On Thursday, Dec. 21, the School Board will hear a recommendation on which solution may be best to fix overcrowding at South County Secondary. Many parents, however, think only one option is acceptable: Option Three.
According to information handed out at the Nov. 1 public meeting, Option 3 would transfer 296 students in seventh, eighth and ninth grades who live in Lorton Station, Lorton Valley and the Mason Neck area to Hayfield Secondary. The move would decrease the enrollment at South County from a projected 3,230 students down to 2,934 students, while Hayfield’s enrollment would rise from 2,329 students to 2,695 students. While Hayfield would be 95.3 percent utilized, South County would still be over capacity, at 113.4 percent utilization.
No changes would be made to the enrollment at Lake Braddock, which would remain at an estimated 3,764 students and at 81.5 percent utilization.
“Option 3 strikes a compromise,” said Gary Chevalier, chair of the Fairfax County Public School system’s Office of Facilities Planning. “It takes some kids out of South County and moves them to Hayfield and prevents the enrollment at South County from getting much higher.”
In addition, the option provides a two-year window of opportunity for community and elected leaders to find time to secure funding to build a middle school in South County, Chevalier said.
IF AT THE END of those two years, the funding has not been secured, a second boundary study may be needed to see if more students from the northern part of the South County boundary should be moved into Lake Braddock Secondary.
“Lake Braddock is already under capacity but in the other option (Options 2A/B), we need even more space than is currently there,” Chevalier said. “This gives us time to see if the population continues to go down and the space opens up.”
Trenda Jacocks, PTSA president at Lake Braddock, said she’s glad her school was not asked to take more students in Option 3.
“Ultimately, we will be affected because the School Board will have to make decisions in the future because they’re projecting that in two years the borders will be up for grabs again,” Jacocks said. “For now, this is a good option and it’s what we prefer.”
Parents at Lake Braddock can sympathize with the South County parents, who Jacocks said are showing a great deal of strength while going through their second boundary study in three years. She said the overall goal of the boundary study is to provide relief for the overcrowding at South County and to provide a learning environment in all three schools that is beneficial to all students.
The two other options included moving students to Lake Braddock, but Jacocks said she doesn’t think the extra capacity quoted by the facilities staff is as great as they’ve told her.
“We feel for the people at South County because they’re facing a future where the area is developing, and it’d be great for them to have a middle school if they need it,” she said. “I’m in favor of better facilities and more schools for children to have better learning environments.”
Not all parents agree with Jacocks, including Dick Reed, a Hayfield Secondary parent and PTA member.
“It’s not right for Lake Braddock to be at 80 [percent capacity] and South County to be at over 100,” Reed said. “I don’t want to stir my oar in the Lake Braddock lake, but it doesn’t make sense that they don’t get any kids, especially when South County is massively over and Lake Braddock is severely under.”
Reed said his school would welcome students back from South County but hopes that as many students would be brought over as quickly as possible, to make the transition faster and easier for younger students.
“We recognize that someone who went to South County for seventh grade might not want to go to Hayfield for eighth grade,” Reed said. “All I can say is, buy the orange T-shirt and be done with it.”
CHILDREN WHO would be moved to Hayfield would be doing so with their neighbors and friends, which should make for an easier transition, Reed said.
“We think it’d be better for kids who come back [in eighth grade] to be a Hawk for five years instead of four, so we hope they move all three grades if they choose this option,” he said.
School Board members won’t get to vote on the staff recommendation until late February, but that doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about what the staff will put on the table.
“Option 3 gets us down the field in the right direction,” said Board member Brad Center (Lee), using a football analogy. “It doesn’t get us to the end zone, maybe not in the red zone, but it’s close.”
Center said all the Board members are concerned about South County, already more than 500 students over its 2,500-student capacity. However, as Center represents Hayfield as well, he wants to make sure easing the strain at South County doesn’t overburden Hayfield again.
“Once we take Lake Braddock out of the situation, you’re trying to balance significant overcrowding between two schools, which limits our options,” he said. “At this point, it puts too much of the balance on Hayfield.”
To their credit, Center said many parents at Hayfield are more than willing to take students back, so long as it’s a move of seventh, eighth and ninth graders and their school isn’t overcrowded as a result.
“I want a buffer zone,” he said, something he’s been advocating since the West Springfield-Lee High School boundary study last year. “I have several options in my head that I want to talk with other Board members and people in the community about, but I want to take some of the burden off Hayfield and put it back on South County.”
BOARD MEMBER Dan Storck (Mount Vernon) said he’s still pushing for a middle school, but sees Option 3 as the best way to get there.
“This is a way to address the overcrowding and harm the fewest people at one time,” Storck said.
The two-year time buffer built into Option 3 as it’s currently proposed would also allow time for better numbers associated with the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) changes to Fort Belvoir and the Engineer Proving Ground to be gathered, Storck said. He believes the schools will be significantly impacted when an expected 22,000 employees move to the area by September 2011.
“I realize that our [enrollment] consultant and staff think the change won’t happen right away, but they haven’t accounted for BRAC in their projections,” he said.
Storck said he understands the reasons for leaving Lake Braddock out of the equation at this time, as the enrollment numbers there aren’t as predictable or clear as the ones at Hayfield and South County for the next few years. However, if no funding for a middle school is secured in that time, moving students to Lake Braddock will have to be discussed.
“If money would fall out of the sky, maybe the middle school would be built,” Storck said. “I believe it can be built sooner. I know we have the support of the community and local public officials are looking for additional funding options that can be used to make it happen.”
Sandy Moses, president of the PTA at South County, said that while Option 3 does provide time to help find funding for a middle school, it's still not her preferred option.
"As far as I'm concerned, the only option is to build a middle school," Moses said. "We're one big community here, and we don't want to see anyone leave."
She agreed with Storck that because the current enrollment numbers don't include BRAC, it's unclear whether any changes to the boundaries will create enough capacity in future years as people move into the area.
Despite the inclusion of a two-year buffer to find middle school-building dollars, Moses said it seems the responsibility of accomplishing that task falls too much on the residents and not enough on the school system.
"They don't seem to be taking responsibility for their past mistakes," she said.
The parents at South County fought for years to have the school built, and to ask some of them to leave so soon after the school opened is unacceptable, she said.
"Lorton Valley is right down the road from the school, and they might be pulled out," Moses said. "It's unfortunate that this had to happen at all."