School Board Approves New School Boundaries

School Board Approves New School Boundaries

It is finished. Proposed school boundaries for a new elementary school at the Andrew Chapel site were approved Monday, Mar. 3, by the Fairfax County School board.

“There were no amendments on the Andrew Chapel piece,” said Dranesville School Board Representative Jane Strauss of McLean.

Two at-large board members who had commiserated with Strauss’s constituents about their reassignments, Mychele Brickner and Rita Thompson, “spoke out and said they wished we had done a better job,” Strauss said. But “they had no suggestions on how else to structure it.”

“We are walking away leaving Forestville about three classrooms overcrowded,” she said. “Great Falls will be at capacity, and Andrew Chapel will be full by the time all the grandfathering years are operational. Spring Hill will be a little over capacity.”

Sixth graders will be allowed to complete their elementary school careers at their present schools next year.

Strauss added a caveat, which School Superintendent Daniel Domenech endorsed, that students who reside in the Springvale Road corridor reassigned to Andrew Chapel won’t be on the school bus any more than 45 minutes.

“We have to guarantee that the people in the Springvale Road corridor have a bus ride no more than 45 minutes, or less,” Strauss said. “I talked to the [School Board] superintendent last night, and said I’ve got to make good on this promise,” Strauss said Tuesday.

“He said, yes, we will commit the time and the resources to make good on that promise,” Strauss said.

Right now, the route includes some stops in the Carper’s Farm area south of Route 7 that could delay the bus from Springvale Road, she said. But those problems will be ironed out in practice runs over the summer, Strauss said.

In the morning, when east bound rush hour traffic on Route 7 is particularly heavy, the buses could be slowed as they travel east from Springvale Road to Trap Road, the entrance to the school.

As an alternative route, the buses could travel through central Great Falls and reach Andrew Chapel via Towlston Road, limiting the time they spend on Route 7.

SCHOOL OFFICIALS MADE no changes to Option 5, the system of boundaries that emerged after three community meetings last fall.

Strauss and the at-large members of the School Board got heavy last-minute lobbying from some residents of Fox Run on Springvale Road, the “northern alliance” of residents in the Seneca Road-Beach Mill Road neighborhoods in northwest Great Falls, and Hickory Creek, along Harriman Drive.

Fox Run and Hickory Creek have been reassigned to Andrew Chapel, while the “northern alliance” will be moved from Forestville to Great Falls Elementary.

“All of the unhappiness in Great Falls, especially in Hickory Creek, would disappear if the homes on the southwest side of Route 7, with Reston, Vienna, and Sugarland addresses, and perhaps even some down Georgetown Pike beyond Leigh Mill Road, would be relocated to either Andrew Chapel or any of the other numerous schools (Dranesville, Aldrin, Armstrong, Westbriar, Forest Edge, etc.), on the south/west side of Route 7,” said Hickory Creek resident Maureen Marin, who protested the reassignment to Strauss.

The homeowner association president in Hickory Creek also wrote to Strauss.

But “We did not want to move children from one overcrowded situation where they would be in classroom trailers to another,” Strauss said.

“That, in essence meant if we moved them from Forestville to Great Falls, I thought it would be unfair to place them right back in trailers there,” she said. ”We have to get Great Falls [Elementary] down to capacity and hold it,” she said. “And that affects the Springvale corridor and Hickory Creek.”

“That also affects moving the close-in neighborhoods to Forestville.”

By moving neighborhoods from Forestville to Aldrin, Armstrong, and Dranesville, Strauss said, “we would be placing them in trailers, as well as creating a small split feeder, which is not academically sound.”

The term “split feeder” means that students from one middle school go on to different high schools. Aldrin and Armstrong Elementaries feed into the Herndon High School pyramid, while Great Falls and Forestville feed into Langley High.

The new school at Andrew Chapel will feed into Langley also, except for a small number from the Middleton neighborhood and other Route 7 neighborhoods, who will attend McLean High.

STRAUSS OBSERVED THAT opinions differ as to who is considered a “close-in” community.

At Great Falls, Strauss said, the close-in neighborhoods are “basically those communities that were directly surrounding [the school] and those at the upper end of Walker Road. Those are people who really consider themselves part of downtown Great Falls,” she said.

School officials consider the Ascot and Bishops Gate neighborhoods, with Reston addresses, and Riva Ridge, Fox Vale, and Lockmeade in Great Falls as “close-in” to Forestville.

But some Hickory Creek residents, and others, think Ascot and Bishops Gate, almost directly opposite Forestville’s location on Utterback Store Road, and others south of Route 7 should be moved to Andrew Chapel.

“The only other way to bring Forestville down to capacity would have been to do an even greater domino effect. It not would not be fair to strip their immediate communities” away from the attendance area, Strauss said.

“If we were to go back to Forestville and bring their numbers back down, the alternatives were not good,” Strauss said. “There would be an even bigger domino effect that would have also impacted Great Falls.”

“I think we have arrived at the best balance we can,” she said.

PTA leaders from each of the schools are gearing up to receive and welcome new students to their communities, Strauss said.

“The Great Falls Elementary School community has plans to welcome the children they will receive from Forestville.

“We are certainly hoping the parents moving into the new schools will volunteer to join the PTA boards and become leaders in their new schools, to insure that the instruction [their children] will receive will be of the highest quality,” Strauss said.

ALTHOUGH SOME PARENTS object to reassignment to Great Falls because they like Forestville’s “Core Knowledge” program of studies, Strauss said the state’s new Standards of Learning overlap the goals of Core Knowledge.

“Core Knowledge is not a curriculum, it just lays out the topics to be covered at each grade level, just as the SOLs do,” Strauss said.

“The SOLs were based in large part on the grade-by-grade topics.”

“At Forestville, the teachers did a lot of work in developing exciting activities and projects around the Core Knowledge subject areas,” she said.

“As we go forward, if there are interesting and exciting activities, I would hope that information could be shared,” she said. “We are all required to follow the SOLs.”

“Those people leaving Great Falls feel that is an outstanding school,” Strauss said. “They don’t feel Great Falls has any shortcomings in the curriculum.

“We have outstanding programs in all our schools,” said Strauss.

The process of changing boundaries, she said “does provide a mixing bowl opportunity to share good ideas in all the communities.

“As people move around, they become a leaven in their new school to share good ideas among PTAs. “There will also be faculty moving.

“Andrew Chapel will be hiring a whole new faculty,” she said.

Asked if she was relieved that the lengthy process of establishing boundaries is over, Strauss said “Oh! You don’t know!

“I just turned on my email , and it didn’t sizzle,” she said.

Strauss said that since the School Board decided on the Andrew Chapel site a little more than a year ago, “I have not heard from” the Great Falls Concerned Citizens Association, organized two years ago to influence the site selection process.

In the fall, Strauss, a Democrat, will run for her third term on the School Board. She also served as an appointed representative during the 1990s.