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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. Read More

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Fairfax County Public Schools (file photo)

Dranesville District school board member Elaine Tholen will not run for reelection in 2023, while several of the other members haven’t yet declared their own intentions.

Tholen confirmed to FFXnow that she won’t seek another term on the Fairfax County School Board and instead plans to step down at the end of her term on Dec. 31, 2023.

She initially shared her decision with supporters and colleagues in October, but this is the first time Tholen has made it public:

It has been my honor and pleasure to serve as the Dranesville District School Board member since January 2020. Serving on the School Board has allowed me to give back to my community and repay the school district that has given my family so much.

I have decided it is time for me to step away from the School Board, and to return to a role closer to our classrooms and to our students. So after careful consideration, I am officially announcing that I will not seek re-election to the Fairfax County School Board in November 2023.

My life’s passion is working with young people to expand their horizons and engagement in learning, and to introduce them to the magic of our natural world and the science behind it. I love to work with those that build and promote this work; the teachers, and the principals that change the lives of children for the better every day.

I am focused and excited as I finish my term to work with the board and Dr. Reid as we move forward during this time of setting strategy for the future of our school district, and as always will continue to do my best to support every one of our school communities through the end of my current term on December 31, 2023.

We have accomplished much in the past few years as we navigated a global pandemic, supported each and every student in academics and wellness, and tackled difficult facility issues. We have started work on new ways to look at development in Fairfax County, we have increased our sustainability efforts and more. I know there is still much work to do, and I know that Dranesville families will work with a new School Board member to continue to better our school district.

I will be hard at work for and with all of you until the end of December 2023 when my current term is complete. Thank you for trusting me with the responsibility of representing you on our School Board, and please know that I will still be a part of our community.

Tholen was first elected to the school board in 2019 after serving as a director for the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District. She’s also a certified middle school science teacher.

Last year, there was an effort to recall her from the board over her support for Fairfax County Public Schools starting the school year virtually. Petitions against her and Laura Jane Cohen, who represents the Springfield District on the school board, were dismissed in August 2021 and this past February, respectively.

Cohen is also not running for reelection, because she’s seeking to join the Virginia House of Delegates, representing the newly created 15th District. Read More

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