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Speakers blast ‘blended’ option

School redistricting and parents don't always blend well. The Henrico County School Board learned that tonight during a public hearing about the redistricting process that will set boundaries for the new Kaechele Elementary School in Short Pump and impact other schools in the region.

Most of the 42 speakers who addressed the board during the hearing at Hermitage High School made it clear: they don't like the school system's "blended" redistricting option.

They – and a vast majority of the overall attendees – expressed strong opposition to the option, which was created by school officials in recent weeks in an attempt to combine portions of the two primary redistricting options under consideration.

School Board Chairwoman Diana Winston had sought a blended option in part to determine if West Broad Street could be used as a dividing line for elementary school boundaries. But the option devised by school planners would involve moving too many students for questionable reasons while pushing Gayton Elementary School – currently well below capacity – more than 200 students above capacity, a number of speakers said.

Those who opposed the blended option also were critical of the process that led to its creation, arguing that it was not subjected to the same rigorous process of consideration by the 24-member volunteer redistricting committee as were the committee's other options.

"You have a luxury to plan below capacity for schools now and in the next 4 years by choosing either Option 1 or 2," said speaker Wendell Gore, a parent of Gayton Elementary School students. "The blended option does not allow that luxury. So why would you not take that opportunity?"

Winston began the hearing by acknowledging the opposition to the blended option, telling those in attendance that the outcome for Gayton would be unacceptable to the board, and that board members only would approve a plan that kept all elementary schools affected under capacity.

That seemed to allay concerns of many attendees, but it didn't prevent them from blasting the blended option anyway. Two speakers specifically asked the board to remove the option from consideration before or during its Dec. 13 work session. The board intends to adopt a boundary for Kaechele at its evening meeting that same day.

"I feel like I'm beating a dead horse, but let me try to put one more bullet in that horse if I can," speaker Terry James told the board, urging it to reject the option.

"The problem is, there are too many students south of Broad and not enough students north of Broad, and the new school is north of Broad because of anticipated development," speaker Patrick Barbier said to loud applause. "It's a bad option because it's based on bad policy. Make it right."

One speaker who did support the blended option was Liz Harden, whose neighborhood currently is in the Pemberton zone and would remain there as part of that option. The other two options, Harden said, would cut Pemberton's population to about 80 percent of its capacity and slice away families who devote significant volunteer hours to the school.

"If we lose such a large section of our support, it is likely that the PTA will not be able to continue these programs," Harden said.

Several speakers representing Ridge Elementary School had similar concerns, telling the board not to approve any plan that would move a significant portion of active volunteer families away in order to keep the Nottingham Green apartment community (and its 160 students) together at the school.

Speakers tonight who supported Option 1 said that that option would best satisfy the goals of the process by moving the fewest number of students (about 1,000) and keeping all affected schools under capacity through 2016. Those who voiced support for Option 2 did so primarily because it would send their students to the school preferred by the majority of their neighborhoods. A majority of the redistricting committee itself also supports Option 2.

The board will continue to accept citizen comments through Dec. 9 before voting on the matter Dec. 13. To comment, visit http://vovici.com/wsb.dll/s/b581g51f74.


Community

Garden tails

The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.

Western Henrico Rotary helps fund Midwives For Haiti Jeep


Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.

The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.

Agencies combine on new entry point to Chickahominy


Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.

The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

New Italian restaurant opens in Short Pump

Charlottesville's Bella’s Restaurant recently opened a location in Short Pump Village, at 11408 West Broad Street. The restaurant is owned by Valeria Biesnti, a native of Rome who arrived in the U.S. at age 21 and later became a U.S. citizen. With her restaurants, Bisenti has sought to create an ambiance that welcomes diners in a casual setting, like her favorites from her hometown. > Read more.

Henrico native to appear on Travel Channel show


A Henrico native will appear on the third episode of the Travel Channel's new grilling competition series “American Grilled.”

The episode, filmed in Charlottesville, will premier July 16 at 9 p.m. and feature Glen Allen-native Rex Holmes, a patent lawyer who operates http://SavoryReviews.com a blo,g centered around tasty recipes and BBQ.

The show features hardcore grilling enthusiasts from across the country going head-to-head for a chance to compete for a $10,000 cash prize and bragging rights when they are crowned the ultimate “grill master.” > Read more.

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CharacterWorks, Inc. will present “Footloose” at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. July 25-27 at The Robins Theatre at Steward School, 11600 Gayton Rd. Tickets are $13 to $17. CharacterWorks is… Full text

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