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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

FXCO school board weighs overcrowding vs. diversity

The issue of whether the need to maintain balanced diversity should outweigh the need to reduce overcrowding at Annandale High School dominated a school board work session on proposed boundary changes July 18.

Board members engaged in a thoughtful, in-depth conversation about the larger issues raised by shifting the boundaries of  more than 20 schools in the Annandale area. At one point, though, at-large board member Tina Hone demanded that Superintendent Jack Dale apologize for referring to a question she raised as “stupid.”

The school board is scheduled to adopt a new boundary plan July 28.

Both Hone and at-large board member James Raney said they plan to offer amendments to keep the students who live in the Wakefield Forest area at Annandale High School (AHS). The proposal in the Fairfax County Public School staff recommendation to move those students from Poe Middle School and AHS to Frost Middle School and Woodson High School drew the most attention at the school board hearing last week.

Hone suggested that the benefits of maintaining a socioeconomic balance at AHS by keeping those students there would outweigh the benefits of reducing overcrowding. About 140 Wakefield Forest students are affected.

“Nobody is wrong here,” Hone said. “The school is overcrowded. The socioeconomic balance is key to academic success of a school. Some think making a school a little less socioeconomically diverse isn’t going to hurt the school.”

But she suggested such a move would upset the school’s balance, noting that several parents who spoke at the hearing last week referred to AHS as a “magical school” because it has a high rate of academic success while maintaining a good socioeconomic mix.

According to Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for facilities and transportation services, removing the Wakefield Forest students wouldn’t have a huge impact on the school’s diversity. The percentage of AHS students living in single-family homes would only decrease from 41.7 percent to 39.5 percent, he said.

But that statistic does not present a clear picture of how the socioeconomic balance at AHS would change, Hone said. For example, there are wide disparities in the sizes and values of single-family homes, and it makes a difference whether they are occupied by more than one family. She called for the staff to produce more data on foreclosures and unemployment rates.

Board member Sandy Evans of the Mason District said she has “deep concerns about both the numbers we’re looking at moving out of Annandale High School and the impact on the fabric of the school.”
Portable classrooms at AHS.
If Wakefield Forest stays at AHS, the school would only be 52 students over target and would be at just 102 percent of capacity. “So why not do that?” Evans asked. “We would take a lot of energy out of that school” if those students are moved out. “If we approve this, we might be messing with something that’s working.”

If AHS is at 102 percent capacity, “could we live with that? Are we addressing overcrowding enough? It’s hard to figure out what the tradeoffs are,” added Patty Reed of the Providence District.

For Tessie Wilson of the Braddock District, the overriding issue is capacity and enrollment. “I can’t see leaving more kids at that school.”

There are 16 trailers behind AHS housing 29 classrooms plus a modular unit with 14 classrooms. The trailers have either one, two, or four classrooms. Another trailer houses the Annandale Neighborhood Center, which is not part of the school. In all, there are 43 outdoor classrooms at AHS, more than at any other FCPS school.

Elizabeth Bradsher of the Springfield District said  “it’s a disservice to underestimate the population at Annandale.” She objected to others’ statements that taking out a small group of students “will decimate that school.”

“That sets a wrong perception,” Bradsher said. “This school is severely overcrowded. Going down the hallway, you could be crushed against the lockers.”

The non-voting student representative on the board, Eugene Coleman, said his experience at Mt. Vernon High School, which is very diverse, “helped me grow as an individual. I would rather be at a more diverse school than have a few less students in class.”

Evans expressed concerns about the recommendation to move some 300 students in the Bren Mar Park Elementary School attendance area from AHS to Edison High School. That move involves way more students than Wakefield Forest, but it’s getting a lot less attention, she said, “and they’re feeling a little left out.”

Transferring those students to Edison requires crossing the beltway, and that raises safety concerns for teenage drivers, Evans said. She had considered proposing an amendment to keep the Bren Mar Park students at AHS but said, “after talking to the parents there, they feel it would be better for them to stay together as a community.”

Evans does plan to offer an amendment to allow students in the small Columbia Pines community to go to Glasgow Middle School and Stuart High School rather than Poe Middle School and Falls Church High School. Those students, now in the attendance area for Belvedere Elementary School, would be shifted to the new school on the Lacey site.

