School Board Expected to Approve New Boundaries

School Board Expected to Approve New Boundaries

A proposal for new boundaries for the new elementary school at the Andrew Chapel site and three other elementary schools is scheduled to culminate with a final vote by the Fairfax County School Board on Thursday.

At a Monday work session, At-Large member Rita Thompson asked other members of the School Board to “stretch ourselves” to address the worries of Great Falls parents who are still concerned over their new elementary school assignments.

But Dranesville’s Representative, Jane Strauss, said Tuesday that she doesn’t expect to make any more changes.

The new boundaries for Andrew Chapel, designed over a period of five months in three public meetings in McLean, left two groups of parents unhappy.

One is the Fox Run subdivision in Great Falls, located on Springvale Road about half a mile south of Georgetown Pike. That group of 18 occupied homes now sends seven children to elementary school, according to parent Lori LaTulip. It would eventually have 13 students.

They are being reassigned from Forestville Elementary to the new school at Andrew Chapel, a driving distance of about 4.5 miles.

All residences accessed from Springvale Road south of Georgetown Pike were reassigned to Andrew Chapel, Fox Run among them.

The other, known as the “Northern Alliance” is a group of residences in northwestern Great Falls at the north end of Seneca Road and along Beach Mill Road.

THOSE HOMES WILL shift from Forestville to Great Falls Elementary.

Both Forestville, considered the most overcrowded of the elementary schools in the boundary reassignments, and Great Falls Elementary schools are on septic fields and cannot be expanded.

Strauss has said that if public sewer were extended from Route 7 to reach Forestville, it is possible that more classrooms could be added there.

But the limited size of 50-year old Great Falls Elementary’s site precludes adding classrooms.

A third proposal, put forth by Seneca Road parent Pam Boers and others, that children from the south side of Route 7 be moved to Andrew Chapel would simply shift the overcrowding from one school to another, Strauss said.

That would also happen if those children were moved into Aldrin Elementary in Reston, or Armstrong in Herndon.

“I don’t think it is fair to take kids from one overcrowded situation to another situation that is even more overcrowded,” she said.

“We’ve done the best that we could,” said Strauss. “I need to make good on the promises I have made to people who are not very happy,”

“We will walk away with Forestville being overcrowded,” said Facilities Planning Director Gary Chevalier at the work session.

“We will walk away with Great Falls being at, or slightly under, capacity.

Fox Run parents who attended a Monday work session by the School Board say they that if they must leave Forestville -- a contention they challenge -- they would prefer Great Falls Elementary to Andrew Chapel.

Lori LaTulip, a parent who lives at Fox Run, said at least 30 students who attend Great Falls Elementary’s general program as “pupil placements” from other school attendance areas should be moved to make room for Fox Run children rather than sending them to Andrew Chapel.

Students who attend Great Falls from outside their assigned boundaries to participate in the Japanese Immersion program will be allowed to stay, because that was designed as a “magnet” program.

But other pupil placements are permitted as a convenience for parents or teachers who work in Great Falls, and want their children to attend school near them. Others go there to get access to an after-school program because their parents work.

LaTulip said moving their children outside Great Falls violates several of the general principles the School Board pledged to observe, including the preservation of neighborhoods, the length of transportation time, and driving children past existing schools [such as Great Falls Elementary via Georgetown Pike and Walker Road] to reach Andrew Chapel.

AFTER THE MONDAY WORK session, Strauss said she had asked the school district transportation staff to limit the length of the bus ride from Fox Run to Andrew Chapel to a maximum of 45 minutes.

“We’re going to have to be very careful how we set up the bus runs,” she said.

LaTulip said school officials used a computer to estimate the commute from west to east to Andrew Chapel at 34 minutes, if the bus made no other stops after Fox Run. But she thinks it could take longer because of eastbound congestion on Route 7 in the morning.

In the afternoon, school officials estimate the 4.4-mile drive west on Route 7 to Springvale Road, and then north to Fox Run, would take about 15 minutes.

Chevalier said it is unlikely that every parent will be happy with the boundary plan.

“In the end we need to obviously relieve overcrowding, and take advantage of the new space being built at Andrew Chapel,” he said.

“Will everybody in the end get what they’ve asked for? Probably not,” Chevalier said.

“I give the School Board members a lot of credit for the work they’ve put in trying to find a solution that will address as many of the [public’s] concerns as we possibly can.

School officials have stood by their promise that no children would be reassigned to a different high school pyramid because of the new elementary school boundaries.

“We said we won’t change the high schools for anyone in Great Falls or McLean,” Chevalier said.

A $6.7 million 16-classroom addition is proposed for Langley High School in the current capital improvement plan that will go before voters in November, if the School Board approves. It would be completed in September, 2007.

A 12-room modular addition for Cooper is planned in 2006, at a cost to taxpayers of $2.4 million, Chevalier said.