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South County High: Who Gets In?

The second town hall meeting offers three potential boundary plans.

Gary Chevalier may have offered the most appropriate remark regarding the boundary process for the new south county high school in Lorton when he offered the opening statement at the second town meeting.

"Fasten your seat belts, here we go," said Chevalier, the director of the Office of Facilities Planning Services for Fairfax County Public Schools, as the second of three town meetings dedicated to redrawing the boundaries got under way on Wednesday, Nov. 3, at Hayfield Secondary School.

While the first meeting, which took place in mid-October, solicited general feedback and priorities, the second delved into the nuts and bolts of the boundary process, getting closer to figuring out who’s in, and who’s not. Chevalier presented three plans to a crowd of nearly 1,500 parents and community representatives. As each study was projected onto a screen at the front of the auditorium and was met with a mixture of cheers and boos, the divisions created by boundary meetings became clear.

"Not everybody is going to be happy. Some schools are going to be devastated by this," said Wendy Goldfein of Springfield. "Everybody really wants this."

Goldfein teaches sixth grade and has a student at Newington Forest Elementary, one of the schools at the epicenter of the proposed boundary changes.

Chevalier and his staff drew up the three potential boundary studies based on feedback obtained at the first town meeting in mid-October and enrollment projections. According to Chevalier, the potential enrollment, factoring in all possible elementary schools that could feed the south county high school, is 4,100. Initial enrollment will only be 1,500, and the school’s capacity will be 2,500 students.

THE PURPOSE of the three studies was to present three different ways of redrawing the boundaries, in the hopes that one will be the final plan, or pieces of several become incorporated into a new plan.

"There’s lots of different ways to slice this pie. We’re going to figure it out," said Chevalier.

In the first study, three elementary schools — Halley, Newington Forest and Silverbrook — would feed entirely to the new south county high school, while Hunt Valley would send a portion of its students there. In that study, Lane, Lorton Station and part of Rose Hill would feed Hayfield, and the remainder of the south county feeder system would remain intact. According to Chevalier, West Springfield High School will remain untouched by the process, since it is currently operating nearly at capacity.

In small groups that met for an hour following the main session, parents and concerned citizens were given the chance to debate the pros and cons of each of the three systems. Strong feelings were expressed about each.

"I think it’s a work in progress. They are not perfect, but at least it’s the basics, and we can expand on them later on," said Norberto Garzon, a parent of a Newington Forest student.

Others, like Goldfein, thought that one plan should be carried through and become the final one, as is.

"I hope it’s one of those three. I hope actually it’s No. 1," she said. "I’m hopeful that we suddenly don’t get thrown something else, that the input we’re giving actually is used."

The biggest difference between the first plan and the final two was the inclusion of Gunston and Lorton Station elementary schools. In Plan 2, all of both schools would feed the south county school, while just portions of Newington Forest and Silverbrook would feed into it. Plan 3 divided Lorton Station between two schools, and kept Newington Forest and Silverbrook, along with Halley, which seemed to be the only slam-dunk school to feed the south county school, at this point.

Jackie Mosby, the parent of a Lorton Station student, found it inconceivable that Lorton Station be excluded from any of the plans. After all, she noted, much of the new communities in Lorton Station are nearly walking distance from the new school site.

"We’d like to see the south county neighborhoods go to the south county school," she said. "Lorton Station is less than two miles away from the high school, and we should go somewhere else? It doesn’t make sense."

Clearly, sheer geography isn’t going to decide who gets in. Six elementary schools — Silverbrook, Halley, Newington Forest, Saratoga, Lorton Station and Gunston — all are close enough to warrant a close look, but as Chevalier pointed out, "We don’t have those seats."

Parents from the Saratoga Elementary community are hoping to set up a meeting with Mount Vernon District School Board representative Brad Center.

"We were disappointed that none of the scenarios showed Saratoga in full going to the south county," said Linda Burke, a representative of the Saratoga community. Saratoga currently feeds Lee High School, and Burke said if Saratoga can't get into the south county school, she would hope to switch to feeding Hayfield, as proposed by the second study.

"Most people would prefer to go to either South County or Hayfield. The problem with staying at Lee, the biggest issue is driving," she said.

So, what will happen? The feedback from the second meeting will yield one final plan, which will be presented at the third and final town meeting on Nov. 15, at 7:30 p.m., at Hayfield.