Waiting for a Seat

Waiting for a Seat

In the weeks before school began, principals at local elementary schools talked about closed grades and maxed out classrooms and, when school began Sept. 5 many new students began attending classes at a school that was outside of their attendance boundary.

Of the county's 44 elementary schools, nine schools have reached their maximum in at least one grade level, forcing newer students to attend an overflow school. The nine schools, which are all located in the county's fastest growing areas, include Hutchison Farm Elementary School in South Riding, Mill Run Elementary School in Ashburn, Pinebrook Elementary School in Aldie, Seldens Landing Elementary School in Lansdowne and Legacy Elementary School in Brambleton.

At 1,050 students, Legacy Elementary School is the largest elementary school in the county, its enrollment is up more than 200 students from the 2005-2006 school year, its inaugural year. Pinebrook also opened last year.

EVEN WITH nine schools working at an overflow basis, Loudoun County Public Schools public information officer Wayde Byard said there a very small percentage of students are actually affected.

"There are about 200 kids on the [overflow] list," he said. "With 22,870 students beginning school this year, that is really a small number."

Byard said that the issue of overflow is nothing knew to the county.

"The first month of school is always a shakedown for us," he said.

Classroom maximums for elementary schools are set at 25 students for kindergarten, first, second and third grades. Fourth and fifth grades have a limit of 27 students per classroom.

Parents who came in to register their children for school over the summer, were informed immediately if there was a chance their child might be moved to a different school.

"These students know up front where they are going," Byard said. "There are no surprises."

At Legacy Elementary, kindergarten registration began in April and parents were given a letter informing them that their child might not be able to attend their home school.

"The county started notifying parents months ago," Legacy Principal Robert Duckworth said.

THE MOST IMPORTANT thing, Byard said is that every child in the county was able to attend school on the first day.

"Everyone who came here had a seat," he said.

All students being transferred to a nearby school are transported by the county, so that parents feel no extra burden at having to drive out of their way to get to school.

While relocated students are being held on a waiting list for their home school, there is no overall waiting list for the school system, Byard said.

"We keep a list of students and the day that they tried to register," Duckworth said, "and then we call that student back as soon as we have a spot available."

If a spot opens up during the school year, the parents of the next child on that school's waiting list are given the option of transferring their students to their home school or keeping them at their overflow school.

"After we call them back and let them know there is a spot open, it is really up to the parents at that point," Duckworth said. "We have had some who have opted to stay and others who want to transfer schools."

If a child is transferred back to their home school at some point during the school year, Byard said there are very few problems that arise during the change. Children will not be behind in their new school, he said, because curriculum is the same throughout the county.

"The transition is really seamless," he said. "We have done it over decades."

ONE OF THE main reasons schools saw an overflow of students this year is because problems the county has been facing in the construction of new schools, Sam Adamo, the public schools' director of planning and legislative services, said. For the first time in a decade, the county opened no new schools this year, something that was not originally supposed to happen.

"What happened in Brambleton is that Creighton's Corner was actually scheduled to open last year, but because of difficulties with the site it got pushed back a year," Adamo said.

Sycolin Creek Elementary School, which would relieve the overpopulated Evergreen Mill Elementary School in Leesburg, was scheduled to open two years ago, but development issues kept it from being constructed on time.

"There are hot spots in the county," Adamo said, "where the population is growing."

Even with the growing populations in much of the county, total enrollment numbers were lowered from the numbers originally projected. Adamo said the lowered enrollment numbers are still true, even in the face of overburdened schools.

"The total enrollment is under the original projections, but that doesn't mean there aren't areas with higher populations where overflow can occur," he said.

Adamo said the enrollment projections in certain clusters help the county to determine where new schools are needed.

The county has five new elementary schools scheduled to open next year, including the postponed Creighton's Corner and Sycolin Creek schools, which county officials believe should solve any ongoing overflow issues.

"There is always a year or two where there's a bubble," Byard said. "Things should level off next year."