I have been talking with families across the Dranesville district for months. In McLean, the issue of the overcrowded high school is a major topic of concern. McLean High School is over-capacity and at present there is no plan in the current Fairfax County Public School’s (FCPS) Capital Improvement Program (CIP) to alleviate these overcrowded conditions.
All short-term options to alleviate McLean’s overcrowding need to be explored, and all decisions should be made in an open, transparent and evidence-based way. Now is the time to act if we hope to have anything in place for the 2020-2021 school year.
The issues are real. In order to serve all of its students, McLean has 18 trailers on the site. There are safety, health and educational concerns this overcrowding creates for students. As a teacher myself, I would like to point out that these conditions negatively affect our staff as well. Teachers are without classrooms. They are forced to move through crowded hallways with carts, and work in cramped classrooms and office spaces. This neither supports the teachers’ mission to teach our children to the very best of their ability, nor does it provide an optimal environment for our children to learn.
While we need to take action very soon, the move of any McLean students to the Langley pyramid needs to be based on sound data, and careful consideration of any future development and population expansion that may occur within the areas currently designated for Langley HS. In the simplest terms: McLean is currently at 114 percent capacity and projected to be at 126 percent capacity in school year 2023-24. All the other area high schools (Herndon, South Lakes, Marshall) are either projected to be at or slightly over capacity in that same time period. Langley is under capacity now at 82 percent and projected to be at 79 percent capacity by the 2023-24 school year. But it is critical that Langley’s capacity numbers be closely monitored so that all neighborhoods currently in Langley HS can stay there.
Any move of students between Langley and McLean would be just the first step toward solving the McLean overcrowding problem. I ask the Board to begin looking into the initial planning for an addition to McLean HS. If there is discussion of putting a modular at the school, while that may increase capacity in the short-term, a modular cannot be viewed as a permanent solution.
To address the effects of overcrowding at McLean HS in the short term, the FCPS School Board needs to act now. Janie Strauss, the current Dranesville School Board member, is proposing an amendment to the CIP to allow school district staff to begin investigating the movement of some McLean students to Langley. Based on my conversations with Dranesville parents, it is clear that there is concern and a variety of viewpoints over the potential scope and methods to begin this move.
The school board must plan to maximize community input throughout this upcoming decision making process.
In my view, the implementation of the One Fairfax policy, adopted by the Board of Supervisors and the School Board in 2016, means that all students across our county deserve to be in efficient, well run school facilities without capacity issues. All of our students deserve the safest, most efficient and healthiest environment possible for learning, and we need to take the first steps for McLean HS.
Elaine Tholen is a candidate for the Dranesville seat on the Fairfax County Public Schools Board.
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