Reed said she will propose an amendment to keep at Pine Spring Elementary School a group of students who would be slated to transfer to Beech Tree Elementary School under the FCPS staff recommendation.

Tisdadt said the staff has subsequently decided that an autism program is needed at a school inside the beltway and that Beech Tree would be the best place for it. So, if that happens, it won’t be necessary to transfer the Pine Spring students to Beech Tree.

Dan Storck of Mount Vernon questioned whether the overcrowding issue could be resolved through a liberal pupil placement policy that would let individual students switch to Woodson if their community remains at AHS. 

Pupil placements “are not a viable solution to address the capacity issue,” Tistadt said. Allowing a school to be 102 percent of capacity does not provide a big enough buffer when you consider the increasing numbers of students in the area entering kindergarten, he said.

Raney suggested having the Facilities Planning Advisory Council explore long-range capacity solutions, including converting Holmes Middle School to a secondary school. Reed echoed the call for a longer-term perspective, noting that over half of all county schools will be overcapacity in five years.

High birthrates in the poorer areas of the county are creating an imbalance, Hone said. “We’re at a crossroads. We will have schools with islands of poverty. Are we going to have a county with haves and have-nots? AHS is the leading edge of what’s going to be a very difficult question.”

“We’re already there,” Dale said, noting that some elementary schools have poverty rates of 85 to 95 percent and some have zero.

Raney said he is considering an amendment to delay the board vote from July 28 to October to give the staff more time to collect additional data.

Evans suggested that a delay might be a good idea because a lot of people in the communities she represents don’t have access to e-mail and are just now learning about the boundary changes.
Four other board members—Gibson, Wilson, Reed, and Brad Center (Lee District)—spoke against delaying the vote. All school board amendments must be submitted by Thursday, July 21, at 5 p.m.


  1. Thank you for this summary of the meeting. The school board has some tough decisions to make.

    But why is Sandy Evans proposing adding a neighborhood to Glasgow when that school is predicted to be extremely overcrowded?? Why can't they go to Poe like the majority of the rest of the new school?

  2. Sandy Evans, school board member7/19/11, 3:31 PM

    The Columbia Pines neighborhood considers itself aligned with the Sleepy Hollow Woods neighborhood, which will continue to feed into Glasgow and Stuart as it does now.

    If both are moved to the new elementary school together, the CP residents would like to go to MS and HS with what they consider their neighborhood.

    The numbers are very small—13 HS students and 9 MS students, according to Facilities staff—so this would not have a significant impact on Glasgow and Stuart.

    It would also be offset by an amendment, which I believe will be approved, to keep the Pine Spring ES island where it is rather than add them to Glasgow/Stuart. Currently, both Glasgow and Stuart show plenty of seats available. We do need to be cognizant of the outyear projections but also need to keep in mind that they are for six school years from now, and a lot can change in that time.

    To clarify another matter: The amendment I was considering would have tried to keep Bren Mar Park “west” (that part west of 395) at AHS, and it is those parents who are at this point telling me they believe it best for BMP to stay together.

  3. Sandy,
    Columbia Pines currently goes to Poe and Falls Church H.S. They formally went to Annandale H.S. and now go to Falls Church when the switch was made 2 years ago. You keep saying that they currently go to Glasgow and Stuart, but that is only G.T. kids that chose to go to Glasgow and Stuart because of the G.T. program at Belvedere and Glasgow. I know of kids that live on Rose Ln and Fern that go to Falls Church H.S. You may want to recheck your data on where Columbia Pines currently goes to school after Belvedere.

  4. Sandy, the outyear projections are for 2016 -that is not six years away. And the projection for 2016 for Glasgow is over 120 percent, so the school will likely hit full capacity between now and then.

    If the two neighborhoods want to stay together, why don't they both go to Poe and Falls Church? That eliminates the split feeder at Lacey, too, and leaves Glasgow with a little breathing room to retain the AAP center.

