Last Andrew Chapel Boundary Falls Short

Last Andrew Chapel Boundary Falls Short

Parents in some neighborhoods are upset that their children will be moved

Boundary Option Five, as it has become known, comes so close.

As its name suggests, it is the fifth iteration of the months-long effort by Fairfax Public Schools Facilities Planning Services to define the attendance area for a new elementary school at the Andrew Chapel site on Towlston Road south of Route 7.

The school will have 36 classrooms and a G/T Center. It will be a close neighbor of the new Center for Education at Wolf Trap, which will open on May 17.

The new center at Wolf Trap will administer programs for distance learning and offer workshops and seminars for teachers, students and parents.

“We definitely plan to be an active part of the community and want to make sure local teachers will be able to make full use of the facility and come for field trips,” said Danette Wills, director of media relations for the Wolf Trap Foundation.

But despite the perks that are offered by a state-of-the-art new school, even one that is located down the street from the nation’s only national park for the performing arts, some parents in Great Falls are still unhappy about their new attendance assignments.

They say the FCPS plan does not use space efficiently, and impacts negatively on their neighborhoods, disrupting their children’s sense of place.

GREAT FALLS Elementary School is the focus of two groups that are still unhappy after five boundary proposals.

Residents in one group of about 10 homes off Springvale Road south of Georgetown Pike are unhappy about leaving Forestville Elementary. They’ve been reassigned to the new school at Andrew Chapel.

The other group, a neighborhood of about 30 houses on the north end of Seneca Road, is unhappy because it must move from Forestville Elementary and to Great Falls Elementary.

Although both neighborhoods can reach their newly-assigned schools without driving on Route 7, parents say their children will be torn away from play dates, religious schools, and baseball games to be bused to another school.

“They have severed us from our natural community,” said one parent who lives on Seneca Road.

“We love Forestville’s core knowledge program. It is not logical [to move to Great Falls Elementary,” she said.

Jane Strauss, Dranesville District’s representative to the Fairfax County School Board, said revised option four, also known as option five, “hits the numbers targets pretty much right-on.

“The other thing I am pleased with, in the final proposal, is that the domino effect is smaller than we had originally anticipated.

We have been able to get enough movement directly into Andrew Chapel.

"There is a large enough group coming from Forestville to Great Falls. For those people who pretty much figured they are going to move, they wanted a critical mass."

TO KEEP OVERCROWDING at a minimum after the changes take effect this fall, the School Board will consider revising the leniency of its policy on out-of-boundary placements, Strauss said. There are 30 such “pupil placements” at Great Falls Elementary, plus another 40 enrolled in the Japanese language immersion program, in which children study for half the day speaking only in Japanese, according to Strauss.

Typically, schools that offer language immersion programs see a high rate of attrition, which can reduce enrollment dramatically by the time student reach sixth grade.

That impacts on staffing, since schools are required to achieve a minimum average class size of 27 - 1 in a regular classroom.

At Great Falls, the sixth grade class in Japanese immersion has about 15 students.

Some move away with their families, and some move into the center-based program for gifted and talented students in third grade.

“There is always attrition because no one can come in” after the first grade,” said Lynn Kemmerer, president of the Great Falls Elementary PTA. “We lose a lot of kids to G/T in the third grade, and we lose anyone who moves.”

But although each school with a language immersion program such as French, Spanish, or Japanese is assigned one additional classroom teacher and two extra assistants, “It is not a costly program” to administer, Strauss said.

At the outset of the boundary process, FCPS officials asked residents of Great Falls if they wanted to move Japanese immersion out of the community to create more room at the school for local residents, she said.

The answer came back that the program is “an important part of the Great Falls. Parents did not want to lose it,” Strauss said.

“We are driving towards the 2007 boundaries. We do need to maximize the seats we have and try to bring down overcrowding, with that date as the target."

Sixth graders will be “grandfathered” -- they will remain at their present schools regardless of where their neighborhoods are assigned in the fall.

“We will get Great Falls down to, or just below, their capacity by 2007,” Strauss said, “since it is the oldest school, with the smallest core.

“At Forestville, we will probably have to continue to use the three interior classrooms that were revised some years ago,” said Strauss. “We may have to modify the pod [common] areas.”

But if we take a look at those 3 additional classrooms, she said, enrollment, would be “a little over, but pretty close.”

“Spring Hill will be a little over [enrolled].

ALDRIN AND ARMSTRONG Elementary Schools, both located just south of Route 7, will be short of classrooms by 2007, Strauss said.

