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Votes

Full House at First Boundary Meeting

Meeting Size Prompts Changes in Location for Next Meetings

Changes to Upcoming Town Meetings:

• Nov. 18 – Langley High School

• Dec. 4 – McLean High School

Both will start at 7:30 p.m.

The auditorium at Langley High School filled to its capacity of 750 last week as Fairfax County Public Schools Director of Facilities Planning Gary Chevalier initiated the process of drawing boundaries for a new 36-room elementary school that will be filled with children from Great Falls and McLean next fall.

At the same time, Chevalier introduced to the community a new process for establishing boundaries inspired in part by the acrimony of the 1994 process that left lasting bitterness among some former neighbors in Great Falls.

So far, so good, if the facilitated classroom sessions at Langley last week are any indication.

With Langley’s auditorium filled to capacity, an angry crowd could have been difficult for school officials to manage.

Instead, packets of information were handed to each person who entered. Inside was a number assigning them to a smaller classroom session of about 20 people.

That ensured random assignments, and prevented like-minded parents from forming into packs to push their neighborhood’s cause.

The parents were given instructions:

“We want you to brainstorm. What are those considerations?

What do you feel is the best way to do this?

“Your rationale is very important, because it gives the facilities planners insight into your thought process.

“A facilitator will record your thoughts exactly as you want them recorded.”

THEIR CROWD PSYCHOLOGY was clear, and it worked. With individuals assigned to groups randomly, they were forced to listen to other points of view.

In the small classroom meetings, each individual was asked to express an opinion, whether or not they had loud voices and an assertive manner.

Facilitators asked questions that were divided into genres, first asking parents what considerations should be taken into account and then, asking for specific suggestions for neighborhoods.

Thus, school officials took a passive rather than active role.

In the Aldrin boundary process in 1994, neighborhoods sometimes reacted with outrage when a “scenario” for new boundaries presented by school officials didn’t work to their advantage.

This year, however, school officials put forward no suggestions at all, insisting that parents know best what will work in particular neighborhoods.

As the central meeting broke up, groups of parents went into rooms where facilitators asked each of them to comment, one at a time.

The parents were promised that their opinions would be faithfully copied and put up on the “www:FCPS.edu” web site for public review.

Thus the opinions of shy introverts emerged along with the views of people who were opinionated, strong-willed, and practiced in the art of getting their way.

Several individuals said that by the time the facilitator asked for their comments, their viewpoints had already been expressed.

That didn’t satisfy everyone, but it did eliminate rancor.

However, several parents said they had not been given enough information to make informed recommendations.

“How can we sort of blindly draw some lines?” asked one of the parents.

Chevalier asked her to “Identify some areas that you think would made sense, based on your knowledge. We will go back and put some numbers to that,” he said.

“I am trying to avoid having every community here submit a plan.”

“We are not talking about any middle or high school changes. This is simply an elementary boundary adjustment.”

SOME PARENTS did not buy into the system.

“I can’t believe, as a former engineer, that we’re sitting here saying all this when it has already been decided,” said one man. “We all get massaged a little bit, so we feel better when we go home.”

Instead, he told facilitator in his classroom, “Give us the plan right now. Let us see if we can massage the edges. We need the demographic information per subdivision.”

“I don’t understand the reality of this, when we don’t have the numbers for any neighborhoods. If you really want us to have input, give us the information so we can have the input,” said another parent.

Most of the suggestions by parents made sense; some were even self-evident. “If a child or parent can walk to a school, they should be allowed to attend that school,” said one man.

“No child should have to drive past his or her existing school to get to the new school,” said another.

“Leave room to grow. Don’t staff immediately to capacity.”

“Consider friendships from elementary school to middle school. It’s so lonely when you go to a new school,” said a woman with a very soft voice.

“Consider the value of property. Everyone seems to be dancing around the issue,” said a man with an accent. “We moved into the area because of the education. Good education comes from money.”

AS IT DID IN 1994, Route 7 became the focal point for some parents who believe that the simplest solution would be to send everyone “south of 7” to the new school at Andrew Chapel and everyone else to Great Falls and Forestville.

“I would think the neighborhoods south of Route 7 are obvious candidates” for assignment to the school at Andrew Chapel, said one of them.

“South of 7 are not obvious candidates,” countered another. “Some neighborhoods are right across from Forestville.”

“Neighborhoods south of Route 7 should not -- underline the not -- should not be reassigned to the new school unless they are closer to the new school,” said one of them.

Tim Thompson, who lives in one of the three neighborhoods that became known as “the three C’s” in the 1993 boundary process, said he will be happy with a reassignment to Andrew Chapel as long as his neighborhood stays in the Langley High School pyramid.

“I don’t care, as long as I’ve got Cooper and Langley,” he said.

School officials have kept their promise to the three neighborhoods which moved from Great Falls to Forestville Elementary in 1994 — Colvin Run, Colvin Forest, and Carper’s Farm — that they would not be moved again for at least five years. In 2003, it will have been nine years since they were moved, Thompson said.

“A lot of the people south of Route 7 should be a consideration” said another. “Why isn’t Aldrin [Elementary] on the list? You brought people in from Aldrin before, and now we’re stuck,” she said.

“Why can’t we go back to 1992, before all these boundaries were changed?

“You could do it on geographic distance from each school,” suggested another.

One couple suggested north-south divisions that would create three zones in Great Falls: Utterback Store Road, Walker Road, and River Bend Road.

JAN PASCOE, who was Spring Hill Elementary’s liaison to the Fairfax County School board during preliminary meetings to adjust boundaries, saw that as a ruse.

“Don’t see it as a dumping point. It’s not like you’re trying to get rid of people so they’re cleared out of where you want to be. That’s not putting community first,” she said.

“We don’t see that there is a horrible side, no matter what happens,” said Elizabeth Trumbull of Great Falls Elementary School, who lives on the other side of the street from the Spring Hill Elementary attendance area.

Diane McConnell, who lives in a new subdivision adjacent to Forestville Elementary School, brought her five week-old baby, McKean, to the meeting. Although her neighborhood is unlikely to be changed to another school, she came to the meeting "to see what’s going on,” she said.

McConnell also has two older children, ages six and three years.