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Amendments Alter Boundary Plan

Eleventh-hour changes would add students to Lake Braddock and West Springfield high schools.

It’s just over two weeks away from the Fairfax County School Board's vote on the final boundaries for the new South County high school in Lorton, and those boundaries are anything but solid.

Three amendments introduced by School Board member Daniel Storck (Mount Vernon) at last week's work session have altered the original plan that the Board was to vote on at its Jan. 27 meeting.

"There were several communities which were still negatively impacted, and [their needs] not fully addressed," said Storck, whose district includes the new South County High School, which is scheduled to open in September.

Storck, along with at-large School Board member Stephen Hunt, plans to present these three amendments to the School Board for a vote on Jan. 27.

The first amendment would involve changing the schools that Hunt Valley Elementary, located in Springfield, ultimately feeds. Currently, students at Hunt Valley attend Irving Middle School, and either West Springfield or Lee high school. The boundary study from FCPS staff plans calls for the portion of students that currently feed West Springfield — about 65 percent — to instead attend Lake Braddock Secondary, with the remainder to attend Lee. This was done, according to Gary Chevalier, director of the FCPS Office of Facility Planning Services, to address overcrowding at West Springfield, while taking advantage of the space to be gained by the current renovations at Lake Braddock.

"As we looked at it, West Springfield was either at or somewhat over their capacity. We didn't feel we had an opportunity to add more students there," said Chevalier.

Storck said, however, that after hearing testimony from Hunt Valley parents, specifically those from the Middle Valley area, he believed their situation needed to be changed.

"After the middle-school level, they're separated from the other kids and sent to Lee," he said, about the roughly 35 percent of students in the southern portion of the Hunt Valley area. "It's keeping them together, and not having split feeders."

STORCK AND HUNT'S plan would mean sending about 40 students per class, or over 150 more students, to West Springfield High School, than suggested by the proposal currently before the School Board, as recommended by Fairfax County staff in the Office of Facility Planning Services.

School Board representative Cathy Belter (Springfield) said she is a little disturbed by these new developments.

"West Springfield was not part of it, and all of a sudden we're finding ourselves in a situation that shouldn't have been happening," said Belter. "My concern is how much space do we have at West Springfield to put a large number of students in?"

According to Storck, West Springfield might be over capacity, but it would be worth it.

"It's not preferred, but the way I have to look at it, and the way Board members should look at it, is that we're trying to have a neighborhood school. They would be slightly over capacity, but if population declines over time, they might end up being under capacity."

A public hearing for those wishing to address the issue surrounding West Springfield High is set for Tuesday, Jan. 25, at 6 p.m., at Jackson Middle School. Those wishing to participate in the public hearing should call the School Board office at 703-246-3646 beginning Wednesday, Jan. 12. Office hours are 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. The speakers list will close on Monday, Jan. 24, at 4:30 p.m. Speakers must address their presentation to the stated purpose of this specific public hearing.

"I want the community to have the opportunity to speak out, and to be aware of what's going on," said Belter.

The second amendment introduced by Storck and Hunt would add students from the Mason Neck community, who currently attend Gunston Elementary, into the list of feeder schools for the South County high school.

Under the current proposal, all of Silverbrook, Halley and Newington Forest elementary schools, along with portions of Lorton Station Elementary, would feed the South County high school, which will open as a secondary school, likely grades 7-11, in September.

Storck said when considering the plans, he vowed to be open and honest, and after speaking with residents of Mason Neck, he concluded that including a portion of the Mason Neck community, approximately 70 high school students who live east of Route 1, could be feasibly allowed into the new school.

"It's about a community school. They have not had a community school, and this was their best opportunity to have [one]," said Storck. "It's about enabling families to be a part of their school activities."

Chevalier said the proposal his staff endorsed set enrollment for the first year at 2,530 students. Adding those extra students would add to the overcrowding headaches that he said would be inevitable until a south county middle school is built, likely 10 years down the road.

"At some point in time, the school's going to have to deal with being a little over capacity," said Chevalier. "The question is how much and how long."

THE THIRD AMENDMENT would allow students who wish to participate in Gifted and Talented (GT) programs from Lorton Station Elementary to attend Lake Braddock Secondary for their GT classes.

The addition of new students does not sit well with parents who were already concerned about overcrowding at the South County high school, including those in the Silverbrook and Crosspointe communities.

Liz Bradsher, a parent and activist who was involved in lobbying for the public/private partnership that built the new school, said she believes the boundary change amendments are bad business because they set a dangerous precedent to open boundary plans at the 11th hour.

"[This amendment] is coming about after staff has done their studies and supported them with statistics," said Bradsher. "Had we known they could open school boundaries like that, we would never have fought for this school."

Bradsher said she plans to lead the charge to deny the amendments, on the basis that they will lead to overcrowding at the new school, and not properly utilize the space created by renovations to Hayfield.

"He is overloading the boundaries to the detriment of the core schools. He's depleting the capacity situation at Hayfield. He has no intention to fill Mount Vernon," said Bradsher. "This school is going to be so over capacity it's not going to be funny."

Storck said he believes he has the support of enough School Board members to pass all three amendments and hopes that once they are passed, the Board and county staff can set to work getting a middle school in Lorton built ahead of the current timetable established by the county's Capital Improvement Program.