Subtle Differences, Similar Sentiments

Subtle Differences, Similar Sentiments

School Board members, PTA presidents agree to dislike Options 2A and 2B.

Shakespeare's Hamlet may have asked, "To be or not to be," but in the context of the boundary study for Hayfield, Lake Braddock and South County secondary schools, the question is slightly different: Which is better, Option 2A or 2B?

The option, first discussed at the initial public meeting in October, presents two variations on a common theme. In Option 2A, the Newington Forest area would be sent to Lake Braddock Secondary, starting with seventh and ninth grade students for the 2007-08 school year. Option 2B is slightly different: it has the South Run Oaks, Barrington and Timber Ridge neighborhoods going to Lake Braddock. Both 2A and 2B include sending students from one area of Lorton Station Elementary and all students from Gunston Elementary to Hayfield Secondary.

"These options both have the delay prospect to them," said School Board member Brad Center (Lee).

DESPITE THIS pair of options being omitted from the discussion at the Nov. 1 boundary study meeting, Center said Options 2A and 2B are both still up for consideration.

"There's a significant impact on those communities and I'm very strongly opposed to them," Center said. However, he said he might be willing to consider supporting a modified version of either if some changes were made.

The communities in question in both versions of Option 2 are similar areas, with comparable numbers of students that would be moved to Lake Braddock.

"Both options are more balanced in terms of the capacity at all three schools," Center said. "One of our stated goals for doing boundary studies is to bring equality in the population of all of these schools. Both options bring the enrollment at South County down closer to the acceptable capacity more than other options."

The question that remains for Center is what importance capacity or enrollment of a particular school plays in terms of a child's education.

"It's detrimental to have a school way over capacity because it's difficult to run a school that way," he said. "It's important for a school to stay under capacity."

Center has advocated for limiting how close to capacity any of these three schools can be, encouraging school staff to keep the school's enrollment to somewhere in the range of 90 to 95 percent of its capacity. He believes leaving some extra room for unexpected students would be beneficial in the future.

Center said that he would be unsatisfied with Option 2A or 2B as currently presented if he had to vote on the study today.

SCHOOL BOARD member Dan Storck (Mount Vernon) agreed with Center, adding that he's concerned about the distance students being transported from either Newington Forest or the South Run Oaks, Barrington and Timber Ridge areas would have to cross en route to Lake Braddock.

"There's also a distance for the children from Lorton Station and Gunston that would be going to Hayfield," Storck said. "There's not much positive here."

Storck said members of the Newington Forest community were especially surprised when they were identified as possibly leaving South County.

"I think they were wondering for the last year or two if they'd be the ones to leave," Storck said.

Newington Forest, South Run Oaks, Timber Ridge and Barrington are all communities that may fall under the microscope again in 2008, when a boundary is determined for the proposed new elementary school at Laurel Hill.

"I think that's what the staff was thinking about when they drew up this proposal," Storck said. "In my mind, staff is thinking, 'We know this is going to happen in a few years, we could do this and then the students wouldn't be going to a split feeder."

For example, if students from Newington Forest were sent to Lake Braddock, those students would move as a group from that school to Lake Braddock regardless of the new elementary school boundary that may not impact them.

"That could, theoretically, get rid of a split feeder for Lake Braddock," he said.

Much like Center, Storck said he's not comfortable with either Option 2A or 2B as currently written, but would consider either if changes were made that looked similar to the newest proposal, Option 3, which moves students to Lake Braddock in order to buy time to find funding for a middle school.

"I'm trying to determine what parts of this might work," Storck said. "My absolute commitment is to get the middle school built sooner."

He said that the option of not making any changes at all is also up for consideration.

"That's always an option I'm considering, but there has got to be a way to do that and make sure it addresses the overcrowding at South County," he said.

Ultimately, it is the schools and the students who will have to live with the changes made, and representatives for Lake Braddock and South County aren't thrilled with what they've seen so far.

"Options 1, 2A and 2B are not acceptable," said Trenda Jacocks, president of the PTSA at Lake Braddock.

The ongoing renovations at Lake Braddock will remove trailers that have been there longer than Jacocks can remember. Once the renovations are over, the trailers will leave. Jacocks said she's concerned that bringing in any number of students from South County will bring the trailers back.

"Our enrollment now is over 3,800 students, and that's our capacity," she said. Core facility capacity, for rooms like the cafeteria, gymnasium and band rooms, is set at about 3,700 students.

"Our PTSA doesn't feel it is in our best interest to support the first three options," Jacocks said.

STUDENTS ATTENDING Silverbrook Elementary would not want to leave a crowded elementary school to attend an overcrowded secondary school, Jacocks said, so leaving those students out of Lake Braddock would be in their best interest.

On a positive note, Jacocks said she's been pleased with the support and activism she's seen from Lake Braddock parents, from attending community meetings to writing e-mails to School Board members.

"So many parents have gotten involved, it's the best community involvement I think we've ever had," she said. "We had 300 purple shirts at the last meeting."

Sandy Moses, PTA president at South County, said it's unfair for the school system to expect parents and students who came together as a community in the past year to be split up so quickly.

"I think it's really unfortunate we have to go through this in the first place," she said.

Like many other South County parents, Moses feels the best course of action is building a middle school.

"They're making another mistake because they're considering all the building that's still going on around here or BRAC changes," she said, referring to the Base Realignment and Closure orders that will bring at least 22,000 people to Fort Belvoir and the Engineer Proving Ground in Springfield.

"Nobody knows what's going to happen," she said. "We've had enough. We need a middle school."

From her PTA perspective, Moses said the parents don't want any part of their new community to leave South County.

"We're a community now," she said. "In the past, with boundary studies, we've seen groups in different neighborhoods pitted against each other. You don't see that here, we all feel like one big community."