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Residents suggest changes to Jefferson County Schools redistricting plan

By Staff | Dec 23, 2016

Editor’s Note: Over the next two pages are three stories on the Redistricting plan. The stories, in order, cover three meetings held by the Board of Education over the plast week.

Residents expressed their reservations and doubts Thursday night about Jefferson County School’s proposed redistricting plan, with several attendees requesting the Board of Education to pause to thoroughly reevaluate-evaluate the plan before taking it to a vote early next year.

More than 200 Jefferson County residents showed up at Wildwood Middle School Thursday night for the first of three open forums to allow them to air their views about the proposed school redistricting plan that, if passed would move 830 students to other school locations starting the 2017-18 school year.

After providing a summary of online comments to date, BOE members fielded questions for nearly two hours from residents in the school cafeteria.

Concerns ranged from the emotional impact of moving students from one school environment to another, to the accuracy of the redistricting data compiled by the district, to a questioning of the qualifications of the 14 member committee who conducted the redistricting plan.

Residents were initially greeted with good news when BOE officials informed them that they would grandfather all grade levels of high school students so current students in both Jefferson High and Washington High Schools will be able graduate at their existing school.

“We have heard your concerns and we agree with you,” said BOE chairman Scott Sudduth. “All of us on the board believe that all students should stay in their own high school. The $65,000 in transportation costs is something the board will deal with.”

First outlined at the Nov. 28 BOE meeting, the redistricting plan would shift students from fast-growing schools to ones growing at a slower rate.

The proposed plan would shift designated students from schools determined to be in “high-growth” areas in the county to schools identified as having a “low-growth” rate, Jefferson Schools Superintendent Dr. Bondy Shay Gibson told residents at the Nov. 28 BOE meeting.

If approved, the plan would require shifting 341 elementary, 210 middle and 279 high school students to locations different from the one the student would be assigned under the district’s current geographically based plan.

If approved by the BOE, the plan would take effect in the 2017-18 school year.

Rob Forrest, a resident of the Breckinridge section of the county, questioned the credentials of the 14 member committee which developed the plan.

“What is the professional experience of dealing with redistricting,” Forrest asked. “I request that the board not rush to a decision and get a professional group to evaluate the plan.”

Deerfield Village resident Kurt Wagner told the board that shifting children from Shepherdstown Elementary School to T.A. Lowery Elementary School would “tear at the social fabric of the Deerfield Village community.”

“As a community, we are really intertwined with Shepherdstown,” Wagner said.

Shepherdstown resident Sarah Lambert questioned whether excessive student transfers is the reason for Shepherdstown Elementary School hitting capacity, and asked the board to put redistricting on hold until it can build another school.

“I ask that the board demonstrate a human priority first,” Lambert said.

Spring Hill resident Zachery Thomas said he purchased his house so his children could attend South Jefferson Elementary School.

“Our children are being uprooted from their social network,” Thomas said. “A social network is extremely important for children that age.”

Deerfield Village resident Tim West told the board there’s a unifying theme to all the residents’ comments.

“The message I’m hearing tonight is about community,” West said. “Take some time and look at all of the data. This is about community.”