PWCS Releases ‘What-If’ Scenarios for 13th HS Boundaries

| May 9, 2019 | 0 Comments | Education

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

Prince William County Schools released three “What-If Analyses” zoning scenarios for the 13th High School, located in Bristow near Jiffy Lube Live.

The school is planned to open in 2021 and would relieve overcrowding at Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas, serving Prince William Manassas and Bristow; Patriot High School in Nokesville, serving Bristow and Gainesville; and Battlefield High School, serving Gainesville and Haymarket. 

One of the plans shows what boundaries would look like if Limited English Proficiency, Economically Disadvantaged and Minority students were evenly distributed among the four western Prince William high schools. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t look good.)

According to the 13th High School Boundary Portal, Regulation 264-2 prescribes that boundary composition must include:

  • balancing enrollment,
  • demographic composition of schools,
  • minimizing reassignments,
  • efficient transportation,
  • keeping small neighborhoods together, 
  • and encourage progression of students from middle school to high school.

Plan 1 Boundaries for the 13th High School, PWCS.

The Prince William County Schools Planning Department presented Plan 1 that followed this criteria. However, it was not universally well-received. The biggest problem is that it made schools less diverse than they already were.

Under the current boundaries, Stonewall Jackson High School populations change as such:

  • LEP (18.7-24.1%),
  • Economically Disadvantaged (50.7-61%)
  • and Minority students (80.8-89.2%).

This is because many of SJHS’s more affluent neighborhoods are being redistricted to either Patriot or the 13th High School.

Meanwhile, Battlefield High School, which is the least diverse, would seen a decline in these populations as follows:

  • LEP (2.6-1%),
  • Economically Disadvantaged (12.1-5.3%),
  • and Minority from (47.4-35.1%.)

Therefore, the department created three additional zoning plans to demonstrate the reasons they would not work and the reason Plan 1 is superior. The first “What-If” scenario strictly prioritizes equalizing general populations, the next prioritizes proximity to schools and the last prioritizes equally balancing demographics.

Graphs, maps and information can be found via the 13th High School Porthole. (Note: Within the “What-If” section there is a layering paper icon, which allows one to flip between the different maps.) 

This maps looks at what the boundaries of the 13th High School would look like if attendance were better balanced.

Population Distribution

Taking a “Factoring Population Only” approach, means that general populations would be evenly divided among the four schools and every school would rise to approximately 95% capacity. 

In this regard, this scenario does a better job than Plan 1, which has the 13th High School at approximately 107% capacity in 2028 and Battlefield High School at only 89%. 

However, students would travel farther to school than in Plan 1. And, the neighborhoods are carved out more strangely on the map. 

Graphs demonstrate that inequity among schools demographics would not improve. 

Proximity

It is clear that proximity must come second to population distribution. When proximity is prioritized Battlefield would be at 125% capacity in 2021-22, whereas Patriot would fall to 75% occupancy. 

Since the purpose of opening a new high school is to reduce overcrowding at the three existing schools, this plan is a fail.

13th High School Proximity scenario map.

Furthermore, demographics are just as imbalanced than they are in Plan 1.

Demographics

Balancing demographics appears to be a challenge, and the school division has issued a statement that prioritizing demographic balance is infeasible.

“Legally and operationally creating a boundary plan with the sole intent to balance student demographics is not feasible.”

Nonetheless the Demographics scenario does a great job of balancing demographics among the high schools, ranging from 51% minority students at Stonewall Jackson (actually the lowest) to 61% at Battlefield High school.

Similar equity is produced among economic disadvantaged and LEP students with Battlefield High School becoming the most diverse under this scenario.

The problem is the scenario is completely unrealistic as the boundaries make no sense from a proximity perspective. (See the map. Everyone in the peach area would attend SJHS.)

Northwest Haymarket and Bull Run Mountain would be zoned for Stonewall Jackson, which is all the way at the other end of the western part of the county, in the southeast corner.

Demographic scenario map for the 13th High School.

Travel times would dramatically increase especially for students zoned for Stonewall Jackson High School.

And school attendance would be uneven, ranging between 88.6% and 99.9% in the 2021-22 school year, which would produce travel inefficiencies.

Planning Director Matt Cartlidge said that a map created with the intention of evening demographics would look “ridiculous” but wanted to create it for instructional reasons.

This demographics map was circulated on social media before the boundary’s porthole was closed for an update.

What Residents Want

Many residents have said that they do not need an all or nothing map; they would like one that does better at balancing demographics than Plan 1 by looking at small changes that can be made. Otherwise, the school division can present several realistic alternative maps.

Others have said that neighborhoods are where they are and it is not the job of the school division to balance demographics. They want students to go to a nearby school, progress with friends from their middle schools and not have to travel long distances.

Important Dates 

There will be one more input meeting, May 16 at 7 p.m. at Patriot High School’s auditorium. 

A public hearing and school board vote will be held June 19 at the Kelly Center after 7 p.m. Community members are invited to submit feedback and/or sign up to speak at the public hearing. Those intending to speak must sign up at least 10 minutes before the meeting begins. You can sign up online or over the phone. Speakers will present in the order they have signed up. 

© 2019, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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