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Boundary changes approved for McLean elementary schools

New boundaries have been approved for McLean elementary schools to relieve crowding at Kent Gardens (via FCPS)

Kent Gardens Elementary School should finally get some substantial capacity relief, starting next school year.

The Fairfax County School Board approved tweaks to the boundaries of five elementary schools in McLean on Monday (Dec. 4) with the goal of alleviating crowded conditions at Kent Gardens (1717 Melbourne Drive), which was at 121% of its programming capacity, as of the 2022-2023 school year.

When it takes effect with the 2024-2025 school year, the approved plan will shift 190 students to Franklin Sherman Elementary School and 38 students to Haycock Elementary School, according to Fairfax County Public Schools. To avoid creating capacity issues at Franklin Sherman, 112 of its students have been reassigned to Chesterbrook Elementary School and another 40 to Churchill Road Elementary.

One of six scenarios suggested by FCPS staff, the adopted proposal also adjusted the boundaries for Advanced Academic Placement (AAP) centers at Churchill Road and Haycock.

In total, an estimated 380 elementary school students will be affected, but no impact is expected at the middle or high school levels.

“When boundary adjustments are necessary, it is vital that our school communities join us in the process,” School Board Chair and Dranesville representative Elaine Tholen said in a statement that thanked families, students and other community members who participated in the boundary study, which has been in the works since fall 2022.

“It is through a combination of your input and staff expertise that we are able to provide a solution that best meets the needs of our students,” she added.

Before the school board’s vote, Tholen acknowledged that the changes will have a “significant” impact on Franklin Sherman, but the “realities of the geography” made the chosen scenario the best option.

“It was hard to move students from the eastern side of the attendance area to Chesterbrook, since most of those students are walkers,” she explained. “Transportation [staff] specifically requested we not move any walkers due to the shortage of bus drivers.”

While community members generally recognized the boundary adjustment as necessary at a Nov. 30 public hearing, some raised concerns about moving students out of a familiar environment where they’ve established friends and separating siblings.

One speaker observed that Stoneleigh and Hallcrest Heights, the biggest multi-family and townhouse communities currently served by Kent Gardens, are being reassigned to Franklin Sherman.

“It is imperative to consider the long-term implications of these zoning changes,” Muthu Venkitasubramaniam said. “The diversity within Kent Gardens enhances the education experience, preparing students for a global life. Maintaining these zones within the Kent Gardens boundary is not just a matter of logistics. It’s about upholding a commitment to inclusion and educational excellence.”

When asked about townhouses getting drawn out of the Kent Gardens boundaries, Tholen said FCPS considered “many issues…in the development of all of the scenarios,” including transportation, the number of students in different neighborhoods and capacity for future development.

“With socioeconomic differences between housing types being relatively minimal across McLean, housing type did not present itself as a key issue in our considerations,” she told FFXnow.

In response to community feedback, the school board adopted a phasing plan that will give rising second graders and older students the option of staying at their current school or switching to their newly assigned one. Only rising kindergarteners and first graders will be initially affected.

Several school board members noted that the approach to phasing is especially accommodating. Megan McLaughlin, who represents Braddock District, said letting rising second graders stay at their currently assigned school after a boundary adjustment is “highly unique” based on her 12 years on the board.

“I do worry about precedent,” she said. “We are a very large school division, and every time we do grandfathering in a way that just keeps going further and further down, that just comes at an operational impact.”

Mason District Representative Ricardy Anderson suggested that FCPS reevaluate its process for pursuing boundary adjustments so they’re more led by staff than school board members. She expressed dismay at the anticipated timeline for capacity relief at Glasgow Middle School in Lincolnia, which is in the midst of an initial boundary scoping study.

“I just think we have an opportunity in front of us as we get a new board so we don’t begin in the same place with people jockeying,” Anderson said to Superintendent Michelle Reid. “…We just need some neutrality or objectivity around that process.”

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