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Representatives of the 1st and 2nd districts on a Richmond rezoning committee debated the idea of “pairing” William Fox Elementary School and John B. Cary Elementary School at the committee’s meeting on July 30, 2019.

New school zone proposals in Richmond call for the closure of a middle school in the South Side, and one keeps intact the idea of combining several elementary schools.

The new options are the third and fourth presented to a special committee of city School Board appointees tasked with reviewing the proposals before the board votes on the new zones, a decision that is expected by the end of the calendar year. The new zones would take effect at the start of the 2020-21 school year.

“There’s still a very long road ahead,” Superintendent Jason Kamras said.

The district is trying to alleviate overcrowding in some schools, underenrollment in others and a projected 6.6% increase in students, from 24,390 this year to 25,993 in 2028-29.

The options, like their two predecessors, were created by Cropper GIS, an Ohio-based consultant.

They are similar to the first two options but were created after initial feedback from the public and members of the rezoning committee, which met Tuesday night at Thomas Jefferson High School.

Community meetings about rezoning are slated to start again Aug. 13. The full committee won’t meet again until Aug. 20.

Elementary schools

The idea of combining the school zones for William Fox Elementary School and John B. Cary Elementary School was presented in one of the two new options — just like it was in the initial proposals.

About 60% of students at Fox, a school that meets the state’s full accreditation standards, are white, according to state data. Cary, meanwhile, is 83% black and also meets the state’s full standards.

The vast majority of the initial feedback to the idea, which would combine the Fox and Cary school zones and send students to Fox for kindergarten through second grade and Cary for third through fifth, was negative. The same options calling for “pairing” Fox and Cary propose the same for Fairfield Court and Woodville elementary schools.

The feedback submitted through an online form has been much more mixed over the past two weeks, however.

“Both white and minority students would stand to benefit from being integrated,” wrote one member of the Cary community. “It’s 2019. Why are we still having the segregation debate?!”

Said a Fox parent: “I am strongly in support of the effort to reduce segregation in our schools and it does sound like the Fox/Cary pairing may well move the needle in that direction.”

An online petition created by a Fox parent supporting the idea had garnered about 115 signatures as of 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Still, roughly half of the 75 comments about the idea were against it.

“While I understand the goals of the rezoning to increase diversity and reduce overcrowding and undercrowding, Option 2 would probably create a mediocre school in Cary/Fox and Richmond City would be left with one good elementary school, Mary Munford,” said one member of the Fox community.

Munford, left untouched in the original two proposals, would send 26 students to Cary and 68 students to Fox under the fourth option, which doesn’t include any pairing of schools. Members of the rezoning committee floated the idea Tuesday of pairing Munford with Cary while also combining Fox and Carver Elementary School.

“The challenge with the Munford zone is there is just not a lot of diversity there to be integrated,” Kamras said earlier this month of the whitest school in the district (72%), according to state data. “That doesn’t mean it can’t be created.”

In the third option created by Cropper, 795 elementary school students would change schools — mostly north of the James River. The fourth option would mean 1,399 students change schools, the most of the four proposals.

The majority of the district’s overcrowding, though, is in South Side.

Committee members tasked with reviewing the elementary school proposals for schools south of the James on Tuesday came to the same conclusion: Rezoning alone won’t fix the problem.

“There’s no real wiggle room,” said Tia Redd, a member of the committee who is an 8th District resident. “We definitely need a new school in the South Side.”

A new E.S.H. Greene Elementary School is set to open in fall 2020 and hold 1,000 students, but committee members said that alone wouldn’t solve the overcrowding.

Middle schools

The committee was tasked Tuesday with reviewing only proposals for elementary schools, but the new options did have one major shake-up for middle schools.

Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School on Forest Hill Avenue would close under both options three and four, a reversal from the first two proposals that called for keeping it open. The decrepit facility is currently being rebuilt on Hull Street Road.

“It is one of our worst buildings, and I don’t think kids should go to school there,” Kamras said.

A member of the committee who lives in the district where Elkhardt-Thompson is located, though, worried about not having the additional capacity for the booming Latino population in South Side.

“We are going to need it,” Deanna Fierro said. “We need to think about expanding and rebuilding — not permanent closures.”

High schools

High schools would be the least affected in the rezoning options, with fewer than 400 students changing schools in each of the four proposals.

jmattingly@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6012

Twitter: @jmattingly306

Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers K-12 schools and higher education. A northern New York native and a Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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