Parents and teachers pushed back against early plans designed to redistrict students out of two of Albemarle County’s most crowded school buildings.
Endorsed by the county School Board in April, a Redistricting Advisory Committee spent the last month developing scenarios to alleviate overcrowding at Greer Elementary School and Albemarle High School. Any changes would take effect for the 2016-17 school year.
“It seems like we’re just moving kids from school to school and we’re doing it every few years,” said Eliza Holland, a Sutherland Middle School parent.
Albemarle High — which the School Board has directed staff not to grow — is about 100 students over capacity, and that number is projected to jump to 200 in the next five years.
“It’s where the growth is in this county,” said Rosalyn Schmitt, the school division’s assistant director of facilities planning, noting that growing enrollment is leading to parking and planning complications at the school. “There are six classrooms in what they call the basement of Albemarle High School, meaning that they have no natural light.”
Similarly, Greer Elementary is expected to be 85 students over capacity within five years. Next year, Greer will add three teachers to accommodate the growth, though it’s unclear where in the building those classes will be held. Greer also serves 53 preschool students.
Sarah Henry, president of the Woodbrook Elementary PTO, suggested decreasing Albemarle High’s enrollment by moving the Math, Engineering and Science Academy to Monticello High School.
“That’s over 200 students going to Albemarle High School,” Henry said. “In one step that would eliminate your high school overcrowding without impacting your middle schools.”
Mark Echelberger, a parent of three former county students, agreed, arguing that the Albemarle High addition initially was intended to preserve the neighborhood school model, not serve as a specialty center.
This year, MESA serves 232 students, 52 of whom are out of the AHS 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.
But Schmitt said that moving the academy isn’t under consideration.
“It’s not in the purview of this committee to consider that alternative,” she said. “They are here only to come up with redistricting solutions.”
Ginny Echelberger, a parent of three former county students, requested data showing the number of children in each neighborhood.
“You’ve grouped non-contiguous neighborhoods together, which kind of skews the appearance of where these kids are coming from,” she said.
Kathryn Baylor, principal of Jack Jouett Middle School, opposed a scenario that would see some of her most vulnerable students moved to Burley Middle.
“We are with full passion trying to keep the University Heights refugee ESOL population at Jouett for a long journey that we’ve been taking as a school,” said Baylor, who was joined by about 15 Jouett teachers who echoed her sentiment.
Kristen Martel, a parent at Sutherland Middle, expressed concern over the emotional impact redistricting can have, noting that many students will be separated from their friends.
“There’s a whole set of transition activities that occur once students relocate,” Schmitt said, adding that a school’s PTO often plays an important role in welcoming new students and families.
Martel also asked if any students would be grandfathered to remain at their current schools.
“Grandfathering will be a consideration and part of the recommendation of the committee,” Schmitt said. “It’s up to them to have no grandfathering, to grandfather rising seniors or they’ll have the option of grandfathering in all current Albemarle High School students.”
Nathan Smith, an Albemarle High parent, said the area’s geography made the scenarios tough on families who live in the northern urban area.
“You’re sending some kids on the north side of a city to a high school south of the city, so you have to go through or around Charlottesville, and if you go around that means Free Bridge and Pantops, which means congestion,” Smith said, adding that he would like to see travel times to schools considered rather than mileage.
Additionally, parents advocated for special-education students who would be impacted by a move, and pointed to the lack of a conversation about building a new high school.
“The goal is to come up with the most cost-effective solution for taxpayers with the least possible disruption for those families that may be affected by a move,” said Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for the division.
Moving forward, Schmitt urged parents to remain involved in the process.
“This is a sensitive topic for a lot of people; this is a complicated process,” she said. “This is a long process and we’re at the very beginning of it.”
The next community redistricting meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 2 at Albemarle High.
More information can be found at www.k12albemarle.org/redistricting.