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Backing Off Boundary Changes

School Board will now consider only changing the boundaries of four, split-feeder elementary schools.

A large-scale boundary overhaul in the West Springfield, Lee and Lake Braddock pyramids is off the table.

Members of the Fairfax County School Board agreed at a work session on Monday, July 11 that staff recommendations to limit a boundary study to only addressing "split-feeder" elementary schools was the best course of action.

"It will be very limited in scope. While we don't vote at work sessions, had there been strong overwhelming opposition, we would have found some way to not make this happen. We felt we needed to move forward," said board member Tessie Wilson (Braddock), chair of the board's Facilities Committee.

With the board's approval, plans will move forward to conduct town meetings this fall to examine the boundaries of the three schools. That examination, however, will be limited to what can be done with boundaries to elementary schools that feed more than one secondary or high school.

"We’re just looking at a study … that will probably focus on the split-feeders at West Springfield, and to what degree we need to work with some of those to help out with the enrollment, the overcapacity," said Gary Chevalier, director of facilities planning for FCPS.

According to Chevalier, the study will focus on four elementary schools that are split-feeders, meaning they send their students to two different high schools — West Springfield, Rolling Valley, Keene Mill and Sangster elementary schools. At each school, the majority of students head to one school, while a small percentage head to another. Most West Springfield Elementary students end up at West Springfield High, but approximately 90 attend Lee. The same is true at Rolling Valley. While the majority of students at Keene Mill attend West Springfield, approximately 50 or 60 attend Lake Braddock Secondary. At Sangster, the majority attend Lake Braddock, but approximately 90 attend West Springfield.

THE SCHOOL BOARD voted to approve a boundary study for the three pyramids in January, at the same meeting where it approved the boundaries for the new South County Secondary School. In addition to approving those boundaries, the board added an amendment that sent a portion of students from Hunt Valley Elementary to West Springfield High. Moving those students, at the rate of 40 a year, will mean in four years, West Springfield could be overcapacity.

Wilson said the split-feeder approach to the boundary study is what many board members had in mind in January when it was first recommended.

"When the board said we would look at the West Springfield boundaries, many of us thought that we would look at the boundaries to see if there's something we can tweak around the edges to alleviate the overcrowding," she said. "Somehow, that part of the message didn't get articulated to the community. They thought we were going to redraw all the West Springfield boundaries. We weren't going to do that."

The January board decision touched off a community firestorm of opposition. The West Springfield Parent-Teacher-Student Association communicated its opposition to the board, and spun off a separate group, the West Springfield Pyramid Solutions Coalition, which met with board members to share their objections.

Chevalier said the new staff recommendation clarifies the intent of the original boundary study.

"There have been a tremendous number of rumors flying around about what the boundary study might mean. It had folks pretty upset," he said. "They were suggesting things that we just weren’t about to consider. There was no need to consider the scale of boundary changes they were referring to."

"It's a minor victory, because they've scaled it back," said Jennifer Heinz, a West Springfield parent. "We still have to go through the ordeal of the study, though. The numbers don't seem to reflect a way to deal with the overcrowding issue, short of just kicking kids out,"

The timeline for the fall boundary study will remain the same, although Wilson indicated there might only be two meetings instead of three, since staff recommendations have dictated the focus of any boundary changes.

"We could always look at them and say it's not worth doing anything about, or we could fix all split-feeders. There's no way to know until you get into the process," she said.