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Parents Oppose Boundary Change Adjustment

Haycock and Kent Gardens parents are disappointed by adjustment to boundary change proposal.

Lisa Kenworthy is the mother of five children. Her twin sons are currently in the fourth grade at Haycock Elementary School, and her other three children also attended Haycock. Subsequently, Kenworthy is in her 15th year as a Haycock parent.

With such a vested interest in the school, Kenworthy has been paying close attention to the recent boundary study which was carried out to find a solution to Haycock's overcrowding problem. Haycock has a capacity of 579 students, but has a current enrollment of 691 students. The school uses nine trailers, and all four of Haycock's sixth-grade classes are in trailers. At a Jan. 9 public hearing on the boundary study, Kenworthy addressed these issues before members of the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Board.

"I would challenge each of you to go and spend a day in one of these trailers," said Kenworthy. "I would ask the kids to leave their backpacks, lunch boxes and coats, so you could have the full experience. I would wager that your day would not be very productive."

Haycock Elementary School has had to make creative use of its space to accommodate its students. Art is brought to students on a cart since there is no classroom space available, and work groups take place in the school cafeteria, even as other meetings are in session.

IN OCTOBER and November of 2006, a boundary change proposal was presented to parents at a community town meeting held at Haycock Elementary School. The Fairfax County Public Schools staff presented a plan that would move the Haycock Gifted and Talented (GT) center students coming from Franklin Sherman Elementary School and Kent Gardens Elementary School, to Churchill Road Elementary School. However, when parents from Churchill Road heard about the proposal, many were not pleased.

Speaking before the school board at a Jan. 8 public hearing, Churchill Road parent Beth Chung said she and many other parents were disappointed that they were simply presented with one boundary change proposal, and were never included in preliminary discussions.

"Many of us found out about the proposed boundary change by reading about it in the newspaper, which as you imagine, did not make us happy," said Chung.

Churchill Road parent Susan Gregory voiced her concerns via correspondence with Jane Strauss, the Fairfax County School Board representative for the Dranesville District. Gregory said she and many other parents felt that the influx of 110 GT students from Franklin Sherman and Kent Gardens would result in "a material degradation of our community school."

"Despite our concerns regarding limited resources such as the cafeteria, gym, technology lab, art and music programs, and critical issues such as the safety of walkers, busing issues, SACC and kiss n' ride constraints, FCPS made no effort to show us their plan for addressing these concerns," wrote Gregory in a letter to Strauss.

In response to the complaints issued by parents from Churchill, Strauss arranged a community meeting in December of 2006. After the meeting, the boundary proposal was changed. Only Gifted and Talented students from Kent Gardens would be moved to Churchill Road Elementary School. Gifted and Talented students from Franklin Sherman would continue to attend the GT center at Haycock.

"Churchill Road parents don't want to be overcrowded, and we understand that," said Jane Strauss. "But Churchill also needs more GT students because their numbers have become a little small."

Although the new decision satisfied the majority of Churchill Road parents, many parents from Haycock and Kent Gardens were disappointed by the change, and argue that it will be ineffective in alleviating the overcrowding problem at Haycock.

"The current proposal, moving GT students from Kent Gardens to Churchill, would guarantee that about 15 fewer children would attend our school next year," said Kenworthy in her testimony at the Jan. 9 public hearing. "This proposal cannot even be considered a Band-aid."

Kenworthy suggested that a 10-room modular be installed at Haycock by the fall of 2007, calling it "the only feasible solution."

"The bottom line is that moving the Kent Gardens students, as staff proposes, will have little impact on the overcrowding at Haycock," said Kenworthy. "By contrast, a modular addition would provide significant and prompt relief."

However, Strauss said that the addition of a modular is not as simple as it seems. They are funded through planned bond expenditures, and they only provide additional classroom space — not additional cafeteria, gym or library space.

