A 43-member task force of Fairfax County citizens is in the final stages of a student enrollment study at the county's 23 high schools that could lead to school closings and boundary changes.
School officials will not know the contents of the study or its final recommendations until Nov. 30 when it is presented to a special meeting of the Fairfax County School Board.
John Schreck, executive assistant to the division superintendent, Fairfax County Schools, said the task force is officially studying "changing enrollment in secondary schools." Originally, their topic was "declining enrollments" but the task force soon realized it would also be studying overcrowded high schools, Schreck explained.
Schreck said although it is possible that the task force could recommend keeping things as they are, he expects changes will be proposed including closings or mergers.
A similar study of Fairfax elementary schools several years ago resulted in the merger or closing of elementary schools in different parts of the county.
"They (the task force) are now going into the third phase of the study which examines the impact of the implementation of data assembled during the first two phases," Schreck said.
The task force first developed "what they felt were criteria for maintaining an adequate, acceptable secondary school program and then determined the size of school that would best meet that criteria," Schreck said.
School officials admit that proposed closings or boundary changes could create a political hornets' nest especially if shifts in student populations include high schools that traditionally rank highest on the scholastic aptitude test (SATs) or have highly touted athletic programs.
"A lot of the problems related to the good or the best schools in the county is perception," Schreck said. Certain schools have established reputations for academic excellence, reputations backed by high SAT scores. For example, Langley High, which serves the McLean-Great Falls area, usually tops all other county schools in verbal and math scores. Several years ago, when a major shift of students from the Langley district to McLean High was proposed, there was a lot of public outcry, a lawsuit filed, and angry words exchanged among parents, students and school leaders before the change was implemented.
"It is hard for someone who has bought a house in a specific school district to accept boundary changes after they have made an investment in a house," Schreck explained.
The school board plans to hold public hearings in early January on the task force recommendations. The task force has been meeting twice weekly in public for several month, attracting little public attention. Its membership includes a representative from each of the 23 pyramids in the county. A pyramid includes a high school and its intermediate and elementary feeder schools. Then, each of the county's 10 school board members named a task force member.
Nine Fairfax citizen groups, including the NAACP, the Federation of Citizens Associations and the American Association of Retired Persons, are also represented. There is also an ad hoc student member.