Prince William County Public Schools are wrestling with sweeping boundary changes that will affect attendance zones for 16 elementary schools.
The school division is building a new school on the Prince William Parkway near the Chinn Park Regional Library that will fill a critical hole in the county’s elementary school map, with room for 710 students. The division is also finishing additions for 13 classrooms at Antietam, Lake Ridge and Springwoods elementary schools, 10 classrooms at Minnieville Elementary and four classrooms at Leesylvania Elementary.
The flood of new desks will reduce overcrowding at several schools in Lake Ridge, Occoquan and Woodbridge, but it also means adjusting the attendance map for more than 10,000 county students for the 2019-2020 school year.
Fourteen of the 16 affected elementary schools are considered overcrowded by division standards, with a total of 61 classroom trailers. The school division’s preliminary proposal moves boundaries so that only two elementary schools will be over capacity in the next school year.
School officials recruited volunteers from the affected communities to serve on a boundary planning committee to help in the process. The committee has been tasked with considering public input — including at two recent public meetings — before making recommendations to the school board.
The committee is looking at student enrollment, school capacity, and housing and demographic data, said Matthew Cartlidge, the school division’s supervisor of planning.
School division staff released a preliminary plan earlier this year, and the committee of volunteers also released two proposals.
Many parents voiced concerns at the public meetings about new boundaries that divide communities and worry that the new plans will mean more travel time for students on Old Bridge Road.
Tara Turner, whose child attends Westridge Elementary, said two of the three proposed plans would mean her child would attend a new elementary school next year. Turner said she worries that the preliminary plan would move those in apartments and condos out of the boundary for Westridge Elementary.
“We really just want our neighborhood children to stay together,” Turner said. “We think it’s the right thing to do and it’s achievable.”
Some parents spoke out against one proposed change that would mean some Occoquan residents wouldn’t be slated to attend Occoquan Elementary, which would be at 155 percent capacity next year without any changes.
Jennifer Tobin, who is on the volunteer committee representing Rockledge Elementary, said even students who are not moved to another school due to a boundary change will be affected, because many of their classmates will be moved, along with teachers and administrators.
“My opinion, the fewer students we displace, people will be happy overall, but how we go about doing that, I’m not certain,” Tobin said. “It’s a huge impact for 10,000 kids in all of the [affected] schools. It’s a big impact for everybody — students, parents and administrators.”
Of the 626 students at Rockledge Elementary this school year, the preliminary plan proposes to rezone about 425 students, and the committee’s two proposals propose to rezone about 300 students, Tobin said. “The boundary committee was able to reduce the impact to Rockledge…however it is still significant.”
Jackie Roskos, who has a student at Rockledge Elementary, said her concerns with the proposed boundaries include a longer trip to and from school.
“This is not the answer,” she said. “Just the lifestyle changes for Occoquan and Rockledge families; that’s a huge lifestyle change. You’ve impacted their every single day, their commute, their family life and their education.”
School board member Loree Williams, who represents the Woodbridge district, said community input is vital. School board members, school division staff and committee members are available to receive comments about the new boundaries, she said.
“At this point in time, it’s not over,” Williams said. “There’s plenty of time to reach out. It’s not over until the vote.”
The school board is expected to vote on the new boundaries in January and may also consider allowing rising 5th-graders to stay at their current school if their parents provide transportation, Cartlidge said.
The boundary recommendations from school division staff and the committee will be presented at a school board meeting Jan. 2. Anyone can comment on the proposed boundaries during citizen’s comment time at the board meeting. The school board will hold a public hearing at its Jan. 16 meeting, after which the board may vote on the new boundaries.
The board considers the instructional effectiveness, health, safety and general welfare of students when considering changing school boundaries, according to school division policy.