Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Williamsburg, James City County residents split on breaking up joint school district

Lois S. Hornsby Middle School exterior front
Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools
Lois Hornsby Middle is the only middle school located in James City County. The county says it would need to build a second middle school before the split.

They've voiced concerns over potential costs and student performance.

Read the original story on the WHRO News website.

Williamsburg and James City County residents are split on whether creating an independent school district is the best way to help improve the academic performance of Williamsburg students.

That’s the main takeaway from public feedback the city of Williamsburg received during the past few months as it considers ending the joint school district it’s run with James City County since 1955.

Mayor Doug Pons said citizen feedback brought up a number of issues that need to be resolved. City Council will discuss next steps for exploring the creation of an independent school district at its Thursday meeting.

“We’re a long way from being able to make that decision,” Pons said. “There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered along the way.”

Williamsburg announced in June 2023 it would study splitting the school district.

Officials have said feedback from an earlier resident survey was among the reasons they were looking at ending the long-standing arrangement, though the survey didn’t ask about or mention ending the joint school district — or the city creating its own.

Williamsburg’s students lag behind those living in James City County in every testing category and fall below state and federal standards, according to data provided in the feasibility study.

The joint district’s overall scores are buoyed by James City County students, which outnumber those from Williamsburg by about 10 to one.

Many who responded to surveys or appeared at public sessions asked for more information before the city commits to a course of action, said Kate Maxlow, one of the consultants the city hired to study the creation of an independent school district.

“Most did agree that the current student achievement of city of Williamsburg students was unacceptable and some kind of intervention was needed,” Maxlow said.

Williamsburg hired former Hampton City Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Smith to conduct the feasibility study, which he presented to council in March.

It said, among other things, that the split couldn’t happen until August 2028 at the earliest, and it would cost millions of dollars morefor the city to operate its own, smaller division.

After Williamsburg announced it would conduct the study last year, the James City County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pre-emptively end the joint school division under its current contract, which runs until the end of the 2025-2026 school year.

Williamsburg and James City County came together to create the joint school district in 1955, in an era when the city was the center of the population. But the population and demographics have changed during the past several decades.

Williamsburg students are currently more likely to be Black or Hispanic than those coming from James City County. City students are also more likely to be economically disadvantaged, English language learners and unhoused when compared with their county counterparts.

The study said all of this adds up to a potential need for more targeted support and resources if Williamsburg becomes its own school district.

Several residents told consultants they wanted more information, like specific budget breakdowns about how much it will cost taxpayers for the city to go solo and what the projected student body growth looks like in the near future.

Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools is a member of the Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, which holds the broadcast license for WHRO. Multiple members of the WJCC School Board sit on WHRO boards and committees.

Related Stories