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FCPS still looking at options to relieve Kent Gardens Elementary crowding

Kent Gardens Elementary School in McLean (via Google Maps)

Efforts to alleviate crowding issues at Kent Gardens Elementary School are starting to pick up steam, but Fairfax County Public Schools is still working to identify and pursue specific solutions.

With 1,023 students, the McLean school is at 121% of its building capacity, per a proposed capital improvement program (CIP) for fiscal years 2023-2027. That makes it one of the most crowded schools in FCPS, second only to Wakefield Forest Elementary School and tied with Centreville High School.

Wakefield Forest in Annandale is at 135% capacity, but construction is underway on a renovation, which will reduce its capacity utilization to 80%. Centreville High is in line for an expansion as part of the FCPS renovation queue, which was last updated in 2009.

Kent Gardens, however, has yet to join the queue, despite overcrowding complaints persisting in the McLean High School pyramid for a decade now.

That may change after FCPS staff hosted a community meeting on Oct. 7 to discuss the challenges facing the elementary school and gather feedback on potential solutions.

“The upcoming CIP will highlight Kent Gardens as a priority site for a full scoping of options by staff and community engagement to determine the best way forward,” said Elaine Tholen, who represents McLean as the school board’s Dranesville District member. “Staff is also investigating short term improvements that can be done at the Kent Gardens site as longer term solutions are implemented over the next several years.”

Short-term options could include building maintenance or improvements to the on-site trailers, Tholen told FFXnow. Temporary classrooms were added in the 2019-2020 school year and this current year “to accommodate short-term capacity deficit,” according to the CIP.

In addition to a renovation, long-term solutions could include programming or boundary changes, which would be phased in over multiple years, Tholen said.

The school board approved a boundary adjustment in 2021 that shifted some McLean High students to Langley High School, though Kent Gardens wasn’t affected.

According to FCPS, the capacity issues stem from a combination of population growth in McLean — which could continue if development progresses as the county hopes — and high demand for its programs.

“The capacity challenges at Kent Gardens ES are complex as the school not only serves a growing community within its boundaries, but also incorporates students outside the boundary for the popular French Immersion program,” an FCPS spokesperson said by email.

FCPS data indicates that the school’s base population has actually declined over the past three years, dropping from 924 students in 2019-2020 to 869 students in 2021-2022. Students transferring in, particularly for language immersion, have pushed enrollment over the 1,000 mark.

Kent Gardens Elementary School attendance, including student transfers in (via FCPS)

Though FCPS revised its registration process last year to accept more students at Kent Gardens, among the options proposed at the October community meeting was dropping one of the three French immersion classes.

With the application period opening on Jan. 23, FCPS says no changes to the program will occur for the 2023-2024 school year.

“Since October, our instructional and facilities staff have continued to meet, look at community input and determine next steps,” Tholen said.

The school board’s ad-hoc Comprehensive Planning and Development Committee (CPDC) discussed possible long-term options for Kent Gardens at a meeting on Dec. 8. The committee will develop “a recommendation for a comprehensive planning process,” FCPS said.

“Discussion on the capacity challenges at the school will continue during the School Board Work Session on the CIP,” the FCPS spokesperson said. “Staff will prepare highlights for the January 2023 CPDC meeting of options by staff and a path for community engagement to determine the best way forward.”

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