The company hired to propose new attendance zones for Stafford County’s elementary schools is a month away from making recommendations.

But Priti Mathur, a principal with Sterling-based ARCBridge Consulting, offered some clues of what to expect during an informational meeting with parents Wednesday night at Rodney Thompson Middle School. She said North Stafford’s Winding Creek Elementary School “needs the most attention” because it is projected to be over capacity next school year if nothing changes.

The company’s analysis shows that four other elementary schools would be more than 90 percent full: Margaret Brent, Rocky Run, Stafford and Widewater. And Margaret Brent just so happens to be near Rockhill and Garrisonville elementary schools, both of which have the most room for growth, Mathur noted.

“This is just to show you … what the adjacent schools are so that when we start making the adjustments, these schools may be affected,” she said, referring to a map of Margaret Brent and the schools surrounding it.

The School Board voted in October to hire ARCBridge, which plans to come up with two redistricting proposals and present them at a work session Jan. 8. The process is meant to address overcrowded and underutilized elementary schools while minimizing changes as much as possible, Mathur said. “Our goal is going to be to balance the enrollment,” she said.

The Stafford School Board hopes to take a vote on the new attendance zones by late February or early March after town hall meetings and a public hearing. The changes would go into effect August 2019, though rising fifth-graders would be grandfathered in if their parents can transport them to and from school.

After Mathur’s presentation, Superintendent Scott Kizner—who became the schools chief in September—answered questions that parents had written on index cards. Schools spokeswoman Sherrie Johnson read each question aloud.

Some parents appear to be on edge ahead of a final decision.

One asked whether students would go to the school closest to their home or “pass two or three schools on the way to their [newly] assigned school?”

Kizner said the goal is for a student to attend the nearest elementary school, but added: “Some parts of the community are growing faster than others, so that might not hold true in every case.”

Another written question asked whether the school system is legally required to “socially engineer school zones in order to balance segments of the community.” Kizner replied that he was not totally clear on what the person meant by “socially engineer,” but that he thinks schools should strive for “a level of equity.”

School Board policy states that numerous factors can be considered when redrawing attendance zones, including the “socioeconomic characteristics” of a school’s students.

The last redistricting process brought out residents “who openly disparaged schools with larger populations of minority students and/or students in poverty,” according to a report earlier this year from a consultant hired to recruit a new superintendent. That report was referring to parents’ opposition to last year’s proposal to move part of Colonial Forge High School’s attendance zone to the more diverse North Stafford High School, where 43 percent of students are economically disadvantaged.

Kizner said at the informational session that students who receive free or reduced-price lunches are just as a capable as any other student. “They could still be the next Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, whatever you want to be,” he said.

One parent wrote that her child had finally found a school where he felt connected, asking: “Is the board going to work with guidance counselors and already emotionally impacted families before ripping them out of their safe zone?”

Kizner said that school counselors and others would “try to alleviate, as much as possible, whatever stress [students] may have due to a new school.”

Another person wondered when parents and students can expect another redistricting process.

“I’d say the next redistricting will happen after I retire,” Kizner said to laughter.

With a more serious tone, he said no other redistricting proposals are on the horizon.

“We believe this redistricting … will take us a long way,” he said.

The county plans to hold three town hall meetings next month to discuss the proposals. Public hearings are scheduled Feb. 12 and 26.

For more information, parents can visit the school system’s redistricting website at staffordschools.net/domain/4782.

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Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402

jbranscome@freelancestar.com