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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Major changes proposed by FCPS for Advanced Academic Program centers

Parents from Braddock Elementary School support the proposal.
A proposal by Fairfax County Public Schools to restructure its Advanced Academic Program (AAP) centers is upsetting lots of parents, and a series of FCPS last week drew huge crowds.

Many parents were concerned that adding lots of new centers would dilute the program and urged the school board to delay implementing it under all the implications are better understood. Other parents supported the program, because it would allow their children to attend a school closer to home.

More centers

The proposal, put forth by the AAP Task Force, recommends an increase in the number of elementary school AAP Level IV centers so that there would be one in each pyramid (a high school and its feeder middle and elementary schools). Currently, the Annandale, Falls Church, and four other pyramids don’t have an AAP Level IV center, so students have to be bused to a different pyramid.

In Cluster 3, the proposal calls for a new Level IV center at Braddock Elementary School, which means some of the students now bused to the center at Belvedere would be able to stay closer to home. Camelot Elementary, in Cluster 2, would also have a new center.

The proposal also recommends an AAP Level IV center in each middle school. Currently there are only three middle school AAP Level IV centers in the Annandale/Mason area: at Glasgow, Jackson, and Frost. If the proposal is adopted, some of those students would be able to attend new AAP centers at Holmes or Poe.

Parents from Bailey's Elementary School discuss the AAP proposal.

The immediate issue driving the proposed change is the need to address severe overcrowding at AAP centers at three elementary schools, Haycock, Louise Archer, and Hunters Woods, none of them in the Annandale/Mason area.

FCPS Superintendent Jack Dale says the proposal will save the school system about $2 million to $3 million in transportation costs because more students will be able to stay in their home schools. There would be some additional staffing costs, though.

Level IV AAP centers provide a more challenging curriculum to highly gifted students in grades 3-8. Level IV local services are also provided  to gifted children who want to stay at their home school. They also have a more challenging curriculum but their classes are mixed with other students. Elementary schools in Mason with local Level IV AAP services include Annandale Terrace, Beech Tree, Braddock, Camelot, Columbia, Glen Forest, Mason Crest, Parklawn, and Westlawn. 

The plan would be phased in, beginning with third-graders in elementary schools and incoming sixth or seventh-graders in middle schools. Older students would have the option of remaining at their current center.

School board decision

The information sessions were convened to get input from parents on what they like and don’t like about the proposal and whether they think the plan should be implemented in 2013-14 or deferred until the following year. Feedback from parents will be presented to the school board, which will discuss the proposal at its Dec. 10 work session.

At the Nov. 29 meeting for Clusters 1, 2, and 3, school board member Sandy Evans (Mason) expressed caution about rushing into this. “We need to be thoughtful about any changes in AAP,” she said. “Some parents are concerned about the timing. Is this the right direction or is not?” Except for the three schools with overcrowding, there is no urgency. “It’s a significant enough change that we need to be thoughtful and do what’s best for our students.”

Evans is planning her own meeting on the proposal just for parents in the Mason district. It will take place Dec. 17, 7 p.m., at Poe Middle School.

School board Chair Ilryong Moon said he didn’t yet have an opinion on the proposal and came to the Nov. 29 meeting to get feedback. He heard from a lot of parents who feel FCPS is moving too fast on this and said, “so maybe that is so.”

Parent concerns

Tara Rethore, who has children at Mason Crest Elementary, the AAP Center at Belvedere, and Glasgow Middle School, believes the school board “should take a deep breath” and think about all the issues before rushing ahead.

Rethore has several concerns with the proposal:
  • The quality of AA services could be diminished if they are spread too thin. You need a critical mass of students, with at least two classes per grade, to support differentiated learning, she said.
  • The proposal would not support “an appropriate balance of students’ academic and social/emotional needs.” It would be disruptive for small groups of students to be separated from their classmates. For example, students at Mason Crest would go to the new AAP Center at Braddock, which is in the Annandale High School pyramid, while the rest of the students at Mason Crest would go to high school at Falls Church or Stuart.. 
  • The school board should address the issue of overcrowding separately from the longer-term issue of changing the delivery of AAP services.
  • The question should be reframed to focus on outcomes—the best way to provide high-quality AA services—rather than merely adding AA services in more schools.
Peter Jones, who has a child at the AAP Center at Belvedere, is concerned about that center losing too many students if the program is expanded to other schools. “Why is this being rushed through? It will have a huge impact on all schools. It should be studied more,” he says.

Kristine Mills, who has a fifth-grader at Belvedere, had a different perspective. She resents having her child forced to go out of her pyramid to stay in the program. Her base school is Weyanoke, and the only current option for staying in the AA program in middle school is to go Glasgow. Mills likes the idea of establishing an AAP center at Holmes Middle School, so her child could stay with kids from the neighborhood.

Several parents from Braddock Elementary School supported the proposal because they like the idea of having a new AAP center at Braddock.

Braddock parent Vikky King summarized their comments: Braddock students will be able to stay at their base school with their siblings and peers while taking advantage of the school’s AAP center. That means they will stay in that pyramid as they advance to middle and high school, will be able to stay in a very diverse school, and will spend less time on the bus. Also having that center at Braddock will be a motivating factor for other Braddock students.

