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Mark Olinger, director of Richmond’s Department of Planning and Development Review, and Maritza Pechin with AECOM spoke to the Rezoning Advisory Committee on Oct. 17.

After months of debate, Richmond has recommendations for new school zones.

The Rezoning Advisory Committee — a group of city School Board appointees tasked with reviewing new zone proposals — on Friday finalized its recommendations for new zones.

The recommended options include combining majority-white and majority-black zones, an idea that has solicited the most feedback in the five months since options were initially released. Roughly 3 in 4 of the city’s schools are what researchers define as “intensely segregated,” meaning less than 10% of the student body is white.

In addition, there’s overcrowding in South Side schools, requiring extensive shuffling and potentially the building of another elementary school. Three new schools are set to come online next fall, and officials want to address the decrepit nature of most of the city’s other schools through rezoning and putting as many students as possible into the new buildings.

“[The committee] put together four proposals that capture the range of feelings and beliefs about how this process should move forward,” Superintendent Jason Kamras said.

The four recommended options are now in the hands of the city School Board, which ultimately has the power to set new boundaries. The board could alter one of the recommendations or take parts of one recommendation and combine it with parts of another.

“There’s still more work to do,” said School Board Chairwoman Dawn Page. “We’re thankful for the committee and the work they did. Now it’s up to us to make a decision.”

The proposals were initially created by the Ohio-based consultant Cropper GIS, which the school system paid $127,000 for the work. The rezoning committee then tinkered with the options Cropper drafted, resulting in the four recommendations.

Each of the recommended proposals is associated with a letter (W-Z). Public hearings on the options are scheduled for Nov. 18 at Ginter Park Elementary School, Nov. 25 at Bellevue Elementary and Dec. 2 at E.S.H. Greene Elementary.

The School Board is scheduled to vote on new zones at the Dec. 2 meeting.

The rezoning committee is made up of two community members from each of the city’s nine districts, School Board members and several school officials.

Proposal W

This option is the most conservative of the recommendations, requiring 512 students to change elementary schools.

The northern part of the Broad Rock Elementary School zone — a school at 131% of its capacity — would move to the new E.S.H. Greene Elementary, which is being rebuilt to hold 1,000 students. The switch would put Greene at 97% of its capacity when it opens, something committee members expressed some concern about Friday when debating whether to keep those students at Broad Rock.

Also on the South Side, the current Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School building would close as the city opens a new middle school on Hull Street Road.

In the East End, students in Whitcomb Court would go to the new George Mason Elementary. The new school is set to hold 750 students. Initial rezoning options had the school opening only half full.

To help fill the new Mason, Cropper proposed closing Bellevue Elementary, an undercapacity school that is the only one in the East End to meet the state’s full accreditation standards. Bellevue parents have pushed back against the idea of closing the school, proposing instead to turn it into a specialty school if officials were to close it.

Now, Bellevue is unaffected in all four options. So is every elementary school in North Side and the West End in this plan.

At the middle school level, 670 students would change schools under Proposal W. Nearly all of the changes would be students from Boushall Middle and Lucille Brown Middle going to the new 1,500-student middle school on Hull Street Road.

No high school students would change schools under this plan.

Proposal X

X marks the spot for the most controversial of the four proposals.

The option includes combining several majority-white schools with majority-black schools in a process known as school pairing. Currently, three elementary schools — Linwood Holton, Mary Munford and William Fox — enroll roughly 70% of the white elementary students in the school system.

All three are paired in this plan.

Holton would be part of a three-way school pairing, housing students for third through fifth grades while Ginter Park and Barack Obama elementaries would serve students in kindergarten through second grade.

Munford, the highest-performing elementary school in Richmond, would have students in third through fifth grades. Students would attend George W. Carver Elementary, the second-lowest performing, for kindergarten through second grade. Students in this school pairing would go to Albert Hill Middle School.

Nearby Carver and Munford, Fox and John B. Cary elementary schools would be combined, going to Fox for kindergarten through third grade and Cary for fourth and fifth grades. Students would then go to Binford Middle School.

Kelley Ryan, who represents the 2nd District on the committee, said the group’s vision is for the pairings to be one school on three campuses.

“It’s supposed to be a K-8 school,” she said.

Theresa Kennedy, one of the 3rd District’s representatives to the committee, on Friday suggested implementing the school pairings in the 2021-22 school year rather than next year, when other changes would take effect.

More than 1,100 students would change schools under the plan, which would change the same South Side and East End boundaries as Proposal W.

Proposal Y

No school pairing is on the table in this proposal.

Like the other options, it fills the three new schools in South Side and in the East End. In North Side, Ginter Park, Holton and Barack Obama all would swap some students to make the schools more diverse. The biggest impact would be felt by Holton, which would send 76 students to Obama and 118 students to Ginter Park.

About 1,000 elementary school students total would change schools.

In this plan and in Proposal X, John Marshall High School would send 130 students to Thomas Jefferson High, the biggest change at the high school level in any plan.

Proposal Z

The final of the four proposals puts school pairing back in discussion.

This plan combines the school zones for Mary Munford and John B. Cary, sending students to Munford through second grade and then Cary for third through fifth grades.

The school system has estimated that it will cost at least $617,500 per merger to combine elementary school zones. The money would pay for new teachers, new buses and new bathrooms, among other things.

In this option, Fox Elementary takes part of the current Cary zone and sends 30 students to Carver Elementary.

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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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