Hunters Woods Elementary School was already feeling a little cramped with the renovation project going on at the school. But when the school saw a jump in its gifted and talented (GT) center program this year, the facility reached the point where it could no longer handle one more student, let alone the 140 new students identified for the center. The school's general education enrollment this school year is 940 students and with the increase, its GT center program doubled to more than 350 students.
"All of our third and fourth grades are in trailers because of the renovations. We have 12 trailers already," said Stephen Hockett, principal at Hunters Woods. "There was no where else to put more trailers."
So the decision was made to move the five (GT) third grades to an annex set up at Dogwood Elementary. From 8:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m., the GT third-graders are in trailers at Dogwood and then return to Hunters Woods for so-called "specials," such as music, physical education, arts and science classes.
In an effort to ease the overcrowding at existing gifted and talented centers and to keep students closer to their base schools, the Fairfax County Public Schools Instructional Services staff, along with the school system's Gifted and Talented Advisory Committee, has proposed the creation of seven new centers, including at two Herndon-area schools: Clearview and Oak Hill elementary schools.
As a result, the boundary areas for several existing GT centers will be adjusted for the next school year. A minimum of two boundary meetings will be scheduled for each of the proposed centers.
UNDER THE PROPOSAL, Clearview Elementary will most likely draw students from Dranesville, Clearview, Hutchison and Herndon elementary schools, who are currently traveling to the Forest Edge GT center. The proposed center at Oak Hill would draw its students from McNair, Floris, Fox Mill, Lees Corner and Oak Hill. Currently, the students from these schools feed into the centers at Forest Edge, Hunters Woods and Greenbriar West.
In addition, some students currently attending the centers at Forest Edge, Hunters Woods and Sunrise Valley from other base schools, are under a proposal to attend schools closer to their communities. Altogether, new centers are proposed for Clearview, Oak Hill, Providence, Riverside and Mosby Woods elementary, and at two of the four elementary schools under construction now, the Andrew Chapel site and the Lorton Station site.
The adjusted boundaries are scheduled to be approved by the School Board in February, with the changes initially affecting third- and fourth-graders only.
"We tried to look out five years," said Nancy Sprague, assistant superintendent of instructional services. "We will invite all the base schools involved and invite all the centers involved [to the attendance-area meetings]."
All of the new centers, with the exception of Riverside, will open with no less than 24 students per grade level and will draw from at least three schools. The proposal, said Sprague, was sparked by the increasing number of students being identified for the centers and to eliminate the need for trailers to accommodate those students.
"The current third grade really caused overcrowding at some sites," Sprague said. "[By initially transitioning third and fourth grades] I think we can sort out the overcrowding more quickly."
SHEILA BERTRAND, principal at Clearview, for one is looking forward to the challenge of opening a new center.
"I'm very excited about it," she said. "It's not just great for Clearview, but for the entire Herndon pyramid."
The GT students at Clearview and Oak Hill will continue to attend the middle-school center they would have gone to before any changes. For the Clearview-center students that is Hughes Middle and for the Oak Hill-center students that is Carson Middle.
Bertrand said the effort to keep students "closer to home" will benefit all the schools in the local pyramid system.
"I have some parents who don't send their children to the Forest Edge center. They leave them in Clearview because they don't want to send them on the long bus ride," she said. "I think it's wonderful. I don't see a negative."
She also said Clearview has the room to accommodate the new students, although she will now need to hire certified GT teachers.
"My philosophy is you give every child what he or she needs," Bertrand said. "The children at the centers have some things that are unique to them, but there will be spill over [for the entire school]. I see it as a benefit for all the children in Herndon."