The impact on Annandale

Here’s how the proposal would work for elementary school students eligible for AAP centers in the Annandale/Mason area:
  • The new center at Braddock would serve students from Annandale Terrace, Bren Mar Park, Columbia, Mason Crest, North Springfield, and Weyanoke.
  • The existing center at Belvedere would serve students from Beech Tree, Sleepy Hollow, Bailey’s, Glen Forest, and Parklawn.
  • The center at Canterbury Woods would serve Little Run and Wakefield Forest, and the center at Mantua would serve Olde Creek.
  • A new center would be established at Camelot Elementary, which would serve Fairhill, Graham Road, Pine Spring, Westlawn, and Woodburn. (Camelot is in Cluster 2; all the other schools listed here are in Cluster 3.)
Minorities underrepresented 

Carol Horn, the K-12 program coordinator for advanced academics, acknowledged that black and Hispanic students and those from poor families and households where English is not the first language are underrepresented in AA programs. She says the Young Scholars program, which starts in kindergarten is designed to address that problem by identifying potentially gifted students from those populations and getting them into the pipeline for AA programs.

Most of the elementary schools in our area have Young Scholars, including Annandale Terrace, Bailey’s, Beech Tree, Belvedere, Braddock, Camelot, Columbia, Glen Forest, Graham Road, Parklawn, Westlawn, Weyanoke, and Woodburn.

Students in all schools also have access to Level III AAP services, which are part-time, differentiated services (generally on a pull-out basis) to eligible students in grades 3-6 in their home schools.


  1. Thanks for the update. I wasn't able to attend this meeting but am hoping to make it to Sandy's meeting on the 17th.

  2. I drive a school bus. This year I drive out of boundary middle school kids to an AAP center; they are on the bus 45 minutes each way, 1 hr 30 minutes a day! That's ridiculous. That maks one more big noisy bus spewing diesel fumes in the neighborhoods. Their base middle school is excellent, and not far. Surely having a center in each pyramid is a better use of resources, and time.

  3. I like the idea of having one per cluster. I think we should go for it and not sit back and wait. Let the kids get started. I know some parents decided not to send their kids to AAP because it would be too much to send kids all around. This could make it easier.

  4. agreed -- as traffic gets worse (and it never gets better, does it?) it is more important to spread the AAP centers around geographically. No student should ever have to cross the Beltway to go to school, should be a core principle.

  5. I think having an MS AAP Center at Poe MS is a bad idea. FCPS staff project that Poe MS would have 11 students in the AAP Center! An AAP Center needs at least 2 classes per grade level to have a viable Center. Therefore, there would need to be at least 150 AAP Center eligible students in order to have a viable MS AAP Center. Perhaps it makes sense to combine Poe MS, Holmes MS, and Glasgow MS into a single AAP Center.

    1. I completely agree. Neither Poe nor Holmes has enough AAP students to have a viable center with their projected enrollment of 11 and 24 (per grade) AAP students.

    2. That makes a lot of sense to me. I think you have a good idea. They can evaluate later to see if there is a need to expand the AAP otherwise just keep schools combined.

    3. But that is basically what currently exists - a center at Glasgow that serves Holmes and Glasgow students - and what they are trying to fix. (Poe AAP students currently attend Frost).

      The idea is to put the Annandale students in the Annandale pyramid so that the kids can make a better transition to high school, among other reasons. Those that have to go out of boundary for AAP services are not happy about it. However, combining the Poe and Holmes students for one center at Holmes is a viable option.

      It should also be pointed out that the numbers 11 (for Poe) and 24 (for Holmes) are for rising 6th graders only, not all of grades 6-8. So you cannot compare the number 150 to 11. By combining Poe and Holmes into one center you can now compare 35 to 50. For two sections per grade, I would think 40 students per grade is sufficient, so now it seems reasonable. The projected numbers also do not include any students that plan on invoking their AAP status for middle school, for instance rising 6th graders from Bailey's ES. In addition, more students are getting into the program, so in subsequent years the projected numbers per grade will only increase.

    4. "It should also be pointed out that the numbers 11 (for Poe) and 24 (for Holmes) are for rising 6th graders only, not all of grades 6-8. So you cannot compare the number 150 to 11."

      True. Critical mass is 100 students per grade level in middle school. So a high-quality Poe MS AAP Center should be 300 students in grades 6 - 8. The projected numbers for a fully implemented Center are nowhere close to that figure.

      "In addition, more students are getting into the program, so in subsequent years the projected numbers per grade will only increase."

      Yes, the percentage of AAP Center eligible students has increased to over 20% County-wide. This is one of the facts that has been illuminated due to this rushed proposal. A bloated Advanced Academics of over 20% is not "gifted" education, and the Fairfax County School Board needs to reassess what the County policy should be for such services.

      FCPS staff have still not posted their revised recommendations as of the Friday evening before a Monday School Board work session. Perhaps the revised recommendation will be posted the same day as the work session (?)

  6. I would love to know why Mason Crest was ever put in the Annandale High School pyramid. None of the students will ever go to Annandale. They feed into Falls Church H.S. and Stuart. Sending the kids to Braddock for an AAP center takes them away from kids that they will go to High School with. I would definitely choose to keep them at Mason Crest's in school AAP program over sending them to Braddock for this very reason.