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Community Blasts Boundary Study

West Springfield groups host a forum for the Fairfax County School Board.

A grassroots movement against boundary changes to the West Springfield High School pyramid has gotten organized and become more vocal.

Nearly 500 community members filled the West Springfield High cafeteria for a talk-back session with the Fairfax County School Board regarding school boundaries on Monday, May 23.

Organized by both the West Springfield High Parent-Teacher-Student Association and a new group, calling itself the West Springfield Pyramid Solutions Coalition, the session was an opportunity to give feedback to the board, and to hear board members' thoughts on the study.

"The number of people here tonight is solid evidence of the importance of this issue to the West Springfield … community at large," said PTSA president Jan Brecht-Clark. Four members of the School Board were present, Cathy Belter (Springfield), Stephen Hunt (At-large), Cathy Smith (Sully), and Chairman Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence). Each spoke to the crowd about various issues related to the proposed boundary study, which the board approved in January and will include Lee and West Springfield high schools and Lake Braddock Secondary.

"The board knows many of you want to avoid the uncertainty posed by a boundary study," said Niedzielski-Eichner. "(We) are here because … we have an obligation to hear you out."

THE BOARD voted to direct staff to undergo the boundary study on Jan. 27. At the same meeting, boardmembers approved final boundaries for the new South County Secondary School in Lorton, which will open this fall. During that meeting, the board amended staff recommendations to move a portion of students from the south Hunt Valley area from Lee to Lake Braddock. Instead, another amendment was made to send those same students to West Springfield, at the rate of approximately 40 per year for four years.

Some in the West Springfield pyramid have disagreed with the Hunt Valley decision, not only because of the extra students it will bring to the school, but also because it came so late in the boundary process and was unexpected.

Hunt said the School Board did its part by acting when it first had the chance to address a problem it saw with the staff plans.

"The first opportunity we had to bring up alternatives to the staff recommendations, we did it. We followed the process we had in place," he said.

Following the approval of the move of the south Hunt Valley students, the School Board then voted to direct staff to undertake another boundary study, with Lee, Lake Braddock, and West Springfield.

That move was made, according to Niedzielski-Eichner, to "address the projected overcrowding," at West Springfield.

THE PYRAMID Solutions Coalition, headed by parents, is objecting to the proposed boundary study and wants the School Board to vote it down altogether. The main issue, according to those in the coalition, is that the projected increase in the number of students attending West Springfield doesn’t warrant a boundary study that could potentially disrupt the situation as it is currently.

"Our problem, which will make us 25 students over-capacity, doesn’t appear to be enough of a problem to warrant a study," said parent Sam Shellenberger at the meeting. "It seems you have made this more difficult for us. You see how strong the desire to attend West Springfield is."

According to Belter, the capacity issues at West Springfield have already been addressed by principal Dr. David Smith, and when the first wave of students arrives in the fall, creative solutions such as re-fitting rooms for teaching space and limiting the number of pupil-placed students attending, will mean that the school will actually have a capacity less than it did in 1986, when her child graduated from the school.

"We see a school that is more open and believes in the needs of its children," said Belter.

The boundary process will be open to the public officially in October, when the first of several town meetings will take place to discuss the staff studies. The final staff recommendation will go before the School Board in January, 2006, and the board will vote on it in February, following more public hearings.

Despite their belief in the validity of the study, boardmembers encouraged the community to remain vocally involved in the process throughout.

"No decisions have been made and a study does not imply change," said Niedzielski-Eichner. "No changes are made until an affirmative vote by the School Board."