"A modular unit is a much more permanent addition, it is a more expensive undertaking, and you don't put one of those in unless you really intend to keep it there for a very long time," said Strauss. "We're hoping that we can get Haycock to fit back into its skin in four years."

KENWORTHY said she was "mystified" that anyone could find the modified boundary change proposal to be a realistic solution, since Haycock's overcrowding problem is only projected to become worse in the coming years. The current Capital Improvement Plan predicts that Haycock will have a deficit of nine classrooms in the year 2011-2012.

"And this projection does not take into account a nearby 100-home development project that will be completed in three years, nor does it account for all of the infill building that is currently underway within the Haycock boundaries," said Kenworthy. "It also does not factor in the addition of all-day kindergarten."

Strauss said that she will make sure that Haycock is "monitored very closely" in the coming years.

"We have to continue to monitor the situation at Haycock because if they still have an 8 to 9-classroom overcapacity over the long haul, that's not fair either," said Strauss.

Kenworthy said she believes the school board adjusted the original proposal because a Gifted and Talented center may open up at Chesterbrook Elementary School. However, Kenworthy said that it is unlikely that a Chesterbrook GT center "will be enough to make a difference in the next few years."

"Even if Chesterbrook starts its own school-based center, Haycock would still have to have space for GT eligible students to return to Haycock if the families decided to do so — I believe this is the very rationale stated for leaving Churchill Road under capacity," said Kenworthy. "And while Haycock is projected to have a deficit of nine classrooms by 2011 to 2012, Churchill is projected to have a surplus of four classrooms at that time. In fact, even after moving Kent Gardens GT students to Churchill, that school would be substantially under capacity as a result of previous renovation and a modular."

OTHER HAYCOCK parents are in agreement with Kenworthy's assessment of the situation.

"Even with the proposed changes, Haycock is projected to remain more than 100 students above its maximum capacity for the foreseeable future," said Haycock Parent Teacher Association (PTA) co-president Jeanie Thomas, at the Jan. 9 public hearing. "

Meera Abrishami, a parent at Kent Gardens Elementary School, said she is opposed to the new proposal for a multitude of reasons, one of which is that it does not make sense in terms of the geographical location of the schools.

"This proposed boundary change gives Kent Gardens' kids a much longer commute ride, and raises such an illogical overlapping of transportation," said Abrishami. "We would now be busing Franklin Sherman south past Kent Gardens to Haycock, and busing Kent Gardens north, directly in front of Franklin Sherman, across 123 to Churchill. This does not make sense."

Abrishami said that the proposal is also illogical because it does not keep children in their local school communities.

"Kent Gardens was kept on the proposal even though it is farther from Churchill, and is not in the same pyramid," said Abrishami. "Kent Gardens sends only slightly more kids to Haycock than Franklin Sherman — 63 versus 53 from Franklin Sherman, over four years."

In addition, Abrishami said that Kent Gardens students should have first priority for the Haycock GT center because the Kent Gardens French immersion program precludes the school from ever having its own GT center.

"Families from Kent Gardens will never have the option of keeping their child in their home-based, level-four GT program as other families will," said Abrishami. "They should be allowed to remain close to home at their neighboring school — Haycock."

Ironically, this is one of the very reasons why the decision was made to have the Kent Gardens GT students move to Churchill. Strauss said that Franklin Sherman is interested in starting its own GT center curriculum program. If this request comes to fruition, some of the GT students that travel to Haycock would most likely opt to remain at Franklin Sherman, which would also help to alleviate some of Haycock's overcrowding. Since Kent Gardens cannot have a GT school-based program, there would be no chance of eventually reducing the numbers of Kent Gardens GT students attending Haycock.

"We're trying to as many people happy as possible, but we can't make everybody happy," said Strauss. "It's impossible."

The Fairfax County School Board will vote on the proposed boundary changes at its meeting on Feb. 22, at Luther Jackson Middle School, at 7 p.m.