Loudoun’s School Board was presented with three possible solutions tonight for what has been described as the most difficult enrollment puzzle in the county’s history.
The board dove into another round of attendance boundary changes, meant to reshuffle secondary students ahead of the opening of a new middle school along Braddock Road known as MS-7 in fall of 2018 and provide much needed relief to overcrowded schools in the Dulles area. As the board redraws attendance lines, it is also taking into account a new high school (HS-11) that will open in Brambleton in 2019 and a new high school (HS-9) scheduled to open in 2021. The board does not yet know where HS-9 will be built.
At a work session tonight, the school system’s Planning Department unveiled three proposals.
What Executive Director of Planning Sam Adamo called Option 1 would open MS-7 as a traditional middle school, serving sixth through eighth grades. It would reassign students in densely populated planning zone, DS 16, from the severely overcrowded Mercer Middle School to J. Michael Lunsford Middle School. The downside with the option is that it would leave John Champe High School—the feeder high school for Mercer students—with an estimated 930 students more than its building capacity by 2020. “John Champe High School would require 11 or more trailers by 2018-19 school year to sustain the projected enrollment of 2,379,” Adamo said.
Staff’s Option 2 is in response to a request from parents, to keep students who live south of Rt. 50 in middle school south of Rt. 50. “This makes an attempt to do that,” Adamo said.
To do so, it would turn MS-7 into an intermediate school, housing grades eight and nine, while John Champe High School would house grades 10 through 12. Students in grades six and seven would attend Mercer Middle School. The plan would also reassign students in three attendance zones, DS 9.1, 16 and 16.2 which sit south and east of Tall Cedars Boulevard, from Mercer to Lunsford Middle School.
“Our goal with this plan was to provide immediate relief to Mercer and Champe,” Adamo said. But he noted that it would still leave Mercer with 472 more students than its building capacity.
Board members sounded most warm to the intermediate school option. “We may end up doing something like that for at least a few years,” Joy Maloney (Broad Run) said.
Option 3, the plan Adamo and his staff is recommending, received the most criticism from School Board members. Beginning in fall of 2017, it would move middle schoolers in planning zone DS 16 from Mercer to Lunsford. It also recommends reassigning students in planning zones DS 12.2 and 12.3—which are south of Braddock Road and east of Gum Springs Road—outside of their normal school cluster to Stone Hill Middle School, until HS-11 opens in fall of 2021. In all, those shifts would move about 500 students out of Mercer Middle School.
Adamo said he backs Option 3 because it keeps enrollment at all of the area’s middle schools below 1,650. “Our concern was the instructional program, and how to provide continuing education in a reasonable environment,” he said.
Several School Board members said they were concerned that Option 3 would move those 500 students away from their elementary classmates just for their middle school years, and return them to their original school cluster for high school.
“I have a lot of concerns with that especially with the social aspect,” Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) said.
Maloney told Adamo she appreciates that he and his staff are “thinking outside the box.” But of Option 3, she said, “It seems troublesome to me.”
Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) shared some of his colleagues’ concerns, but acknowledged, “There are no perfect solutions here.”
Adamo said he and his staff looked at several alternatives, but the three options seemed like the best choices to solve a surge in enrollment growth. “We’ll have to look at some tradeoffs,” he said. “We have never ever experienced anything like this here in Loudoun County.”
The School Board will return for a public hearing and work session at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1. The board will hold several work sessions and public hearings ahead of adopting a final boundary plan Dec. 13. People can sign up to speak at lcps.org or by calling 571-252-1050. The meetings are held at LCPS School Administration Building, 21000 Education Court in Ashburn.