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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Parents urge school board to build new school at Willston, not Glasgow



Parents at school board hearing oppose building a new elementary school on the Glasgow Middle School athletic fields.

There seems to be widespread agreement that a new elementary school is needed in the Bailey’s Crossroads area to relieve severe overcrowding at Bailey’s Elementary School. The problem is there isn’t any available land.

At a school board hearing on the FCPS Capital Improvement Program (CIP) Jan. 7, several parents argued against putting a new school on the property of Glasgow Middle School, as recommended in the CIP for 2013-17.


Bailey’s parent Suzie Phipps urged the school board to pursue the site of the Willston Multicultural Center on Arlington Boulevard across the street from the Seven Corners shopping center. That building, a former school, now houses several county programs. The Justice Department has required it be brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. If that is too costly, it will need to be torn down, so there’s a growing chorus of voices calling for a new school to be built there.

Kevin Sneed, director of design and construction services at FCPS, said while the Willston site is small, it would be possible to put a school there based on the urban model under consideration for Tysons. He’s already come up with an urban school design for a five-story school serving 950 students with common areas, like a gym and cafeteria, on the first floor, library and fine arts rooms on the second floor, and classrooms on the upper floors. There would be a four-story parking garage adjacent to the school with a turf field on top.

Sneed met with Bailey’s Principal Marie Lemmon Jan. 4 and determined there’s no way to squeeze any more trailers on the property. Bailey’s is more than 300 students over capacity and has 19 trailers. With 1,321 students it is the largest elementary school in the county by far. In five years, it’s enrollment is expected to grow to 1,631.

In an interview in the Washington Post Jan. 7, Dean Tistadt, who retired last month from his position as chief operating officer and assistant superintendent for facilities and transportation, said the one thing he regretted is being unable to solve the overcrowding problem at Bailey’s. His successor, Jeffrey Platenberg, starts Jan. 8.

A plan to create additional classroom space at the Woodrow Wilson Library, which is next door to Bailey’s, fell through, making the Willston Center the only possible option—if the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors can be brought on board.

Phipps told the school board at the CIP hearing that Mason Supervisor Penny Gross is “unmotivated to assist in making county land available for a new school.” She urged the school board to ask the county to give or lease the property to FCPS. “Don’t wait for the Board of Supervisors and don’t take no for an answer,” she said. “Willston makes sense.”

Bailey’s former PTA President Christine Adams urged the board to “partner with the community to build a true community school” that would also provide social services for Seven Corners residents, which would encourage more parent and community involvement.

Housing a new school at Glasgow Middle School doesn’t make sense because Glasgow is  already about 250 students over capacity, and it will be 500 students over capacity in five years, Phipps said. [Correction: Phipps actually said Glasgow is under capacity now but will be overcrowded in five years.]

Mollie Loeffler, president of the Parklawn Civic Association, urged the board to build the school at Willston, not on Glasgow athletic fields because “the increased traffic would be a nightmare for the community” and the fields are heavily used. “Children need athletic fields. Don’t take them away,” added Parklawn resident Amanda Aguilera. “Glasgow does not make sense. Willston does.”

Several representatives of Falls Church High School (FCHS) spoke at the CIP hearing about the need to change FCPS policies so underutilized, aging schools like FCHS won’t have to wait too long to be renovated.

Joan Daly, president of the Falls Church High School PTSA and member of UPROAR (United Parents to Renovate Our Academic Resource), said FCHS has been given a relatively low priority on the FCPS renovation queue because it isn’t overcrowded. According to Daly, the number-one priority in weighting schools in the queue should be whether or not the educational program is negatively affected by the poor condition of the building.

Daly also said it should be mandatory for the school principal to accompany the FCPS inspectors on a tour of a school and that the assessment must include comments from the faculty. That didn’t happen when FCHS was assessed in 2008, and as a result, the school was given a low priority in the queue. FCHS isn’t scheduled to be renovated until 2024. In addition, she urged FCPS to repair any facility problems as soon as possible if they affect health, safety, or the ability of staff to teach to the program of studies.

The checklist used to rank schools on the renovation queue is inadequate without also considering how school facilities are used, added FCHS parent Lynn Petrazzuolo. For example, FCHS was given a lower rank in the queue because it has classrooms for students with physical disabilities even though those classrooms are in disrepair, lack adequate heat, and in some cases do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Another concern cited by Petrazzuolo is that ranking schools in the renovation queue should be based on the population that should attend a school, not on the school’s current enrollment compared to its capacity.  About 200 students that should attend FCHS have been transferred to other schools because their parents wanted them to attend newer schools with updated science labs and other facilities. 

“If you build us a beautiful school, like Woodson, many of our community families will come back to their base school,” she said. And that will help relieve overcrowding at Fairfax, Oakton, and other schools.

14 comments:

  1. There is no way the intersection of Rte. 50 and Patrick Henry Drive can handle the traffic associated with a new school at the Willston site. There would need to be an overpass at this intersection (which is long overdue to relieve traffic congestion) if this plan materializes.

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    1. There will possibly be two ways to enter the Willston Property, so traffic should be much better than for some other schools in the area. Glen Forest ES must go directly onto Route 7 between Seven Corners and Bailey's XRoads after their release bell at 3:55pm with no other side roads available to help alleviate the stop and go traffic. Many kids around Willston would also be walkers, and traffic is much easier to negotiate than many other areas. There are already many buses going through there, so it wouldn't be that much different than usual for the traffic.

