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Monday, March 9, 2015

Resolution on class size threatens high-needs schools in Mason

Belvedere Elementary School, one of the high-needs schools in Mason that could be hurt if the class size resolution is passed.
The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) has passed a resolution that, if enacted by the school board, could result in larger classes in local elementary schools that serve large proportions of high-need students.
The resolution, passed by the MCA March 4, includes several provisions aimed at reducing class sizes in the McLean area, where some elementary schools have as many as 35 students. It calls for the school board to equalize class sizes throughout FCPS, so the average elementary school would have class sizes between 21 and 25 students.
Currently, the vast majority of schools in Annandale/Mason have high proportions of students eligible for free and reduced priced meals (FRM) and students learning English, which means they receive extra staffing, resulting in smaller classes in some cases.

School board member Sandy Evans (Mason) said she is “very concerned” about this proposal. If the resolution is approved by the school board, “it would harm our schools tremendously.”

“Needs-based staffing is critical, and the school board has supported it for many years,” Evans said. While she said she is sympathetic to schools with vary large class sizes, it’s “unacceptable” to take away resources from schools in Mason.

The issue is likely to come up during FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza’s listening tour session at Falls Church High School, March 10, 6:30 p.m.
The school board is planning to consider class size this spring, so it’s important that Garza and board members hear from families concerned about the need to provide sufficient resources to schools with large numbers of high-needs students. The MCA resolution has been sent to school board members, Fairfax County supervisors, Garza, and other FCPS and county officials.

The resolution calls for the school board to “modify the elementary school staffing formula so that each school’s budgeted average general education class cannot be less than 21 students or more than 25 students, including Level 2 special education students assigned part-time to those general education classes.”

It also urges the school board to “establish a new goal of ensuring that average class sizes for schools within each of the elementary, middle, and high school categories are consistent, to the extent practicable, within FCPS.” And it proposes additional funding to reduce large classes.

A cursory look at the “capacity and enrollment dashboard” on the FCPS website shows that several elementary schools in the Annandale/Mason area appear to have an average class sizes of less than 21, including Annandale Terrace, Bailey’s, Bailey’s Upper, Belvedere, Glen Forest, Parklawn, Sleepy Hollow, Weyanoke, and Woodburn.

According to the resolution, changing the staffing formula to eliminate classes with 20 or fewer students would “reduce the amount spent on needs-based staffing, the number of students assigned to trailers, and potentially reduce the need for future additions and new schools.”

“We don’t want to get rid of needs-based staffing,” said MCA President Sally Horn. “What we’re saying is, within existing resources, provide for a greater degree of equity.” She notes that some classrooms in the McLean area have as many as 35 students, which is “excessive,” no matter how well off the area is, while there are schools in other areas with just 11 to 15. “That’s too great a discrepancy.”

The resolution wouldn’t set limits on individual classes; rather, it would set a ceiling and floor for the average class size at each elementary school, said Louise Epstein, vice chair of MCA’s Education and Youth Committee.

The MCA commends Garza for taking steps to improve the accuracy of school-level enrollment projections and increase oversight over principals who trade classroom positions for non-teaching positions.


  1. Unfortunately I can't be there tomorrow to speak up against this.

    Can we all agree that McLean doesn't have the challenges that Mason District's schools do?

    Wah, poor McLean, their class sizes are large.

    Meanwhile they have more parent volunteers than needed for any school event, their PTA coffers are more than double the average of ours, and their demographic doesn't have nearly the challenges that we have (high number of ESL and free lunch students).

    This proposal is ridiculous!

    I hope that after attending and hearing parents concerns about our pyramid during the Mason District Council meeting a few weeks ago, Karen Garza will reject this proposal and do what's right for our schools.

    1. Pyramid?

    2. waaaah, mclean kids' parents volunteer more so they should get screwed! wtf?

    3. "Pyramid" refers to the elementary and middle/junior high schools that feed into a given high school. Examples: Belvedere and Glasgow are part of the Stuart H.S. pyramid. Annandale Terrace, Mason Crest, and Poe are part of the Annandale HS pyramid. Each pyramid has about 8-12 schools in it, I think.

