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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Public invited to comment on Annandale Regional Planning Study

Members of the Annandale Regional Planning Study Committee who explored boundary options and grade configurations for the new elementary school under construction on the Lacey site explained their report to a small group of parents last night at Woodburn Elementary School.

Both that group and the group that examined options for addressing overcrowding at Annandale High School and Poe Middle School presented their final reports to the Fairfax County School Board May 10. Mason District School Board member Sandy Evans urged members of the audience last night to submit feedback on the proposed plans to the board.

While the Lacey committee explored the pros and cons of having the new school serve grades K-5, K-6, and K-8, it concluded that the K-8 configuration is not really a viable option because there are no FCPS schools like that, committee member Sandra Miracle says.

Miracle underscored the committee’s recommendation in support of “clean feeds.” Having all students at an elementary school move on to the same middle school is important for maintaining social networks, she says. The report offers several options for clean feeds from the new elementary school, but suggests a clean feed to Glasgow Middle School, then to Stuart High School, would probably work best to balance enrollment at the nearby schools.

If it becomes necessary to create a split feed at the new school, Miracle says the committee believes students should be evenly divided—with no no more than a 60-40 split—to two middle schools. The committee would like to avoid a situation where a small group of students goes to one middle school, and the vast majority heads to another.

The committee report offers six different scenarios for establishing the attendance area for the new elementary school and lists the pros and cons for each one:

Scenario A1 would reduce overcrowding at Beech Tree, Annandale Terrace, and Woodburn, the three most overcrowded elementary schools in the study area. It would maintain the Lacey school as a neighborhood school. But it would significantly reduce the population of Beech Tree, although it attempts to address that issue by proposing to transfer some students from Pine Springs Elementary(which is not in the study area) to Beech Tree.

Scenario B would transfer students from a larger number of schools to the new school, but wouldn’t reduce enrollment at Annandale Terrace as much as scenario A1.

Scenario C would eliminate overcrowding at Woodburn, but Miracle says it isn’t as viable as some of the other options because it would move some students across the beltway to Camelot Elementary School.

Scenario D would provide the most relief to Annandale Terrace, the most overcrowded school, by shifting some students who live east of Backlick Road to Columbia Elementary School.

Scenario E would adopt the same boundary used for Masonville Elementary School, which existed on the Lacey site and closed in 1980 due to declining enrollment. This option would reduce transportation costs, as many students would be able to walk to school. But it would not reduce overcrowding at Annandale Terrace and there wouldn’t be enough students to fill the school unless it has grades K-8.

Beech Tree Principal Terry Phillips noted at the meeting that every scenario would result in Beech Tree losing a large chunk of its population. Most of the students in the Broyhill Crest neighborhood, where the new school is being built, attend Beech Tree, and some attend Woodburn.

The committee had spent some time exploring whether all FCPS elementary schools should have a consistent grade configuration, but determined there is no research clearly demonstrating that either K-5 or K-6 schools are better. Woodburn is the only K-6 school in the study area. The rest of the schools in the study area are the only ones in Fairfax County that are K-5.

Peggy Morrison, a former Beech Tree PTA president, said at the meeting that she liked having her children attend a middle school with grades 6-8. “Being there for three years builds more of a community” than attending middle school for just seventh and eighth grade, she says. Another parent noted that sixth-graders receive less instructional time in elementary school than in middle school.

Another community outreach meeting on the new elementary school will be held Jan. 19 at Poe. Community meetings on the Annandale and Poe overcrowding issue will be held Jan. 13 at Annandale High School and Jan. 18 at Poe. The two committees will then get together to reconcile the two reports.

The high school report includes a couple of non-boundary option—including a proposal to have Holmes Middle School serve grades 6-7 and have Poe serve grades 8-9, while Annandale High School would have grades 10-12—as well as several boundary scenarios.

The school board will direct the FCPS staff to examine the cost and facility issues for the various options and develop a boundary plan, which will be considered at a board work session in April. The public will then have a chance to comment at hearings, and the board will vote in July. The solution adopted by the board will take effect for the 2012-13 school year.

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