Fairfax County School Superintendent William J. Burkholder, in a surprise move, recommended last night that the School Board close Groveton High in the southern part of the county and convert it to an intermediate school next fall.
At a board meeting attended by about 100 parents from the Mount Vernon area, he called for dividing Groveton's students between the nearby Fort Hunt and Mount Vernon high schools.
Burkholder's recommendation, which caused dismay among some Groveton parents, is contrary to a citizen task force proposal that called for closing Fort Hunt High.
In his presentation, Burkholder said he could not justify closing Fort Hunt when "no other high school in the county has so few students who are bused." He said he could not justify "deliberately disrupting" a situation where 71 percent of the students walk to school.
Steve Ramber, a member of the task force, called the superintendent's proposal absurd. He said it would destroy the so-called two-pyramid structure of the area's schools by leaving two high schools for one intermediate. Other Groveton parents objected that the capacity of the new Groveton Intermediate, at 2,100 students, would make it too large. Burkholder said enrollment there is projected at only 1,600.
Closing a high school is intended to solve the problem of declining enrollment in the eastern part of the Mount Vernon district. Burkholder's recommendation followed months of heated public debate in which thousands of parents packed a series of meetings to argue for the preservation of their high schools.
The most aggressive and highly organized campaign was waged by the Fort Hunt community, a wealthy and cohesive pocket in the eastern corner of the Mount Vernon District. That community waged a successful effort five years ago to have their school reopened after it was badly damaged in a fire.
On election day last month, Fort Hunt High students collected 43,000 signatures from voters at polling places throughout the county on a petition opposing the closing of their school.
According to pamphlets distributed last night by the coalition formed to defend Fort Hunt's interests, the campaign raised $8,229.
The citizen task force appointed to study how to respond to a long-term decline in enrollment held months of weekly meetings before recommending the conversion of Fort Hunt High to an intermediate school.
The task force called for sending the Fort Hunt students to Groveton High, saying Fort Hunt had the smallest capacity and was expected to have the smallest enrollment. In its easternmost corner location, the task force said, the high school is also the farthest removed from the district's growth spots.
But Burkholder said that his plan, in addition to preserving a high school with a high concentration of students who walk to school, would result in "significant" savings of an estimated $2.05 million annually. He said it would also avoid a capital expenditure of $11 million, including the estimated $4.8 million that would be spent renovating Whitman Intermediate, a step the task force advocates.
Burkholder said the boundary adjustments would lead to the more efficient use of three high school buildings, improve the school's ability to offer a wide-ranging curriculum and resolve the declining enrollment problem for the next five, and perhaps 10 years.
The Groveton area is considerably less affluent than the area served by Fort Hunt High and contains a higher concentration of minorities.
Under the superintendent's plan, the new intermediate school at Groveton would serve students currently attending Bryant, Foster and Whitman intermediates, which would all be closed.
The citizen task force also recommended closing Foster and Bryant, but, unlike Burkholder, proposed that the Foster and Bryant students attend a new intermediate school at Fort Hunt.
The boundary changes Burkholder proposed would divide Groveton's existing attendance area in the following way: high school students who live east of Rte. 1, north of Morningside Lane and Paul Spring Branch, and west of Devonshire Road, including both sides of Popkins Lane and the Woodley Mobile Home Park, would attend Fort Hunt High. Those who live west of Rte. 1, as well as those who live east of the highway in an area that is south of Woodley Mobile Home Park and Popkins Lane, east of Devonshire Road, south of Paul Spring Branch and west of Fort Hunt Road, would attend Mount Vernon.
Burkholder also suggested a boundary change to relieve crowding at Robinson Secondary School in the growing western part of the county. Some seventh and eighth graders in part of the Robinson attendance area would attend Lanier Intermediate, while some ninth graders would be assigned to Fairfax High.
The board took no action on Burkholder's proposal last night.