  5. Sandy Evans, school board member7/19/11, 8:59 PM

    Sorry if my answer earlier was not clear. Yes, Sleepy Hollow Woods now goes to Glasgow/Stuart and Columbia Pines goes to Poe/Falls Church. CP residents have asked to be aligned with SHW and be reassigned to Glasgow/Stuart. Students now at FCHS would be grandfathered in by my amendment, so they would not have to move.

  6. I love the fact that split feeders are bad and neighborhoods need to be kept together... except for WFES. And transporting students across the beltway is bad... except for when its WFES. From Ms. Evans, above:
    "Transferring those students to Edison requires crossing the beltway, and that raises safety concerns for teenage drivers, Evans said. She had considered proposing an amendment to keep the Bren Mar Park students at AHS but said, “after talking to the parents there, they feel it would be better for them to stay together as a community.”"
    Gee, thanks, Ms. Evans-- It seems that every sort of disadvantageous/undesireable/dangerous factor is studiously avoided for every school in the study... except for WFES, upon which it is apparently acceptable to foist all manner of inconveniences, dangers, and impediments (including continued overcrowding) as long as Ms. Evans, Ms. Hone, and Ms. Slough can keep them captive at AHS.

  7. Jeanne Burke, Falls Church7/20/11, 1:35 PM

    From the article: We would take a lot of energy out of that school if those students are moved out. If we approve this, we might be messing with something that’s working.

    I'm very disappointed that no one from the school board has mustered this level of concern for Belvedere Elementary. Belvedere is also losing a large number of students who will be sorely missed. I realize that it's just an elementary school, but don't we want all children to get off to a great start?

  8. Bryan Woodcock7/22/11, 2:01 PM

    The following letter was sent to members of the Fairfax County School Board:

    I am writing in support of the amendment by Ms. Evans to keep the Edsall Park (Bren Mar Elementary School - West) community within the Annandale High School attendance area. From the perspective a longtime Edsall Park resident and in speaking with the Edsall Park Civic Association membership, Edsall Park (BMP West) should stay at Annandale instead of going across the beltway to Edison, with or without the rest of BMP (BMP East).

    You may have seen Mr. Viehmeyer's correspondence, which states that moving any population from BEP to Edison fails to satisfy Policy 8130. While I wholeheartedly agree with his position, I feel that there is a need to watch out for each community separately.

    The regretful fact that our neighborhood is located in such an area that it makes it more stable than the Bren Mar neighborhood, due to the Shirley Industrial area to the south and the churches, Plum Center and parks to the east. There is no additional land to build a significant population center. However in the case of Bren Mar, there are additional condomiums being built right now within the county line. In the attached image I have blacked out the industrial park, the churches and county owned property to truely show the small population center that I am suggesting stay with Annandale. [Editor's note, the area under discussion appears to be bordered by Braddock Road, Clifton Street, I-395, Hopewell Avenue, and Bostwick Drive but it's hard to tell.]

    While I understand the Wakefield area is very active in the Annandale boosters and sports. Edsall Park is I believe more active based on our smaller population, which Ms. Evans states is around 103 students. Most of our neighborhood kids do extracurricular activities at school and are active in band, as well as sports.

    As I am sure you are aware, in the 70's, FCPS closed down Edsall Park Elementary School due to low attendance, making it an administration building. When FCPS was closing the school, the Civic Association requested that the kids go to North Springfield, however they were moved to Bren Mar instead. This is still a sore spot for a lot of people, including my mother-in-law. My wife went through that transition from Edsall Park Elementary School to Bren Mar elementary school. In the 80's, Thomas Jefferson was closed as a high school to make the Science and Technology center. This removed the neighborhood high school permanently and Edsall Park's kids were then sent to Annandale.

    I am writing to ensure that Edsall Park residents finally get a voice in the process. Annandale is a great school and with the continued support of Edsall Park residents along with Wakefield Forest residents, I believe we can make it better. I think the best solution is the amendment to keep Edsall Park at Annandale. A second solution is to have a secondary school on the Holmes site, similar to Hammond in Alexandria.

    It would be a shame to have this core group of active parents and students leave the Annandale area.

  9. Bryant Woodcock7/22/11, 2:43 PM

    We are bordered by Backlick to the west, Clifton and Braddock to the north, Shirley industrial to the south and 395 to the east.