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Editorial Created False Picture
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To the Editor:

 

The Columbus Dispatch editorial, Westerville Where, published September 20, 2003, contained errors, omissions, and assumptions that created a false picture of the Westerville Schools redistricting process and the resulting high school attendance boundaries.

 

Redistricting is not easy in any school district and is often imposed on community members rather than developed by them. In Westerville, the community shaped and led the effort. Respect for democratic participation and for the life of our community were essential aspects of all that occurred. The Dispatch editorial dismissed those underlying assumptions and ignored certain fundamental facts about our district.

 

The editorial implies that redistricting was done to the community. In actuality, the Westerville Schools redistricting process was community driven, led admirably by members of the High School Redistricting Committee. The process extended over six months, involved 11 formal committee meetings, 2 work sessions, six public forums, and the review and consideration of several hundred emails, letters, and phone calls from district residents (source: High School Redistricting Committee Final Recommendations, April, 2002). Operating from a charge presented publicly by the Board of Education, the community and staff members of the committee developed recommendations that were presented to the board. After presentation, the board received additional public input, held extensive public discussion of the recommendations, and after making a few adjustments, approved attendance areas for our three high schools. The process was open and involved. Massive amounts of input were received from the community and the decisions of the board were based on the communitys work.

 

The editorial suggests that redistricting created a situation where students are shipped long distances past a neighborhood high school. Our three high schools are within 1.5 miles of each other. The proximity of our high schools and the geography of our district diminish the false hysteria behind such a claim. Students in the southern part of our district do travel to another part of the district to attend high school, as they have throughout the history of our district. While it would have been ideal for families in the southern part of the district to have a closer high school to attend, land availability and cost dictated that our new high school would be farther north.

 

The editorial assumes that socioeconomic balance was the pivotal impetus behind the attendance boundaries. This ignores the breadth of issues in the charge given to the committee. Socioeconomic balance is but one issue for the district. Other issues include  keeping neighborhoods together and nurturing our community as a whole. Focusing purely on socioeconomics ignores the vital importance of other issues involved in redistricting and, indeed, in the greater picture of what it means to be a part of Westerville Schools. Our understanding of that greater picture is one reason we chose to let our current juniors and seniors finish their high school careers at the schools they attended before Central opened. It is also one reason why the redistricting decision was made 15 months before the opening of the new high school and nearly 16 months before the appearance of the Dispatch editorial; families need time to adjust to new assignments and new surroundings.

 

The editorial succumbs to a belief that our community is best served by creating high school fiefdoms. Westerville Schools see our community as more than our high school boundaries. We work diligently and continuously to sustain our community our community as a whole. Our efforts over the years bear this out. For example, we do not have feeder middle schools; each high school has students from all middle schools so  our children know others from across the community and see themselves as part of the greater whole. Our unusual middle school attendance pattern is one big reason that the communitys Westerville North-Westerville South football game is such a success. The editorial mentions the fact that the annual North-South game was not held for several years because of fighting between the two schools. However, the editorial does not address the fact that in large part because of efforts made to encourage relationships between schools - the game is now a community point of pride, a highlight of our communitys fall calendar, and a unique game among central Ohio districts.

 

The editorial fails to understand the context and culture of Westerville Schools; the proud history of the Westerville area and each of our schools, the democratic resolution of local problems, and the belief in community that is part of our backbone. To help rectify that misunderstanding and the other misconceptions in the editorial, I invite all members of the Dispatch editorial staff to visit our schools and spend time in all corners of our community. The Westerville school district is a fine place to raise a family and a fine place to go to school.

 

Nancy Nestor-Baker

President, Westerville Board of Education

Graduate, Westerville High School

Parent, Westerville South High School

 

Westerville Voters On Target for Education