Ten times a day, Nikola Tatie hears students at Sugarland Elementary School say to each other, "There's my house. There's my window."
Tatie works as an English as a Second Language (ESL) assistant at Sugarland and has two children attending Horizon Elementary School. "They are walking students. In the staff recommendation, they are being bused," she said in reference to a proposal developed by School District staff that outlines new attendance zones for eastern Loudoun area elementary schools. "I'm a big advocate on locality."
Tatie was one of more than 200 residents who spoke Nov. 21 at the School Board's public hearing in favor of or against the staff's proposed attendance zones. Countryside Elementary School opening in the Countryside development could affect the attendance zones for Algonkian, Horizon, Lowes Island, Meadowland, Potowmack, Sterling and Sugarland elementary schools, depending on the final plan selected. Staff reviewed more than 100 plans submitted by staff, School Board and community members to develop the proposed plan.
THE SPEAKERS had three minutes to explain why they supported the staff's proposal or preferred one of their own, which they named the Community United Plan (CUP), the green plan and the green peace plan. The speakers came from the Sterling area north of Route 7 and live in Broad Run Farms, Countryside, Cascades, Lowes Island, Rivercrest, Great Falls Forest, Great Falls Chase, Mirror Ridge, Sugarland and other neighborhoods.
Mike Wajsgras, who lives in the Quarterpath Trace neighborhood, presented a proposed boundary plan and map developed by a coalition of parents from several developments in eastern Loudoun. Called CUP, the coalition's plan aims to reduce class size and minimize the impact of boundary changes on neighborhoods, while considering the location of the schools and related transportation issues, he said. The plan has one split feeder school into middle schools, compared to the staff plan that creates three split feeder schools.
"We believe strongly that ... this plan satisfies the criteria set forth but in a manner less disruptive to our children and the community at large," Wajsgras said.
John Mehalic, who has children attending Horizon, said his family moved to Loudoun eight years ago for a stable community, but his seventh grader ended up having to switch schools five times.
Mehalic gave his support for the CUP plan. "It's big on community," he said. "It's a real community. The people get involved. The people care about each other."
Marianne Currier also liked the CUP plan. The mother of two daughters, one at Horizon and the second in high school, said she is concerned about the affect the staff proposal would have on communities and neighborhoods. "The school is and should be considered part of the community it serves," she said. "I feel that stable friendships ... and a sense of belonging to a community are important to [my daughter's] development."
Parents who have children at Potowmack Elementary School also spoke in favor of the CUP plan. In the past eight years, the school went through two splits, the last one in 1999 when Horizon opened. "Potowmack Elementary School has finally come together as a community," said Paul Lin, who lives in the attendance zone for the school.
RESIDENTS GAVE their support for two other plans, the green and the green peace plans that community members submitted with maps.
Betsy Moore preferred the green plan for keeping communities together and children in neighborhoods going to the same schools. "My daughter can see Horizon from her bedroom window," she said, adding that she would have a hard time telling her daughter she can no longer attend the school.
Maria Callahan, who lives in the Horizon attendance zone, also liked the green plan for keeping schools below capacity and avoiding busing students who currently walk to school, she said.
"We appreciated the plans out there," said Kristine Bartolomei, who has two children attending Lowes Island Elementary School. "There's not a plan out there that separates us. Thank you for that. I hope it stays that way."
The School Board is scheduled Dec. 10 to adopt the attendance zones for eastern Loudoun area elementary schools for fall 2003. The board will consider speakers' comments before deciding on a final plan.
"It's a very difficult decision for a school board to make," said John Andrews (Broad Run). "You have a lot of people concerned about changing schools. ... I understand the anxiety and the concern."