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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Parent groups begin to coalesce over school boundary options

Parents consider boundary options.
Fairfax County School Board member Patricia Reed (Providence District) says she is advising parents who are concerned about having their children moved to different schools as a result of the Annandale Regional Study to look at the big picture.

At a meeting at Falls Church High School last night, where parents pored over maps to try to figure out which of the four options they favor, Reed said she has been urging parents to explain why they favor or oppose a particular solution. “The challenge is to look beyond the impact of your own community,” she said. “Don’t just say you don’t want your child to be moved.”

Yet, that’s exactly what is going on. In general, parents want their children to go to their neighborhood school. They don’t want long bus rides. They don’t want their elementary schools to be split, with some children sent to different middle schools. And they don’t want their schools to lose the most “active” and “involved” (meaning middle class) parents and students.

Being an advocate for what you perceive as the best option for your own children, school, and neighborhood is not a bad thing. Strong parent involvement is one of the Fairfax County school system’s best assets.

As FCPS staff compile the responses to the four options—received from comment sheets at the community dialogue sessions and from individual comments submitted online—they will determine which of the four options have the most support. It’s also likely they will develop a proposal that combines elements from more than one option. [Responses from last week’s community meetings are on the FCPS website.]

What that indicates is that the most organized parent groups—like those from the Wakefield Forest and Belvedere communities—that make the most noise are likely to have the greatest impact. And the less involved parents—like those who are immigrants or working two jobs and don’t have time to attend evening meetings or don’t speak English well or don’t feel comfortable speaking up—will be less likely to have their needs addressed.

There were a couple of translators at last night’s meeting, and there were a handful of people who took advantage of them. The overwhelming majority of people, however, who have gotten involved in this process are the same people who go to PTA meetings and volunteer in the schools.

The final community dialogue—next Monday, June 6, 7-9 p.m., in the Annandale Terrace Elementary School cafeteria—is targeted to people who speak languages other than English. Translators and interpreters will be provided. Let’s hope there is a large turnout.

Meanwhile, here are some random comments from parents at the Falls Church HS meeting:

One resident of Sleepy Hollow Woods said he wants his child to stay at Belvedere Elementary School and move on to Glasgow Middle School and Stuart High School. He opposes Options 1, 2, and 3 that would transfer various chunks of the Belvedere community to the new elementary school on the Lacey site. He also opposes the proposal to remove the Advanced Academic Program (AAP) center from Glasgow.

Another Belvedere parent was concerned that under Options 2 and 3, people who live just a couple of blocks from Belvedere might be transferred to Lacey.

A parent who lives in Columbia Pines said she likes Belvedere, which her daughter attends, but “wants to see what Lacey has to offer.” She prefers Stuart over Falls Church and likes Option 1, because “it affects the least amount of people,” but says, “I’m still trying to understand it all.”

A set of “talking points” developed by Belvedere parents supports having Columbia Pines and Sleepy Hollow Woods “be considered one neighborhood” and not split up among different schools. The paraents want Sleepy Hollow kids to continue to feed to Glasgow and Stuart and oppose having Columbia Pines kids feed to Poe and Falls Church. They would accept a split feeder at Lacey, with some students going to Glasgow and Stuart and others to Poe and Falls Church.

One parent, who lives close to Annandale High School (AHS) and has a child at Poe, favors Option 1, “because it would make the fewest changes.”

Even though her child would go to AHS under all of the options, she is concerned about how the boundary changes would affect the school’s population. “If you lop off the areas with the more active parents, that will change the dynamics,” she said. She fears that if the socioeconomic balance shifts too much, “people would pupil-place their kids out” of AHS.

Another parent said “Option 1 doesn’t go far enough,” noting that under this plan the Lacey school would be under capacity in five years while other nearby elementary schools would still be overcrowded.

A parent who lives in the small “island” that goes to Pine Spring Elementary School likes that arrangement. She opposes Option 2, which would send her child to Beech Tree Elementary School.

A parent whose kids attend Bren Mar Park Elementary School prefers Option 4 (the non-boundary option) because “it keeps the community together.” She likes the idea of having her sixth-grader in a school with grades 6 and 7 and not older students who could be a bad influence.

She is concerned that many immigrant parents whose children attend Bren Mar Park won’t comment on the boundary options because they “don’t get involved” in school issues.

In addition to Reed, school board members Daniel Storck (Mt. Vernon) and Sandy Evans (Mason) also came to last night’s meeting. Storck, whose district is not affected by the Annandale Regional Study, said he came to learn about the issues, as the whole school board will vote on a final boundary plan.

Evans, whose district is most affected by the boundary study, said she has heard from parents who feel strongly about “grandfathering” students, so they can stay at their current school, and has heard strong support for retaining the AAP center at Glasgow. And she’s heard from a lot of Wakefield Forest parents who oppose the non-boundary option because they don’t want to send their children on long bus trips to Poe and Holmes.

She also noted that FCPS is taking principals’ opinions into account, too. FCPS administrators were scheduled to meet with the principals in the Annandale High School pyramid May 24.

If you haven’t submitted comments yet, you should do it soon, as the school board is on a very tight schedule. FCPS staff is scheduled to present its recommendations to the school board June 23.


  1. Thanks for this article. I do hope FCPS reconsiders the redistricting plans affecting Belvedere. It would be horrible if homes just a block away from Belvedere across Sleepy Hollow Road were redistricted to Lacey. It's bad enough that the homes just across Columbia Pike from Belvedere attend Columbia ES. Let's preserve a few neighborhood schools!!

  2. I would just like to see at least a semi-permanent solution-- none of this kicking the can down the road stuff. Half of this current School Board is not running for re-election, so they should be asking themselves not ‘what can I do to be re-elected,” but rather “what can I do so that my legacy is one of permanently solving this problem at AHS as opposed to kicking the can down the road to the next School Board.”

    Removing too few students will risk doing just that, and we could all be back having this same argument again in two years time. One of the options being explored (number one) only brings the school’s population down to about 2334, or only 16 students less than the “new” 2350 capacity just recently published that takes into account the school’s modular classroom addition (built in one of the parking lots) but that does not account for a cafeteria, library, gymnasium, and other common spaces that were intended for only 2179 students.

    Further if they miss the mark with their estimated 2012-2013 enrollment by only 16 students, they are overcapacity on even the inflated 2350 capacity number RIGHT OUT OF THE BOX!!! The situation is not ideal, and somebody, somewhere, is going to be unhappy (most people are not going to volunteer to be moved from their high school) but that is going to have to happen, and in greater numbers than the school board appears to have the fortitude to move, if the greater good of the school system and of AHS’s future is to be served.