The Crozet/Brownsville elementary schools Redistricting Advisory Committee convened three online meetings during September and October to discuss various scenarios on how to redistribute students from Brownsville to Crozet Elementary beginning with the 2022-23 school year. A $20 million expansion of Crozet Elementary will add about 340 seats to the school, and students who live in neighborhoods between the two schools are under consideration to make the switch.
The committee began their work on September 28 by looking at enrollment projections and maps of the neighborhoods of students currently attending each school, in discussions led by Chief of Strategic Planning Patrick McLaughlin. During their second meeting they examined four scenarios presented by school officials, and they ended their third meeting on October 26 with four slightly revised plans that will be shared with community members in November.
The committee evaluated current and projected enrollment and planned development data, as well as demographic statistics in terms of race/ethnicity and economic status, for both schools under various redistricting proposals. The school division’s Director of Budget and Planning Maya Kumazawa and Routing and Planning Manager Renee DeVall were also on hand to provide explanations for enrollment projections and to answer questions about bus routes and logistics of the scenarios.
Maps illustrating the four scenarios that will be discussed during the public hearings are presented at the bottom of this page, numbered 2, 2.1, 3, and 4.1. They encompass the neighborhoods of Grayrock, Waylands/Bargamin, Western Ridge, Wickham Pond, and Chesterfield Landing, as well as a few less dense areas along eastern Route 250 and northern Crozet Avenue.
The Old Trail Question
Two of the first scenarios presented to the committee during their deliberations proposed to split the Old Trail neighborhood in half, and to redistrict students from the northern or upper half to Crozet Elementary while the lower half remained at Brownsville. This suggestion was based in part on a map of the “estimated student yield” from Old Trail gleaned from known future development currently under review or construction. The future yield for Old Trail was projected to be between 140 and 420 students, which presumably led division staff to consider splitting up the large neighborhood.
However, that projected range was based on a maximum potential build-out of 2,200 units in the original Old Trail design. Old Trail’s planned build-out was reduced in 2016 to a minimum of 1,000 units by its developers, and Albemarle county now uses a build-out figure of 1,200 units in its land use planning. After the maximum range was questioned by committee members and in emails from community members, division staff subsequently added a lower range from 36 to 86 students to reflect more current building plans.
By way of background, Old Trail resident and committee member Jojo O’Loughlin described the neighborhood’s school-age population dynamic. “It’s a very connected neighborhood, and many of the people who live in the areas identified for potential redistricting are current walkers to Brownsville Elementary,” she said. “That’s easily done because we’re connected through sidewalks and trails.” She also noted that Old Trail contains many extended families whose younger children would be divided by the proposed split.
Other committee members agreed with O’Loughlin that an Old Trail separation contravened several of the committee’s guiding principles, such as “neighborhoods will be assigned to the same school whenever possible,” and “walk areas for each school will be considered.” Lauren Carter added that buses from upper Old Trail would have to take a left at the intersection of Jarmans Gap and Crozet Avenue, further snarling rush hour traffic. Ultimately, the committee decided that none of the scenarios to be presented to the community for consideration will contain the Old Trail split, meaning that all Old Trail students will remain at Brownsville unless a new scenario is proposed in November.
Foreseeing the Future
Throughout the first phase of redistricting deliberations, McLaughlin emphasized the importance of another guiding principle—that the attendance areas will serve the district for at least 3-5 years with a goal of 5-7 years. “We don’t want to have to do any kind of [additional] redistricting, even just a spot redistricting that moves 25 kids, within the next three to five years, preferably in the next seven years,” said McLaughlin during the third meeting. “We want these numbers to hold for us, so that we don’t have to do that or add trailers or any of those things.”
Toward that end, Kumazawa presented enrollment data for each school that projected future increases based on past trends and showed how close each school would come to reaching capacity under the various scenarios. Kumazawa admitted that developing accurate projections is complicated by the hundreds of students who are currently “missing” after the 2020-21 pandemic year—those who disenrolled and are not currently accounted for by school officials—so that predictions about how many will return to ACPS schools are difficult. (See the Gazette’s October story on this issue.)
Committee members discussed how to account for the unknowns in their decisions about the optimal total number of students to move to Crozet Elementary, which will have a capacity of 668 after the expansion while Brownsville’s capacity is 756. “My question is, what’s the magic number?” asked Jerrod Smith. “What’s the number of overall total students [to move] that will keep us from going over 100% capacity [in either school] over the ten-year horizon?”
That key question proved difficult to answer because there are many moving parts to the projections, from how many students will re-enroll to the assumptions underlying Brownsville’s 18.6% ten-year expected growth rate. Over the ten-year horizon under scenario 4.1, for example, the data show both schools simultaneously inching up to between 94% and 97% capacity with 275 students redistricted between the schools—leaving little margin for error in the “magic number.”
Kumazawa explained that while the long-term enrollment projection numbers were based on pre-pandemic growth and thus included a conservative assumption that all “missing” students would return, the division has no good data on that. Committee member Christine Koenig suggested an estimate such as 50% for student return rate to see how that might affect the projections and to not redistrict “way too many” students, and Smith agreed that those adjustments will have to be considered in each scenario.
In addition, the projections are dependent on which specific neighborhoods are moved (as they individually vary in growth rate based on current construction, age of population, housing type, etc.), and on whether or not some children and their siblings are grandfathered into their old school (to be decided by the School Board). Committee members asked for more enrollment data broken down by grade level and by individual neighborhood trend lines for their next meeting.
Some emailed questions from community members have focused on the committee’s neighborhood selection criteria. Crozet resident Ashley Geisler wondered why the areas under discussion didn’t include a bit more variety. “I am not sure why there wasn’t more consideration given to residential areas further outside Crozet proper,” said Geisler in an email to the committee. “There were two areas in the county’s initial presentation that were never included in discussions (south of Rt. 250 Batesville and north of Rt. 250 Newtown) that offer comparable numbers to the sections put forth for consideration. All of the options that have been “semi” finalized include roughly the same neighborhoods, and there should be an option where any of those neighborhoods could potentially be excluded from consideration.”
Some committee members noted that they had received only a few emails from the community with suggestions or questions about the redistricting effort for their third meeting. One member suggested that many people remain uninformed because the committee meetings, while livestreamed, are not recorded or posted online for later viewing. McLaughlin responded that the division chose not to record the meetings because the public is “more open” with redistricting committees if they are not being recorded, though this fails to explain why the committee meetings themselves (without the public) could not be taped.
“We generally find in meetings like this, particularly with members of the greater community, is that we get more open feedback when we’re not recording,” said McLaughlin. “I think we’ve all seen what happens when clips of recordings get pulled out of context and used on different sites that are out there. And so, the feedback that we’ve generally heard since we’ve started going to Zoom is that is something that sometimes keeps people from being open with the committee around that.” The school division announced on October 28 that “both [public] meetings will also be recorded and will be posted to the Crozet/Brownsville Redistricting web page.
After the first three meetings, McLaughlin was pleased with the committee’s progress. “I am very thankful for the dedicated work of our volunteer committee,” he said. “They have brought invaluable insight from the local community to this process, they have quickly formed a strong team, and are well on their way to developing a recommendation for the superintendent. We are all looking forward to hearing additional feedback from the community through both our survey and our community feedback sessions.”
The next phase of the redistricting process will be two virtual community input meetings, to be held November 4 and 9 from 6 to 7:30 p.m., after which the committee will reconvene on November 16 to finalize their recommendation to the superintendent. The division invites community members to email feedback to the committee at [email protected], but notes that it will not respond to emails to this address.
Email Lisa Martin at [email protected].