Prince William County’s 13th high school is expected to address overcrowding at Battlefield, Patriot and Stonewall Jackson high schools when it opens in 2021.
But some students looking at the new boundaries envision the minority population climbing at Stonewall Jackson while the number of minority students falls at the other campuses.
The school will be at 13150 University Blvd. in Bristow on 83 acres near Gainesville Middle School and Jiffy Lube Live amphitheater.
More than 100 people attended a boundary planning public hearing May 16 to voice their opinion about the plans from school division staff. Many supported the proposed boundaries, but others were upset.
A final staff recommendation will be presented to the school board on June 5, and the board will hold a public hearing on the proposed boundaries on June 19. Board members can make changes before voting.
School Board member Gil Trenum, Brentsville District, encouraged people to stay engaged in the process.
“There is still a lot of the process left to go,” he said. “Sometimes people get the feeling that the boundaries are a done deal before they’re ever presented [to the school board]. That is not the case.”
Drawing new high school boundaries is never pleasant, Trenum said, adding this is his third high school boundary process since 2008, when he first began serving on the school board.
“There are a few factors; we’re trying to optimize as many of those as possible, but there is never a perfect plan that gets everyone what they want,” he said. “Everyone has a right to want what they think is best for their students or their children. I think it’s pretty important that every community or group that is being considered for change has an opportunity to see at least one plan that reflects their desires.”
Trenum said he plans to ask the board to consider adding Brentsville and Osbourn Park High to the boundary planning process for the 13th high school.
“Bottom line, it’ll have to be a plan that at least 5 [school] board members can agree on,” Trenum said.
How the school division addresses questions of racial demographics in plotting out the 13th high school will probably help inform decisions for the 14th high school. The proposed site for that school on Prince William Parkway, just north of the intersection with Hoadly Road, could affect boundaries for Osbourn Park High School as well as other high schools throughout central and eastern Prince WIlliam.
For the 13th high school maps, planning staff are using neighborhoods as the basis of assigning students, while considering some demographic factors, but the school division cannot consider only demographic factors when redrawing boundaries, said Matthew Cartlidge, the school division’s planning supervisor.
The county has presented two plans: “Plan 1” and “Plan 1a.” The auditorium was divided on May 16. Many students from Stonewall Jackson strongly disagreed with the proposed plans, while many parents supported “Plan 1a,” developed after a first community meeting April 30.
The 13th high school is planned to accommodate 2,557 students and employ 225 people, according to school division staff. With more than 8,000 students among them, Battlefield is over capacity by 46.4%, Patriot is over capacity by 30% and Stonewall Jackson is over capacity by 2.7%. By 2021-2022, the school division expects the four high schools to have a total of 8,616 students and an overall capacity for 9,072 students.
Both proposed plans would leave Stonewall Jackson with an increase in students with a limited English proficiency, from 18.7% to around 24%, students who are economically disadvantaged, from 50.7% to around 61%, and minority students, from 80.8% to 89.2%.
The numbers shift slightly between the two plans for Patriot, but around 2% of its students would have limited English proficiency, around 12.5% of its students considered economically disadvantaged, and between 45% and 47% minority
In both plans, Battlefield would have fewer students with limited English proficiency, fewer students who are economically disadvantaged and fewer minority students.
SUCCESS THROUGH DIVERSITY
Lubna Azmi, senior class president at Stonewall Jackson, said the proposed plans are unacceptable because they contribute to the segregation of the affected high schools. Azmi said Stonewall Jackson is a great school — “and that’s greatly due to its diversity.”
“We’re saying schools need to be diverse,” Azmi told InsideNoVa. “We’re not just fighting for Stonewall, we’re fighting for every high school in western Prince William County.”
Azmi said she feels like the planning staff are not making an effort to create a middle ground. “Diversity should be important at all schools,” she said.
Ja’Chelle Johnson, a senior at Stonewall Jackson, and her sister, Joy Johnson, a sixth-grader at Marsteller Middle School, both spoke against the plans.
“I truly believe this is modern-day segregation,” said Ja’Chelle Johnson.
Ja’Chelle, who is set to attend James Madison University, said she straightened her hair while attending Patriot, but felt more comfortable wearing her hair naturally curly at Stonewall Jackson.
“I’m allowed to be myself,” she said. “People say it’s scary, but it’s actually very welcoming. You can be who you want to be.”
Tom Darrow, who has taught at Stonewall Jackson for 14 years, said he does not support either plan because of the demographic breakdown.
“It’s important for the entire county to share the students more equally,” he said.
Charles Ronco, who has taught at Stonewall Jackson for 10 years, said Stonewall Jackson is a fantastic school.
“A homogenous school environment is not conducive to life-long learning,” Ronco said.
Ronco said he thinks there is room for compromise and balance.
Anne Powell, who has a fourth-grader who in the future will attend one of the affected high schools, said she supports Plan 1a, because it keeps kids in her neighborhood together.
“To start high school and not know anyone, these kids want to have their peers as their friends,” Powell said.