  2. Anonymous Mason District Resident3/9/15, 10:07 AM

    I have mixed feelings about this. I understand their concern about class sizes, but elementary schools in McLean are consistently rated very highly.

    The line about equality in FCPS made me chortle. McLean wants equality throughout FCPS? I'd love that, too! I love it if my zoned schools were as highly rated as McLean's are! I'd love if we equalized the FARMS/ESOL population of FCPS!

    I am going to send an email to the McLean Citizen's Association about "equalizing" FCPS, and all that could entail.

    1. And they might send you back an email suggesting that replacing Penny Gross with a BOS representatives who actually cares about enforcing zoning codes and ensuring that students can attend schools with playgrounds is a better way of "equalizing" the areas that gradually turning McLean into the next Bailey's Crossroads.

    2. Now there is a multi-solution solution. All we have to do is vote the epicenter of Mason District's disasters into retirement.

  3. With all complaints from the commenters on this site about the sorry state of the public schools in Mason District; especially the howls from those who hate children being taught in trailers, this article comes as an eye-opening surprise.

    I had no idea that many of the elementary schools in Mason District have much smaller class sizes than those in much more affluent districts; and efforts to increase class sizes in Mason District would reduce the need for more new schools and reduce the number of children taught in those detested trailers.

    No wonder the ultra-liberal Sandy Evers and the alliance in favor of higher taxes and more land for schools are opposed to the effort to equalize class sizes throughout Fairfax County and opposed to new housing stock that would result in a more affluent (with less demand for needs-based funding for school children) Mason District.

    It appears that for Sandy Evers and the supporters of evermore resources for Mason District County Schools; there is good economic sense in "keeping Mason District crappy."

    1. If you really think that keeping some classes smaller than others is about "raking in" more money, you're waaaay out of touch--typical of those who'd love to fiddle with schools to suit their political leanings.

      This is about doing what's best for all the children. Get it?

  4. Can Title I schools be exempt from this provision?

  5. Turning the schools into mini-prep schools at taxpayer expense has been the objective of affluent predominantly white parents for years. The school budget is top,heavy with boutique programs aimed specifically at providing students from advantaged backgrounds with a competitive advantage in the college admissions race. One of the biggest wasters of funds are the ludicrous intensive elementary school foreign language programs. Sally Horn et al. may cynically demand equity, but what they're really after is even more special treatment than the unconscionable amount they've already received.

    1. Apart from FLES and IB programs, most of the existing "boutique" programs are designed to assist students from disadvantaged backgrounds - you have the Academy programs with a vocational focus, AVID, Career/Tech programs, ESOL, college partnership programs at high-FARMS schools, special Head Start and pre-K programs, Young Scholars, extended school year services, priority school programs, and probably others that I've left out. Most of the "extras" that students in places like McLean take advantage of are organized and paid for by parents, not FCPS.

    2. I wonder if all of the elementary schools in McLean have gymnasia and playgrounds?

    3. Imagine the hell that would be raised in McLean if FCPS converted an office building into a school in three months and sold it a a good thing because that is how they do it in the city.

  6. The MCA proposal does not propose equal class sizes throughout the county or reject the concept of needs-based staffing. It merely argues that the current disparities in class sizes need to be reduced.

    Class sizes of 35 kids are unacceptable to people who live in that area, knowing how much smaller classes are in other parts of the county. Yes, the kids there still have high test scores, because the parents are heavily involved and often pay for extra tutoring. But they are paying plenty in taxes, and can see the much smaller class sizes elsewhere in FCPS, in Falls Church City, and right across the border in Arlington County.

    No School Board candidate will win in Dranesville or Hunter Mill in 2015 unless he or she is seriously committed to bringing down the class sizes in McLean and Vienna. This is a critical issue for people in that part of the county, and a refusal of the School Board or Board of Supervisors to address it will lead to calls for northern Fairfax to break off from the rest of the county.

