WINCHESTER — With Jordan Springs Elementary School under construction and slated to open for the 2020-21 school year, Frederick County Public Schools officials are preparing to rezone some students in the Redbud Run and Stonewall elementary attendance zones.
The school division has hired Ohio-based consulting firm Cropper GIS to develop rezoning plans and facilitate community engagement.
This is the same firm that was hired to redraw attendance boundaries for Frederick County and James Wood middle schools. That plan, approved by the Frederick County School Board in February, will move 101 students from James Wood Middle School to Frederick County Middle School for the 2019-20 school year.
Cropper GIS held its first public information meeting for the elementary rezoning on Wednesday night at Redbud Run Elementary, with about 30 people in attendance.
Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent David Sovine said on Wednesday that he has been involved with several school rezoning plans, in Frederick County and other school divisions, and that he was impressed with Cropper GIS’ work on the recent middle school rezoning.
“This process is about full engagement,” Sovine told the audience. “I have never experienced a process as smooth as that one.”
Both Redbud Run and Stonewall elementary schools are overcrowded, said Matthew Cropper, president of Cropper GIS. The new Jordan Springs will have a 500- student capacity. Cropper said the boundary changes should only impact the elementary schools, with some students from the Redbud Run and Stonewall zones shifted to Jordan Springs. There is an unlikely chance that a small area in the Apple Pie Ridge Elementary School zone could be affected, he said. Middle and high school boundary lines should not be impacted.
The new attendance zones would go into effect in the fall of 2020, when Jordan Springs opens.
During the rezoning process, Cropper GIS will facilitate five committee meetings, from June through late October. The school district has created a 22-person committee to work on developing rezoning options. The committee meetings will not be open to the public, but materials presented to the committee will be available at fcpsvarezoning.com.
The committee is comprised of nine members from the public, including parents from Stonewall and Redbud Run. There also are nine staff members that include teachers, principals and those who work on school planning, student assignment, transportation and special programs. Finally, there are four support staff, including Sovine and other higher level staff.
The nine members of the public and the nine staff members will be able to vote, while the four support staff members will not.
The committee will hold three meetings to review and discuss background data and baseline options for rezoning, then it will develop preliminary options that will be presented at the second public information session on Sept. 10 for public comment and feedback. After that, the committee will meet twice more to review public input, update options and finalize recommendations. The School Board is slated to receive the committee’s final rezoning recommendation on Nov. 6.
“Rezoning is a very contentious and emotional process,” Cropper said.
The best way to approach rezoning is through transparency and communication with the public, he added.
“Everybody can understand that they had a chance to speak their mind, even if they may be impacted,” Cropper said.
School officials have provided rezoning criteria for Cropper GIS that includes balancing building utilization, minimizing impact on students and communities, as well as maximizing student transportation efficiency. The criteria also seek that economic, cultural and ethnic diversity not be adversely impacted by the rezoning changes, and special needs populations should be distributed evenly among the schools.
Erik Peterson, a parent from the Stonewall District who is on the rezoning committee, told The Star it’s important that students don’t attend schools that are overcrowded. Peterson has a child at Stonewall and another at James Wood Middle School.
“Our tax dollars go towards public education, and in order for our kids to get the best education possible, you want to make sure that they’re in a place conducive to their education,” Peterson said.
He added that he appreciates the way Cropper GIS will facilitate the rezoning process. He said it’s important, in what can be an emotional issue, to consider thinking outside the box in a way that considers the impact on the community as a whole and not just one family.
“I think this is a fantastic process,” Peterson said.