City schools eye consultant for redistricting

Posted: August 26, 2014

The Winchester Star

Courtesy RRMMArchitectsA rendering of the new John Kerr Elementary School shows the main entrance off the Meadow Branch Avenue extension.

WINCHESTER — The opening of a new John Kerr Elementary School — scheduled for fall 2016 — necessitates that the city school division pursue redistricting, which will relocate students and teachers from all four elementary schools.

Superintendent Mark Line burg acknowledged at Monday’s School Board meeting that the process can cause “growing pains,” but that it will ultimately result in “long-term success.”

Recognizing that redistricting can be an emotionally charged practice, Lineburg said the key is to “listen, listen, listen” to parents and others with a vested interest throughout the process.

He added, “All our elementary schools are equally good; all are outstanding.”

Another key is to bring an outsider to guide the process to ensure “neutrality” and reassure the public that the division did not “do things a certain way we wanted to,” said Director of Operations Ed Smith.

A request for proposals has been issued for a consultant to oversee the process, and responses are due Sept. 24.

Also, the division will create an internal committee to assist with data management, scenario development and resource allocation. An external committee will focus on incorporating participation from those with a stake in the process to provide “ideas, input, and feedback regarding possible student-movement scenarios,” according to a memo from Smith to the board.

School Board members will be assigned to both committees by Oct. 1.

While a timeline for the redistricting process won’t be established until the consultant is hired, it is tentatively scheduled for completion by December 2015 and for board approval in January 2016.

Funding for the consultant will be reallocated from line items that are underexpended. Monies from the current fiscal year and FY16 can be budgeted for the service.

Coupled with the redistricting talk at Monday’s meeting, the board saw new exterior renderings of the future John Kerr.

Some of the main features include a tower that will stand prominently at the school’s front entrance off the Meadow Branch Avenue extension, a courtyard and plentiful windows to maximize natural light.

“It’s a strong mark but also functional space,” Ben Motley of RRMM Architects said of the tower, noting that it will include space for the library and a conference room.

The exterior walls will be a combination of red and off-white brick.

Some board members praised RRMM Architects’ work on the project.

“It’s a unique structure, but it fits,” said Vice-Chairwoman Allyson Pate. “My sense is this is a very striking design and could be a catalyst for design in this area.” Contextually it fits in with other buildings in that part of the city, including the CVS, Winchester Medical Center and Sacred Heart Academy, according to Pate.

With the project in the midst of city approvals, Smith predicted construction will begin by the middle of October, with a groundbreaking ceremony by the beginning of November.

The two-story, 94,000-square-foot school will be built on 9.3 acres behind Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church off Amherst Street. Construction costs are capped at $20 million.

In other business:

To limit the loss of student knowledge associated with summer vacation, the division has submitted an application for Virginia Department of Education grant funding in the amount of $239,747 to implement a 15-day summer program.

The targeted enrollment for the program is about 600 first- to fourth-grade students from the elementary schools. They would enroll in the program, entitled Full STEAM Ahead, from June 9 to June 27, 2015.

The program aims to promote an integration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics with the arts.

Participating students would also be invited to attend a 10-day session targeting reading and mathematics.

“The primary goal of the program is to increase student achievement and loss of student learning via increasing instructional time during the summer months, especially those who may be at-risk for success,” according the memo regarding the application.

Attending the meeting at Virginia Avenue Charlotte DeHart Elementary School were Chairwoman Erica Truban, Vice-Chairwoman Allyson Pate and members Richard Bell, Vincent Di Benedetto, Minh Le, Mel Thomas and Mary Margaret Wise. Member Lauren Hawley was absent.

— Contact Derek Gomes at dgomes@winchesterstar.com