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Votes

'Let us Go to New School, Too'

They may have Fairfax ZIP Codes, say parents in the Willow Springs Elementary attendance area, but in their hearts, they're part of the Centreville community. And they want their children to go to the new southwest county middle school, too.

"It's not only in our community, but it's in the Willow Springs Elementary School boundary — which is the most ironic part," said Jeremy Lopynski of Hayden Village. "And all the families in our community and in Little Rocky Run [across the street from the new school] play SYA sports together. Lanier [Middle School, where local children now go] is in a different youth sports league."

The boundary proposal currently on the table includes the under-renovation Centreville Farms area in which two developers are building 297 single-family homes, 792 townhouses and 402 apartments. When completed, several years from now, the school system's Facilities Planning Services expects it to yield 346 elementary-school students, 72 middle-schoolers and 157 high-school students.

Lopynski and many of her neighbors want their area to go to the new middle school, instead of Centreville Farms. Her four children presently attend St. Andrew the Apostle School and she plans on them continuing there. "But if I wanted them to go to the new middle school, it would be directly across the street from St. Andrew and would be so convenient," she said.

"We're right at Clifton Road, at the end of the Fairfax High/Lanier boundary," she explained. "We've been busing our children [from our community] 45 minutes to an hour away because there was no middle school closer.

Unlike densely developed Centreville Farms, said Lopynski, the whole Willow Springs boundary area — Hayden Village, 210 homes; Hampton Chase/Forest, 550 homes; Fox Hunt, 67 homes; Clifton Farms, 74 homes; Clifton Manor, 46 homes, plus some homes along Colchester Road — would yield just 80 children per middle-school grade, or 160 total for seventh and eighth grades, this September at the new middle school. And she said those numbers would remain fairly stable in future years.

"Lanier has a capacity of 775 students and has 1,020 now, so it's 245 over capacity now," said Lopynski. "So taking Willow Springs out of Lanier will help it. And if you take out Centreville Farms' 40 projected middle-school students for this year, then the new middle school would be under capacity and only have 1,217 students [when it opens] this September."

She said local parents would be willing to have their children return to Fairfax High, after middle school, if they had to. But, said Lopynski, "Ideally, we want to go to Centreville High. We can hear its band playing from our house, and all our neighbors in Little Rocky Run go there. We all go to the same shopping center — the Colonnade — and many of us are in the St. Andrew parish."

Lopynski said it's dangerous for new teen-age drivers to go all the way to Fairfax High for school, and she noted that it would also cost more to bus them there than to Centreville High.

"From Hampton Chase and Hayden Village to Centreville High is 1.4 miles and three stoplights — against rush-hour traffic," she said. "To Fairfax High — with rush hour and 18 stoplights — it's 7.2 miles." But, she said, right now her neighbors are first trying to get into the new middle school and "we can only fight one battle at a time."

Toni Milmoe, also of Hayden Village, feels the same way. "Our children are being bused to schools outside our community," she said. "The bus route from our neighborhood is 59 minutes long, and the children arrive 20 minutes prior to school starting [and] are required to sit in the cafeteria and wait for school to start."

One of her three sons is a junior at Fairfax High, and the other two attend Willow Springs Elementary. "I want them to go to the new middle school," she said. "And I'm part of a large group that's worked very diligently to achieve this."

One of the main reasons, she explained, is to prevent further overcrowding at Lanier. "If we were to stay [there], Facilities [Planning Services] said it will be at 148 percent capacity in the 2006-07 school year," she said. "And more developments are being planned in Lanier's area. Centex Homes applied for a rezoning in the Legato Road area to build 1,103 homes which — using Fairfax County Public Schools calculating formulas — would eventually mean 101 more students at Lanier."

Milmoe said the original boundary proposal shows some Willow Springs students — those living west of Clifton Road (about 20 percent of the graduating sixth-graders, not counting GT students) — going to the new middle school, anyway.

"We believe if the Willow Springs Elementary attendance area is included, it would actually balance the attendance at four middle schools — Lanier included — instead of just at Stone, Rocky Run and the new school," she said. "It would be a more fair way and would leave all these schools at or slightly above capacity, rather than leaving Lanier significantly overcrowded."

To give the School Board an idea of how many people in the communities east of Stringfellow Road want to go to the new middle school, concerned parents there have been circulating petitions since early January. They've now collected more than 900 signatures out of a possible 1,100. That figure represents just one signature per household and covers 83 percent of the Willow Springs area hoping for a boundary change.

Milmoe noted, as well, that School Board Policy 8130.4 states that proximity should be considered in determining school boundaries. "The building itself is being built in the Willow Springs boundaries," she said. "It seems obvious that the Willow Springs student population would be included within the new middle-school boundary."

She said people in her area strongly believe that Facilities Planning Services Director Gary Chevalier is underestimating the number of students that would come out of Centreville Farms. "Based on the economy, he's only using half of the total number [it could yield]," said Milmoe. "It is our hope than an amendment [to the current boundary proposal] would take out Centreville Farms and send it to Rocky Run."

She said it's been made clear to parents that, even if their children were allowed to go to the new middle school, they'd still have to attend Fairfax High later on. "The plan right now is for all the new middle school's students to go to Centreville High," she said. "[But] I'd like to see another boundary process happen [in the future], and I personally would like to see my children go to Centreville."

Milmoe said it's close to her home and her children can get there in five minutes. But there are other reasons, as well. "Fairfax High is not in any way ingrained in our community," she said. "It's way down at Fairfax Circle, and we're more a part of the Centreville community than Fairfax. I wouldn't shop at the Fairfax Circle Giant — I shop at the Colonnade Giant."

Noting that Centreville High is "right in our backyard," said Milmoe, "We truly believe, the way the new middle school is set up, 2,500 students will [someday] be at Centreville High — and we want to be among them, instead of Centreville Farms."

When her neighborhood was built, some dozen years ago, there wasn't a nearby middle school for the children. "We're not complaining about Lanier or Fairfax High," she said. "We're complaining that we're busing our children to overcrowded schools when there's been a change. It just seems so logical. Our thinking is, 'If all our schools are going to be overcrowded, then why not be at the closest one?'"

Renate Manville of Hampton Chase and Janenne Springer of Hampton Forest have similar concerns. Manville has no problem with Lanier's academics or socio-economic mix, but she, too, worries about future overcrowding there. And she says it would be easier for parents in her neighborhood to volunteer at the new middle school nearby than at Lanier.

Manville said that going to the new school would keep neighborhood children closer to home for two more years. And although she's happy with Fairfax High now, she'd be thrilled if her children could eventually attend a high school closer.

When Springer bought her house in 1997, she knew about the plans for a new middle school in her community. Being just 1 1/2 miles from Centreville, she "just naturally assumed" her children would someday go to it. "If I'd known we'd be going to Fairfax City to school, we absolutely would not have bought our house here," she said. "I've been here for five years, supporting this community, and Centreville Farms isn't even built, yet."

As for high school, she believes if Willow Springs and not Centreville Farms was allowed in the mix, "there might be enough room at Centreville High in the future. I can hope ..."

Meanwhile, said Manville, only City of Fairfax residents can vote for school bonds to relieve their overcrowded schools. "As a county resident, I cannot vote — we're at the mercy of the city voters. Even the Springfield District School Board member representing us can't vote, so we have no representation."

Added Springer: "The city's renovation plans for the downtown area and public library will be competing against school funds, and we're afraid that — with an aging population — schools may not be as high on the city's priorities."