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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Parents sharply divided over non-boundary option for relieving overcrowding at Annandale

One thing is clear from the first community dialogue to review the four options for addressing the Annandale Regional Study: Whatever the final outcome, some people are going to be very unhappy.

As more than 250 people pored over existing and proposed school boundary maps in the Annandale High School cafeteria Monday evening, they began to form opinions about the pros and cons of each option and the implications for their children and neighborhoods.

A few general perspectives emerged:
  • People seemed sharply divided over Option 4 (the non-boundary option). Some people love it, and others hate it.
  • People don’t like split feeders; they prefer all students at an elementary school moving together to the same middle and high schools.
  • People don’t like their community split among schools. They would like to see all of their children’s friends from their neighborhood and their local pool going to the same school together.
Under Option 4, students would attend Holmes Middle School for grades 6-7, Poe Middle School for grades 8-9, and Annandale High School for grades 10-12.

Several people said that plan would be too disruptive and kids would have a hard time adjusting to new schools every couple of years.

As one parent from the Wakefield Forest area noted, if Option 4 were adopted, his children would have to travel all the way to Alexandria for seventh grade, then transfer to Poe, then go to Annandale High School for grade 10. “That’s four schools in five years,” he said.

Another parent said Option 4 would be particularly disruptive for families with kids only a year apart in age; they would prefer having their kids in the same school as much as possible.

A parent who likes Option 4 said the more frequent transitions won’t be a problem because students would move together with their peers. She said the other options are not logical and merely move around small pockets of students. She also opposes moving the Advanced Academic Program Center out of Glasgow Middle School. Option 1 would relocate that center to Poe, and Option 2 would move it to Holmes.

Another parent who likes Option 4 objected to the way it was presented in the FCPS handout. The supporting materials seem to discourage that option by pointing out the need for a costly addition at Jackson Middle School. Adding a sixth grade to other schools, which is recommended in Option 3, would cost a lot, too, but the materials don’t mention that.

She also complained that Option 4 doesn’t include a proposed attendance area for the new elementary school, which makes it harder to evaluate.

A parent of a Belvedere Elementary School student likes Option 4, because “it provides a long-run solution that keeps students all together.” He doesn’t like the proposals to split Belvedere students among Holmes and Glasgow middle schools.

Although it was the intent of the Annandale Regional Planning Study Committee and the FCPS staff to avoid split feeders, none of the options avoid them completely.

Several residents of the Wakefield Forest area were not happy about the prospect of a long bus ride to Holmes Run or Poe middle schools and want to keep their kids at Frost Middle School.

A resident from Chestnut Hill said he likes Option 2, which calls for the neighborhood’s children to go Frost and Woodson High School. Now the neighborhood is split among Poe and Frost middle schools and Woodson and Annandale high schools.

One parent strongly defended Annandale High School, saying her children are getting a great education there. But someone else at that table said if you move a large area of the Annandale attendance area to Woodson, as would happen under Option 2, AHS might lose some of its better programs because the demand would go away.

Another member of that group said Options 1, 2, and 3 would all result in making AHS less diverse.

Option 1 moves an area between Braddock Road and I-395 to Edison High School. Option 2 moves a smaller area to Edison, a large area to Woodson, and small areas near around Lincolnia to Stuart High School. Option 3 moves a large section to Edison, a small area to Stuart and a large area west of the beltway to Lake Braddock Secondary School.

Several residents of Broyhill Crest are pleased that a new elementary school is coming to their neighborhood, but aren’t happy that their community could be divided among Jackson and Poe middle schools (Options 1 and 3), or Jackson, Poe, and Glasgow (Option 2).

Poe Principal Sonya Swansbrough, who attended the meeting last night, said she has heard from parents who want their communities to stay together and who don’t like the idea of attendance “islands.”

Anita Lynch, the principal of Bren Mar Park Elementary School, expressed disappointment that her school was added to the study late in the process. “We are far from Lacey,” she says, so her school community hadn’t been involved early on and now has to play catch up. “Our community has not had a voice,” she says.

Bren Mar Park students currently go to Poe and Annandale. Lynch would like to keep that structure and would like the school to remain K-5. Under all of the options except the fourth, Bren Mar Park students would be split up for middle school. Under Option 2, her students would be split among Holmes and Twain, and a large group of her students would switch to North Springfield Elementary School.

She suggested another option that hadn’t been considered in the regional study: convert the Plum Center for Lifelong Learning on Edsall Road to an elementary school.

Assistant FCPS Superintendent Dean Tistadt, who was at last night’s meeting, said that would be “unlikely, but not completely out of the question.” That building is needed for adult education and would need extensive renovations if it were converted to a school, he said.

Additional community dialogue sessions will be held May 23 at Falls Church High School and Lake Braddock Secondary School. Another session, targeted for speakers of other languages, will be held June 6 at Annandale Terrace Elementary School. All sessions are 7-9 p.m.


  1. Either I interpreted the middle school map wrong or the other people did for Broyhill Crest. It says Jackson TO Poe (moving from Jackson to Poe) for the leaf and Lincolnshire area. To me that means ALL of BCCA neighborhoods should be AT Poe. The problem comes when we go to High School. Only those kids north of 236 go to Falls Church H.S. That seems to be a small percentage of Poe kids compared to how many Poe kids will go to Annandale.

