FCPS proposes scope of possible Kent Gardens Elementary School boundary changes

Kent Gardens Elementary School in McLean (via Google Maps)

Another boundary adjustment is in the works for schools in McLean.

Just two years after tweaking the McLean High School boundaries, Fairfax County Public Schools has proposed a study aimed at relieving crowding at Kent Gardens Elementary School (1717 Melbourne Drive), which is currently at 121% capacity — one of the highest rates in the system.

FCPS staff recommend that the study include the boundaries for Chesterbrook, Churchill Road, Franklin Sherman and Spring Hill elementary schools, as well as Kent Gardens, according to a presentation to the Fairfax County School Board last night (Monday).

It could also examine the boundaries for the Advanced Academic Programs at Haycock and Churchill Road, along with the potential need for a “split feeder” for affected middle school and high schools.

“We have a beloved school that is overcrowded, and as a community, we’re going to have to make some tough decisions,” Dranesville District School Board Representative Elaine Tholen said, thanking the McLean community for its involvement. “People are coming to the table and giving us input on what makes sense.”

The recommendation was shaped by community feedback from a scoping meeting held on April 26 and a subsequent online survey. The meeting had about 75 attendees, and the survey drew 171 responses, according to FCPS.

More than 100 comments advocated for the inclusion of Chesterbrook and Franklin Sherman, though Haycock, Spring Hill, Lemon Road, Timber Lane and Westgate elementary schools all got mentions.

Current capacity rates for elementary schools in the McLean area (via FCPS)

FCPS isn’t recommending Haycock, Lemon Road and Westgate for the study, said Charles Fanshaw, interim assistant superintendent for facilities and transportation services.

“Adding students may require capacity relief. Additionally, Haycock Elementary School is currently approaching a capacity deficit,” Fanshaw said. “If these three schools were to be added to the scope, schools adjacent to these school boundaries would need to be considered as well.”

Community members also suggested that any boundary changes should be phased in for current Kent Gardens students and urged FCPS staff to consider future population growth and the walking distance to different schools.

Some proposed adding a French immersion program at another school, since the program’s popularity at Kent Gardens has been cited as a factor in the overcrowding. FCPS says it would take at least three years of planning to establish a new program, according to a webpage for the capacity issues.

If the proposed scope is approved by the school board at its July 13 meeting, FCPS will hold a community meeting on the boundary study this fall. Public hearings on the final adjustment haven’t been scheduled yet, but the school system anticipates it will take effect in fall 2024.

McLean residents have maintained for years that FCPS underestimates future student populations by using formulas that don’t fully take upcoming development into account, according to the McLean Citizens Association.

The school board approved a boundary adjustment for McLean High in 2021 that shifted about 190 high school students and 78 middle school students to the Langley High School pyramid. The change is being phased in through the 2024-2025 school year.

This spring, the board authorized staff to pursue a boundary study for Kent Gardens by amending its capital improvement program (CIP) to designate the school as a priority for boundary or capacity adjustments.

FCPS is replacing seven trailers behind the school with two new trailers, one with four classrooms and one with two. The updated facilities are expected to be fully implemented this summer before the next school year starts on Aug. 21.

Kent Gardens had 1,030 students enrolled for the 2022-2023 school year.

Photo via Google Maps