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Westfield and Chantilly Are in Boundary Study

The Fairfax County School Board will review the boundaries of six high schools in western Fairfax County in an attempt to achieve more balanced enrollments and socioeconomic diversity across school communities.

The school system will try to boost the number of students at South Lakes High School, where 700 to 800 seats are open and relieve congestion at Chantilly High School and Westfield High School, which are over capacity. Herndon and Oakton high school boundaries will be reviewed as part of the process, according to School Board documents.

Officials also plan to eliminate a Madison High School “attendance island” north of the Dulles Toll Road that is disconnected from the rest of the Madison boundary.

Students attending Madison High School, Thoreau Middle School and Wolftrap Elementary School from this “attendance island” would transfer to South Lakes High School, Hughes Middle School and Sunrise Elementary School under the proposal.

SCHOOL BOARD documents do not provide specifics about the other boundaries that might be adjusted and officials said they would hold a series of public meetings before making any boundary adjustment suggestions to the School Board.

“We just don’t predetermine what is going to happen. You have to give everyone a chance to get involved,” said school board member Kathy Smith (Sully).

Smith has been meeting periodically with residents over the past couple years to try to assure constituents that no decisions have been made about who is moving yet. She said those residents who are concerned have been given misinformation and should contact her office if they have concerns.

Some neighborhoods do feel as if they will be targets for redistricting, particularly a pocket of Westfield families living in Herndon, said Jennifer Campbell, PTSA president of Westfield High.

“Everyone wants it to happen because of the overcrowding. However, there is pocket of family and friends in Herndon that everyone is concerned about,” she said.

The public meetings have been set for Nov. 12, Dec. 3 and Dec. 19. Location and time have not been determined.

VERY FEW STUDENTS will be affected by the elimination of the Madison “attendance island.” For example, there are only about 30 pupils who would move from Madison to South Lakes if the “island” was abolished, said Dean Tistadt, the school system’s chief operating officer.

The Madison community has not given the boundary adjustment a lot of thought yet, said Edythe Kelleher of Madison’s PTA and Town of Vienna council member.

“I think we were more occupied last year with the new middle school [gifted and talented] center. I think that was the boundary study that was occupying everybody’s time,” said Kelleher.

Even with the students from the Madison “island,” more children will have to be moved into the South Lakes boundary, Tistadt added.

With its low enrollment, South Lakes is unable to offer some of the less popular and obscure electives — which only a few students are interested in taking — which other schools can offer. Students at over-enrolled schools like Chantilly and Westfield can also find it hard to get into classes because they are competing with so many other students, according to board documents.

COMMUNITY MEMBERS and School Board members expect there will be significant resistance to any adjustments, particularly from residents who may be moved into the South Lakes boundary from another school. They cite the perception that South Lakes is viewed as being less safe and having more gang activity than other schools in the Western boundary.

Several members of the South Lakes community said this reputation is unwarranted.

“It is totally ridiculous. I have expelled kids for gang activity from every school in western Fairfax. I have expelled kids for drug use from every school in western Fairfax,” said School Board member Stuart Gibson (Hunter Mill), whose two children attended South Lakes.

New leadership and a brand new facility in 2008 should make South Lakes an attractive option, said several members of the schools’ PTSA.

“I like to say we are the best kept secret in Fairfax County. We are thrilled to welcome new people into our community,” said Elizabeth Vandenburg, the association’s president.

BOUNDARY STUDIES are among the most divisive events that take place in Fairfax County communities, sometimes pitting one neighborhood against another. Many school board and community members said they expect the upcoming discussion over boundaries to be difficult.

“Boundary discussions are always hard. It is never any easy process,” said school board member Jane Strauss (Dranesville).

Parents appear to be far more aware of high school boundaries now than they were a few years ago, said Gibson. The School Board member — who has constituents in almost all the schools affected — said he has started to see parents with toddlers show up to meetings to talk about which high school they want their child to attend.