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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mason/Annandale parents weigh FCPS proposal on AAP Centers

School board member Sandy Evans (Mason) is concerned that Fairfax County Public Schools’ plan to restructure the Advanced Academic Program (AAP) Centers might not meet the needs of Mason District students and parents. She called it a “cookie-cutter” solution to a problem that schools in our area might not necessarily have.

The plan calls for putting an AAP Level IV Center in every middle school and adding centers in several additional elementary schools across the county so there would be one in each high school pyramid. 

Establishing new AAP Centers at Poe and Holmes middle schools means some students would no longer have to travel to existing centers at Glasgow, Jackson, or Frost. New AAP Centers would also be created at Braddock and Camelot elementary schools, which means some students now bused to the existing AAP Center at Belvedere might be able to stay in their home schools—or at least closer to where they live. The proposal calls for a gradual phase-in so students who want to stay at their current centers could be grandfathered in.

FCPS held several community meetings on the proposal in November, but Evans convened a separate meeting at Poe Dec. 16 to make sure parents in the Mason/Annandale area understand the proposal and have a chance to submit comments.

The school board discussed the plan at a Dec. 10 work session, will take it up again at another work session in January, and is scheduled  to vote on it in late January.

“Board members continue to have a lot of questions,” Evans said. She predicted “what’s being developed at the school board level will look very different” from the FCPS staff recommendation.

Key issues to be determined  are whether all schools proposed for having a new AAP Center have the staffing capacity, whether they will have enough students for an effective center program, and when the new plan should take effect.

Assistant Superintendent for Cluster 3 Dan Parris told parents at the Dec. 17 meeting that a center needs at least two sections for it to have enough of a “critical mass” to make it work. In a middle school, a section would have 24 to 28 students.

FCPS estimates that Poe would only have 11 AAP Center-eligible students in 2013-14 and 33 in 2016-17. Holmes would have 24 next year and 72 in 2016-17. In contrast, Glasgow currently has 189, Jackson has 268, and Frost has 307.

If some schools only have a few AAP Center-eligible students, Evans said, the school board needs to be thinking about larger issues, such as “are we identifying  students the right way?” And if an AAP Center doesn’t have the necessary critical mass and non-AAP Center-eligible students have to be mixed in to fill up the classes, would the eligible students be well served? One of the major benefits of being in a center is being with classmates who are academically advanced.

Several parents expressed concerns about the AAP program becoming diluted if spread too thin. Others complained about the disjointed feeder situation at their child’s school. For example, Mason Crest Elementary is considered part of the Annandale High School pyramid, which means Mason Crest students would be transferred to the new AAP Center at Braddock, even though no Mason Crest students would go to Annandale. (Now, some go to Falls Church, and some go to Stuart.)

Parents facing those kinds of situations are not happy about their children being split off from their peers. Other parents like the idea of more AAP Centers in this area. There are currently no centers in schools that feed into Annandale High School, so one parent said it would be great to have that. Parents with kids at Braddock Elementary like the idea of new center there.

One of the factors driving the AAP Center restructuring proposal is the tremendous growth in the center-eligible population—it’s reached 17 percent county wide—and particularly the severe overcrowding in the AAP Centers at Haycock, Louise Archer, and Hunter Woods elementary schools.

But none of those schools are around here, and the population of center-eligible students doesn’t seem to be exploding in Mason.

As a result, Suzie Phipps, a parent with kids at the severely overcrowded Bailey’s Elementary School, suggested that maybe Mason should opt out of the AAP Center restructuring plan and focus instead on a more comprehensive plan to build a new school and readjust the boundaries to relieve overcrowding at Baileys and Glen Forest.

“This is why we are talking about this,” Evans said, to get all the ideas on the table. Rather than rushing into a restructuring effort, she said it might be better to make that part of a larger conversation about the AAP as a whole.

She didn’t get into it, but it’s common knowledge that the system seems to favor parents who know how to work the system and are aggressive about getting their kids tested.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has agreed to investigate a complaint filed by the Coalition of the Silence and the Fairfax County branch of the NAACP that alleges the FCPS system for selecting students for AAP services discriminates against black and Hispanic students and students with disabilities. The complaint charges that the inequality at that level has a huge impact on who gets into the highly selective Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

According to FCPS data, there 455 black students and 754 Hispanic students receiving AAP Level IV services, compared to 6,174 white and 3,903 Asian students. The total number of students in the program is 12,044. Total FCPS enrollment is 180,282. Hispanics make up 22.8 percent and blacks make up 10.3 percent of total student enrollment.

Here is how the proposal would affect elementary school students in our area:
  • Rising AAP students at Weyanoke, Columbia, Bren Mar Park, and Mason Crest would go to the new center at Braddock instead of the existing center at Belvedere. 
  • Students at Annandale Terrace and North Springfield would go the center at Braddock instead of Canterbury Woods.
  • Students at Westlawn, Woodburn, Pine Spring, Graham Road, and Fairhill would go to the new center at Camelot instead of the existing center at Mantua.
  • Students at Bailey’s, Beech Tree, Glen Forest, Parklawn, Sleepy Hollow, and portions of Mason Crest would remain at the Belvedere center.


  1. These numbers projected for Poe cannot be right. How is that there are multiple feeders that go to Poe, each with AAP level 4 classes, yet it would only be 11 students total the first year?

    1. Data is posted on the FCPS website:

    2. I would like to know where and how they calculated this data. Because it does not make sense. Looking at the number of feeders that go to Poe, calculating for three grades of students, the number of AAP level 4 students would be a lot more than 11 the first year.

