Six of the seven options for redistricting Colonial Forge High School developed by the Stafford County School Board at a work session this week include shifting the under-construction North Embrey Mill neighborhood into the North Stafford High School zone.
“I can’t let a community get moved for people that don’t even exist,” board member Chris Connelly said of the options to shift students from the developing neighborhood instead of those from existing communities.
Connelly represents the Garrisonville District, which runs along the border between the North Stafford and Colonial Forge zones.
The purpose of Thursday’s work session was to develop options, not to vote on redistricting. That vote will take place March 14, after a public hearing scheduled for March 1 at Colonial Forge.
There are presently fewer than 50 students from what the schools are now calling “South Embrey Mill” at Colonial Forge High School. But projections for the development, which still is being built, show it is expected to add almost 300 students—215 from North Embrey Mill—to the school over the next four years.
Embrey Mill residents say that they feel targeted, as if they’re being blamed as the source of overcrowding and told their community is a burden to the county, despite the support developers have given to improvement projects in the county and the area.
“Embrey Mill has been in plans since the 1990s,” resident Ellen Vandaveer said. “Even though we’re new, we’re not really a new idea. Embrey Mill residents feel kind of vilified, kind of like we’re the sacrificial lamb, of sorts, for Stafford County schools and the overcrowding issue.”
Vandaveer said that she and other residents believe that the schools’ projection for the number of high school students who would come from the ongoing construction is too high.
Developer estimates are lower, she said, and the neighborhood has attracted young families, so she believes fewer neighborhood children than projected will be in high school during the next four to six years anyway.
“I feel like the arguments that are being made are more emotional than they are rational. Which, again, I will say is understandable under the circumstances. How can you not be emotional when you’re talking about your kid’s school? I get it,” Vandaveer said. “But what I feel is not happening is that a focus is not being put on rational re-zoning.”
She feels the county is being set up for more crowding and more redistricting, she said.
Other residents, such as Robin Hawkins of Autumn Ridge, say that they feel they should not be asked to move from a high school they’ve counted on for years to make room for students who are expected to move into the zone in the future.
But Hawkins, like Vandaveer, feels the current process is rushed and will create future problems.
“I feel the decision is being rushed and the entire county is not being taken into consideration,” Hawkins wrote via email. “This will be a temporary fix with this debate coming back to haunt the community again in a few years if this continues to be a ‘rush job.’ ”
The board started the work session Thursday with members acknowledging they expected to redistrict again when a sixth high school is built in the southern part of the county.
The process of setting the budget, selecting the site or getting bids for that school has not yet formally started, but School Board members and county supervisors have said they hope for a 2023 opening, which would require action soon.
Other board members made statements similar to Connelly’s about established neighborhoods.
“Why do we want to move an established community instead of kids that aren’t even here yet?” Aquia District board member Irene Egan asked.
George Washington District member Dewayne McOsker, who is on the Commonwealth Governor’s School committee, was concerned about the idea of removing Colonial Forge as a governor’s school site.
“I can’t look someone in the eye and say … protect those vacant lots,” Mc-Osker said.
Two options also would move Augustine North—about 127 students over four years—to Mountain View High School, and two options would move Autumn Ridge, with 85 students over four years, to North Stafford—a school that a variety of community members have criticized in recent public remarks.
“We have some work to do on the branding and the perception of North Stafford,” Connelly said Thursday.
The administration has not yet analyzed the seven options the board developed from suggestions from the community and information from staff Thursday night, according to Assistant Superintendent for Operations Scott Horan. Staff will look at transportation patterns and other issues and share that information with the School Board before the options are finalized.