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Parents Express Boundary Concerns

n the first of a series of meetings on the school boundaries for Island Creek Elementary School, Laurie Fischer knew what she didn't want for her child, a student at Lane Elementary School one mile from the new school.

"I don't want my son to go to school in a trailer," she said, but knew it was wishful thinking.

Trailers were a concern of many parents, along with busing, school hours, gifted and talented programs, travel distance, busy roads and growth.

Gary Chevalier, director of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) facilities planning services, knew the parents concern when he threw in an extra slide in his presentation entitled, "Trailers for Sale or Rent," borrowed from a line from Roger Miller's song, "King of the Road." He knew not to say anything definite about the trailers though.

"We have a model for our elementary schools, that's as big as our board wants to go. It might have to be accommodated with one or two trailers. We are playing somewhat of a game of catch up," he said.

One parent spoke up from the audience.

"We will continue to be behind if the schools aren't up to the level with the amount of houses the board continues to approve," a man said, referring to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Chevalier's slide show was one half of the Oct. 8 meeting at the Key Middle School before people were broken up into individual groups and filed off to classrooms to hash out some individual concerns. Most of the parents at the meeting had children that attended Lane Elementary but the new school boundary could have a ripple effect on other schools as well.

The school system's method of establishing boundaries was spelled out in a brochure entitled, "Changing School Attendance Areas: A Community Process." Gayle Wood, the FCPS coordinator of education capability, was familiar with the procedure.

"It's been here for a while, it worked with the last several boundary meetings," she said.

Michael Glascoe, assistant superintendent for the Department of Accountability, looked at the successes as well.

"Four years ago was the first time we tried it," and that was with Wakefield High School, Glascoe said, "it worked there."

School Board member Chris Braunlich (Lee) noticed parents' agendas seemed to get established spontaneously once the groups pared off.

"I've noticed it tends to take care of itself," he said.

SOME PARENTS left when it was time to break into the working groups while others went to the rooms without much guidance. In each room, a facilitator, who manned the magic marker and poster paper, recorded the concerns. In room 121, the parents were concerned with travel distance, parental schedules, neighborhood accessibility and splitting neighborhoods.

"They don't like to back up buses in our neighborhood but they do," said one parent.

Over in room 135B, the parents added a few things to their second page of concerns. The parental concerns seemed universal, including crossing boundaries, neighborhood athletic groups and socio-economic factors.

THE SECOND question all the rooms addressed involved specific neighborhoods. Mount Air, Raceway Farms, Kingstowne, Hayfield, Lorton and Landsdowne were a few of the communities discussed. Some are closer to Island Creek than others.

"We want to make sure we're not going to Lorton," said one mother of a new school under construction called at Lorton Station, located across I-95 from Island Creek.

Lorraine Walker, assistant principal at a school in Herndon, acted as facilitator in one of the rooms.

"I like working with the community, I think the process is valid," she said.

After 45 minutes, the groups broke up and the concerns were all posted in the hall for all to see. Debbie Davis, a Raceway Farms resident, looked at the various solutions.

"They're consistent, I think everyone has the same concerns," she said.

Nava Ezra was optimistic. "It's a head start, we can go from there," she said.

Ezra and Davis will definitely be at the second meeting, where Chevalier and school officials will narrow the lists down using the parents input from the first meeting. It will be refined one more time before a public meeting on Feb. 10, at Luther Jackson Middle School and then will be finalized on Feb. 27, also at Jackson. Island Creek is scheduled to be ready for students in September 2003.