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Saturday, January 1, 2011

AHS Regional Study Committee preparing final report

As the Annandale Regional Planning Study Committee prepares its final report, committee members have been giving presentations to parents at affected schools about the process to address overcrowding at Annandale High School and determine the boundary for the new school being built at the site of the Lacey Center.

At a meeting for parents at Poe Middle School in December, Emily Slough, who represents Annandale High School (AHS) on the committee, and Jennifer McGarey, who represents Poe, said the committee will submit its report to the Fairfax County school board Jan. 6 and will make a formal presentation to the board Jan. 10. Detailed background information on the study is available online, along with a form for submitting questions and comments.

The committee plans to present several options—not “recommendations”—and will outline a series of issues for each one, such as whether a particular boundary change would result in a split feeder or more students riding buses rather than walking to a school.

One likely option would be to no longer send any students who live north of Little River Turnpike to AHS. Instead, those kids would either go to Falls Church or Stuart high schools. All AHS students who live north of Little River Turnpike (and west of the Columbia Pike/Little River interchange) already go to Falls Church HS.

“Those who live east of the Columbia Pike/Little River intersection (in the Columbia ES attendance area) still go to AHS, and we are not proposing movement of that area”, Slough says. “Our proposal is simply to re-align the students who live north of 236 and west of the CP/LRT interchange; hey currently attend Poe MS and then Falls Church HS. We are proposing that they attend Jackson MS/Falls Church HS instead.  This provides a small amount of relief to Poe MS.”

Other recommendations include shifting all HS students who live east of I-395 (in the Bren Mar Park Elementary attendance area) to the Edison pyramid and shifting AHS students who live outside the Beltway in North Springfield to Lake Braddock Secondary School or Lee HS - or if a sixth grade is added to North Springfield, these students could be moved at the middle school level (seventh grade) to Lake Braddock or to Key MS before attending Lee HS.


Slough says one principle the community agreed upon is that if boundary changes do occur, there should be “generous grandfathering” to allow students to remain at their home school. “Everyone who starts at Annandale should be able to stay there,” McGarey says. That is one of the most important issues to parents who submitted feedback. She also says it might be beneficial to phase in neighborhoods, too, with one neighborhood transferring to another school in 2012, and other neighborhoods transferring the following year. “You need to give schools time to adjust,” she says. Losing 500 students at once also has an impact on the faculty at AHS, which could lose as many as 18 teachers if enrollment declines suddenly.

The committee includes two representatives each from eight high schools, five middle schools, and eight elementary schools. “What we wanted to do was understand our community. That was our number one priority,” Slough said. That meant studying how many kids are at the various schools, where are they headed, and where the population is growing.

At the beginning of the process, the committee was divided into two groups. One group concentrated on exploring ways to address the overcrowding at AHS and Poe MS. The other group looked at how the boundaries should be set for the new elementary school on the Lacey site, which means adjusting the boundaries for surrounding elementary schools, and exploring whether the new school should be K-5 or K-6—and whether the grade configurations should be changed at other elementary and middle schools. At least one committee member advocated making Lacey a K-8 school.

The two groups then got together to begin working on correlating their reports and seeking community input. After the school board reviews the report, there will be public hearings before the board votes on a final plan. The changes would take effect in September 2012.

The school board initiated the process in mid-2010 to deal with overcrowding at Annandale High School. AHS has about 2,600 students, which makes it about 120 percent over its capacity of 2,178. The school has about 30 outdoor classrooms in trailers and quads, with another 14 classrooms (in a large modular unit) to be added soon. If nothing is done to address overcrowding at AHS, its enrollment is expected to increase to 2,730 by 2015.

Most nearby high schools, including Falls Church, Lake Braddock, Edison, and Woodson, are under capacity, which means they could absorb some students from AHS. Lake Braddock, which was renovated a couple of years ago, is about 600 students under capacity.

