By 10 a.m. on Thursday, the coffeepot in the cafeteria at Great Falls Elementary School was empty last week. For many of the parents who had gathered to discuss the opening of a new elementary school at Andrew Chapel, it was mid-morning and time for a coffee break.
But there wasn’t time. By 10:30 a.m., schoolchildren were pouring into the room as the PTA meeting broke up. For them, it was already lunch time.
That’s one measure of overcrowding at Great Falls, where lunch begins at 10:30 a.m., playground time is limited, and there are eight modular classrooms to absorb a population of 775 children, nine classrooms more than the school was built to accommodate.
Relief is on the way with the September, 2003, opening of a new elementary school at Andrew Chapel between Trap and Towlston Roads south of Route 7.
For many parents, time is short. By the end of this year, parents in the communities affected by the new school will define its new boundaries.
The school’s population, between 900-950 students, will be drawn from Forestville, Great Falls, Spring Hill and Westbriar elementaries. Children who are now in the fourth grade will be “grandfathered” at their respective schools when they are sixth graders during the academic year of 2003-04.
AT LAST WEEK’S MEETING, representatives from Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) described the process of drawing new boundaries.
Parents are getting organized to make decisions both major and minor, ranging from selecting paint chips and carpet to playground design.
“Putting a new school together is kind of like getting married,” said Nora Callahan, whose children now attend Spring Hill Elementary. “We have to create a new family.”
Callahan has volunteered to organize the parents who want to be involved in making the early decisions. She is identifying the talents and interests of volunteers and directing them to committees.
Dranesville District School Board Representative Janie Strauss said the communities will decide how to divide the neighborhoods.
“It is the adults who will work with this. It is not the children. We adults will make the decisions. It will flow,” she said.
The PTAs and PTO will not make recommendations for attendance areas, nor will teachers and school administrators, Strauss said.
“You are the customers. You are the clients.”
BEGINNING IN NOVEMBER, public meetings will be held, with the discussions to be professionally facilitated.
Those attending are divided into work groups to develop attendance options.
At the second meting, the groups report their findings. Between meetings, FCPS staff members document the group findings, and post them on the FCPS web page.
Staff members use the results to create boundary “scenarios” to be reviewed in the next town meeting.
Those attending select the “best” scenario to be carried into the subsequent meetings.
Initially, the work groups identify factors to consider in forming boundaries, such as identifying contiguous neighborhoods, how to minimize time spent on a school bus, and how to avoid “split feeders,” those elementaries whose students go to different high schools.
FCPS likes to keep children together by high school “pyramid,” the schools’ term for a high school and all the elementaries and middle schools that feed into it.
The problem of creating attendance “islands” has been identified, because FCPS staff wants to eliminate the Westbriar “Island” in the vicinity of Beulah Road and Route 7, where neighborhoods that are within the boundaries of Wesbriar then return to Cooper Middle and Langley High Schools.
Carper’s Farm, Colvin Run and Colvin Forest neighborhoods south of Route 7 are considered by some to be an island, in that they don’t touch other neighborhoods that go to Forestville. In 1995, those neighborhoods were moved from Great Falls to Forestville Elementary when boundaries were adjusted before the opening of Aldrin Elementary in Reston.
It is hoped that the community will reach consensus on boundaries by December of this year, with a public hearing before the School Board in February and a vote later that month.
Official boundaries will be assigned in February, 2003. Some tweaking can follow, subject to variations in enrollment.
“EACH SCHOOL is designating liaisons from the new school to the existing school,” Callahan said. “We need to meet and figure out how we will disseminate information.”
She is gathering a list of email addresses to form the new community.
“We don’t really have formal roles, although people are filling roles,” Callahan said.
“I’m not in a decision-making role. It’s more getting people together, and figuring out who has what talents, and forming new committees
to address the schools’ needs.”
Some neighborhoods on the south side of Route 7 that are now attending Spring Hill have identified themselves as part of the new community, Callahan said.
“We’d love to reach out to the families of pre-schoolers now,” she said, since families with students already in elementary school will get emails.
The meeting was held at Great Falls because “We wanted to get factual information out to parents for the summer, so people weren’t wondering what was going to happen,” said GFES President Lynn Kemmerer.
“So, as people gather at cookouts and by the pool, they won’t be speculating” about what will happen.
Kemmerer said the school will have a family picnic at GFES to kick off the 50th anniversary in Aug. 29, 2002, after open house when kids go and meet their teachers.
A 50th Anniversary Gala will be planned for early spring, 2003, another reminder of the school's age.
To Get Involved:
What: PTA Meeting on Andrew Chapel School Opening and
the Boundary Adjustment Process
When: 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 28
Where: Forestville School PTA
1085 Utterback Store Road
Information: Call 703-404-6000
To volunteer for a committee
Or to be added to email distribution list
Call Nora Callahan, (703) 448-5639
or email: NoraVa@cox.rr.com