At a public hearing this week, dozens of members of the Lincoln Elementary School community conveyed a clear message to the Loudoun County School Board: Their school will not be closed without a fight.
Grappling with another challenging budget cycle this year, the board last week raised the possibility of closing Lincoln Elementary, a national blue-ribbon school that serves just 136 students in the historic western Loudoun village of Lincoln.
It would cost the school system just over $300,000 for repairs required to keep the building up to code, according to LCPS staff. As the board looks for ways to cut costs — facing pressure from the county Board of Supervisors to “find efficiencies” in the budget — Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) last week asked Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III to gather more information about what would be involved in closing Lincoln.
At the hearing Tuesday night, about 40 parents and members of the school community implored the School Board to keep Lincoln open, pointing to the school’s impressive academic record as well as its place as the center of a historic community.
“Yes, Lincoln Elementary is small and maybe not as efficient or high-tech as the bigger and newer schools, but it is the center of a community and has been for generations,” said Colleen Gustavson, a Loudoun County native and parent of two children at Lincoln. “If you add up all the ways Lincoln Elementary serves the community, you will see it is well worth the investment.”
Ian Tillman, a parent of a first-grader at Lincoln, pointed to the school’s success as evidence that high-tech expenditures aren’t necessary for students to excel academically: Lincoln is a small building, with no gymnasium, auditorium or cutting-edge classroom technology, but its students have consistently scored 100 percent on Standards of Learning exams, he said.
“All you need is great teachers, a great administration and a high level of parent involvement. both in the classroom and at home,” he said.
As the hearing continued and a steady flow of parents and students approached the podium to address the School Board, the community’s emotional ties to the school became increasingly evident.
Kerry Blake, a sixth-grade student at Blue Ridge Middle School, said she wanted her two younger siblings to have the chance to finish elementary school at Lincoln, as she did.
“Lincoln won the governor’s award for five years in a row, and in the year 2011, Lincoln won the blue-ribbon award,” Kerry said. “I’m proud to be going on from Lincoln because I know that no other school could ever work as hard for me.”
Brenna MacMillin, a Purcellville resident and working mother of three, also spoke passionately about Lincoln’s academic record.
“This school should be an example to the rest of the county for how to achieve a climate of success,” she said. “How can you take a true climate for success and close it down? It is senseless to me.”
MacMillin’s voice began to break as she continued. “I love Lincoln, I love the teachers and the staff.… please protect this little gem that we all love so much.”
No final decision about the future of the school has been made, but the Lincoln community members made it clear that they have no plans to back down. A group of about 20 parents met the day before the hearing, several said, to organize their arguments and plans to defend the school.
Victor Blake, Kerry’s father, said in an interview that the value of the school goes beyond its academic success and sentimental ties to the community — the historic charm of the village school is also a selling point for prospective homebuyers and businesses alike, he said, and therefore has a significant impact on the county economy.
“People move here for that school. Thirteen years ago I bought my property for that school, and I’m not the only one,” he said. “I’m a big fiscal conservative myself, so I’m all for swinging the ax and cutting expenses — but there’s a way to save money without closing schools.”
Although the tone of Tuesday’s hearing was respectful, Blake said it would be a “knock-down, drag-out fight” if the board does not yield to the community’s wishes.
“We know what the charter says for the schools, and if they ignore the community completely — it can’t just be about money,” he said. “We will go to court.”