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West Springfield On the Brink

The amendment that would add 160 students to West Springfield High's attendance goes before the School Board Thursday.

The number of West Springfield High School students could go up by 200, if an amendment involving the new South County High School passes the Fairfax County School Board on Thursday.

Although West Springfield High was not originally included in any plans presented by Fairfax County Public Schools staff for the new high school, located in Lorton and opening in September, an amendment proposed by School Board members Daniel Storck (Mount Vernon) and Stephen Hunt (At-large) would send approximately 160 students over the next four years to West Springfield, instead of sending them to Lake Braddock Secondary, as was the original plan.

The School Board is scheduled to vote on the final boundary plan at its meeting Thursday, Jan. 27 at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church.

The West Springfield add-on, one of three amendments proposed by Storck and Hunt, was the topic of a pair of public meetings this week. The first, an informational session with director of facilities planning Gary Chevalier, took place on Monday in the West Springfield auditorium.

"We had the meeting to at least give them an opportunity to listen to what Mr. Chevalier had to say, and try to get them to understand that we knew they weren’t in the boundary process, but the amendment was put forward which opened it up,” said School Board member Cathy Belter (Springfield), who has been outspoken in her opposition to the amendment.

UNDER THE AMENDMENT, 40 students per year, beginning with the freshman class of 2005, from the South Hunt Valley area would be redirected to West Springfield High School. The area referred to as South Hunt Valley comprises neighborhoods south of the Fairfax County Parkway and east of Pohick Road, including the Middle Valley and Scarborough communities. The students in these neighborhoods — which are located in the Mount Vernon magisterial district — currently attend Hunt Valley Elementary School and Irving Middle School, but are split between West Springfield and Lee High Schools. The amendment would send all students to West Springfield.

Because West Springfield is currently slightly over its capacity, Belter said adding more students would not benefit the 40+-year old high school.

“Our concern had been that West Springfield is at capacity and slightly over. This building can only take so many students in its condition," said Belter. "It’s nothing against the folks in South Hunt Valley. They’re really trying to do the best they can for their kids, and we’d love to have them all here, but will we be able to accommodate them all if the board decides they want to go that way?"

West Springfield has a capacity of 2,225 students, and is projected — before the amendment — to have an attendance of 2,244 next fall. If the amendment passes, the attendance would jump to nearly 2,400 by 2009, when all grade levels would be added.

PARENTS AND STUDENTS from South Hunt Valley urged the School Board at a Tuesday night public hearing to pass the amendment, saying it is important to keep friends together through high school.

"[My children] feel they have the right to attend a high school that keeps them with the majority of the children they have grown up with and gone to school with through the eighth grade," said Pam Pike, a South Hunt Valley resident and mother of three.

Andrew Shands, an eighth grade student at Irving Middle, said he has made friends with other children in his sports teams and in his youth group. But when he attends high school next year, he will go to a separate school than most of his friends because he is a South Hunt Valley resident and they live on the north side.

"I have made a lot of friends," he said. "Unfortunately, I will go to high school with almost none of them."

Because Hunt Valley Elementary is a split feeder school, the community has been divided since the boundary was set 20 years ago, said Hunt Valley resident Bob Norrell.

"My South Hunt Valley neighbors and children are cut off from the rest of my community by a school boundary," he said. "This boundary was wrong when it was drawn and it is wrong today."

Several parents also pointed out that the high percentage of military families in the area makes creating friendships difficult enough. By splitting the students at the high school level, it becomes even tougher.

BUT SOME OTHERS who already live in the West Springfield district said the added students from South Hunt Valley would cause increased overcrowding and require more classes to be taught in trailers.

"The School Board will create a problem rather than solve one by approving this amendment," said Francine Picoult, mother of two children who attend West Springfield Elementary.

The point of the new South County High School is to reduce overcrowding, several residents said, and adding more students to West Springfield High School seems counter to that goal.

The staff-recommended attendance plan for the new South County High School would draw students from Halley, Silverbrook and Newington Forest Elementary Schools and some students from Lorton Station Elementary, to the property of the former correctional facility in Lorton. An additional amendment by Storck and Hunt would involve sending students from Mason Neck who attend Gunston Elementary to the new school.