Andrea Detar moved to Stafford two years ago with a new goal in life: stability, after having moved around the country for several years while her husband Paul served in the Marine Corps.
"As a prior military family, we were excited to settle here. We chose our neighborhood specifically for the schools that the residents were designated to attend," Detar stated.
But population shifts within several schools in Stafford County may result in Detar's daughter, a student at Rodney Thompson Middle School, being redistricted to another school.
"I would hate to have to tell my daughter that she will need to readjust to a different middle school next year. I enjoy the confidence and pride that comes with being familiar with a school, and I am saddened to think that I, and my kids, may not get that," Detar said.
At a recent school board meeting, Detar, along with a dozen other residents of the Austin Ridge neighborhood, spoke up against a proposed redistricting effort that may affect their children, specifically against the redistricting to Stafford Middle School, amidst upcoming construction projects in and around the Courthouse Road area. The school board's redistricting proposals and talks will continue through February before a vote is cast.
A Common Occurrence in Public Schools
Redistricting affects districts every year. As populations grow, or in some cases decrease, new schools are built while some go unused or are torn down.
Resident children of the Austin Ridge neighborhood attended Hampton Oaks Elementary School before being redistricted to Anthony Burns Elementary School upon its opening in 2006. Anthony Burns is centrally located in the Austin Ridge subdivision.
Kaylee Miller, a senior at Colonial Forge High School, recollected the transition in fourth grade from Hampton Oaks to Anthony Burns. "I'm not one that's good with change and just thinking about middle school was scary enough, but finding out I had to transition to a new school before that blew my mind."
The silver lining in many redistricting strategies comes with geography. In this case, Anthony Burns provided a neighborhood school for the residents of Austin Ridge. Shari Miller, Kaylee's mother, noted two benefits of that redistricting: The school was closer to home, and the new facility was well-organized and pristine.
Opponents of the latest redistricting plan hope that this geographical component, from a safety standpoint, is front and center when the school board is looking at options. They cite the I-95 interchange full reconstruction project potentially beginning in 2016, as well as the widening of route 630 project as potentially dangerous zones for busing children.
"Safety should always be the number one priority when redistricting Stafford County students," states Jen Connolly, one of the concerned residents who spearheaded the efforts to form the Austin Ridge Redistricting Committee. "It is simply not safe to bus middle school students through the hazardous construction zones. It would mean three to six years of busing our children every school day, twice a day, through rush hour traffic in the midst of hazardous construction, not to mention the possibility of bad weather as well. The safety of our Austin Ridge middle schoolers is non-negotiable."
Easing the Process for Students
So what can you do if you find out your child might be redistricted?
- Be honest. Instead of students hearing rumors at school, let them hear the truth from you. Share news articles with them and get them informed.
- Involve them in the process. Having students get involved is a great lesson in civics. Attend school board meetings with them and let them know how the redistricting process works. Encourage them to write letters to school board members or start a school petition.
- Stay positive. Chances are, if your child is redistricted, many of his friends will be as well, so they will have a lot of familiar faces at the new school. Remember to tell students some benefits of a different school such as new friendships and experiences.