WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) — The divorce isn’t final, at least not right now.
Nearly two months after the James City County Board of Supervisors voted to terminate their joint school system contract with the City of Williamsburg, on Tuesday they will take-up a resolution that requires them to reconsider their action in the spring.
In the same timeframe, Williamsburg City Council will have to indicate whether it wants to continue with a joint school system or to operate their own separate one.
The chairman of the Board of Supervisors said its a move aimed at providing clarity to the community that’s been serviced by Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools for nearly 70 years.
“We just want to be able to have a discussion and clear some things up,” said Michael Hipple, chairman of the James City County Board of Supervisors, about the resolution.
Leaders across the region said James City County’s move in July to terminate the contract forming WJCCPS was a “surprise,” although Hipple said it shouldn’t have been.
At the time and still today he maintains the county must be prepared in case Williamsburg pulls the plug.
“We look at what is in the best interest of the students first,” Hipple said.
There had been little public discussion about the proposal prior to the vote.
Williamsburg’s City Council did pass a resolution in June authorizing an investigation into the feasibility of a school operations split, acting on what Mayor Doug Pons said were “requests from constituents.”
City Council voted unanimously Thursday to authorize the spending of $135,000 for recently retired Hampton Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeffery Smith to lead the effort. Pons said even after it’s completed, there needs to be public input.
The team of educators selected to study the feasibility of an independent school system for Williamsburg includes:
- Dr. John A. Caggiano, Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment of Hampton City Schools
- Dr. Kate Wolfe Maxlow, Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment of Hampton City Schools
- Dr. Jennifer Parish, Executive Director of Peake Childhood Center
- Dr. Lorianne S. Smith, Compensation and Benefits Coordinator of Newport News Public Schools
- Dr. Michael Thornton, Superintendent of Surry Public Schools (Retired)
- Dr. Donna Woods, Executive Leadership and Implementation Coach
“I look forward to working with the City of Williamsburg to continue its ongoing study, and I am excited that such a talented group of educators have agreed to serve on this team,” Dr. Smith said. “Our careers have been dedicated to public education, and I hope the lessons we’ve learned, and successes we’ve witnessed, will be of benefit to this process. The mission is straightforward: Ensure the best possible educational experience for students, parents, and teachers in Williamsburg. On behalf of this dedicated study team, we are excited to be a part of that work.”
Results from the feasibility study are anticipated by early January.
In the meantime, Hipple said the county will hire its own consultant to look at the impacts on taxes, infrastructure and the like.
While no clear explanation behind the split has emerged yet, the increasing politicization of schools can’t be ignored as a potential factor.
Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools is governed by a board made up of five elected representatives from the county and two appointed members from the city. The county typically votes Republican, while the city has a strong Democratic base.
Currently, the county has about 10,000 students and 13 schools, while Williamsburg has 1,000 students across three schools: Matthew Whaley Elementary, James Blair Middle and Berkeley Middle.
While the districts wouldn’t split until the 2025-2026 school year at the earliest, teachers, staff and community members are already letting their opinions be known.
“I’m very concerned about the quality and quantity of curriculum that is going to be offered in the city. Particularly for high school students. We have a robust curriculum right now because we are a robust unit and I’m very fearful the city is going to get shortchanged in the separation,” said Jessica Anderson, a staff member, parent and House of Delegates candidate, at a recent school board meeting.
“We … support this school district, and we sincerely hope it will stay together,” said Susan Hildum, chair of YJCW NAACP Education Committee.
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