LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Include Diverse Populations When Zoning PWCS’s 13th High School

| December 14, 2017 | 0 Comments | Education

Image from above showing the side view of the new high school prototype.

Opinion: Letter to the Editor by Emily Chaumont

The 13th high school in PWCS is expected to open for the 2021-22 school year, but the school board is already seeking community input. If we are a community that cares about the wellbeing and education of our students, we will not allow the inevitable redistricting process to further segregate our county’s high schools.

The new high school will be located off of Progress Court, right near Jiffy Lube Live. The current plans are for the school to hold over 2,500 students and to relieve overcrowding at nearby high schools. Every time a new school is built, boundary lines must be re-drawn to determine who will attend that school.

Although population density and housing developments impact the size and shape of attendance districts, the zoning choices are deliberate, made by people, and thus subject to human biases.

In the state government, a key issue has been reforming the redistricting process that happens every 10 years and will next occur in 2021. The political party in power is able to control the redistricting process, drawing the districts in a way that is favorable to their party. This is called gerrymandering and parties drawing district lines so as to concentrate voters of a particular demographic group into certain districts and keep them out of others.

The same concept can be applied to school zoning, as the county must be redistricted every time a new school is built. The 13th high school is intended to relieve overcrowding at Patriot, Battlefield, and Stonewall Jackson High Schools, but the School Board is ultimately responsible for determining which schools get the most relief and which students are pulled from each school to attend the new school.

The way the School Board decides to divvy up the attendance zones when the time comes can have a dramatic effect on both the racial and socioeconomic equality in the county’s high schools.

Student Population Percent who are economically disadvantaged Percent who are racial minorities
PWCS 26,923 31.5% 67.2%
Battlefield 2,899 8.3% 40%
Patriot* 2,747 9.8% 45.1%
Stonewall 2,409 50.7% 82.3%

*Patriot’s student population numbers have been corrected

Battlefield and Patriot are both richer and whiter than PWCS are overall. Stonewall, on the other hand, is not only poorer and less white than PWCS as a whole, but those inequalities are even starker when compared to its fellow schools whose overcrowding will be alleviated by the new high school.

While this is certainly partly a function of the neighborhoods these schools draw from, the boundary lines do not create themselves. A group of human beings drew these lines and while they very likely did not intend to segregate these nearby schools that is exactly what ended up happening.

Brown v. Board eliminated “separate but equal” education in 1954, but Virginia was slow to adopt the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling and had to be re-ordered in 1968. Although school districts across the country were integrating using busing, rezoning, and the building of new schools, by the late 1980s, schools were becoming more segregated again.

Even aside from the historical legacy of school segregation, our county is impacted today by its negative effects. Schools with high populations of economically disadvantaged and racial minority students consistently perform worse in areas of student achievement.

Battlefield Stonewall
Passed math SOL 90% 71%
Graduating seniors who took the SAT 72% 39%
Average SAT score 1149 1053
Percent graduating on time 97.8% 85.1%
Graduates who intend to go to college 90.6% 78.6%
Absent for more than 10 days 35.7% 52.1%

 

While these statistics begin to reveal the inequality between schools in PWCS, perhaps the most compelling number is not an achievement statistic at all, but rather reveals more about what’s going on in the lives of these high school students — the percentage of students absent for more than 10 days.

Students can’t learn if they’re not in class and if they’re not learning, they’re not going to be able to reach all of those achievement marks like passing their SOLs, taking their SAT, graduating, or going to college. Schools with high poverty rates tend to have high absence rates because economically disadvantaged students often have a lot more than school to worry about. Aside from the obvious benefit of promoting equity in our school district, promoting more integrative rezoning can have real benefits for the students in the schools, including those who are focused on the hardships they face outside of the classroom.

Economically disadvantaged students who attend wealthier schools consistently have higher test scores than their peers at schools with a lower average income level. Students at more integrated schools are more likely to go to college and less likely to drop out of high school than those at more segregated schools. More integrated schools have been shown to help everyone, not just economically disadvantaged or racial minority students.

With all of this being said, I am by no means calling for large scale busing of students from end to end in the county. Not only would that be a tremendous drain on resources, it would mean that students would be spending more time on buses and less time gaining valuable sleep, spending time with family at home, or learning in class.

I am simply suggesting that when the time comes to redistrict in order to determine who will attend the 13th high school, we as a community must be a strong voice in favor of an integrated PWCS. Advocate to your school board representative, show up to school board meetings, and let it be known that more integrated schools would be beneficial to PWCS students’ school experience and academic achievement. Integration was a long and hard fought battle in our country and with each new attendance zone redistricting, we must continue to advocate for desegregating our schools.

Letters to the Editor reflect only the opinions of their authors and not necessarily those of Bristow Beat, LLC, its staff or sponsors. 

© 2017, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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Category: Education

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