Scope Set for Boundary Study

Scope Set for Boundary Study

School Board to discuss changing boundaries at South County, Hayfield and Lake Braddock Secondary Schools.

Although still a few months off, members of the Fairfax County School Board have agreed to the parameters of the upcoming boundary study for South County Secondary School.

During a work session on Monday, May 8, board members agreed that the study will focus only on the boundaries of South County, Lake Braddock and Hayfield secondary schools.

Some debate occurred over the inclusion of Mount Vernon High School and Robinson Secondary School in the study. However, Robinson is overcrowded at its current enrollment, with a capacity of 2,825 in the high school and 1,275 in the middle school and enrollments of 2,838 and 1,286 students, respectively.

“Mount Vernon is a little under capacity but it’s not big enough to have a significant impact,” said Gary Chevalier, chair of the Office of Facilities Planning for the school system. “We tried to bring children in there a few years ago, but if we tried to do it more, we’ll run into split feeder issues.”

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE, Robinson is expected to be nearly 600 students under capacity in the high school by 2010, with 2,378 students expected in the high school and 1,128 students in the middle school.

One thing that was not decided was whether the boundary study will look at possibly removing students in seventh and eighth grades from South County, making it exclusively a high school.

Dean Tistadt, assistant superintendent of facilities and transportation with the school system, said that decision was to be left up to the School Board.

“I think it’s a bad idea. I think that should be decided before the study starts,” said School Board member Janet Oleszek (At-large).

“We want to give the community the option of discussing both,” Tistadt said. “If we remove the middle school students, we won’t have to change the boundary at all. We didn’t want to take all the options off the table yet. The community should be part of that decision.”

Still, not all board members agreed, expressing concern that the community could be looking at two separate options in the study without being aware of the full scope.

“One study is institutional, the other is boundary,” said Board member Brad Center (Lee). “I don’t think we can move forward with both options on the table.”

Because, inevitably, students will be moved out of South County, Center also said he’d like to see a guarantee for Hayfield Secondary School, that no current students will be moved out in order to make room for returning students.

The possibility of installing an enrollment cap to prevent such overcrowding from happening again had been included in earlier discussions. In that case, enrollments would be restricted to a certain amount of the school’s capacity, possibly between 85 and 90 percent, to allow for a buffer zone if enrollment projections were incorrect.

“A 90 percent cap means there would 250 students at South County without homes,” Chevalier said. “That makes it really difficult to meet that target right now.”

“My goal is to make this even and look at that 85 to 90 percent capacity as a whole,” Center said, making that number even across the three schools. “Taking Hayfield over 90 percent capacity will not have my support.”

The School Board is also in the process of receiving and reviewing bids to hire a consultant to examine the methods used to project enrollment statistics. It is still the intention of the school system, Tistadt said, to have the results of the consultant’s research in time for the fall boundary study.

“We want to look at this information and get new insights, either validating our process or changing it,” said Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence), chair of the School Board’s facilities committee.

When asked what would happen if the consultant suggested a complete change in the methods, Chevalier said they would have to “wait and see.”

“The changes may be easy to implement,” he said. “If it’s talking about starting all over with a whole new process, that will be difficult to do in time for this study.”