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Keeping Silverbrook United

Silverbrook parents, School Board members meet, discuss boundary study options.

The community that worked together for over a decade to have the South County Secondary School built is staying strong, organizing and meeting to find a solution to keep their children together.

Under all of the three proposed options to the boundary study that would remove students from the overcrowded South County school, children from Silverbrook Elementary would be split up, most likely going to Lake Braddock Secondary. It's an option, parents believe, that is simply unacceptable.

"The best alternative is to keep Silverbrook together and keep South County together," said South Run Oaks resident Alan Fogg, whose three children currently attend South County.

The boundary study, which will impact students at South County, Hayfield and Lake Braddock Secondary schools, has been a contentious undertaking by the Fairfax County School Board. Some board members have been hesitant to modify the boundaries so soon after boundaries were changed to accommodate the September 2005 opening of South County.

"None of the options presented so far are acceptable," said Fogg, at the beginning of a meeting on Thursday, Oct. 26 in the Silverbrook gymnasium. "They did not include any realistic way to solve the problem."

TWO OF THE THREE proposals would remove rising seventh and ninth grade students beginning next fall, sending half east to Hayfield and the other half to Lake Braddock. The third option would remove all middle school students from South County, send them to Hayfield or Lake Braddock for two years and reunite all students at South County for high school. Parents at Thursday's meeting argued that the only real solution is to build a middle school.

School staff members have said a middle school is not needed and that excess capacity at both Hayfield and Lake Braddock is more than enough to accommodate the students.

"Lake Braddock's core facilities have not expanded during the school's renovation," said South Run Oaks resident Tory Smith, who picked apart all three options and discussed her problems with each in depth.

"The school has added seats, but things like the gym, the cafeteria and the sports fields have not been expanded," she said. "Some of the sports teams already have to practice on a staggered schedule because there's no room."

If the first option were approved and middle school students taken out of South County, making it only a high school, the students would turn into ping-pong balls, bouncing back and forth between schools, she said.

"Plus, all the available seats at Lake Braddock are projected," Smith said. "We all know our track record with projections hasn't been great."

Other concerns, including the amount of time students will spend on buses going to and from either Lake Braddock or Hayfield, or the amount of traffic student drivers will encounter during morning and afternoon rush hours, add to the problems Smith said her community should not have to face.

She urged parents to attend the next boundary study meeting, scheduled for Wednesday night at South County, as a group and speak out in their opposition to the proposals.

"Our mantra should be, keep Silverbrook together," she said. "That's the only acceptable solution."

Rob Robertory, a Barrington resident, said the numbers just don't add up in support of any of the proposed options.

"We're still trying to find all the extra capacity at Lake Braddock that the school staff's been saying they've had for the past three years," Robertory said. Citing information from the 2006-07 enrollment projections for a handful of schools in the vicinity of Lake Braddock, South County and Hayfield, Robertory pointed out that in almost every case where the school staff had predicted a loss of students, there had in fact been an increase.

For example, Robertory said, the population at Robinson Secondary School was under-projected by 136 students between the end of the 2005-06 school year and the start of the current one. Enrollment numbers at Woodson High School were 73 students lower than how many are currently attending there, while Annandale High School has 102 students more than were expected.

NONE OF THE proposed options takes into consideration any additional students to move into the area as a result of changes at Fort Belvoir and the Engineer Proving Ground in Springfield, due in part to a lack of solid statistics from the Army, Robertory said.

"It's not inconceivable that the EPG will put pressure on West Springfield (High School) and Lake Braddock, but it will definitely affect Lee," he said. "No one knows for certain what will happen. There's a lot of crowded schools, but it doesn't make sense to keep crowding Lake Braddock."

Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) said she's inclined to believe the Army's statement that not many school-aged children will be moved into the area, as many employees will simply be changing their commute, from Crystal City to the EPG or Fort Belvoir.

"I feel comfortable about it," said McConnell, about students not overcrowding schools. "The kids are already here, the families are already here, they're just changing direction."

Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) disagreed, stating that half of the current employees at the National Geospatial Service will be retiring or relocated by the time the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) changes are in place in September 2011, leaving nearly 4,000 positions open for new families to take.

"That might have a dramatic effect on the people moving closer to the EPG and could have an impact on our schools," Hyland said.

To provide a bit of perspective, Crosspointe resident Liz Bradsher gave an overview of the history of South County, listing how the Silverbrook community and its support of the school was vital in it being built before planned in the school system's Capital Improvement Plan.

"No one is entitled to go to this school, but we've definitely earned the privilege to go to South County," Bradsher said. "The residents here were the catalyst to make it work. We are one of the South County core communities."

Bradsher said both Hayfield and Lake Braddock were good schools, but her community has grown used to wearing South County's blue and green attire.

"This is our community school," she said. "Lake Braddock doesn't need our students. We are two miles away from South County, it's in our community."

Bradsher received a standing ovation from the crowded gymnasium.

Hyland said he was sympathetic to the parents' ordeal and would feel the same way if he were in their seats.

"My commitment to everyone here, if the School Board decides to try to move up the construction of the middle school ... is to do everything in my power to help make that happen," Hyland said. "We need to find, between the Board of Supervisors and the School Board, a way to look at building a middle school as an alternative. If we do that, maybe the decision to do any boundary changes should be put off."

Hyland was interrupted by loud applause as he spoke but continued to promise his support of building a middle school prior to its 2017 date on the CIP.

"I hope to get something from (Superintendent) Jack Dale and Dean (Tistadt, assistant superintendent of facilities and transportation) and the county executive within a week to 10 days to find out if this is a viable option," he said.

This time, McConnell was on the same page as Hyland, adding that for the 23 years she's been on the Board of Supervisors, she'd believed the Lorton area needed a high school.

"The fact is, I'm also an educator and I know how real the need is to have schools close to home," McConnell said. "We desperately need a middle school. You have my support."

School Board member Dan Storck (Mount Vernon) said he was initially against a boundary study so soon after the school opened, and if a viable way to fund a middle school within the next few years could be found, he'd consider not changing the boundaries.

"We recognize the numbers we've used might not be perfect but we need to make them the best we can," Storck said. "The concerns we all have is that we don't know what the numbers truly are for some things."