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Forest Edge GT Center Spared, Sort Of

Proposed Boundary Changes Lessen Potential Damage

The idea behind proposed boundary adjustments for selected existing gifted and talented (GT) centers and the addition of six new centers next year throughout the county was to alleviate overcrowding.

Last Thursday, Jan. 23, the schools staff introduced its boundary adjustment plans for the four new elementary schools and the six GT centers coming on line next school year.

Under the plan, Forest Edge Elementary, which is currently the largest GT center in the county with a center enrollment of 406, will be reduced to 295 students and could drop further to 282 students by the 2007-08 school year.

While many parents would be glad to see enrollment figures drop, easing overcrowding, some feel the plan will decimate not only the program, but the school overall.

"I don't think any of us like the overcrowding. We're not trying to keep a large center," said Jeannie Johns, the parent of a Forest Edge GT center third grader. "We are just trying to keep two classes per grade, which is healthier for every school."

Johns said a coalition of parents has come together to lobby the county to maintain at least two classes per grade level and to slow down the opening of the new centers if that goal is unattainable come September.

UNDER THE PROPOSAL, Forest Edge, located in Reston, would be impacted by two new centers — the Andrew Chapel site located in Vienna and Clearview in Herndon. Currently, 10 elementary schools feed into the Forest Edge center. The proposal drops that number to four — Aldrin in Reston, Armstrong in Reston, Lake Anne in Reston and Forest Edge.

Proposed to leave the Forest Edge center will be students from the Great Falls and a portion of the Andrew Chapel attendance areas, who will be shifted Andrew Chapel. In addition, GT students from Clearview, Dranesville in Herndon, Hutchison in Herndon are to attend the new Clearview center. Students in the Forestville, located in Great Falls, attendance area were also originally to be moved to Andrew Chapel, but a portion of those students will now remain at Forest Edge, if the proposal is approved.

"The original proposal had lots of schools peeling off. It was really a severe impact," said Ginny Lorenc, whose son's base school is Aldrin, but attends the Forest Edge GT center. "Even though the new proposal is not ideal, it is better."

Still there is concern that shrinking Forest Edge will have educational and social impacts for the overall school.

Johns said if the center is too small, GT classes may have to become split classes, meaning teachers may have students from more than one grade level in one classroom. That could mean teachers will have to develop a lesson plan for both grades and find a way to teach both while only occupying one room. The GT centers also tend to have programs, such as the Math Olympics, that benefit the entire school population. Some parents fear that if the center is reduced, there will not be enough support to keep the special programs going.

THE REDUCTION will also result in a financial burden for the families left behind at Forest Edge, which is located near a low-income housing community, because the GT parents heavily support the school's PTA.

"There are other things that will happen that are very sad for the neighborhood. Without the GT center students, the local poverty level is [high], so what will happen if a majority of the GT students are gone? Their parents are going too and the PTA will suffer," said Elyse Camozzo, whose child's base school is Forestville, but attends the Forest Edge center. "These families don't have the $5 to give to the PTA for a T-shirt, which means the kids won't have the opportunity to go on field trips or have a concert at their school. These things are paid for by the PTA. I think the burden and wealth should be shared."

School Board member Stuart Gibson (Hunter Mill) also shares the community's concerns over the proposed boundary changes.

"What happens when you take out a fair number of well-to-do kids to the needy population? Forest Edge has a fairly high mobility, has a high ESOL [English speakers of Other Languages] population, and high poverty," Gibson said.

Nancy Sprague, assistant superintendent for Instructional Services, said staff is looking at programs that could be implemented at Forest Edge to offset the loss of GT students, among the possibilities are Project Excel and Success by 8, both of which provide additional support to raise achievement.

"There are several programs that can help that school," Sprague said. "We can meet with the principal and PTA and start that process right away."

The School Board will hold public hearings on all the proposed boundary changes Feb. 10, and Feb. 11 and 27 as needed, beginning at 7 p.m., at Luther Jackson Middle School, 3020 Gallows Road, Falls Church. A work session will be held Feb. 24 at the Burkholder Center, 10700 Page Ave., Fairfax. The board is expected to approve the final changes Feb. 27, beginning at 7:30 p.m., also at Jackson.