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Hillsborough County's school district hires firm to examine how to best spread out students

The district recently announced the establishment of three new schools focused on health and construction training.

Many district's schools in urban areas are operating at reduced capacity, while schools in rural areas are packed, one board member said.

Over the past several years, an influx of families and individuals have decided to make Hillsborough County home.

Now, the area's school district is taking a serious look at how it can best spread out its students.

Last week, the Hillsborough County School Board signed an agreement with a consulting firm to examine school boundaries in an effort to iron out its uneven enrollment.

New York-based, WXY Architecture and Urban Design will examine both the district's utilization of its schools and their socioeconomic diversity for one year. The consulting agency will be paid $478,881 for the study.

Right now, a lot of the district's schools in urban areas are operating at reduced capacity, while schools in rural areas are packed, said School Board Member Jessica Vaughn.

"Maybe if we can start to change the boundaries a bit, we can add more to areas where we're not utilizing as much and hopefully relieve some of the congestion in areas where there's overcrowding," she explained.

Vaughn said shifting boundaries may cause anxiety within the community--especially as many families move to certain areas for their schools-- but it may be needed.

She added that the district often receives attention for its low performing schools. But part of that is due to the way the area's schools are segregated and how support is given.

“Communities were specifically drawn to keep us segregated in many different ways,” she said. “I really feel it’s a disservice to our community.”

Redistricting could help alleviate some challenges, she said.

"When you look at how other counties and other communities have addressed some of their challenges, making sure that the boundaries kind of fit the community has been impactful in a lot of other communities."

Vaughn added that Hillsborough is home to a lot of diverse communities, and it is important to ensure the district's schools reflect that.

However, she is concerned that because of school choice, parents could decide to pull their kids out of certain schools. Throughout this process, leaders will have to take these issues into account, “to make sure that if we’re doing these boundary changes we're not just setting it up so it’s another area where there’s just people flying out of that school district and choicing out of it and it's not really the impact we’re hoping for.”

The district has made other significant shifts to the future of its facilities lately.

Earlier this month, Superintendent Addison Davis announced the district would shift the existing D.W. Waters Career Center, Bowers/Whitley Career Acceleration Academy and Brewster Technical College facilities into two high schools and one college focused on health and building and construction-focused programs.

The two high schools, one focused on medicine and the other construction, are slated to open fall 2023. The medical technical college should open its doors the following fall.

"We have seen the high demands within our area,” Davis said. “We know with health care continuing to be the forefront, we must meet the growing need in that particular platform. As we see that growth happen especially in the south county and all over the Hillsborough region, we must stand ready to prepare a workforce that can meet the high demands of construction."

Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.
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