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Community Grapples with Boundaries

Some see magnet program at South Lakes High School as middle road to redistricting.

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Summer construction at South Lakes High School. The school is at two-thirds its capacity, prompting Fairfax County to reexamine school boundaries in the western portion of the county.

Three town hall meetings are scheduled in November and December to discuss the school boundary study in the western part of Fairfax County. South Lakes and Herndon High Schools are hosting relevant meetings next week.

"For us, at South Lakes, the boundary study is the issue," said Elizabeth Vandenburg, president of the South Lakes PTSA. "We are obviously going to be impacted."

Elizabeth Gibson, the chair of the Boundary Study Committee at Herndon High School’s PTSA, said Herndon should be left out of the process. "From the Herndon perspective, we are advocating for all of our current students to stay at Herndon," said Gibson.

To introduce the community to the boundary study process, Herndon PTSA is hosting a public meeting next Wednesday, Oct. 10. Gibson said the meeting would explain the process and what community members may expect to see in the town hall meetings scheduled in November and December. The Boundary Study Committee has drafted a position paper explaining why Herndon should be left out of the redistricting process. It takes a look at the county’s four criteria for undertaking a boundary study, and refutes Herndon’s participation in each of the criteria.

One of the main points of contention, said Gibson, is that taking away students from Herndon would only create the same problems of under enrollment that South Lakes is experiencing now. "Herndon now is just under capacity, and will continue to decline" through the year 2012, said Gibson. She added that two schools in the Herndon pyramid that feel targeted in the boundary study are Aldrin and Armstrong Elementary Schools. Areas served by Aldrin and Armstrong account for 750 seats in Advanced Placement (AP) and Honors classes at Herndon. Losing those students could have a tremendous impact on Herndon’s ability to offer AP and Honors classes to its students in the future, said Gibson.

SOUTH LAKES PTSA is not holding a meeting on the boundary study, but the boundary study promises to be one of the main issues in the Tuesday night, Oct. 9, meeting. It is a candidate forum for the School Board race in the Hunter Mill District. Vandenburg said South Lakes PTSA would not take a position on redistricting, its mission is to promote the school to the community. "We are just happy to have an opportunity to tell our story of what a great school South Lakes is," said Vandenburg. According to Vandenburg, positives at the school include a diverse population that is representative of the world today, a strong International Baccalaureate (IB) program and a strong corps of teachers and administrators. "Our student body is interested in community service and there is a lot of school spirit," added Vandenburg.

Rather than redistrict the western part of the county, Gibson said the Herndon PTSA would like to see a magnet program of some sort put in place at South Lakes. This would be an incentive for students to place into the Reston high school without switching neighborhoods from one school to another. Vandenburg, speaking on a personal opinion since the PTSA is not taking any positions on redistricting, said that the county has Thomas Jefferson High School as its science and technology magnet and that the county is committed to having strong arts programs in all of its schools. "Strong programming throughout is best, in my personal opinion," said Vandenburg.

THE ISSUE was brought up at the last candidate forum for the Hunter Mill School Board position. Incumbent Stu Gibson said the idea is intriguing, but he is not sure it is a feasible solution. "We don’t have the time, and I’m not sure we’d have the money," said Stu Gibson.

Challenger Christine Arakelian said Stu Gibson had 12 years of time to tackle that question. She added that the town hall meetings on the issue were delayed to the November and December dates due to a political decision, something Gibson refuted saying that is the time frame those meetings are always held.

The South Lakes PTSA Candidate Forum for the Hunter Mill School Board seat will take place on Tuesday night, Oct. 9, at 7:30 p.m. at the school’s media center. The Herndon PTSA Boundary Committee meeting will take place on Wednesday night, Oct. 10, at 7 p.m. at the Lecture Hall, with a possibility of moving to the cafeteria if enough people attend. The town hall meetings are scheduled for Nov. 12 at Chantilly High School, Dec. 3 at Westfield High School and Dec. 19 at Oakton High School. Students from the following high schools may be impacted by the boundary study: Chantilly, Herndon, Madison, Oakton, South Lakes and Westfield.