Langley High School’s cafeteria was abuzz Dec. 2 – not with its usual energy-exuding teenage students, but with intensely concentrating adults determined to ensure that potential school-boundary changes are fair and commonsensical.
At issue: how to remedy persistent overcrowding at McLean High School and under-enrollment at Langley High without causing too much disruption.
Residents gathered around each table, traded views and used magic markers to write down their concerns and suggestions on poster boards, which school officials then hung up for all to see.
Some commenters sought more enrollment data from enrollment areas that were in play; others questioned the impact on bus routes; some worried that neighborhoods along the schools’ boundaries might have to “ping-pong” back and forth again if Langley’s enrollment reaches capacity. One poster suggested there should be open enrollment for McLean High students who wished to attend Langley.
Others found a more playful, if not practical solution: “Leave the decision to the victor of the 2019 McLean-Langley football game,” one poster read.
Fairfax County Public Schools convened the meeting – and scheduled another for Dec. 4 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at McLean High School – to gather public input before taking the matter up in the spring. The School Board will hold a public hearing before taking any action, said Douglas Tyson, assistant superintendent for Region 1.
“They’re hoping to get a sense of the bigger questions, like should they consider the more close-in Tysons area first?” said School Board member Jane Strauss (Dranesville District). “How much grandfathering should there be? If kids have started high school, should they finish high school [at the same school]?”
Meeting attendees examined maps showing the current boundaries of McLean, Langley and Marshall high schools, plus the middle and elementary schools that feed into them, then scrutinized three possible boundary-change options:
• Scenario A would shift from McLean High to Langley High a couple of enrollment “islands.” One is along Route 7 northwest of the Dulles Access Road; the other is south of the Dulles Access Road and bounded by Route 7 and Interstate 495.
• Scenario B would shift from McLean to Langley a smaller, more northern section of the island on Route 7 northwest of the Dulles Access Road.
• Scenario C would shift the southern section of that island from McLean to Langley, plus the island south of the Dulles Access Road.
Scenario A was the preferred option for Kelly Green Kahn, a parent of school-age children who lives in the Langley school pyramid. Kahn’s group had several parents whose children attend “split-feeder” schools, i.e., ones that send students to different high schools.
Group members favored grandfathering existing students and beginning the high-school transition in middle schools so students can stay together, she said.
Langley now has 1,972 students, but its capacity is about 2,370, said principal Kimberly Greer.
“It’s really an open process,” she said. “The three scenarios being proposed are good starting points. There’s nothing that’s locked in . . . We’re still very early in the process.”
Greer said she was not sure when any boundary changes would be implemented. A slide projected by school officials toward the meeting’s end listed the start of the 2020-21 school year, but Strauss said the school system might choose to implement boundary changes the following year in order to give residents more time to prepare.
McLean High opened in 1955 and Langley High in 1964, so the basic boundaries are more than a half-century old, said Strauss, who did not seek re-election in November and will step down at the end of the year. The boundaries got chopped up a bit as more development came in, which is a normal part of the process, she said.
Residents and school officials emphasized the necessity of leaving room for enrollment growth at Langley High, given the explosion of development (including residential units) in Tysons and the advent of infill housing developments in Dranesville District, such as the subdivision with 102 single-family homes that Toll Bros.’ is building at Route 7 and Towlston Road.
“The object is not to move the overcrowding from one school to another,” Strauss said. “That’s not fair.”
Discussion participants also highlighted the need for building additions at McLean High School.
McLean High senior Jessica Opsahl-ong, who attended the meeting but will not be affected by any boundary changes, said McLean and Langley students have a strong sense of community for their schools.
Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) leaders put out a statement urging school officials not to move too many McLean High students to Langley.
“If no long-term solution is undertaken in parallel, the concern is that in the future Great Falls students could gradually be redistricted out of the Langley school pyramid to make room for more students from developments in Tysons Corner, McLean and other areas,” they wrote.
The school system last year finished renovations at Langley High, which increased its capacity by 377 students, GFCA leaders wrote. Although officials projected the school’s enrollment would stay flat or decline over the next five years, Langley’s student body increased by 2.5 percent this year, they said.
Langley’s ongoing under-enrollment so far has not affected the school’s offerings, but could if the numbers become so low that the additional staffing cannot be justified, Greer said.
Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville), who chatted with residents at various tables in the cafeteria, was upbeat about the discussions so far.
“I appreciate the opportunity for the community to have a voice,” he said. “I think it means a lot more for them by breaking into these small groups. Everyone has a chance to speak . . . I think it’s a good first step. I know there’s a lot more effort that’s going to be required.”