After hearing from parents next week, the Fairfax County School Board will vote on new attendance boundaries Feb. 27, a decision that will affect where thousands of children go to elementary school in September.
The aim of the proposed changes is to ease crowded classrooms by shifting students to a new or less jammed elementary school, officials said. Such adjustments are routine in a growing county but are usually one of the School Board's most contentious issues because there are always families who are displeased that their children will have to switch schools.
More than 3,100 students will be going to a new elementary school if the board approves the proposals, said Gary Chevalier, director of facilities planning.
The 12-member board is scheduled to vote Feb. 27 after public hearings at 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at Jackson Middle School in Falls Church.
The new boundaries reflect the addition of four elementary schools and the creation of six centers for gifted and talented elementary students, according to staff recommendations presented to the board last month.
Figuring out which students should go to new schools and which should stay at their current institution is not easy, said Nancy Sprague, assistant superintendent for instructional services. The school district cannot please every parent, she said.
Under one of the proposals, for instance, a gifted and talented (GT) program would be created at Oak Hill Elementary in Herndon, drawing students from Oak Hill and two other elementary schools.
Until now, Oak Hill's GT students have had two options: Hunters Woods Elementary in Reston -- a magnet school with some of the most crowded facilities in the county -- or Greenbriar West Elementary in Fairfax, which can take some students up to an hour to reach by bus.
The families who now send their GT students to Greenbriar West welcomed the idea of a new center at Oak Hill closer to their homes. But the Hunters Woods parents opposed the proposal because they do not want their children to miss out on their magnet school's prestigious arts and science programs.
A compromise was reached. A new GT center would be created at Oak Hill, but only third-graders at Greenbriar West and Hunters Woods would be required to switch schools. Advanced classes for other grades would be phased in over the next few years, according to the proposal before the School Board.
The deal did not please Rebecca Donatello, whose son will enter the fourth grade in September and will still have to travel up to an hour every day to attend Greenbriar West. Because the school is so far away, her son gets home at 4:30 p.m. and cannot participate in before-school activities, she said.
Donatello contended that the plan favored the Hunters Woods parents.
"A lot of us were upset because we felt that we were not heard," she said. "Now, if we want to make changes we all have to go to these School Board meetings and spend a lot of our time lobbying to get our point across."
But Barbara Skowronski said it was unfair for the school district to force her third-grade daughter to go to Oak Hill after she had just been accepted into Hunters Woods's GT program.
"It was too much change, especially because she felt she was already part of Hunters Woods," she said. "We are not against the Oak Hill program, it's just that we didn't want these children to be moved around so much. Since they were promised Hunters Woods, we wanted them to stay at Hunters Woods."
Sprague, the assistant superintendent, said such battles are typical of every proposed boundary change across the county.
"I can give you a scenario for every one of those six [new] GT centers that is every bit as complicated" as Oak Hill, she said.
The elementary schools opening in September are Andrew Chapel, which will draw students from schools in Great Falls; Island Creek in the Springfield area; Lorton Station in Lorton; and Northeast Centreville. Those schools can hold up to 950 students.
GT programs are being created at Andrew Chapel, Clearview, Lorton Station, Mosby Woods, Oak Hill and Riverside Elementary schools.
Chevalier, the school district's facilities director, said that although some parents protest sending their children to a new school, the change usually means a shorter commute and a better building.
But in some cases families will not have a choice of where to send their children. He pointed out that some schools are well beyond capacity. Hunters Woods, for instance, has no room left even for temporary trailers and has had to annex space at nearby Dogwood Elementary School in Reston.
"We all know that change can sometimes be disconcerting, be a little uncomfortable," he said. "But you are going to a state-of-the-art instructional facility, the latest in program support, the latest in technology, a principal who gets to handpick their staff. There are a lot of advantages."