Lee District Supervisor Joe Alexander told the Fairfax County School Board last week that there is strong community dissatisfaction with the way school closing decisions are made. He and 17 other county residents urged the board to include community members in future closing decisions as a matter of policy.
Alexander spoke at a public hearing on a new school closing policy that is being proposed. The hearing was held before the regular board meeting at Robinson High School in Fairfax.
The policy under consideration by the board was introduced three months ago in response to complaints about the lack of uniform criteria for school closings. It includes a provision for a countywide citizens' task force to study proposals made by the school staff.
Most of the speakers found the task force provision of the policy too general or felt that the task force was brought into the decision process too late.
"The situation has been that the school staff makes a study, recommends that a certain school be considered for closing, and then asks the community to react to the proposal. No one likes to be told that their input is just to react to it," Alexander said.
He recommended that a task force of parents and citizens be created in each school district to work with the area superintendent, the school planning staff and each school to come up with recommendations for dealing with declining school populations, deteriorating physical plants and other problems.
"I don't agree with the superintendent's proposal for a countywide task force," Alexander continued. "I think that would complicate an already highly emotional issue and dilute the local input."
His concern was shared by many of the speakers at the hearing.
"The staff should consult with the P.T.A.s of the schools under consideration for study and with local citizens associations to insure comprehensive, in-depth studies," said Carol Ann Coryell, co-chairman of the Mt. Vernon Council of Citizens Associations.
She said her group wants a countywide task force and local group involvement and feels that task force members should be appointed by the school board chairman rather than by the superintendent. They also believe that staff nominations for closings should be clearly documented, the criteria should be explicit and applied equally and the logic of the studies should be easy to understand, she said.
Robert Eldridge, president of the Beech Tree Elementary School PTA told the board that the criteria adopted by the board should be subject to periodic community review. He urged the board to keep the community informed of the board's intentions and to reduce the adversary relationship over school closings.
The school staff conducted four school closing studies last year. As a result, one of the schools, Quander Road Elementary, closed this month and will become a special education facility for emotionally disturbed youngsters next fall. Three others, Devonshire, Dun Loring and Mount Eagle Elementary Schools, were not closed.
In addition to Quander Road Elementary, the school board closed Annandale Elementary, and Willston Elementary two and three years ago, respectively. Annandale is now a school for emotionally disturbed children and Williston houses the offices of the school system's cirriculum services department.
The planning department of the school system has indicated that nine or 10 schools ot clusters of schools will be candidates for closing studies in the next three to five years.
At the end of the hearing, school board member Anthony Lane asked the staff to comment on the suggestions and proposals by the July 14 board meeting.
Others who made suggestions for changes in the school policy proposed or about the make up of the citizens' task force are Dr. Jack Woodyatt of the Devonshire PTA; Kathy Chavez, Eason Cross of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce; Moses Burt of the Ft. Hunt PTA; Catherine M. Garrigan; Betty Quirk; Helen Satterthwaite; Patti Hunt; George Alloway of the Viginia Hills Citizenz Association; Frank Medio; Kack MacDonald of the Hollin Hall Elementary PTA; Judy Almquist of Virginia Hills PTA; Matgaret Gray; Alice Fowler; Jim Erickson of the Wilton Woods PTA and Col. Paul Cevey of the County Council of PTAs.
At their regular meeting after the hearing the school board adopted a program of instructional services for English as a second language. The plan was adopted with several provisions for evaluation of its effectiveness, impact and the financial burden, all proposed by board member Mary Ann Lecos.
Lecos urged that efforts be made to change the federal law governing programs of teaching English as a second language. The U.S. Civil Rights Office turned down a less expensive proposal by the schools earlier this year. The program gets some of its money from the federal government.
The board also adopted a series of guidelines for six advisory committees and councils and honored student winners of state and national vocational education, student activity and sports competitions.
The student winners honored are Lorna Little of Lake Braddock Secondary School by the Future Business Leaders of America for placing first in the Virginia Vocational Youth Organization competition; Stephean Gillen of Herndon High School for first place in the National French Contest; and Bryan T. Camp and Stewart D. McKnight of Mt. Vernon High School for first in Affirmative Team at the Virginia AAA Debate Championships.
State sports AAA Track and field winners honored are: Cornelius A. Refearn, Ft. Hunt High School, for the long Jump; Anne E. Cale, Herndon High School, for the girls high jump; Jeri A. Daniels, Robinson Secondary School, for the girl's shot put; Bradford Johnson, Langley High School, for the high jump; Sandra L. McGuire, Annandale High School, for the girls' one mile run; and Jeffery E. Parfitt, Edison High School, for the pole vault.
Others sports winners are: Linda M. Portasik, Fort Hunt High, girl's 440-yard dash; James M. Hill, Oakton High, two-mile run; Joann L. Dyre, Linda Webster, Barbara A. Lyon, and Teresa M. Basgall, all of W.T. Woodson High, girls' mile relay.