Fairfax County Public Schools will host the second of three town hall meetings on the western county high school boundary study. It is the staff’s intention to place several potential boundary change scenarios on FCPS Web site prior to the Dec. 3 meeting at Westfield High School.
More than 1,500 people attended the first meeting, held on Nov. 12 at Chantilly High School. Herndon High School Parent-Teacher-Student Association (PTSA) President Ann Marie Ruskin said the county representatives were a little unprepared for such a large number of people at the first meeting. She hopes the second meeting will be different. "If this is the process, they really need to be prepared for the numbers," said Ruskin. She added that there were not enough agendas to pass out, only one side of the bleachers was opened for seating and the video feed for the people in the cafeteria was not visible and loud enough.
"People wasted an opportunity to get their concerns heard," said Maria Allen, South Lakes High School PTSA Vice President. She said those who spoke against the boundary study at the first meeting created distractions, rather than bringing up points of discussion. "They were probably a minority, but they’re the loudest ones," said Allen. She said that the process is not perfect, and some people are bound to be unhappy about the final outcome of the boundary study, but the study is necessary. "This is looking at the big picture, where the county is going," said Allen. She said those who have a problem with the process should have acted earlier on it, not at a time when the school system is preparing possible scenarios. "The process has been on the books for three years," said Allen.
THE SECOND MEETING will be somewhat different from the first, as FCPS has announced a change in format. The participants will be broken up into smaller groups at the beginning of the meeting and a number of possible scenarios will be video streamed into their rooms. Staff will answer a list of frequently asked questions about the scenarios — the questions can be directed prior to the meeting via the FCPS Web site — and the groups will then hold their focus meetings. A FCPS statements said that the format was changed "in order to gather feedback from members of the community in the most efficient and effective way."
"We had a really good showing at the first meeting and hope to have really good representation at the second one," said Ruskin. She said the small groups should be facilitated in a similar fashion to each other, since during the last meeting she heard some facilitators conducted their small group meetings in a different manner from others. "Uniformity needs to be enforced," she said.
Allen said she does not blame the school officials for changing the format of the meeting. "Mob mentality is mob mentality," she said.
THE BOUNDARY STUDY, and subsequent changes, said Allen, is not a form of social engineering or a busing scheme. "What we’re talking about here is including people who live a mile from South Lakes and travel nine miles to other schools" which are not a part of their community, she said. As to the concern that home values would drop if a community is transferred to the South Lakes pyramid, Allen said: "It’s a public school system. We’re buying a home, not the school." Allen said she trusts the FCPS staff to develop school boundary scenarios that are fair and sensible. "The staff have a pretty good understanding of what needs to happen in Fairfax County," she said. She also added that there are people in the areas that could possibly move to the South Lakes district who would be happy to come to South Lakes. "Once we start talking about actual areas instead of everyone, we will hear from those people," she said.
Ruskin said Herndon PTSA is organizing transportation to the meeting at Westfield High School, due to traffic concerns and the evening rush hour. There is still room for parents who wish to travel on a second bus with other Herndon parents, according to Ruskin. The third, and final, meeting will be held on Dec. 19 at Oakton High School. The School Board will hold the public hearings on the boundary study at the end of January and vote on any possible changes in February. The study was initiated to balance enrollment in high schools in the western portion of Fairfax County. To learn more about the boundary study, visit http://www.fcps.edu/news/boundary.htm.