Poe had been considered overcrowded but recent reviews by FCPS staff determined that its capacity is 1,269 and its current enrollment, 1,117, actually means it is slightly under capacity now. But its enrollment is expected to grow, and it is expected to be 110 percent over capacity by 2015. Jackson, Glasgow, and Frost middle schools are also expected to be overcapacity by 2015. Jackson is the most overcrowded, with a projection of 127 percent over capacity by 2015.

The new elementary school will relieve overcrowding at nearby elementary schools. Woodburn, for example, is 121 percent overcapacity now and will be 140 percent overenrolled by 2015. Annandale Terrace is 124 percent over capacity now, and is projected to be 127 percent by 2015. Beech Tree, now at 113 percent over capacity is expected to be 116 percent by 2015.

“We need a regional solution to a regional problem,” Slough says. She notes that parents complained loudly that they weren’t given enough of a chance to participate in the last boundary study that shifted some AHS students to Falls Church a couple of years ago. “This is bigger than dealing with overcrowding,” McGarey says. “We want the board to look at non-boundary issues, too.” Non-boundary proposals will include reconfiguring the pyramid structure for Annandale HS in order to more efficiently use available capacity at all feeder schools.  Possible changes would include making Poe an 8-9 school and Holmes a 6-7 school and having Annandale HS become a 10-12 school.

The different grade configurations complicate the boundary issue. Most middle schools in Fairfax County have grades 7 and 8, but Poe, Holmes, and Glasgow are 6-8, and while most middle schools are K-6, some, like Annandale Terrace, Beech Tree, and Bren Mar Park, are K-5.

McGarey would like to see the new school be K-6, which give students more options when they move on to middle school. Nearly 3,000 students live within one and a-half miles of the school. If it was K-5, it could encompass a bigger boundary.

The committee also has to consider curriculum differences among the various high schools. For example, AHS and Stuart offer the International Baccalaureate program, while Falls Church has the Advanced Placement program. Other differences include academies, special education centers, and language programs. There are also different programs among the elementary schools. Some, but not all, for example, have full-day kindergarten.

Other issues that need to be considered include transportation (and the difficulty of having students cross the beltway and other major roads) and the need to minimize split feeders and attendance islands. In addition, Slough says, the committee wants the board to consider “the unique characteristics of the Annandale community and the best options for continued academic success at its demographically and socioeconomically diverse schools.”

3 comments:

  1. The main recommendation is that children from north of 236 be excluded from AHS. In other words, the neighborhoods of Annandale Town Centre -- the main identifiable section of Annandale -- would not be able to go to Annandale High School.

    There is something very odd about that. Could it be that AHS has deteriorated so badly that the people in Annandale don't want their kids going there?

    A neighbor who lives in the Camelot subdivision -- which is on the other side of 495 but technically that's Annandale -- informed me the other day that Annandale High School has a terrible gang problem, especially with MS13 in the school.

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  2. The School Board - in 2009 - voted to move all students from AHS who live north of 236 (and west of the Columbia Pike/Rt. 236 interchange) to Falls Church HS. Students who are in middle school who live in that redistricted area still go to Poe MS (an AHS feeder) because Jackson MS is too full.

    Before the vote, the AHS community voiced strong objections to losing those neighborhoods (as well as students from Ravensworth)for a number of reasons. AHS is overcrowded because it has an overlarge boundary due to drawing from 2 middle schools. You should ask the School Board why areas as far away as Landmark (5 miles, and closer to Stuart) weren't moved instead.

    AHS has struggled in the past but has not had a gang problem for many years. My children go there and find a high level of tolerance and acceptance among the multi-racial population. It's a great school with a great atmosphere, in spite of the overcrowding.

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  3. This is great information about the recommendations being made today by the committee to the School Board. This is a complex issue and the solutions are not obvious. The overcrowding at the middle school level and the inconsistencies in grades served at each school is making finding a solution through redistricting more difficult. Have you heard anything about a feasibility study being done on building an additional middle school? I am curious if anyone knows about the recommendations for elementary boundaries connected with the new Lacey site?

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