Spokesman denies move was aimed at keeping school dominant in AA
By Angela Kreitz
The Sherando Times
On January 19th, the Frederick County School Board announced their proposal to take approximately 60 students residing in the Wilde Acres/Mountain Falls area from Sherando High School and transfer them to James Wood High School with a spot school rezoning. The change would come into effect at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.
The primary reason given and discussed at the meeting was the desire to prevent Sherando High School sports from moving from AA to AAA by the Virginia High School League (VHSL) beginning in fall 2011. At the meeting, Superintendent Patricia Taylor asked for the rezoning as a direct result of the threat of being placed in AAA. Taylor said that this move would put a significant financial strain on the Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) and the community.
School Board Vice Chairman Stuart Wolk outlined the proposal attributing the VHSL threat as the primary reason for the rezoning nine times during his four-minute overview and discussion. Wolk twice mentioned other benefits to the rezoning.
When called for comment the following day, FCSB Coordinator of Policy, Records Management, and Communications Steve Edwards said that the impending change to the athletic system was not the Superintendent or the Board’s sole reason for the rezoning plan. Edwards said that the AAA threat was just what everyone would want to focus on but the rezoning was about balancing out enrollment numbers and keeping kids from Frederick County Middle School together rather than splitting them between two high schools. Despite Edwards claims, the discussion at the board meeting suggested the solid and sole reason for the rezoning was the AAA threat.
Edwards insisted that the rezoning is an attempt to balance out enrollment because Sherando High School is projected to be 10.8% over capacity and James Wood High School is projected to be 10.6% under capacity. FCPS 2009-2010 publication, “Fast Facts” gives membership numbers taken September 2009, as 1,310 for James Wood High and 1,583 for Sherando High. Changing those numbers by 60 will not bring either school to their capacity. Edwards admits that Sherando will still be over and James Wood will still be under.
So, is the rezoning really about balancing enrollment?
While the change would not completely fix enrollment variations, it is certainly thoughtful of the FCPS officials and board members to have the desire to keep all Frederick County Middle School students together rather than splitting them between two high schools. Unfortunately, that consideration would not be shared with the current Freshman, Sophomores, and Juniors residing in Wilde Acres/Mountain Falls if they are taken away from the majority of their classmates and forced to graduate from a different school than the one at which they began their high school career.
Initially, it did appear that some of those students would be given an exception in the letter sent to all parents of affected students from Superintendent Patricia Taylor.
Taylor wrote, “The proposal includes that rising seniors at Sherando High School who live in the rezoning area would be granted an attendance variance to remain at Sherando upon request if they provide their own transportation to school.”
That said, a call to Edwards about the proposal allowing rising seniors a variance received the response, “Whoa, Whoa, let me back you up. They haven’t voted to do that. The School Board would consider that.”
If you were in attendance at the board meeting, you heard that the rezoning was proposed in response to VHSL AAA potential and not a result of enrollment numbers or 8th graders being separated from some of their friends.
So why is FCPS so opposed to Sherando moving up to Triple A?
Taylor says that this move would cause a great financial hardship and Edwards agrees that the impact would be strong and negative financially. Edwards attributes the financial change to increased travel and decreased gate sales. He explained that if moved to AAA they would have to play schools in far away counties like Prince William.
A quick look at Sherando’s 2009 Football schedule found that they already travel to schools in Prince William County, as well as Fauquier County, and Loudoun County. Although these schools are not currently in their district, the schools choose to play each other for nondistrict games and thus they choose to travel. When raising this point with Edwards he responded that, “All of our district games would be of greater distance…. The majority of the games you play are within your district.”
Edwards is entirely correct that his district games would be further, however, he is incorrect that district games are the majority played.
Currently, Sherando experiences about a 50/50 division between the numbers of district versus non-district games played. After that was pointed out to Edwards he acknowledged it as accurate for this year but claimed that it would not be evenly split if they went to AAA.
Agreeing with Edwards was Sherando High School Coordinator of Student Activities Jason Barbe, who said moving to another district could mean having ten teams in your group. Currently in Sherando’s double A district, they have only five teams, giving them entire weeks of unscheduled time in the beginning of the season to choose to play non-district teams. If they moved into a district of a lot more teams their schedule would be filled up significantly leaving them little time for their choosing of non-district games. However, a quick call to the VHSL’s Lori Bickley put the worry to rest. Bickley explained that Sherando’s move to AAA would put them in a district of just six teams. She also estimated that in that size district they would have roughly the same 50/50 division of district to non-district games that they currently have. This would allow them the flexibility to use their open weeks and spots to continue playing schools in the local
Take football for example.
Current VHSL regulations call for a 10-game regular season. If Sherando moves into the AAA six team district as Bickley states they would, Sherando would have five district games and five non-district games.
Both Taylor and Edwards expressed concern that a move would impact the long time rivalries held with James Wood, Millbrook and Handley high schools. However, Sherando can continue to play these schools if they chose to in their nondistrict schedule. Edwards’s refuted with, “how many double A schools are going to want to play a triple A school?” Right now Sherando is a double A school that plays multiple triple A schools in many of their sports. But to ease the anxiety, a call was placed to Millbrook High School’s Coordinator of Student Activities Chris Garber. Garber responded to the question, ‘Would you be willing to play Sherando if they moved to triple A’ with an enthusiastic, “Oh, definitely!” But, Edwards continued to be unsatisfied with the idea that Sherando could still have the opportunity to play their rivals. He insisted that ticket sales would drop drastically and the number of fans would fall even for local games because,
“[the rivalry schools] wouldn’t be competing with one another for a district championship” Edwards argued.
Rather than continue to barter with assumptions and projections, this debate needed a past example, and we got one.
One high school in a nearby county went through the transition from double A to triple A roughly five years ago. Their Activities Director spoke candidly about the change. He stated the reason a school would not want to make the move is simple, “Triple A is more competitive. You’re going to do better in double A.” So, is it actually about winning?
The coordinator agreed that it is also a scheduling hassle when you have to change around all the teams you play and sometimes you may be placed with a team that is at a great distance. A conversation with another member of the athletic staff at this same school touched on gate sales. Their county had a very similar history of rivalry among their neighboring double A high schools. Those games brought in huge gate sales every time. But when they went to triple A did all of that diminish or at least lose some of its luster? The athletic staffer answered, “Absolutely not. In fact, our two biggest rivalries are double A schools that we play non-district and they continue to produce our largest gate sales every year.”
If you would like to have your voice heard on this topic, the FCPS School Board has scheduled a community forum on this re-zoning issue for Thursday, Feb. 4th at 7pm in the Frederick County Public Schools Administration Building, 1415 Amherst Street, Winchester, Virginia. Anyone is welcome to attend this meeting and address this situation with the School Board.
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