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  2. Nice post Ellie. I hope that the School Board takes the comments that were presented last night seriously and fights to get Willston Center back from the County.

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  3. Is Glasgow over capacity?

    This blog states: "Housing a new school at Glasgow Middle School doesn’t make sense because Glasgow is already about 250 students over capacity, and it will be 500 students over capacity in five years, Phipps said."

    However, the post on 12/26 says:

    " Glasgow is under capacity now but is expected to be at 119 percent in five years."

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  4. According to the FCPS dashboard, Glasgow has 1,441 students, which makes it 82 students under capacity. Enrollment is expected to increase to 546 in five years. See http://www.fcps.edu/fts/dashboard/enrollment/msenroll.html

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  5. How about sending children back to their base schools and save the land! FCPS has a spanish program now, so the need for Bailey's Language program isn't a just cause anymore. Go back to your neighborhood schools. That should be the new push and focus!

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  6. Baileys is so Hispanic now - it would violate laws. That is what I heard - not sure of facts.

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  7. Jill Anderson1/8/13, 9:21 PM

    You might be interested in reading up on the history of Baileys Magnet program. It has nothing to do with the Spanish Immersion program.

    Here is an excerpt from an article dated Feb 23, 2000 -- 12 years ago:

    Ten years ago, Bailey's Elementary was made up almost entirely of immigrant students, many of whom had limited English skills, and parents struggling to provide for their families. But in 1992, the school re-cast itself as a magnet program, partly as a way of attracting native English speaking (mostly white) kids from the surrounding, wealthier suburbs. Now, about 200 of the school's 900 kids are native English speaking. They serve, according to the teachers and principal, as vital role models - even tutors - to the immigrant students. Nearly 50 percent of the school's population is Hispanic, the rest is black, Asian, white, Middle Eastern and a variety of other immigrant groups.

    Here's a link to the full news article:
    http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/2000/feb/000223.cfoa.html

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  8. The population of school age children in eastern Fairfax County dropped after the baby boom ended here. Several elementary schools closed and there was still excess capacity. The middle schools (which opened around 1960) had excess capacity and they started handling 6th, 7th, and 8th grades whereas the rest of the intermediate schools in the county only had 7th and 8th grades. The high school enrollment dropped dramatically as well too.

    This drop in enrollment let the school system was able to try innovative programs - TJ was changed to a high-tech high school, the spanish immersion program was started at Bailey's, GT/AAP Centers were formed at Glasgow and Belvedere. It is true that many parents help our schools by enriching the after school programs and helping with PTAs and PTOs. Children who attend magnet schools have, generally, the greatest parental participation. These are the parents that won't be helping the local school unless it is a magnet school.

    Even as far back as the Mid-60's when the all African American Lillian Carey E.S. closed (It opened in 1957 and closed in 1963 when the schools were integrated), the Lillian Carey E.S. school site became the site of the first licensed daycare in Fairfax County. Later and now it hosts a headstart program and the site is now known as the Bailey's Community Center.

    A great deal of improvements in education have been afforded as a result of the population drop in Mason District. However, for the last several years, our schools here have gotten overcrowded.

    It would probably be wise to declare victory, leverage what has been learned and spread the word, and scale back the special programs that are being accomplished on a magnet school basis.

    Every school should offer GT/AAP Level IV, Every High School should offer high-tech related classes. Our local schools will benefit because the most active parents will help their local school.

    Who does't believe that our children won't benefit from the broad social environment that community schools offer?

    For those that believe that the schools in Mason District are overflowing with illegals - you better think again - many of those kids are american citizens by virtue of being born here. Often, many people believe that the parents who appear to be of foreign descent are here illegally. Two of the hispanic looking boys on my soccer team have fathers who have served in the U.S. Military - one of the fathers was killed by and IED in Afghanistan.

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  9. It is not so much they are "overflowing with illegals" but the County is allowing boarding houses all over and especially in the Mason District. This means that 3 to 5 families are living in a two and three bedroom apartment. If the county would enforce the laws that would help to alleviate much of the overcrowding happening in our schools. I do not understand why that is not where the county starts after enforcing the laws then reassess.

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    1. CD, you hit the nail on the head. If the county eliminated the over crowding issues in the neighborhood it would dramatically reduce the number of children enrolled at Baileys. As for the illegal situation, I work in the area and spend a lot of time in Bailey's ES and know for a fact that yes many of the children now are born here, therfore American Citizens. BUT most of them are born to illegal immigrants. Yet that is a conversation for another time.

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    2. Most of the overcrowding is from more families moving into apartments than from single family homes. My kids go to Glen Forest ES, which is also suffering from overcrowding, and most families live in either the Jefferson Apartments or Skyline Towers. It's a simple matter of the economy crash, more families trying to make ends meet by living in apartments. We have 16 buses, of which I know at least 3 are filled from just from apartments around the Jefferson...

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  10. I do wonder about the wisdom of rebuilding the Willston site vs. placing a new school adjacent to Glasgow MS. Perhaps FCPS could do something truly innovative in terms of design at Willston, but it seems like, without a magnet program of some sort, a school at Willston would end up with an even higher percentage of low-income students than Bailey's or Glen Forest.

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    1. The Wisdom would be not to bus these kids out of their own neighborhood but allow them to have a neighborhood school. A school they can walk to and not bus kids to other school. They can sleep later and get home earlier. It would also not put more pressure on another neighborhood to have more traffic, more trash, more congestion.

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