By Susan Hale Thomas (File photo)
Superintendent Alvin Crawley announced the Alexandria City School Board would be redrawing the city’s public school boundaries at a meeting last Thursday.
District lines have not changed since 1999 and Crawley said he expected schools to be over capacity by 2020, with enrollment growing by 4 percent each year.
In his presentation, Crawley listed several benefits of redistricting. He said it would allow for a more equitable apportionment of students across the district and would alleviate overcrowding and untenable scheduling situations. The outcome, he hopes, will create a better atmosphere for staff and students in which to work and learn.
The redistricting, if approved, will be implemented ahead of the 2016-2017 school year.
Crawley outlined a step-by-step process the board will work through between now and until February 2016 when the plan should be ready for approval. Public engagement sessions will be held to gather feedback as well as through public hearings, a survey, community forums, principal chats, PTA meetings and open houses.
Crawley said students would be assigned to schools through an assignment committee, the school board and community representatives.
Board members were concerned about the impact redistricting could have on the system as a whole. Bill Campbell suggested the redistricting process be overlaid with the ACPS modernization plan to see potential conflicts or benefits. Kelly Booz asked how transportation might be affected.
Campbell also expressed his concern about the potential for legal issues if the board inadvertently oversteps its authority.
“What limits do we have in terms of some of the social engineering that we are getting ready to undertake?” he asked. “So, if there are any documents that perhaps limit what we can do we certainly want to look for those.”
School board member Pat Hennig was concerned that only three public hearings were proposed and asked that a fourth hearing be added. Hennig also suggested bringing in an external group for assistance. Chairwoman Karen Graf agreed.
Board member Marc Williams was curious about what operational efficiencies would be achieved through a different student placement plan.
“Obviously it would be great if [students] could start lunch at 11 a.m. instead of 10:30 a.m.,” he said. “I don’t know what other efficiencies could be achieved. Maybe there’s more efficient bus routing that could be achieved that is not being achieved now?
“But I think the question that is naturally going to arise is: Is this going to cost us more money? Will it be it easier on the staff? Is it going to be easier on the students?”
Vice chairman Chris Lewis was interested in seeing background data on transfers between schools.
“I get a lot of questions from folks about who gets transfers, why they get transfers, and is it fair,” he said. “[To] me the reason that we’re doing this … is because we have schools with hundreds of kids who can’t go to their neighborhood school, and to me, that the number one reason why this needs to happen.”
Campbell wanted to know if all city schools students should be able to walk to their school or would the district have open enrollment. Board member Marc Williams asked for specific placement models that officials could study.
If school boundaries are to be redrawn, officials will need to figure out how to deal with the disruption and stress it could cause students and families. Board member Kelly Booz suggested a grandfather clause of some sort to apply to students already in a school.
“That could be really jarring for a young person to have to move to a different school,” she said. “Are there case studies of different approaches that help us to begin to go through redistricting and go through maybe a five-year roll out or three-year roll out?”
In anticipation of great public interest, the board asked for workable criteria and practices for themselves and the public, feeling it would help facilitate the redistricting process for all interested stakeholders.
The first public hearing on redistricting will be held in May.