Loudoun weighs attendance zones for Ashburn and Dulles North schools

In fast-growing Loudoun County, the process of establishing new school attendance zones is all too familiar, and the response from the affected communities is almost always the same: Don’t split us up.

With attendance zones for middle and high schools in the Ashburn and Dulles North area under review, the School Board is once again facing the task of creating a plan that will relieve crowding, accommodate rising enrollment, balance academic needs and take into consideration the impassioned feedback of hundreds of residents.

The new boundary lines are necessary to accommodate the opening of two schools in fall 2014: Trailside Middle School, adjacent to Newton-Lee Elementary, and an unnamed high school, HS-6, near Rosa Lee Carter Elementary. A second unnamed high school, HS-8, is scheduled to open in fall 2015 in the Lansdowne development.

Four plans are under review by the School Board, with more proposals expected as the process continues. A base plan, prepared by county staff members, proposes to split some of the Loudoun’s largest homeowners associations. Three plans proposed by the board aim to address the needs of the area schools while reducing the division of large communities.

Sam Adamo, executive director of planning and legislative services for Loudoun schools, told the School Board at a March 11 meeting that the base plan prioritized balancing enrollment over keeping homeowners associations together at the same schools.

Many of the schools affected by the rezoning are struggling to keep up with rising enrollment, Adamo said in making his presentation. Briar Woods, Broad Run and Stone Bridge high schools are over capacity, and Belmont Ridge and Farmwell Station middle schools are using trailers to help alleviate crowding.

Although the base plan would redistribute students more evenly across the area’s secondary schools, it would also divide several large communities, including Belmont Country Club, Ashburn Village, Ashburn Farm, Broadlands and Brambleton.

Residents of those communities were not pleased by the prospect of being divided among different schools. Hundreds of parents and students have filled the board room at the schools administration building during recent public hearings to express their concerns and objections to the School Board.

Since the base plan was first presented this month, School Board members have countered with other proposals aimed at keeping more communities intact. School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) and board member Bill Fox (Leesburg) have suggested plans that would keep more students at their current schools, but both options inevitably involve dividing some homeowners associations.

Fox said he based his plan on the attendance zones adopted by the School Board in December for Ashburn and Dulles North elementary schools. Because many families expressed concern over having students separated from their friends, Fox noted that organizing a plan around the elementary boundary lines would allow friendships formed in younger grades to continue into middle and high school.

At the public hearing March 20, the most recent, the board room was filled with parents and students clad in color-coded shirts to represent their communities. Dozens of speakers addressed the board to give their reasons why their communities should be kept intact.

Tracy Bongianino, a parent in the Belmont Country Club community, was among many speakers who urged the board to keep the community’s students together at Trailside Middle School.

Because Trailside is adjacent to Newton-Lee Elementary, “this creates a community bond between the two schools that should not be broken,” Bongianino said. “There is simply no reason to split us into separate schools.”

Speakers from other communities made similar appeals. Heather Philips, a Brambleton parent who said she lives about a half-mile from Briar Woods High, expressed frustration that the proximity might not be taken into account.

“My kids can walk to school,” she said. “Briar Woods resides within the physical boundaries of Brambleton . . . it is our community school, and we want to stay there.”

Rich Kelsey, the final speaker of the evening, acknowledged the challenge of creating a plan that would balance so many competing factors and perspectives. He also conceded the inevitability of dividing at least some communities to create a new map.

“There has been almost one unified theme” at the public hearings, he said. “It can be summed up like this: ‘Keep my community together, but don’t be afraid to carve up everyone else’s community.’
. . . You can’t give everyone exactly what they want. It’s impossible.”

The next work session will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the school administration building, 21000 Education Ct., Ashburn. The next public hearing will be at 6:30 p.m. next Thursday.

The School Board is scheduled to adopt its final attendance zone plan April 23.

Residents can submit questions, comments or proposals to lcpsplan@lcps.org. Information about the boundary process is also on the Loudoun schools Web site.

Caitlin Gibson covers Loudoun County for The Washington Post.
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