    1. The McLeans in their $5 million mansion pay the same property tax rate that I do on my property.

    2. So they pay the same rate, and higher total taxes, but they should be saddled with much higher class sizes because people in Mason repeatedly elect and re-elect leaders who permit Mason District communities to turn into overcrowded slums? Mason already gets brand-new schools like Glasgow and Bailey's Upper while schools in other districts go unrenovated for decades. Enough is enough.

    3. Yes. I'm sure that there are quite a few limousine liberals in McLean who are more than happy to support affordable housing, open borders, and a barrage of other programs, but as long as the users of those programs are not in their district - unless they are getting their yard landscaped, or their house cleaned.

    4. "...calls for northern Fairfax to break off from the rest of the county." To paraphrase Andrew Jackson, if they try it, we will "hang every leader...of that infatuated people, sir, by martial law, irrespective of his name, or political or social position."

  7. Here is the text of the actual resolution, for those who wish to read it as opposed to rely on summaries or make assumptions about its contents:

    1. I stopped reading after I saw them insert a line about the rate of title 1 spending in high FRM schools. Enough. They will never get title 1 money, and they shouldn't.

    2. That is simply background information on the supplemental funding currently available to high FRM schools. There is nothing in the resolution that asks that low FRM schools receive Title I money, which are federal funds that FCPS could not reallocate in any event.

      Evans and others representing high-FARMS districts will have to compromise here. Dranesville and Hunter Mill currently have representatives (Janie Strauss and Pat Hynes) who are supportive of the needs of students across the county, but parents in both those districts could very well turn them out in favor of a candidate like Louise Epstein, who almost defeated Strauss in 2011 and based her campaign on the argument that Dranesville class sizes were too large. They would only need a few more allies from other districts like Braddock, Providence, Sully and Springfield and/or at-large positions to ram this down the throats of the representatives from Mason, Lee and Mount Vernon, if they refused to compromise and simply repeated what Sandy Evans has been saying.

    3. Since title 1 funds cannot be re-allocated, they had no business even bringing it up in their list of demands.

    4. They had every right to bring it up, as the point was not to seek the reallocation of Title I funds, but to provide background information on the different sources of funding currently in place for schools in different situations. The precise point is to underscore that those funds are only available to Title I schools and cannot be touched. You can't really handle complex subjects, can you?

    5. 5:02, just DIAF.

    6. So the MCA is suggesting that, because high FARM schools get Title I funds that McLean schools don't, McLean schools should get a bigger piece of the REST of the pie? How 'bout if we bus some of the FARM kids to McLean schools, so they can be Title I, too? Then everybody can share the same pie.

    7. Please explain how the overcrowded McLean schools that already have twice as many kids in classes as many schools in Mason District are going to accept more students. If you want to build more schools in McLean AND give us smaller class sizes we could accommodate more kids. There is a Title I school in the McLean pyramid now.

  8. 10:23 listen to yourself.

    Why do you think the class sizes in Mason are smaller? Could it be that special needs(eg.ESL) children require more attention and hence, smaller classes?

    When is the last time that you visited or volunteered in a local school?

    The arguments against thousands of new apartments rest on the question of how to address the resulting increase in the demand for services and impact on our overcrowded roads, regardless of who moves in. There is also no guarantee that we will become a millenial destination, regardless of the hype.

    Your shrill political bias seems to have blinded you to reality.

    1. The other jurisdictions don't commonly have 4, 5, or 6 4th graders walking into their child's classroom for the first time in their lives without the benefit of one word of English. Students arriving in class at any time of the year and disappearing to reappear in another school with little or no progress for the year.

  9. As soon as the test scores out of Mason District schools begin to approach those of McLean schools, then we should consider this proposal.

  10. I plan on attending the Garza listening tour. I would appreciate it if someone would post thoughts and questions to take with me.

