A closely watched amendment to keep the Wakefield Forest kids at Annandale High School failed to pass on a 6-6 vote. There wew dozens of students and parents in red AHS T-shirts at the school board meeting, and some were in tears after the vote.
The six school board members who voted for that amendment were Sandy Evans, Tina Hone, Patty Reed, Daniel Storck, Ilryong Moon, and chairman Jane Strauss. The six who voted against it were Brad Center, Kathy Smith, Elizabeth Bradsher, James Raney, Tessie Wilson, and Stuart Gibson.
A smaller contingent from the Bren Mar Park community at the meeting were disappointed that an amendment to keep them at AHS also failed.
In the end only Mason District board member Sandy Evans and at-large member Tina Hone voted against the boundary plan, and it passed 10-2.
Had those two amendments passed, Evans said, she would have supported it. She said she was voting against it because it did not meet the goals of the ad hoc study committee and because the community most affected by the boundary changes—Bren Mar Park—was brought into the process late in the game and many parents were not aware of what was going on.
The school board vote capped a year of community engagement on the Annandale Regional Boundary Study, which was aimed at addressing overcrowding at AHS and setting the attendance area at the new elementary school under construction on the site of the former Lacey administration building.
A delicate balance
At-large board member Tina Hone offered the amendment that had drawn the most attention in recent weeks—to keep the students in the Wakefield Forest community at Poe Middle School and Annandale High School, rather than reassign them to Frost Middle and Woodson High School.
“Nobody is wrong in this discussion,” Hone said. AHS is overcrowded, but it is “incredibly successful” despite its socioeconomic mix.
She pulled out a Jenga game to illustrate the point that the school has a delicate balance, and “we don’t know what could happen when you pull out one piece.”
If the Wakefield Forest students are transferred out of AHS, “I worry about the kids who are going to be left behind,” Hone said. She grew up poor with parents who didn’t know how to navigate the system, she said, and wouldn’t have had such a successful life if it hadn’t been for the guidance and support she received from her better-off friends. The students at AHS need the same kind of support, she said.
Hone urged the board to “be bold and courageous and think far ahead.” Upsetting the socioeconomic balance at AHS is on the “leading edge” of creating a school system where “the poor kids are isolated in little clusters” and “segregated from the rest of Fairfax County.” she said, “This amendment represents everything I’m about and why I ran for the school board.”
Evans said she agreed with Hone’s comments and said the guiding principle should be “first, do no harm.”
AHS may be overcrowded but “it comes down to something indescribable, something ineffable” that is more important than numbers, Evans said. AHS is a diverse school with the right mix of engaged students and active parent volunteers and that shouldn’t be upset.
Noting that AHS already took a huge hit a couple of years ago when the Broyhill Crest and Ravenswort neighborhoods were removed, she said, “most schools have a tipping point. It doesn’t take that much to put them on the wrong side of the tipping point.”
Also, Evans noted, FCPS recently spent $1.8 million on a modular classroom, so the capacity issue is manageable. If the amendment passes, Evans said, AHS would only be 52 students above capacity.
It’s a very difficult decision, said at-large board member Ilryong Moon, who said he received hundreds of emails arguing for both sides of the issue. In the end, though, he came down in favor of the amendment, noting that he was swayed by the arguments of former Principal John Ponton who urged the board to retain the Wakefield students, calling them the “lifeblood of AHS.”
And like Hone, used his personal story to illustrate the value of socioeconomic diversity. He came to this country from Korea 37 years ago, and his family was poor. At T.C. Williams High School, his friends from wealthier families “inspired me to succeed,” he said, and “the kids at Annandale deserve to succeed as I did.”
Capacity must be addressed
Tessie Wilson of the Braddock District, which includes Wakefield Forest and Woodson High School, said she opposes the amendment because the need to reduce overcrowding at AHS overrides other concerns.
She noted that student achievement for African-Americans, Hispanics, and students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches at AHS actually improved the year after the Broyhill Crest and Ravensworth students were removed.
Brad Center (Lee) said he was voting against the amendment because the objective of the regional planning study was to reduce overcrowding. “If we don’t do this, it sets a precedent about trying to promote diversity and that’s not the purpose.” He cited a quote from John Stuart Mill to urge the board to consider “the greatest good for the greatest number.”
Stuart Gibson (Hunter Mill) also said he was voting against the amendment because, if the board doesn’t address overcrowding in the part of the county with the highest birthrate, it will have to revisit the issue again in three years.
Elizabeth Bradsher (Springfield), who voted against the amendment, said “it’s about capacity,” and James Raney (at-large) said he was voting against it because reassigning the Wakefield Forest students to Woodson would be “consistent with commuting patterns.”
Daniel Storck (Mount Vernon), who voted for the amendment, said that while the board does need to address overcrowding, he agrees with Evan’s “first do no harm” statement.
“When we pull a community out, we’re making an irrevocable decision,” he said. “We need to be a little more cautious, even if it means a school has a little more students than we’d like.”
Patty Reed (Providence) said she had been leaning toward basing her vote on the need to reduce overcrowding, but “that’s not the only issue,” and she ended up supporting it. She was influenced by an email from a former student who wanted to be in the band but couldn’t afford an instrument. Other people helped, and the student ended up graduating from college with a degree in music.
“People at AHS love the diversity and can live with the overcrowding,” Reed said. “I don’t believe the solution is to take out the community that is the spark to this flame.”
Evans proposed the amendment to keep the students on the western side of the Bren Mar Park Elementary School attendance area at AHS. Only 100 students are affected, and the population in that area is not rising. Those students also “contribute significantly to the fabric of this school,” she said.
Evans said transferring them to Edison High School, as recommended, would require them to cross the beltway and I-395 and go up Van Dorn Hill, all of which would be treacherous for teenage drivers.
Only four board members—Evans, Hone, Moon, and Storck—voted in favor of that amendment.
A motion proposed by Reed to keep the Pine Spring Elementary School “island” at Pine Spring, Jackson Middle School, and Falls Church High School passed unanimously. Reed suggested that those students be reassigned to the Devonshire school when its renovations are completed in 2013.
A motion proposed by Evans to keep the Columbia Pines community at Glasgow Middle School and Stuart High School passed unanimously.
Another amendment proposed by Evans to keep the Barcroft Knolls, Overlook Knolls, and Dean Subdivision at Belvedere Elementary School passed 8-4.
The first amendment of the night, proposed by Evans, calling for the boundary decision to be delayed until the board’s Sept. 22 meeting, failed on a 2-10 vote, with Evans and Hone the only ones supporting it.