The Henrico County School Board is now weighing in on the redistricting process that’s been roiling communities in the western part of the county, asking its volunteer committee to heed constituents’ concerns.
During a School Board work session Thursday, all five members of the board made comments aimed at shaping the redistricting proposals that are due to them in April.
The redistricting committee is working on new zones that are scheduled to take effect in the 2021-22 school year. The School Board is scheduled to vote on the plans in May.
The new zones are intended to alleviate overcrowding in several schools, plan for growth and reduce concentrations of poverty where possible. Last summer, the school system started the planning process by hiring Ohio-based consulting firm Cropper GIS and creating the 67-member redistricting committee.
Since then, more than two dozen plans have been crafted. Almost all of the proposals call for moving up to around 5,000 K-12 students, leading to an outcry from families.
“We want to be very specific about what this board would like to see in giving consideration before the final recommendation,” said School Board Chairman Roscoe Cooper, who represents the Fairfield District. “We think it’s better to be clear about this now, instead of two months from now, in order to be proactive, not reactive.”
“We want to be certain and crystal clear that the committee has considered the ideas that each of us have heard regularly from our constituents.”
All five members of the board — including the three who joined it at the start of the year — spoke about what they’ve heard from their constituents, in some cases mentioning specific neighborhoods, schools and road corridors that are subject to change.
Micky Ogburn, who represents Three Chopt, said proposals that would move students who live near Pocahontas Middle School to Quioccasin Middle School run “counter” to a county plan to build new sidewalk infrastructure to make the Church Road and Three Chopt Road corridors more pedestrian-friendly.
She said there are also concerns from constituents about teen students potentially having to drive on Interstate 64 if they are zoned to attend another school.
“This is not about the squeaky wheel getting the grease,” she said. “This is about being sure that the committee hears what we’re hearing from our community.”
Kristi Kinsella, one of the three new board members, said her constituents in the Brookland District have also expressed concerns about being zoned to schools farther away.
“It just doesn’t make sense when you look at the maps if you’re familiar with the area,” she said.
Marcie Shea, who represents the Tuckahoe District, echoed concerns Cooper brought up about middle school and high school feeder patterns being disrupted in some of the proposals.
“The continuity of communities has to be considered for all of our maps. We know this builds a strong sense of community, which makes for strong schools,” she said.
Alicia Atkins, who represents the Varina District, said Cropper and the school system could also help the process by making the data that’s been shared easier to understand.
“I think we can do better as far as communication goes,” she said. “If there’s a way to bring forth the information in the most simplistic fashion, we can reach everyone so that some of the decision-making isn’t based off emotion.”
Shea also asked that the public be mindful of how they speak online and in public about different communities that they might consider to be less desirable and could be zoned to take students from other schools.
“Our students and children are watching,” she said. “Please speak to each other with respect and dignity. I know we can do better.”
The redistricting committee will meet again Wednesday. New drafts of redistricting proposals will then be shared at community meetings scheduled for March 4 at L. Douglas Wilder Middle School and March 5 at Hermitage High School. Both begin at 6:30 p.m.