Laura Douglas will send her 4-year-old daughter to kindergarten at Gunston Elementary next fall with the knowledge that one day, Cassidy will attend the new South County High School in Lorton.
“We swim in the Silverbrook pools, we rent videos over in the Silverbrook video stores,” said Douglas, a resident of Mason Neck. “Now, she’ll be able to go to school with these kids.”
Douglas and other residents of Mason Neck were breathing a sigh of relief as the Fairfax County School Board voted on Thursday, Jan. 27, to approve staff boundary plans for the new high school, located on Silverbrook Road. In addition to passing the staff plan, after several heated exchanges, School Board members voted to pass three amendments to the plan, one of which added more students to the South County High School, and another that will mean over 150 more students will attend West Springfield High.
Board members bickered for over an hour on the amendments, which were proposed and supported by member Daniel Storck (Mount Vernon), whose district includes the new high school. Most significantly, the School Board passed — by a vote of 9-3 — an amendment that will include students from Mason Neck in the attendance area for the new school.
Storck said he proposed the amendment to meet the desires of the residents of Mason Neck, who were vocal in their desire to get in new school.
“A local community school is important to the people I’ve met with,” said Storck. “This is likely the closest high school they’ll ever be able to attend.”
After receiving reportedly thousands of e-mails, and hearing testimony at six public hearings, eight other members agreed with Storck.
“This was the right thing to do for this community,” said at-large member Stephen Hunt.
That amendment will mean that 70 students in Mason Neck, in communities east of Colchester Road, will be eligible to attend the school, a decision that Storck said “would have a limited impact on the student population” at the new school.
Douglas said she appreciated the fact that School Board members listened to her community’s pleas to be included in the boundary plan.
“It was an issue that was brought up in the town meetings, that in addition to time and distance and diversity, that community school was in the top group of what’s important,” she said. “This allows us to start cutting the county down to size.”
IN ADDITION to the students from Mason Neck, the new South County School will open in September with Grades 7-10, and possibly Grade 11, composed of students who attended Halley, Silverbrook, Newington Forest and Lorton Station elementary schools.
The major thorn in the side of School Board members when considering whether to pass Storck’s amendment was Fairfax County staff’s admission that the new school will be nearly over capacity when it opens, and within a few years will certainly be over capacity. Plans to build a middle school on the property are still far down the list in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan.
“The Board will be relieving overcrowding at one school by creating overcrowding at another school,” said Board member Stuart Gibson (Hunter Mill), a vocal opponent of Storck’s Mason Neck amendment.
“Going to the school closest to your house is not the only concept we consider,” he said.
Residents of the South Hunt Valley communities also rejoiced after the School Board meeting. After Fairfax County staff planned to move their students from West Springfield High to Lake Braddock Secondary, the Board members passed another Storck amendment to keep the all South Hunt Valley communities’ students at West Springfield High, at a rate of an additional 40 students per year.
This plan, while well-received from the Hunt Valley parents, did not go over so well with some on the Board.
“West Springfield was never included in the boundary process. Parents in that community are saying, ‘What is going on? We never knew this was going to happen,’” said Board member Cathy Belter (Springfield), who voted against the amendment, along with members Gibson, Brad Center (Lee), Kathy Smith (Sully), and Phillip A. Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence). The remaining seven members voted for the amendment, and it passed.
The passage of the amendments and the staff boundary plan means West Springfield and Lee high schools will both be over capacity next year, while the newly renovated Lake Braddock and Hayfield secondary schools will both be significantly under capacity. By the year 2010, Hayfield is projected to have nearly 2,700 students, 500 students under its capacity, and Lake Braddock will also be nearly 500 students under capacity.
“We are supposed to do what’s best for the most children, not adjust boundaries to keep people at the school closest to their home,” said Gibson.
The Board directed Fairfax County staff to re-examine the boundaries of Braddock, Lee and West Springfield, with the possibility of redrawing those in the near future.
The Board acknowledged its decision will not satisfy all those involved in the four-month process of public hearings leading up to the meeting.
“There was not one solution to make everyone happy and meet everyone’s needs,” said Center.