School Study Out of Bounds?

School Study Out of Bounds?

A study this fall will examine the boundaries of three high schools.

A community group from the West Springfield High School pyramid is organizing to express concern about a Fairfax County Schools staff boundary study scheduled for this fall.

The group, which began as an extension of the West Springfield High Parent-Teacher-Student Association, is hoping to convince the Fairfax County School Board that the study, approved at a meeting in late January, is premature.

"There’s a lot of concern that anything could happen, and you can imagine how that sits in a community where something unpredictable did happen," said Jennifer Heinz, a member of the West Springfield PTSA board.

At the School Board meeting on Jan. 27, the board voted to approve several amendments related to the boundaries of the new South County Secondary School in Lorton. Among those amendments was a staff recommendation to send students from Hunt Valley Elementary to Lake Braddock Secondary School. The board amended that amendment to instead send those students to West Springfield High, then voted, by a count of 9 to 3, to direct school staff to conduct a study of the boundaries of West Springfield High, Lee High, and Lake Braddock Secondary, beginning this year.

"Until we see what the impact of the students is going to be on the building, we don’t believe a boundary study should be started," said Heinz.

School Board member Cathy Belter (Springfield) said she now believes the board's approval of the amendment directing the study was hasty and that current conditions don't warrant a study.

"I don't know if (staff) thought it was ... a way to move kids around. In hindsight, a lot of us thought it was going too fast," she said.

BELTER SAID she has attended regular West Springfield PTSA meetings since March, and, along with School Board members Stephen Hunt (At-large), Daniel Storck (Mount Vernon), and Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence), attended a community meeting on Monday, May 9. An invitation has been extended to the entire board to attend a forum on May 23.

Heinz said she believes the boundary study was precipitated by the board's decision to send approximately 40 more students per grade level to West Springfield, beginning next school year. She fears that the end result of the study will be compensating by sending other current West Springfield students out of the school.

"We don't see what the rush is. Let’s let these kids settle in. If these kids come in and as a direct result other kids are then redistricted out, there’s a concern that there’s going to be hard feelings, and we don’t want that," she said.

According to Gary Chevalier, director of Facility Planning for Fairfax County Public Schools, the boundary study is currently scheduled to begin in October, with a recommendation made to the board in January 2006.

"Until I'm told differently, we're planning to do it," he said.

"I think there's some issues out there that could certainly warrant further attention. It's hard to say what scope that could be until we do the study."

CURRENTLY, West Springfield's enrollment is at 2,204 with a capacity of 2,225. The boundary change will add approximately 160 students over four years. But, Belter said, West Springfield principal Dr. David Smith is exploring options, such as limiting the number of students who are pupil-placed at the school, to control enrollment there. Lee has an enrollment of 2,034, with a capacity of 1,850, but five-year projections have enrollment dipping to 1,857. Lake Braddock's high school is currently under capacity, and is projected to be 350 students under capacity by 2009.

Belter said the fact that Lake Braddock is in the middle of a renovation and Lee is at capacity makes the boundary study a head-scratcher.

"I couldn't figure out why (they) had decided those were the three we could look at in terms of doing a boundary study. It seems to be a lot of it focused on West Springfield," she said.

That means, for those in West Springfield, a fight ahead to get the boundary change off the table.

"Even now, people are coming to the realization that this is going to occur in the fall," said Heinz. "There is a deep conviction … that they want to preserve the current attendance area. That’s the ultimate goal, and right now, there is a perception that this is premature and exceptionally disruptive to the community. We don’t know what the actual numbers are going to be yet."