After five months of town hall meetings, public hearings, e-mails from concerned parents and debates, the Fairfax County School Board decided to keep boundaries at West Springfield High School intact.
“The issue has been settled until it comes up again,” said board member Dan Storck (Mount Vernon). “It’s closed at least until there’s a clear pattern of space being available again at West Springfield.”
When boundaries were being drawn for the new South County Secondary School last year, the School Board decided to move the South Hunt Valley community into West Springfield High School. Parents at West Springfield became concerned that the school would be over capacity, so the School Board approved a boundary study. The focus of the study has ranged from overcrowding at West Springfield to closing some of the split feeder schools at West Springfield and Lee High Schools, along with Lake Braddock Secondary School, which will have empty seats available once the renovations currently underway at the school are completed.
Residents of the Daventry community took the study as an opportunity to lobby the School Board to move their students, who currently attend Irving Middle School but then split from their classmates to go to Lee instead of West Springfield, into West Springfield. Following a series of town hall meetings and public hearings, the county’s Office of Facilities Planning recommended to the School Board that the best solution for the study was to move the 20 Daventry students that attend Irving and Lee into West Springfield.
In recent weeks, parents of students in Rolling Valley Elementary School had tried to convince the School Board that their children should be moved into West Springfield as well.
“I tried to pass a motion that would move Rolling Valley from Key Middle School into Irving, but I didn’t have the votes,” Storck said.
A lack of votes prevented facilities and operations committee chairman Phil Niedzielski-Eichner from raising the motion to approve the move of Daventry students into West Springfield.
“This was a difficult situation,” he said. “There was considerable sympathy for issues raised on both sides, which was countered by the recognition that there were other factors to take into consideration, like the fact that West Springfield is over capacity.”
Niedzielski-Eichner said he had spoken with each board member individually before Thursday’s board meeting in order to offer a motion with “a reasonable chance for success.”
THE FINAL VOTE had one board member, Stuart Gibson (Hunter Mill), voting against the motion, and another member, Brad Center (Lee), abstaining.
“The rational for moving South Hunt Valley into West Springfield was valid last year, just as it would’ve been valid for moving Daventry this year,” Gibson said.
He was tempted to offer a motion in support of moving Daventry, but felt voting against leaving the boundaries intact “handled it very neatly.”
Center said he had initially supported the staff recommendation, but he knew that motion wouldn’t pass. Instead, he chose to abstain from voting for the first time in his career on the board.
Offering a substitute motion “didn’t seem like it would accomplish anything,” Center said. “This hasn’t changed the viewpoint for what I wanted for the Daventry community. … Everyone thought long and hard about this, but no change is the best thing right now.”
Gibson and Center agreed that the important thing for all communities and families involved in the West Springfield and Lee districts is to “heal and move forward.”
“I know parents in Daventry are in a kind of mourning right now and I empathize with that, but they gave their best shot and it didn’t prevail,” Center said. “It would be a great disservice to themselves and their children to advocate for this move again. We all need closure.”
Gibson has no doubt the issue will come up again, but “there’s not a lot of stomach on the board to go into this again” any time soon.
“We need to make the best decision for the children,” he said. “With boundary issues, the parents are upset for six months until their child gets settled into the school, then everyone’s fine.”
AS THE CHAIRMAN of the Office of Facilities Planning, Gary Chevalier oversaw the boundary process and made the recommendation to the School Board in January. He admitted the final vote was a “difficult decision” for the School Board to make, but “they did what they needed to do.”
If the enrollment of West Springfield declines, Chevalier said he would be willing to consider allowing some pupil placement into the school for certain programs, like the Advanced Placement courses offered there.
“It was a fair decision and everyone had a chance to put their best argument forward,” Chevalier said. “The issue is closed until it opens again, but I would be surprised it that was anytime soon.”
In the future, the School Board may discuss creating a “blue ribbon commission,” similar to the one used to decide the Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommendations last year, Gibson said. “We need to step back and have an objective view and get the politics out of these decisions,” he said.
With a boundary study coming up for the South County Secondary School area within the next year or two, Gibson said the commission, if approved, would perform the study and provide the board with a recommendation. The School Board would vote “up or down” on their suggestion without the option of making changes.