School-Redistricting Forum Draws 2,000

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Fairfax County school officials have crafted four scenarios for shifting thousands of students into different high schools in the western sector, an initiative that drew more than 2,000 parents to Westfield High last night to respond.

Wearing stickers or colored shirts to declare allegiance to their current schools, parents and students met in small groups and listed problems with each scenario. Some lamented longer commutes; others warned of dividing neighborhoods. Most parents said, privately or publicly, they opposed any move to uproot their children.

Officials of the region's largest school system are searching for ways to reduce disparities in enrollment, curricula and demographics in western Fairfax high schools. The process of redrawing school boundaries is usually sensitive, but in this case it is becoming increasingly contentious. Last night's community meeting was the second to study high school boundaries.

For Fairfax, the challenge is to fill nearly 700 empty seats at South Lakes High, which has a capacity of 2,100 students, and ease crowding at Westfield High and Chantilly High. The latter schools have enrollment of 3,171 and 2,838 students, respectively, both exceeding their capacities.

Nearby, Oakton High has 2,350 students, and Herndon High has 2,190. Madison High, with 1,910 students, could also be affected. The school system's goal is to move each school closer to an enrollment of 2,000.

In the well-attended first meeting Nov. 12, many parents vented concerns about boundaries, and their comments were compiled in a 150-page document posted on the school system's Web site.

Last night, so many residents turned out that officials asked some to submit written comments instead of joining discussion groups.

The four scenarios recently posted on the Web site assume that current students stay put and that next year's freshmen would be the first to move. Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for facilities and transportation services, called the ideas a starting point. "I would be surprised if any of these scenarios ended up being presented . . . to the School Board," he told the crowd last night. A summary:

¿ In one scenario, students from the McNair and Floris elementary school attendance districts, who eventually go to Westfield, would be divided between Herndon and South Lakes. Students from the Oak Hill Elementary area, who now continue on to Chantilly, would go to Westfield.

¿ In a second, McNair area students would be split between Herndon and South Lakes. Fox Mill Elementary area students would move from Oakton to South Lakes, and a small group of Wolf Trap Elementary area students would move from Madison to South Lakes. Oak Hill Elementary area students would move from Chantilly to Oakton.

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