Alexandria School Board discusses redistricting city, fall enrollment

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Alexandria School Board discusses redistricting city, fall enrollment
The Alexandria City Public School Board is looking into redistricting the city due to rising populations and long bus routes. (File photo)
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By Dylan Jaffe | djaffe@alextimes.com

 & Caitlyn Meisner | cmeisner@alextimes.com 

A new redistricting plan was presented at the November 30 Alexandria City Public School Board meeting that would allow students to attend schools closer to their homes, enable the district to accommodate for a gradual increase of students and cut down on bus route length. 

This redistricting effort is in line with the capacity aspect of the Capital Improvement Program, a city-funded project to replace, renovate and build new campuses for ACPS. According to the program budget report, after an initial decrease in enrollment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the district is expected to continue growing through 2030. 

Ahead of the redistricting presentation, another was made about the fall transfer and student ratio, which showed the number of students that transfer between schools depending on capacity, programs or siblings. This gave important context for Board members before discussing redistricting. 

“We always anxiously await for these numbers to come out and I am just so thankful that our enrollment numbers are alive and growing,” School Board member Jacinta Greene said. 

In the CIP budget report, it states that George Mason and Cora Kelly Elementary Schools will be replaced, schools older than 75 years will be renovated and new schools will be built to accommodate a growing population of students. 

ACPS has been struggling with a bus driver shortage since at least the start of the 2023-2024 school year, resulting in dozens of students not having access to reliable transportation. While this issue is not limited to Alexandria – as neighboring jurisdictions have struggled to combat competitive wages and overwhelming bus routes – the city continues to recruit transportation staff as the mid-year mark approaches. 

Within the redistricting decision making process, there are three different committees that work on this process: the School Board, the Steering Committee and the Redistricting Review Committee. The three entities work together to come up with final recommendations to be voted on by the Board. 

The School Board subcommittee – which consists of Vice Chair Kelly Carmichael Booz, Greene, Christopher Harris and Tammy Ignacio – will review stakeholder feedback and make final decisions. The Steering Committee consists of diverse ACPS staff who act as liaisons to the other two committees and develop the recommendations that are then sent to the Board. The Redistricting Review Committee also sends their recommendations to the School Board and seeks diverse perspectives from the community. 

According to Marcia Jackson, Ed.D., chief of student services and equity, in order to ensure families are supported when the redistricting occurs, there will be a lot of communication to families that will have to transition to new schools. She said there will be open houses to help acclimate both students and parents to a new campus. 

The proposed timeline for the redistricting process is from November 2023 to August 2025; however, Board members are not optimistic this will occur in a short period of time and shared other concerns regarding the communication mentioned. 

“This is an ambitious proposed timeline,” Carmichael Booz said. “If we can’t meet that 2025 deadline, [we should] have a plan B to look at 2026.” 

Simpson Baird said it was not fair to notify families between March and July 2025 if their child is going to have to switch to a different school for the upcoming school year in August. 

“Families plan their lives around where their kids go to school and I think this can be so disruptive. We really owe it to families to give them more time,” Simpson Baird said. 

ACPS Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Ed.D., assured Board members that the presentation given was only preliminary. Because this is early on in the process, the presentation shared by Jackson was a general overview of the hard work that will need to be implemented in the redistricting process. 

“This [timeline] was just in alignment with some of the direction we’ve received previously about trying to make it a shortened timeline,” Kay-Wyatt said. “We know it’s ambitious.” 

Kay-Wyatt also said the timeline could change as contractors weigh in and community engagement rolls in. 

Simpson Baird also mentioned that this redistricting issue will become a political topic and advocated for staggered School Board terms. 

“The way that this work bridges to School Board terms is going to add an added element of politics and continuity of knowledge,” Simpson Baird said. “If we had members that were continuing from one term to another, we would preserve that knowledge from those conversations … and all that’s gone into this and we wouldn’t have the politics and elections interfering as much.” 

Board Chair Michelle Rief, Ph.D., said it was helpful for her when she first joined to speak with incumbent Board members about redistricting. Rief joined the Board in 2018 amid 2015 and 2017 redistricting talks. Rief encouraged leadership on the project to invite past Board members and those on the 2015 and 2017 redistricting committees to reflect on past mistakes and issues that caused turmoil in previous redistricting efforts. 

The meeting then turned to the next three school years of academic calendars and policy revisions. The next Board meeting is December 14, and the CIP 2025-2034 budget will be adopted. 

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