Parents of sixth graders in Falls Church City are concerned over whether their children will be the oldest students in their elementary schools next fall or the youngest in a junior-senior high school housing individuals as much as eight years older.
When the city next summer shuts down Thomas Jefferson Elementary School for one year and $1.138 million in renovations, its approximately 200 students will have to study elsewhere. The school board has been explaining its options to parents and plans to hear their reactions at a public hearing Tuesday night.
Although it is anticipated that any student shift would be temporary, declining school enrollments have prompted the board to reconsider informally the renovation plans for its other two elementary schools and the possible closing of one elementary school. Either move could render permanent the shift to the high school.
Two options are before the School Board:
Divide the Thomas Jefferson Elementary students in grade K-6 in halves and house them in Madison and Mt. Daniel Elementary Schools. Although those schools are below capacity now, school officials have estimated that this option would require one trailer at each location to house the transferred students. Each trailer would cost an estimated $40,000 for the year.
Divide the Thomas Jefferson students in grades K-5 between Madison and Mt. Daniel and send all sixth graders to George Mason Junior-Senior High School. The sixth graders - four classes of 25 each - would be in an area separate from junior and senior high students. No additional trailer space would be needed under this plan, administrators said.
Although the proposed shift of sixth graders to the junior-senior high school has sparked considerable discussion, public opinion of the plans is hard to gauge, Ann Hoverson, president of the Thomas Jefferson PTA, said.
"I feel as though the parents are not too opposed to either (plan). The children are (eager) to go the high school, but some of them have misgivings," Hoverson said. A supporter of the shift to high school, she said that most of the shift opponents are concerned about the social implications of their 10 and 11-year-olds attending the same school as 17 and 18-year-olds, even if they don't attend the same classes.
"They are worried about what the kids will see in the halls. That's ridiculous. The high school shift would be much harder on the parents than on the children," Hoverson said.
George Thoms, principal at George Mason, emphasized that sixth graders in the school would be as distinct and isolated as they wanted to be, through separate lunches and bus routes, if social contact with older students is a significant parental concern.
"We have nothing against mixing the sixth graders with seventh and eight graders, but we think the parents are somewhat protective and don't want their kids mixing with tenth, eleventh,M and twelfth graders," Thoms said.
Although the school board has not expressed a preference on the housing options, board member Elizabeth Cesnik recently said "We may have our best option shot down byy emotionalism and lack of information."
Elizabeth Blystone, who chairs the board, emphasized that no decisions will be made until after Tuesday's public hearing.
"Our main concern is the welfare of he children in this transition," Blystone said.