But some Great Falls parents say they are under their capacities and have pressed school officials to move several neighborhoods on the south side of Route 7, including the Sugarland Road area, from Forestville Elementary into Aldrin and Armstrong.

“We still believe those facilities have not borne the development of the last 10 years along Route 7,” said one Forestville parent who lives on Seneca Road.

“The community of Great Falls bears the burden of overcrowding in Herndon and Reston. Everyone is shoved into the Langley pyramid.”

Both Aldrin, in Reston, and Armstrong, in Herndon, serve special needs children in the northeastern part of the county, including Great Falls, said Strauss. “That is where they go. They need to be close to their neighborhoods, and if we move them, I am not sure where they would go,” she said.

Aldrin educates 66 children with special needs, according to the school registrar. Many of them live in Great Falls, said Strauss.

Aldrin has three preschool programs, both a.m. and p.m., for students with disabilities; a preschool autistic program that occupies one classroom; and room for children with physical disabilities who are confined to wheelchairs. Some have catheters or are immobile.

Schools that accommodate children with special needs are allocated more floor space for special equipment and therapy.

“It is my understanding that we will grow by a number of classrooms over the next few years,” said Aldrin’s Assistant Principal, Marty Marinoff.

“We have no room at the present moment. Every possible bit of space is being used for instructional purposes, either special ed or regular ed,” he said.

Armstrong Elementary has a program for children with emotional disabilities.

ONE PARENT who lives on Seneca Road asked that her name be withheld from publication because she fears retaliation from school officials. “We have been lobbying fairly heavily,” she said, to no avail.

She and other parents say they have compared the square footage of the schools south of Route 7 with those in Great Falls, and believe the space could be used more efficiently.

“This is not a proper use of county resources,” she said. “The narrow focus on Forestville and Great Falls Elementaries has eliminated the South-of-Route-7 schools” from consideration.

Several parents say school officials have avoided meeting with them, or haven’t returned emails.

“They are tearing apart Great Falls and busing students down Route Seven to save some room for [new residents at Tysons Corner],” alleged one parent who did not want to be named.

“We are being cattle traded. We have gone through the [boundary] process and written our School Board representative. She is not representing us.

“Everything we have said makes no difference. It makes you wonder if the good of our children means anything at all.

“We don’t think we’ve gotten a good boundary decision.”

STRAUSS SAID she has met with the parents on Seneca Road who don’t want to leave Forestville.

“I met with them, and I have answered the group emails at least once,” Strauss said.

“If these people want to stay at Forestville, that leaves Forestville too overcrowded. Then what do we do to bring the overcrowding down?

"The folks that are on the northern boundary between Great Falls and Forestville [attendance areas] are about four miles from Forestville and five miles from Great Falls.

“Their concern is they would really rather stay at Forestville. They don’t want to drive down Beach Mill Road to go to Great Falls Elementary.”

“WE WARMLY WELCOME the families coming to Great Falls from Forestville next year,” Kemmerer said. “We are excited to make new friends.”

But even as Great Falls excitedly prepares for its 50th anniversary celebration this spring, she said, “There is an adjustment just learning what the school is about.”

As they prepare for a big change in the lives of their children, Kemmerer postulated, parents who are leaving, as well as those moving in, experience a process similar to the five stages of grief that were identified by sociologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

“Up until [Boundary] Option Four, they didn’t think this whole school boundary thing affected their lives,” Kemmerer said. “They’re just now experiencing those emotions. And that is reasonable.”

“THE FORESTVILLE BOUNDARIES are the same they have been for 20 years,” Strauss said. “It isn’t as though some developer got into Forestville under the table.

“We have been moving some of the vacant land out, to try to stem the tide, she said.

The boundary process has raised, if not answered, questions about how communities decide who will attend which school.

“Who has a greater right on a certain school?” Strauss asked rhetorically. “That is where the boundary decisions begin and end. That is part of the debate.

“Is it based by address, or when you arrive?

“Until 1994, when Aldrin Elementary opened its doors, all of Forestville School’s attendance area was in the Herndon High School “pyramid,” she said.

After leaving Forestville, students went on to Herndon Middle and Herndon High School.

When Aldrin opened, they were moved into the Langley High School pyramid, a greater distance away. Cooper Middle is the intermediate school.

“They are very clear,” Strauss said. “They do not want to go back into the Herndon.”

In the five-year capital improvement plan now under consideration, FCPS has proposed a 16-classroom permanent addition at Langley which will cost $6.7 million.

Voters will be asked to approve it in this year’s bond referendum. That will accommodate a bulge in the population at Langley that is expected in about five years, Strauss said.