Sterling resident Michelle Dillistin got what she wanted from the School Board: a vote on the boundaries for Countryside Elementary School and nearby schools in the Sterling area.
“After all this is over, our children will be OK,” said Dillistin, mother of four children and a parent volunteer at Potowmack Elementary School, at the Dec. 10 School Board meeting. “They’ll adjust. They’ll make new friends.”
Dillistin’s children will be able to go to Potowmack Elementary School next school year under the School Board’s newly adopted plan for school boundaries. The Dillistins, who live in the EL7 (Eastern Loudoun) school attendance zone, and public schoolchildren who live in the EL8, 12, 13 and 34 zones are slated to attend the school.
“I’m at Potowmack Elementary more than I’m at home. Our school is wonderful,” Dillistin said, adding that “many plans have come and gone, many not focused on the needs of children.” She asked the School Board to avoid delaying voting on the boundary plan for Countryside Elementary School, which is located in the Countryside development and is scheduled to open in fall 2003.
Dillistin and another 40 Sterling residents spoke during the School Board’s delegations, explaining why they favored a particular plan: the proposed Community United Plan (CUP), the Andrews-Cassell plan, Reed’s modified plan or the revised alternative plan to the staff proposal.
After hearing the comments and making their own, School Board members voted 6-0-2 in favor of the Andrews-Cassell plan with Warren Geurin (Sterling) and Harry Holsinger (Blue Ridge) abstaining from the vote.
THE ANDREWS-CASSELL plan has two split-feeder schools — elementary schools that let children into two or more middle schools — and keeps the area for Sugarland Elementary School the same to maintain the school’s small class sizes.
“It does allow for Countryside Elementary to have a strong start,” said John Andrews (Broad Run). He aimed to develop a plan that balanced split feeders, school capacities and the distances of schools from neighborhoods, he said.
Candyce Cassell (Sugarland Run) pointed out that Sugarland Elementary School is perceived to be an underachieving school. “So many people flee from Sugarland. Sugarland Elementary has been fully accredited for two years,” she said.
“The neighborhood is the neighborhood,” Andrews said. “When you look at Sugarland, it is what it is. You can’t move the houses. Sure you can move the kids, but it’s not fair to do so. I just don’t believe in the busing concept.”
Residents backing the Andrews-Cassell plan said the plan has balance to it, is “a fair equitable plan” and takes into consideration a “sense of community.”
“It puts all the schools on equal footing,” said Helen Lin, who has children attending Potowmack Elementary School, adding that the plan “creates diversity in all the schools.”
Some of the residents previously supporting the CUP plan favored the Andrews-Cassell plan, while a few residents continued their support.
“It moves fewer ELs. ... It’s not going to cost you a lot of extra money,” said Becky Langager, mother of four children. She gave the board a petition with 926 signatures for the CUP plan. “We have a plan that has a lot of support.”
JANE KIRCHNER, a parent and a member of the Planning Commission, handed the School Board a copy of a revised alternative plan that modifies the proposed staff plan. Kirchner claimed the alternative plan keeps several of the ELs at the same schools, reduces the enrollment at Sugarland Elementary School and utilizes the capacity at Countryside Elementary School.
“A community and a school is what you make it. ... I don’t care what pool you go to, every child should be educated,” said Dorcas Brannock of Sterling.
Susan Hulcher, also of Sterling, agreed. “By community, I don’t mean HOAs [Homeowner Associations]. ... Parents at Horizon are fighting to not move,” she said, adding that a few residents in neighborhoods currently slated for the school “think the school is special” and want to stay there at the cost of others.
EL10 resident Bob Simmers, whose children attend Horizon, watched the neighborhood undergo four boundary changes in the past 10 years. When Horizon opened, the school became “a gathering place for our community,” he said, adding that the Andrews-Cassell plan will disrupt that community. “[Horizon] can’t sustain such a level of disruption so early in its career,” he said.
Theresa Jaafari, also a resident in EL10, said Candyce Cassell (Sugarland Run) wanted to keep the Rivercrest community in Potomac Falls at Horizon Elementary School, adding Cassell had said, "We are being moved because we got away last time."
"My oldest can walk to Horizon, that's how close she is. Algonkian is further up the road than that," said Cascades resident Kevin Clarke in a separate interview. "They're busing us two ELs over to pull this thing off. ... Candy and John are running things the way they want to. They're railroading us is what they are doing."
"People are trying to find a reason they didn't get their way, [why] they got moved and Rivercrest didn't," Andrews said in response, adding that he never made any promises. "They demanded preferential treatment. ... The schools belong to all the taxpayers no matter who you pay your HOA dues to."
EL10 resident John Frantz said he does not support a specific plan. “This is a planned community. ... My children can walk to Horizon if they choose to,” he said. “For the sake of our children and our community, please keep it right.”
SCHOOL BOARD members gave their comments before taking a vote.
“Everyone is not going to be happy,” said Chairman Joseph Vogric (Dulles). “The kids get over it much easier than the parents do.”
“It’s time for the battle to stop. ... It’s time for the healing to begin,” Andrews said in reference to e-mails he received and the accusations that the plan was political. He said he did not make any promises about proffers, which can include new school buildings in exchange for a rezoning, he said. “Overall, I did the best I could. I was very clear what my goals were from the beginning.”