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Parents Split over Oak Hill GT Boundaries

Several children at Oak Hill Elementary School in Herndon travel every day to Greenbriar West Elementary in Fairfax to attend the gifted and talented (GT) center there. In most cases, the children attend class in one of the 19 trailers set-up on school grounds.

So Becky Filla Donatello, for one, was happy to hear there was a plan to open a GT center at her son's base school, Oak Hill, next year. That was until she heard the latest changes to the boundary proposal for the new center.

The original plan was to have next year's GT fourth- and third-graders from Floris in Herndon, Fox Mill in Herndon, Lees Corner in Fairfax, Oak Hill and McNair in Herndon elementary schools attend the new center, however, objections from the parents in the Floris and Fox Mill area, where their children attend Hunters Woods' GT center in Reston — or more specifically, an annex center set-up at Dogwood Elementary in Reston — resulted in the Fairfax County Public Schools staff revising its plan. According to the proposal presented Tuesday, Dec. 17, the Oak Hill center would open with the third grade only, thereby allowing next year's fourth graders to stay at their current GT center, namely Hunters Woods or Greenbriar West.

"I would like my child to have the opportunity to come here [Oak Hill]. There are 19 trailers at Greenbriar West. Last year at a GT meeting, they asked us to put up with it for one year because they were opening a new center at Oak Hill," Filla Donatello said. "Please let Oak Hill-based students and those who want to, form a fourth-grade class at Oak Hill."

She may get her wish. Because of the outcry raised by Greenbriar West GT parents, the staff is going to go back to the drawing board to see if there is some way to allow fourth-graders to attend the center of their choice: Greenbriar West, Hunters Woods or Oak Hill.

IN ALL, the school system is looking to open six new GT centers, mostly to ease overcrowding and create shorter bus routes. However, the proposal introduced in December, not only had its detractors among parents, it also raised concerns among staff.

"My only concern is that it provide enough relief to Hunters Woods," said Nancy Sprague, assistant superintendent for Instructional Services. "It's going to be a tight fit. Steve's [Hockett, Hunters Woods principal] convinced we can get all the kids at Hunters Woods. We were really trying to get everyone in Hunters Woods building. It will be a tight fit, but we believe we can do it."

Several Oak Hill-based parents questioned why a fourth grade could not be at Oak Hill, while allowing parents to "grandfather" their rising fourth-graders at Hunters Woods.

Sprague said, the aim of the new center is to open with at least 25 students per grade level. She added that Oak Hill could more than meet that requirement for a fourth grade, especially if parents who opted their third-graders out of the GT program because of the commute decided to opt back in. However, logistics, such as transportation and making sure there is enough students for a viable fourth grade, would still need to be worked out before anyone could say definitively if it was possible to give parents a choice.

ONE OF THE PROBLEMS, is there is no clear-cut preference among parents. Some Hunters Woods GT parents expressed interest in moving their child to Oak Hill, where there is classroom space available and next year will be a modular addition. While in some cases, parents of Greenbriar West GT students said they were happy at that school.

"My son goes to Greenbriar West. I've seen the trailers. I visit my son for lunch and wonder how anybody can manage that way. It seems the kids are more adaptable. We seem to think it's an issue, but my son wants to stay," said Betty Grigg.

What grades should be included the first year at Oak Hill also was open to debate among the parents.

"I think they should look at opening a full center, grades three through five," said Heidi Hirsh, an Oak Hill parent. "I'm concerned about splitting GT children in the same family into different centers."

It was decided that after the holidays, staff would poll parents of every student that would potentially attend the Oak Hill center in September, including those who opted out the previous year, as to what their intentions were for next year and which school they preferred.

In addition, Sprague said pupil placements, requests made by parents to have their child attend a school outside of their boundary area, would also be available for students except rising third-graders.