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Fighting To Unify Rolling Valley

Rolling Valley parents continue campaign to have their children moved into West Springfield High.

With only a few weeks left before the Fairfax County School Board votes to determine the boundaries for West Springfield and Lee high schools, parents in the Rolling Valley neighborhood are trying to make their final appeals.

Three weeks ago, on Jan. 12, Gary Chevalier from the Office of Facilities Planning gave the School Board the FCPS staff's recommendation: to move the Daventry neighborhood into West Springfield High School and out of Lee High School. While only 20 students per year, starting with the 2006-07 school year, will be moved, it would end a 20-year effort from that community to redistrict the area.

When the recommendation was made, some board members asked why the Rolling Valley neighborhood, which also sends about 20 students to Lee while the rest of their peers at Irving Middle School go to West Springfield, was left out.

It is that question that parents in Rolling Valley have been asking themselves for years.

"Rolling Valley has been overlooked in this process because we have not been loud and angry and pushy in regards to our position," said Beth Curtis, one of several Rolling Valley parents who spoke during a public hearing in front of the School Board on Monday, Jan. 30. "By not doing so, we've apparently lessened the chances of our children to close the split feeder at their school."

WHEN GIVING the School Board his recommendation, Chevalier said because the Rolling Valley students split from their classmates after elementary school, and Daventry students split at the start of high school, it was more difficult to make a case for keeping Rolling Valley students unified.

When the boundary study began, four options had been proposed as outcomes. Two of those options included moving both the Rolling Valley and Daventry communities into West Springfield. Following the first of two town meetings, the first two options, in which Rolling Valley was included, were removed, leaving only option three, which puts Daventry alone into West Springfield, and option four, in which no changes are made.

Curtis said she received an e-mail from a School Board member following the second meeting, when she asked why the options to fix Rolling Valley were taken away, in which she was told the School Board had not received the same amount of e-mails and phone calls from Rolling Valley parents as they had from Daventry parents.

"I understand that community input is one facet the School Board needs to take into consideration, but I thought it was their responsibility to make choices in best interest of all communities and children involved," Curtis said.

Other Rolling Valley parents have received the same impression.

"It appears whoever makes the most noise gets action, with disregard to the original intent of the study," said Betsy McArdle, the mother of a kindergarten student at Rolling Valley.

"We feel that we have valid points as to the reasons why the Rolling Valley community should have the split feeder eliminated, however, we are being drowned out by larger communities."

The Daventry community itself is divided by the issue, McArdle said.

"The Rolling Valley community finds it difficult to understand that even with the divisiveness of the Daventry community, the facilities services office would recommend option three," she said. "Rolling Valley is far more desirable for the elimination of the split feeder because we are unified in our desire to eliminate the split feeder ... the buses that transport students from South Hunt Valley to West Springfield pass right by eight of the 10 neighborhoods in question."

Others say that Rolling Valley has a longer standing claim to West Springfield than Daventry, calling its initial removal "arbitrary."

PRIOR TO THE construction of the Fairfax County Parkway, Rolling Valley students were part of the West Springfield pyramid, going to Irving Middle School and then West Springfield High School.

"The Daventry community has never been assigned to West Springfield High School, yet for some reason the School Board tailored three of the four original boundary studies to include them," said Victoria Kantner, another Rolling Valley parent. "We have never received an adequate explanation as to why we have been overlooked each and every time the split feeder issue is examined."

She believes that the "affluence of the Daventry community" may have swayed the facilities staff in making their recommendations.

"The bottom line is that if the School Board refuses to reconsider study two, or an alternative plan that includes Rolling Valley, then I will personally seek an injunction through the courts to stop them from implementing study three .... our children have suffered long enough," Kantner said.

Parents rely on the support of other parents in their schools just as much as the students, and by separating the Rolling Valley parents from other West Springfield-bound families at Irving Middle School, the situation is exacerbated, McArdle said.

"Having a sense of community is so huge in this day and age, to know and trust the families that you engage with can take time and effort," she said. "To forge these relationships early on and continue them throughout your child's lifetime is so important."

Rolling Valley parents' efforts to make their pleas heard by the School Board won't be apparent until the vote on Feb. 23, Curtis said.

"What had been done up until now has been done by Gary Chevalier. He's the one who made the recommendation," she said. "To be fair, the School Board hasn't made a determination yet. Something monumental would have to happen for the School Board to completely deny his recommendation and introduce something new."

AT MONDAY NIGHT'S public hearing, Rolling Valley parents were 11 of the more than 125 adults signed up to speak in three-minute intervals in front of the School Board. The Rolling Valley parents carried red and blue felt banners and wore white baseball caps with "RV" emblazoned in blue and red lettering across the front, to make sure they were visible to the board.

"Although in all likelihood Rolling Valley will not be involved in the conclusion of this study, it doesn't mean the parents of the involved children don't feel the need to continue to advocate for their children in this process," Curtis said.

Dan Storck, the Mount Vernon District representative to the School Board, said the Rolling Valley situation is different from Daventry and poses its own concerns.

"The Rolling Valley neighborhood is further from Lee High School than Daventry is and there are more challenging roads to cross to get there," Storck said.

Despite the accusation that the School Board is, essentially, playing favorites in considering closing the Daventry split feeder, Storck said Daventry has been lobbying the School Board to be put into West Springfield since it was developed in the 1980s.

"They've been sending us e-mails and making phone calls to make sure their case is known," Storck said. "Rolling Valley is made up of several different neighborhoods, which makes it more difficult to present their case as effectively as Daventry, which is part of what is making this difficult."

He noted that it is the "persuasiveness of the e-mails," not the quantity received, that will have an impact on the School Board's decision later this month.

School Board member Brad Center (Lee) said that the better question to ask isn't how many e-mails are received, but if a decision should be made based on quantity, rather than the merits of a situation.

"If the squeaky wheel does in fact get the grease, is that true democracy?" Center asked. "I have my concerns about getting so many e-mails. Rolling Valley is doing the right thing by contacting us, but if we get 1,000 e-mails each, I have to wonder if the board members are reading them all."

If a suggestion is made to include both Daventry and Rolling Valley, Center said he would vote against it. He plans to vote in favor of the staff recommendation to move Daventry into West Springfield. "This situation has been in the community for 20 years, and it's time to do this the right way," he said.