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Annandale parents recruited to study 'critical' school crowding

By Holly Hobbs
Fairfax County Times
Thursday, August 12, 2010; VA17

Parents in the Annandale area have been asked to study overpopulation at their children's schools and offer solutions to alleviate what is being called "critical" crowding in multiple buildings.

The study, which kicked off in late last month, will address crowding at Annandale High School and Poe Middle School, as well as construction of an elementary school on the Lacey site, scheduled to open in 2012.

One of the solutions is likely to be redistricting, which comes with its own problems, said those serving on the panel, which is made up of parents from 21 schools.

According to a Fairfax County public schools staff report, building a new school at the Lacey site in Annandale, which could serve as many as 906 children, will provide some relief to crowding at Annandale Terrace, Beach Tree, Woodburn and Westlawn elementary schools. However, it will not address crowding at other elementary schools in the area, such as Fairhill, Braddock Belvedere and Shrevewood.

"The opening of the new school provides a great opportunity to take a comprehensive look at all prevailing issues" in the area, the staff's study reads.

Parents on the Annandale-area panel also will decide whether the new Lacey elementary school will serve kindergarten through fifth grade or through sixth, a decision that will affect middle schools in the area.

A domino effect could in turn affect students who would attend high schools with advanced courses such as the International Baccalaureate program. Primarily used in high schools, IB is a two-year program that combines advanced study classes in six areas -- English, foreign language, social studies, science , math and an elective -- with community service and extracurricular activities. Courses in the IB program are weighted, and in many cases students are able to gain college credit.

But for some students in the county, preparing for the IB program starts in middle school. At Glasgow Middle School, the IB Middle Years Program provides more rigorous studies for students planning on taking IB classes at Stuart High School, according to the school system's website. Parents said they worry redistricting could disrupt these programs.

Woodson High School parent Nell Hurley, who is on the study panel, already has begun looking at the issue. Woodson, he said, discarded its IB program nearly a decade ago.

"Those students who still wanted to attend an IB high school could be allowed to attend Stuart or Lee" high schools, he said.

But Hurley said his concern is that efforts to fix crowding issues at one school could create the same problems at another.

"We in the Woodson [schools] pyramid are fine with the boundaries we currently have," he said. "We are not trying to gain or lose any students."

"On paper, Woodson has some extra space," he added, but the number of students attending Woodson has risen since many students were transferred from Pimmit Hills High School, an alternative high school for adults and troubled teens that closed in June because of school budget cuts.

Woodson High School is at 92 percent capacity, which is expected to decline to 89 percent by the 2014-15 school year, according to Fairfax school officials. In contrast, Annandale High School is at 120 percent capacity, with the problem expected to grow to 127 percent by the 2014-15 school year. Three other high schools -- West Springfield (106.7 percent), Oakton (110.4 percent) and Robinson (108.4 percent) -- already exceed their capacity, according to the school system.

Annandale resident Monica Buckhorn's daughter is a rising first-grader this year at Belvedere, and her son will start kindergarten in 2012, just as the Lacey school, located on Crest Drive in Annandale, is scheduled to open.

"I could see us being redistricted to Lacey, which is why I am very interested in what it will have to offer the students," said Buckhorn, who serves on the Annandale Regional Planning Study committee. "Belvedere has the [Gifted and Talented Center], and while I'm not sure if either of my children will be accepted into the program, I would not want to have them in two different schools if one did [have the program] and one did not."

The Annandale Regional Planning Study is similar to the Southwestern Regional Planning Study, in which parents from 23 elementary schools in the area looked at capacity issues facing their children's schools. County staff said this panel was the first of its kind, and an effort to draw more community input.

The Southwestern study concluded in the spring and, although the study continues, resulted in the closing of Clifton Elementary School, which still is an issue among school staff, FCPS officials and parents.

The Annandale study is planned to wrap up around January, said Denise James, the school system's director of facilities and planning services.

"Their mission is not to provide a recommendation to the School Board," she said. "The mission of the Annandale study is to provide a series of solutions for a new elementary school boundary for the Lacey site and list the pros and cons for each of these solutions and to provide a series of solutions for the overcrowding at the middle and high school level, with pros and cons for each solution."

The Annandale Regional Planning Study committee's next meeting is 7 p.m. Wednesday at Annandale High School.

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