    McLean and Mason District are poles apart when discussing school overcrowding issues. McLean does not deal with the ESL, free lunch programs and I would guess Special Ed needs that Mason District works with daily. FFX and FCPS must embrace the fact that one size fits all is not a suitable approach for mature communities, especially Bailey’s and 7 Corners, which constitute the highest concentration of poverty in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. Hence, the need for smaller classes to encourage learning. It takes more effort and longer time in school to help the ESL students learn enough to pass the SOLs. It takes more effort and longer time in school to help the ESL students graduate! McLean and other parts of FFX do not have these problems.

    The formulas for calculating annual fall enrollments don’t apply in Mason District, either. The rental apartments in 7 Corners and Bailey’s are overpopulated and occupancy codes go unenforced. Bailey’s Elementary and Belvedere never know how many kids will show up at their doors at the start of the school year. This is not the case in most parts of FFX.
    Mason District’s problems circle back to occupancy code enforcement, which FFX is loath to do. It circles back to the need for better redevelopment and planning by Mason District and the County. Plus, there is a desperate need for a shared vision to spread distribution of affordable housing throughout the County in order to equalize the resources used in each District in supplying services and schools to the lower income population of FFX.

  11. Rich white kids can be stupid, too. All FCPS students can benefit from and deserve small classes. As a Mason District resident, I support the McLean resolution. It really is unethical to have elementary class sizes of 15 and 35 within the same system.

    1. Unethical: un·eth·i·cal
      not morally correct.
      synonyms: immoral, amoral, unprincipled, unscrupulous, dishonorable, dishonest, wrong, deceitful, unconscionable, unfair, fraudulent, underhanded, wicked, evil, sneaky, corrupt;

      Moral: mor·al
      1. concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character.
      synonyms: virtuous, good, righteous, upright, upstanding, high-minded, principled, honorable

      I think it's unethical that we would consider the MCA sneaky argument that somehow the kids in McLean are treated unfairly by FCPS. If you look at the data cited in an earlier comment, average class sizes from 40 elementary schools, you see that none comes close to 30. Why would anyone begrudge a smaller class size to kids in high-poverty areas who get no other intervention or academic support outside of school?

      To consider doing so is unethical. It's not virtuous or good or honorable at all.

    2. If those in McLean want smaller class sizes overall, they can place more trailers outside their children's schools.

      Yes, it would be wonderful to have smaller class sizes for everyone, as class size is a key factor in the quality of any education, but it's not the only one. The fact is that some students need smaller classrooms more urgently than others.

      The real way to create smaller class sizes for the benefit of all would be to build more schools and hire more teachers, but that won't happen for free, and those who think they know all about how to educate the world won't stand for spending a penny more.

  12. Stupid? Who are you? Why would you call any of the ESL or poor or special needs children stupid? Didn't your mother teach you any manners?

    If you want equality in the school classrooms then how about McLean and other Districts taking on their fair share of low income residents. What is the percentage of affordable dwelling units and rental apartments in McLean? Great Falls? Potomac? It's 42% in 7 Corners. And, our Supervisor wants to add another 15% to that plus increase our density to 6000 more residential units.

    This is an unending quagmire for Mason District.

    Bottomline: I feel whhen McLean steps up to take on its fair share of low income residents then they can complain.

  13. May come as a suprise to some folks, but it's not just a McLean issue. This is a countywide issue. Nobody's saying that the staffing formula should be discarded. Just that it should be adjusted to reduce the absurdly unfair class size distribution. Look at the average class sizes at 40 FCPS elementary schools:

    Aldrin 24.7
    Canterbury Woods 23.7
    Centreville 24.1
    Chesterbrook 23.9
    Churchill Rd 25.8
    Clermint 24.1
    Colvin Run 24.7
    Fairview 24.3
    Flint Hill 25.3
    Floris 25.2
    Franklin Sherman 24.6
    Greenbriar West 26.0
    Haycock 23.5
    Hayfield 24.8
    Hunt Valley 24.5
    Hunters Woods 25.5
    Keene Mill 25.0
    Kent Gardens 25.3
    Laurel Hill 24.2
    Lees Corner 24.0
    Louise Archer 24.4
    Mantua 25.1
    McNair 26.4
    Navy 24.3
    Oak Hill 25.3
    Oak View 25.4
    Oakton 25.4
    Orange Hunt 24.5
    Powell 25.5
    Sangster 24.5
    Shrevewood 24.1
    Silverbrook 24.7
    Spring Hill 25.8
    Stenwood 24.3
    Stratford Landing 24.8
    Terra-Centre 23.1
    Union Mill 25.0
    Waples Mill 25.6
    Waynewood 24.4
    West Springfield 23.7
    Westbriar 24.8
    White Oaks 24.9
    Willow Springs 24.1
    Wolftrap 24.9
    Bonnie Brae 25.0
    Crossfield 24.0
    Cub Run 23.3
    Daniels Run 22.9
    Eagle View 25.7
    Greenbriar East 25.2

  14. Where can I find out how many "trailers" are used as classrooms in both districts.

    1. I think you have to personally visit each school and have a candid conversation with each principal to find out how many "trailers" and "modulars" are used as classrooms throughout Fairfax County. I have never seen this data point tracked in any FCPS literature.

      As soon as FCPS installs trailers or "modulars" on a school campus, the enrollment capacity goes up, too. So, a school that is housing dozens of kids in trailers, can be listed as under or at 100% capacity.

      For example, Sleepy Hollow ES has housed the entire third grade in trailers for more than 3 years and FCPS considers it to be under capacity. Glen Forest ES houses roughly 50% of their school population in modulars or trailers and their capacity is listed as 107% capacity (source: 2014-15 CIP: -- see page 45 for totals).

      I know that Haycock ES in McLean is undergoing a huge renovation to address overcrowding as well. The renovations will result in capacity for 877 children in 2016; they already enroll 879.

    2. Trailers are not included in determining capacity but modulars are.

    3. Does anyone know why Bailey's lower still has all their trailers? Why have they not been removed given half the student population attends upper Bailey's?

    4. Are the trailers at SHES considered modulars? What is the difference?

  15. The average class size in the list posted seems to be just under 25, within the upper number mentioned in the MCA resolution or am I missing something?

  16. I had to stop reading the draft at this point:

    "Whereas, the fact that schools in the greater McLean area have consistently had larger average class sizes and more very large classes than the county averages, including many elementary, middle and high school classes with 30 or more students, raises questions of fairness; and "

    Let's pause and discuss the question of fairness.

    Is it fair that many children in McLean were born to parents who live in a community with a median household income of about $180K and a median residential real estate list price per square foot of $417, which is higher than the Washington Metro average of $194. Is it fair that they live in McLean and are FCPS students? It seems that the MCA wants more from FCPS, since the "more" these kids already have is not enough.

    These kids need help! They need more resources from FCPS.

    The MCA argument would imply that we should allocate ALL school support evenly, across ALL communities. Let's try to look at what McLean can give back to FCPS to address inconsistencies meeting the needs of the kids in other parts of FC.

    Let's pool our PTA resources across the county to make things more fair for everyone, so that the schools that essentially have no PTA, can also send their kids on field trips and have parties and pretty landscaping that make them feel like they have value and are important. Let's bus the kids from Haycock to Bailey's Upper so they can enjoy what we have in Mason District -- an elementary school with no gym and no playground.

    We'll share with you if you'll share with us.

    1. Looks like someone read Atlas Shrugged over the weekend

    2. Adam - great point!

  17. Let Louise Epstein keep beating this drum so it's clear that she doesn't actually believe in public education. She just believes in keeping as many tax dollars in her own district (and her own pocket) as possible. She and the MCA don't speak for McLean; this is a dying organization of mostly senior citizens that doesn't represent anyone but the far right right wing.

    1. I'm relieved to hear that Epstein et al aren't as powerful as they seem to think they are. You're absolutely right when you say they don't know squat/truly care about about education. Sadly, I've seen their kind before.

  18. The only threat to Mason District schools are the rule-breakers who feel entitled to an education at the taxpayers' expense.