  2. From the map, it looks like all of BCCA would go to Poe under Options 1, 2, and 3. Those kids used to go Poe, but some were switched to Jackson under the last boundary adjustment. For High School, it looks like they all go to Falls Church and that would be the only neighborhood that goes from Poe to Falls Church.

  3. Many people who like option four point to the fact that all of the students will get to stay with their friends and peers throughout their school tenure and that any disruptions/ distractions to their lives and their educations will be minimized. What these people always forget to mention is that that continuity and peer retention does not apply to the children from Wakefield Forest Elementary.

    Under option 4, the WFES children in the AHS pyramid (approximately 30 to 40% of WFES in any given year) would continue to be separated from the rest of their friends and classmates after 6th grade and thrust into a middle school class of 400 or more students who had already been at that middle school for one year. They would then have all of one year to get used to that school before being shuttled off to a third school within a three year period. How can that possibly be a good thing for that small a number of children (only about 20 students from WFES will begin 7th grade at Poe next year) to be thrown into such a situation. To pronounce that keeping children together through their entire school careers is an important advantage of "option 4" is to necessarily admit that the WFES children are uniquely DIS-advantaged by such a setup as the only children to be separated from their peers in the 7th grade. (and the only children to enter Poe in the 7th grade.)

    As such, if you want to honestly support option 4 on such a basis, you need to honestly admit that you are willing to sacrifice their well-being to get what you want.

  4. In Option 3, they are going to turn Beech Tree, Belvedere, and Sleeply Hollow into k-6 and then go to Glasgow a year after the other k-5 kids. This would put these kids into the same situation that the Wakefield Forest kids are in. Does not sound like a good idea to me.

  5. The new construction in the Bren Mar area, and possibly adding a sixth grade will overcrowd the school incredibly. There is no more space for trailers. THE COUNTY NEEDS TO PUT CHILDREN AHEAD OF ADULT EDUCATION. Shrink the Plum Center, and bring back Edsall Park Elementary.

  6. Not everyone is opposed to split-feeders. That is a non-issue for WFES families in the Frost/Woodson boundary (60-70% of WFES). That's not to say we would not welcome all of WFES to Frost/Woodson, but we don't want to be moved out of that boundary (current option #3). Don't think anyone would blame us for feeling that way.

  7. It is easy to be quote not opposed to split feeders unquote when you are in the 70 percent part of the “split.” The health of the FCPS system AS A WHOLE is everyone’s concern, and we would all be well served to take a little broader view of things than just “what I want.” Besides, if you really DON’T want option 3, you would be well served to pick an option you DO like and advocate for it. Change is coming, whether we like it or not, and the school board is looking for ideas, not naysayers.

  8. Very good blog post. Keep up the good work!

  9. NO TO OPTION 3. I am for option 1. And, if they still need to move people out of WFES/ANNANDALE, then move these students to Lake Braddock and leave the rest of WFES alone. Keep in mind that by voting for option 3, FCPS is CREATING a large attendance island, which in my opinion is far worse than leaving a split-feeder alone.

  10. If you are actively opposed to sending the WFES East students to Frost Woodson and eliminating the split feeder, you are in the minority of WFES West parents/residents. Almost all of such folks to whom I have spoken (and there have been many) support eliminating the split feeder and would welcome the WFES East students as long as it doesn’t involve moving ALL of WFES to LBSS. They are just fine with having the whole of WFES go to Frost/Woodson, though. Take a look at the community feedback forms from the LBSS community meeting-- it backs up my understanding of the weight of sentiment over there.

  11. Additionally, if you are in WFES West, you WANT WFES to be at Frost Woodson with you, and here is why: If a neighborhood gets moved in a boundary study, it cannot get moved again for another three years. Once together at Woodson, the school board will be BLOCKED from removing WFES East for three years, and would be unlikely to move just WFES West piecemeal and in so doing “recreating” the split feeder as well as an island.

    However, if WFES East ends up at Braddock by ourselves this time round, guess what looks like a nice big juicy target for moving WFES West to create more space at WTW when they start the coming (next year?) boundary studies for Robinson, Fairfax -- which is going to be repatriating a large number of students to the county--, and West Springfield. You guessed I t-- WFES WEST.

    And, if WFES East just stays put this time around, this whole argument gets dredged up again in 2-3 years when AHS is once again overcrowded (which it will be under option 1 if you look at the numbers). Best to solve it now with option 2 starting in 2012, move the half of the modular that is leaving AHS over to Frost as “swing spaces” to cover the extra 15-20 students per year that would be coming from WFES until the renovation can be done in 2016-17.

    That’s why the smart thing would seem to be for WFES East and West to find some common ground so they can present a united front, or at least present a non-antagonistic front where they are not stepping on each other’s toes and working at cross purposes. (Which is what seems to be happening now.) A fractured community is not going to convince the school board of anything, and will effectively leave ALL options on the table. I think you’d be surprised to find how willing your neighbors to the East are to talk.