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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Students, parents speak out at hearing on Annandale school boundary changes


Much of the testimony at the four-hour school board hearing on the Annandale Regional Planning Study July 11 dealt with these issues: A large contingent of Wakefield Chapel residents want to stay at Annandale High School, and large numbers of people in the Woodson attendance area oppose being reassigned to Lake Braddock Secondary School.

AHS students speak out

Many of the more than 80 people who testified at the meeting were Annandale High School (AHS) students and parents from across the beltway who expressed concern that their school’s balanced diversity would suffer if the school board adopts the Fairfax County Public School staff recommendation to send the Wakefield Chapel (WC) students to Woodson High School.

Megan Ryan, a rising sophomore at AHS, said the school would become unbalanced and lose its character if the WC students leave because they are active in sports, band, other extracurricular activities, and the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

Rising AHS senior Annie Curran, an IB candidate, as well as co-editor in chief of the A-Blast student newspaper and secretary of the National Honor Society, echoed that sentiment, noting AHS “would be changed dramatically,” if it loses the WC neighborhood.

Emma Barker, president of the AHS Class of 2011, said WC is part of the entire Annandale community, not just AHS. The Atoms marching band, for example, is a key part of the Annandale Halloween parade

“Annandale High School is a tradition in my neighborhood,” said Michael McLean, a student at Poe Middle School, who appreciates the opportunity to go to schools with people from different cultures. Besides, he noted, if forced to transfer, “we would have to buy all new spirit wear, and we look good in red and white.”  

Diversity at AHS

Courtney Collins, an AHS graduate who wants her children to go there, said it’s important for the WC community to stay at AHS for the school to “retain its crucial balance of diversity and participation,” noting “one by one, all the neighborhoods with single-family houses are being eliminated” from the AHS attendance area.

WC resident and 1987 AHS graduate Christa Gormley said her neighborhood contributes to the diversity at AHS. “It’s a unique situation,” where a predominantly white neighborhood wants to stay at a diverse school, she said. “I want my kids to experience a school that mirrors the real world.” AHS “is special. It is magical.” 

Leonard Wolfenstein of WC called it “extraordinary” that so many members of a white, middle-class community want to stay at a diverse school like AHS. One unintended consequence of losing those students would be the loss of community support for AHS activities. For example, the Atoms marching band raises most of its funding from neighborhoods like WC. He accused the FCPS staff of overcompensating by using “a hatchet instead of pruning shears” to address the overcrowding problem.

Ellen Rolen called AHS “the jewel of Fairfax County.” She said test scores are not as important as the “depth of understanding” that comes from having friends of many races and cultures. She believes the white, middle-class students are a key component of the school’s socioeconomic balance.

Removing the WC parents from AHS would hurt the entire Annandale community. “Diversity is what makes Annandale great,” she said. “Our kids just don’t learn about diversity; they live it.”

Charles Curran said if the WC students leave AHS, the school would lose 30 percent of its IB students, 30 percent of sports and drama participants, and 45 percent of parent volunteers. “Maintaining a socioeconomic balance is in the best interest of this school and community,” he said.

North Springfield resident Beth Oliver says the active parents who volunteer at AHS serve as role models for the students with parents who don’t have the energy to participate or don’t understand the value of doing so.

Peter Read, the father of former AHS student Mary Read, who was killed in the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, said he was impressed with the quality of instruction at AHS and appreciates the school’s memorial to keep his daughter’s memory alive. He urged the board to keep WC at AHS and also consider the non-boundary solution.

Stay at Woodson

Kelly Gerber was one of several (WC) residents who supported the staff recommendation to move from Poe Middle School and AHS to Frost Middle School and Woodson High School. AHS “can still maintain its energy and focus” without WC, she said, while something must be done to deal with the fact that AHS is “severely overcrowded.”
Dan Phillips
Tim Hurlebaus, said that while he appreciates his WC neighbors’ loyal allegiance to their school, he supports the staff recommendations because AHS is overcrowded and Woodson has capacity. He said FCPS “must do what’s best for the county as a whole.”

Chapel Hill Civic Association President Justine Byun also supported the staff recommendation, noting that the need to address overcrowding outweighs the benefit of a diverse school.

“This is about overcrowding,” added Dan Phillips, who illustrated his point with a large photo of the portable classrooms at AHS. “Woodson is under-capacity and Annandale is overcapacity. It’s that simple.”

Oppose Lake Braddock

About a dozen residents of western Annandale, many from the Truro neighborhood, spoke out against Option 3 in the Annandale Regional Study that called for their community to move from Woodson to Lake Braddock Secondary School.

