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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Annandale Regional Planning Study Committee briefed on capacity, enrollment issues

Members of the Annandale Regional Planning Study committee pored over large school boundary maps last night as they grappled with what factors should be considered when the Fairfax County school board redraws the attendance areas for public schools in the Annandale area.

The ad hoc committee was created to advise the school board on how to deal with overcrowding at Annandale High School and Poe Middle School and how to determine the attendance area for the new elementary school to be built on the site of the Lacey Center. The committee consists of parents and community members representing 21 schools in the Annandale area.

Lacey Center demolition to start soon.
But before the two subgroups broke up to consider those issues, Denise James, director of Facilities Planning Services at Fairfax County Public Schools and her staff briefed committee members on how FCPS makes decisions about school capacity and enrollment projections.

Mary Ann Tsai of the facilities planning office explained how the FCPS Capital Improvement Program addresses facilities needs, such as renovations and infrastructure upgrades, on a five-year cycle. Facilities needs are based on such information as enrollment trends and instructional accommodation planning.  And, she said, developers of new housing must contribute funds to the county to offset the increased costs associated with the influx of new students.

Kevin Sneed, director of design and construction services, defined the “capacity” of a school as “how many occupants the building can support when restrictions of program studies are applied.” An elementary school, for example, must accommodate space for mandated learning (classrooms and self-contained special education classes), support space (such as the cafeteria, media center, restrooms, gym, music room, art room, and pull-out learning areas for remedial and other programs), and administrative space.

For each school, Sneed says, there is a calculation of “design capacity,” based on how the spaces were originally designed, and “program capacity,” based on the current use of each space. To determine the capacity of elementary schools, the total number of primary classrooms (grades K-2) is multiplied by the class size (student-teacher ratio). Similar calculations are made for grades 3-6 and self-contained classrooms.

Elementary class sizes are generally limited to 25 students in grades K-2, 28 students in grades 3-6, and about eight students in self-contained classes. Title I schools have fewer students per class, and there are many Title I schools in the Annandale area. Support and administrative spaces, such as music and art rooms, the cafeteria, offices, and custodial rooms, aren’t counted in these capacity calculations. Capacity in middle and high schools is counted differently, Sneed says, because of the team structure in middle schools and the large number of elective courses.

FCPS demographer Larry Bizette explained how enrollment data is based on a variety of historical data, methods, assumptions, and judgments. His department considers up to seven years of historic data, then makes adjustments as needed. Kindergarten enrollment is the most difficult to project and is based on such data as housing sales, births in the county, and birth rates for various ethnic groups. Beginning last year, FCPS began using data on births by zip code.

Elementary school feeder data is used to help estimate the size of the entering seventh-grade (or sixth-grade) class at each middle school, and middle school feeder data is used to determine the size of the entering ninth-grade class at each high school, Bizette says. The greatest flux is at the transition points—students entering kindergarten, first grade, seventh grade, and ninth grade. That’s where you see such changes as students tranferring from private schools.

Adjustments are based on past boundary changes, significant enrollment changes during the previous school year, student transfers, withdrawals, program changes, and other factors. He notes that fewer students have withdrawn from FCPS schools in the last two years, which correlates with the decline in housing sales. Job losses in the construction industry have had an impact on Hispanic enrollment.

FCPS has carved up the county into hundreds of “planning areas” of various sizes, usually correlating with neighborhoods. Facilities planning coordinator Ajay Rawat says the department’s intent in drawing boundaries is to not break up the planning areas.

After the staff presentations, the high school group and the Lacey group met separately to consider their next steps. The high school group formed subcommittees to consider whether elementary schools should all be K-5 or K-6; how to deal with split feeders; and to check the accuracy of FCPS data to make sure it reflects renovations, rolling boundary changes (where an additional grade is moved each year), and other factors.

The Lacey group discussed such issues as whether students have the option to stay at their current school if their parents provide transportation and whether the new school would have a gifted and talented program. One member offered some perspective, noting that parents are more likely than their children to oppose school boundary changes. Children are resilient, she says, and tend to adjust easily to new schools.

1 comment:

  1. Not sure of the developers Ms. Tsai is referring to when she makes this statement, "developers of new housing must contribute funds to the county to offset the increased costs associated with the influx of new students." It certainly isn't new housing development driving the massive influx of new students into Annandale area schools the past 2 years.