, Jason Buyaki and Stephen Koleszar voted to accept the redistricting plan. Katrina Callsen, David Oberg and Graham Paige cast dissenting votes.
The School Board voted unanimously to allow current fourth graders, and sixth and seventh graders at Burley affected by the redistricting, to remain at their schools. Younger siblings of these students will also be permitted to stay at the school for one more year.
The School Board will discuss the possibility of providing buses for grandfathered students at a later meeting.
The School Board in June directed Moran to convene an advisory committee and complete a redistricting study to address overcrowding at Agnor-Hurt, Greer and Woodbrook elementary schools.
The 13-member committee met six times and received feedback at a community meeting at Agnor-Hurt on Nov. 8. The school division also distributed a survey that allowed people in the affected school communities to evaluate three redistricting scenarios.
A redistricting study conducted by the county in 2015 failed to find a way to solve overcrowding at Greer without building additional school capacity.
Enrollment at Greer this year, including preschool classrooms, is 115 students above the school building’s capacity.
At Thursday’s public hearing, Turtle Creek resident Jason Fletcher said he was concerned that the new boundaries would affect low-income students living near Greer.
“What most people don’t realize about Greer is that it’s kind of a community center,” Fletcher said. “Even if you don’t go to that school, everybody gathers there. … For many of these kids, remaining at Greer is the best opportunity for them.”
Greer Elementary principal Robyn Bolling said the reduction of well over 100 students, along with some teachers and staff at her school, would weigh heavily on her heart.
“At Greer, we all play together and learn together. And now we are going to have to say goodbye,” Bolling said.
Kasey Chadwick, a Burley Middle School student living in Minor Ridge, said students in his neighborhood should be able to choose between staying at Burley and moving to Jack Jouett next year.
“Some of my friends in my neighborhood are OK with going to Jack Jouett, while others, like me, are not,” Chadwick said.
“My parents went through a divorce recently, and my teachers and friends have been a vital support system. … My mom spent many weeks looking at houses to ensure I remained in the Burley school district,” he said.
At the community meeting on redistricting in November, some Agnor-Hurt parents lobbied for the school to be excluded from the redistricting study.
Agnor-Hurt’s enrollment this school year was below what the division had projected. The school is now projected to reach, but not exceed, its capacity by 2022.
However, a majority of the committee members concluded that exempting Agnor-Hurt from redistricting would leave no room for error in enrollment projections.
Most of the proposed future residential development in the redistricting study area is planned to occur in the Agnor-Hurt district.
An analysis by the county’s community development department identified 213 residential units in Agnor-Hurt district that have not yet been built, mostly in existing subdivisions like Belvedere, Dunlora, Lochlyn Hill and Stonewater.
The analysis estimated that 342 proposed residential units in the Agnor-Hurt district would yield about 27 elementary school students.
The advisory committee’s report noted that additional capacity or redistricting would still be required to accommodate students from the planned Brookhill development near the intersection of U.S. 29 and Rio Mills Road. Brookhill currently is in the Hollymead Elementary School district.
Several parents at the public hearing called for the county to initiate a more comprehensive redistricting study to address demographic variance between the schools closest to Charlottesville and those in rural and suburban areas.
School Board member Jason Buyaki said a countywide study should aim to ensure that more students attend the school closest to them.
“I think we have an obligation to communities in Albemarle to give students the ability to go to their neighborhood school,” he said.
New School Board member Katrina Callsen said the goals of balancing the schools’ demographics and keeping more students in their neighborhoods were at odds with each other.
“Our county is developed in a way that is very economically and racially segregated,” she said.