George McCray, for example, called that proposal “a threat to cohesion and stability in our community.” Sue Chandler said it doesn’t make sense to send her neighborhood to Lake Braddock while people who live farther away from Woodson get to stay there.

Regina Printz, of the Lee Forest neighborhood, noted “there is no safe acceptable route for walking” to Lake Braddock, and Paula Treger warned that transferring Woodson students to Lake Braddock could result in more traffic cut-throughs in the WC area.

Anger in Bren Mar Park

Several parents of students at Bren Mar Park (BMP) Elementary School urged the school board to reject the staff recommendation to move their kids out of the Annandale pyramid. Mark Viehmeyer said the FCPS facilities staff  “failed our community in every way”  and their recommendation violates the principal of keeping communities together by busing kids across the beltway to Edison High School.

Moving Bren Mar Park kids to the Edison pyramid would be divisive and dangerous and would create a disruptive split feed, added Maura Viehmeyer. Students would have to cross the beltway or go through the I-395 mixing bowl, which would be especially dangerous for inexperienced drivers. BMP kids would be the only ones at Holmes Middle School not going to AHS, and it would be unacceptable to have a pyramid with schools (Holmes and Edison) in different clusters, she said.

BMP parent Francine Froehlich blamed the overcrowding problem on FCPS’s shortsighted decision years ago to make Thomas Jefferson High School a selective school for science and technology and turn Edison Park Elementary School into an adult learning center. “We need schools our children can walk and bike to,” she said.

Support for Belvedere and Stuart

Monica Buckhorn, a resident of Columbia Pines, said it will be sad to leave Belvedere Elementary for the new school under construction on the Lacey site. She said 99 percent of the families in her neighborhood prefer sending their kids to Glasgow Middle School and Stuart High School rather than Poe Middle School and Falls Church High School and thanked school board member Sandy Evans for proposing an amendment to make that happen.

Jennifer Hitchcock said transferring many students out of Belvedere means the school would lose the most active parent volunteers.

Patty McCaleb, a Belvedere parent, noted that 42 percent of the single-family homes would be moved out of the school’s attendance area, including some that are only a block from the school.
Tara McCaleb
Her daughter, Tara McCaleb, age 7, is worried about “losing a lot of friends” if large numbers of Belvedere students are transferred to the new school. “It would completely change our school in a very bad way,” she told the board.

Nijeh Argabright, a student in the IB-Middle Years Program at Poe, wants to attend Stuart because of its IB program. She is concerned that the Columbia Pines neighborhood could move to Falls Church HS, which has Advanced Placement instead of the IB program.

Sleepy Hollow Woods resident Tara Rethore said she wants to stay in the Stuart/Glasgow pyramid along with her neighbors in Columbia Pines. She also urged FCPS to start getting parents involved in developing the programs at the new school.

Long-term solutions

Annandale PTSA President Emily Slough said AHS is a successful school in spite of being overcrowded. Instead of short-term solutions, she urged the school board to “think about the unique families and students behind the data” and consider alternatives like the non-boundary option proposed by the Annandale Regional Planning Study Committee.

Elaine Wiggins was one of several parents who said they appreciated the generous “grandfathering” provisions in the staff recommendations. Rather than boundary changes every three years that just “kick the can down the road,” she urged the board to reconsider the non-boundary solution.

Cindy Brown, the PTA president at North Springfield Elementary School, urged the board to look at long-term solutions to overcrowding, such as reopening Edsall Park elementary and moving Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology to another part of the county. By 2016, she said, FCPS will not have space for 3,600 students.

2 comments:

  1. I applaud the AHS students who are fighting to stay there--they make a good argument that they are a vital part of the the AHS community!

    Some of the same arguments--maintaining socioeconomic balance and volunteer support--apply to keeping the Sleepy Hollow Woods community at Belvedere. I hope the school board recognizes this, and what the staff proposal will mean for Belvedere.

    One clarification to the article: the Columbia Pines community is currently assigned to Poe MS and Falls Church HS, and has been since before this boundary study. They want to be added to Glasgow MS, despite the fact that Glasgow is predicted to be very overcrowded in a few years.

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  2. I applaud their courage, too. Bravo to them for speaking up and participating in the process of government. But bravo, as well, to the ARPS committee and school board staff who have examined this issue in detail for over two years,now, and have not shirked from what has to be done: There are simply too many students in the AHS pyramid and some (actually a good number) need to be moved. It looks like the plan they have come up with is a good one-- perhaps as good as could be hoped for, especially since it allows those same, brave, students to finish out their HS careers at AHS even as it ensures long term enrollment balance across the region.

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