    3. I believe these can be calculated from Dashboard. The Dashboard calculations are from iSIS. If you look at data posted by FCPS over the years, the figures do make some sense as historically there are very few AAP Center eligible students from portions of Cluster 3.

      For example, you can look at data presented during the July 18, 2009 School Board retreat posted on BoardDocs. In Attachment A:$FILE/AttachmentA.pdf

      on page 2 you can see the number of 3rd grade students (2009-2010) that were identified as Center-eligible that opted for Local Level 4 or accepted Center placement. (Those 3rd grade students would be current 6th graders.) The number of Center-eligible students for some schools (say, Annandale Terrace and Braddock, both schools that feed to Poe) are very, very small compared to other schools (such as Spring Hill or Floris).

    4. Thanks for this link. But, looking at the numbers for Annandale Terrace, Braddock, some from Columbia, (and don't forget to add the unknown numbers coming from the new Mason Crest kids), that is still way more than 11. And those are just 3rd grade (now 6th grade), so one would also have to add in the 4th and 5th grade (now 7th and 8th graders) to get an idea of the TOTAL number of estimated AAP level 4 students for all of Poe.

  2. According to FCPS Dashboard data, Braddock ES has a program capacity of 767 students and is forecast to be overcapacity at 800 students in fall 2013. Likewise Annandale Terrace (program capacity=711) is forecast to be overcapacity (786 students) at that same time. The only Annandale pyramid school that may have room is North Springfield (program capacity=714) as they are forecast to have 581 students in fall 2013. It makes no sense to move students to an overcrowded school. North Springfield is the only school in the current Annandale pyramid that can support an AAP Center. Leave the existing Local Level IV programs in place at Annandale Terrace and Braddock.

    1. I am OK with that completely, it would be nice though if our kids could stay in Annandale for middle school. I don't see why FCPS cannot provide services in Cluster 3, let alone our pyramid.

  3. I wonder why some schools, like Mantua, arent on that list at all?

  4. Because the proposal would start MS AAP Centers with a single grade. 11 AAP students in a single grade is not critical mass. FCPS staff recommend at least 2 classes per grade level for critical mass.

  5. FCPS does provide AAP services in Cluster 3 currently. What would be helpful is FCPS providing data on the number of AAP Center eligible students for every base school in Cluster 3, including where these students chose to attend school, by grade. There are students that have chosen Local Level 4, others that chose a Center, and still others that opted to defer placement. Once that data (over a few years) is reviewed, I think more creative approaches to addressing the desire for pyramid-focused AAP could be developed.

    However, the split feeder issue still remains, making the review of the AAP Center-eligible data that much more complicated.

  6. Providing services and busing kids out of the cluster are not the same thing. Separate is not equal.

    1. True. Thankfully none of the AAP Center-eligible students with a base school as one of the 18 elementary schools in Cluster 3 are currently bused out of Cluster 3 for AAP Center services.

    2. Oops, my bad. But you know Canterbury Woods and Frost just seem like another world compared to the Annandale pyramid.I just would like to see us, I assume you live in Annandale, to have the opportunity to stay inside the beltway

    3. As recommended by FCPS staff, a high-quality AAP Center needs critical mass -- 2 or more classes per grade level. See the AAP Center Expansion Readiness Checklist:$file/School%20Readiness%20Checklist%20Final.pdf

      The current ES AAP Centers in Cluster 3 (Belvedere ES, Canterbury Woods ES, Mantua ES) barely have 2 classes per grade level now. Adding a new ES AAP Center in Cluster 3 would take students from an existing ES AAP Center and result in the new ES AAP Center not having critical mass and the existing ES AAP Center losing critical mass.

      Perhaps one option would be to close one of the existing ES AAP Centers. (I am guessing that such a proposal would not be favorable to the Belvedere ES, Canterbury Woods ES, or Mantua ES communities.)

      Looking at the Capital Improvement Program projected utilization percentages for 2017-2018:$file/Proposed%20CIP%202014-18_Revised.pdf

      for these three existing ES AAP Centers, Belvedere ES is forecast to be at 99% capacity, Canterbury Woods ES at 71% capacity, and Mantua ES at 94% capacity in 2017-2018.

      Of the 15 remaining ES schools in Cluster 3, 10 schools are forecast to be at 100% or higher capacity. The five less-than-100%-capacity schools are Beech Tree (67%), Little Run (88%), Mason Crest (69%), North Springfield (91%), and Wakefield Forest (82%).

      So, if Mantua ES or Canterbury Woods ES were closed, students would be bused from outside the beltway to inside the beltway, and there would be limited options for a Cluster 3 location, probably North Springfield ES. Based on the larger number of AAP Center-eligible students with base schools outside the beltway, there would be more students on buses going inside the beltway from schools that have available capacity to schools that do not have available capacity.

  7. Looking at elementary and middle schools in the Annandale pyramid, there are no AAP centers. Yes, there are level 4 schools, but not centers. Isn't time every pyramid had a center?

    1. Again, as the earlier comments have pointed out, there are fewer AAP Center-eligible students in some parts of the County (including Cluster 3) compared to other parts of the County. In the meantime, there are many schools that are (extremely) overcrowded in the Mason District. Perhaps it makes sense to have a more strategic view as to best address these issues as a whole, especially with limited resources.

      Having an AAP Center for each pyramid may work well in some clusters but not in every cluster. A one-size-fits-all approach may not make the most sense.