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Fifth-Graders Proposed for GT Center

Meeting Draws Little Criticism

Every morning Beth Bednarek gets her kindergartner and third-grader ready for school, taking them the two blocks to Clearview Elementary.

Once there, her third-grader boards a bus and travels six miles to the Forest Edge Elementary Gifted and Talented (GT) Center for classes. He then boards the bus and heads back to Clearview at the end of the school day.

Needless to say, Bednarek is glad to see there is a proposal to open a GT center at her base school and she is unfazed by the prospect of having her child transition to a new school yet again.

"I'm very much in favor of having my third-grader return to a school that is only two blocks from my house," Bednarek said. "He's already been at Clearview for kindergarten through second grade. Hopefully, he'll be coming back with new friends that he made at the Forest Edge center."

The GT center at Clearview is slated to open next school year, along with five others proposed at locations throughout the county.

Monday, Dec. 2, little more than a dozen parents attended a second town meeting to present the updated proposal concerning the boundaries for the Clearview center.

While the boundaries continue encompass Clearview, Dranesville, Hutchison and Herndon elementary schools, the proposal was modified to include rising fifth-graders in the mix. Originally, the center was planned to open with rising fourth- and third-graders, leaving the fifth and sixth grades to remain at their current center.

"We've been surprised at the number of parents that feel we should move all three grades … as a way to establish the center's identity, especially with the fifth grade because they are the leaders," said Nancy Sprague, assistant superintendent for Instructional Services. "We leave the sixth-graders because we've learned from experience they like to be at the top of the heap."

EVEN THOUGH little has changed with the proposal, there were still concerns raised by parents. Chief among them were the impact on the Forest Edge center, assurance the new center will open with everything it needs, concerns that the 35-student cap on classes is too high, sufficient staffing of the new center and what programs will be offered at Clearview.

Carol Horn, coordinator of the gifted and talented program for the school system, said with the opening of a new center at Sangster in Springfield last year, officials know exactly how much it will cost to get new centers up and running.

"There is money in the budget," Horn said.

A few parents questioned why Aldrin and Armstrong elementary schools were not included in the plan since they are also part of the Herndon pyramid — along with Clearview, Dranesville, Herndon and Hutchison — fearing the two schools were left out so that down the road they could be moved into the South Lakes pyramid.

"We're willing to say right now that our idea is to keep the students in the middle school and high school they would go to now," Sprague said.

The GT students from Clearview, Dranesville, Hutchison and Herndon, because they attend the Forest Edge center, now attend Hughes Middle in the South Lakes pyramid, as does the GT students from Aldrin and Armstrong.

PARENTS suggested regular updates, even after a decision is made about the center, on the staffing and programs at the Clearview center, so that parents, especially the PTA, can be involved.

Horn said it is possible GT teachers at existing centers will come to Clearview as the number of classes pare down where they are. She also said that typically, principals like to have their teachers hired by June, so parents will know who the new teachers are.

In addition, Clearview principal Sheila Bertrand said she will not be retiring at the end of this year, as has been speculated. She said she will stay at the school to help with the transition of the new center.

The proposed boundary changes for all of the new centers are scheduled to be presented to the School Board Jan. 23 with a public hearing slated for Feb. 10. The School Board is expected to vote on the changes Feb. 27. All three meetings take place, beginning at 7:30 p.m., at Jackson Middle School, 3020 Gallows Road, Falls Church.

Summaries of the two town meetings, along with comments are being posted on the school system's Web Site at http://www.fcps.edu/DIS/gt/. Additional comments or questions can be directed at Horn, 703-846-8670.