Attendance zone shifts alarm parents; 16 elementary schools impacted

One of three proposed redistricting plans, with existing boundaries represented by purple lines and the proposed attendance zones in various colors. See more info.

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.

(10) comments

The Preliminary Plan and Plan 2 are off the table. The new plans will be posted either Monday or Tuesday. I was hoping that not only could rising 5th graders be allowed to remain at their current school, but as a Veteran, I'm hoping that provision would be extended to military members too.

MagallyHL

I lost confidence on this process after the second meeting. Preliminary Plan 1 lacked common sense. After the first community meeting, the committee incorporated community feedback on Plan 2 and 2a. Regretfully, during the second community meeting, as the committee started working on Plan 3 it became evident that a committee member disclosed information about these unfinished plans only to a small area impacted. I seriously doubt that Plan 3 (yet to be released) was not unfairly influenced by the release of information before it was accessible to the entire community. I won’t be surprised to see Plan 3 and 3a showing some of the same mistakes that were part of plan 1. Plan 1 chopped a 6-house block in two, not even a street to cross! This basically separated ONE child from the 11 other kids that take the bus with him, moving a tiny sliver of a neighborhood on one side of Old Bridge Road to attend LRES on the other side of OB Rd. - forcing a group of up to 12 kids to cross Old Bridge Road, basically doubling their commute to school - from OBE - a school where they could safely walk to - to LRES just because LRES needs to fill spots because of their new construction. OBE would not be over capacity if our students stay there but that doesn’t matter if the kids are being treated like blocks that need to fill out a spot somewhere else. Ms. Satterwhite mentions community feedback is important but I never got so much as an acknowledgment of the 3 emails and one printed letter I sent her - I guess my voice doesn’t matter to her because I am part of Occoquan’s District - but her vote on this will affect our family - by ignoring my multiple communications, I can assume that “community feedback” is important only when it is mentioned on a news article.

Freddy Rodriguez

As a father of a 5th grader this rezoning proposal will not affect me but the ridiculousness of this effort and the abusive manner that is being pushed through has caused me to become involved in-behalf of my fellow parents. Basically, PWC elected officials allowed for housing development to occur without properly planning for the increase in children’s population. Supposedly, they tried to purchase land for a new school in the eastern part of the Occoquan District, but they were unable to (I imagine that it was too expensive by the time they tried to buy it). Then they purchased land on the western part of the Occoquan District and are building a school. Because of the un-ideal location of the new school, the first proposal that was developed by PWCS staff essentially consists of a great population shift to the west (right around the rush time of Old Bridge Rd). My understanding is that the community committee of volunteers have been boxed-in with a bunch of restrictions, which essentially forces them to simply make revision to the PWCS developed plan, instead of developing their own independent plan or solutions. Essentially, they are not being allowed to “think outside the box” (God forbid that they come up with something better). My suggestion is that the Community Committee be allowed to operate completely free and let them present their independent proposal or solution to the PWCS Board in an open forum. (Let’s face it PWC officials are the ones that got us in the mess to start with). Also, let the teachers talk. They are being told that they must stay “neutral” (In other words, they are being bullied. So much for PWCS’s being a “bully free zone”).

Mr. Rodriguez, we were not "boxed in" or restricted in any way. Like many efforts that repeatedly occur, we had a set of guidelines and procedures, so that when this action is looked back on, it's understood why it was done. The three plans that will be provided to the School Board to choose from are vastly different from the initial one. Taking the entire scope of balancing all the schools' enrollment and demographic compositions, we came up with these three plans. Were all of the Boundary Planning Committee members happy with the choices? No, but we went into this knowing that we could not please everyone, and did the best we could do with what we have. There will be two weeks for the public to digest the three plans prior to them being pitched to the School Board, so I'm looking forward to all of the "out of the box" thinkers and what they come up with.

Freddy Rodriguez

Joe,
My understanding is that the committee has been repeatedly told, that schools that have been excessively impacted is "not within the scope of the committee's concern" and that “splintering communities” (which was on the presentation during the public meeting as a guideline) was NOT one of the boundary guidelines that you guys had to follow when considering your plans. In my mind, that is not just being “boxed-in”, that is also being “prodded”. Since as a member of the committee, you are wondering what kind of “out of the box” ideas someone can come up with, I’ll be more than glad to tell you:
1. Do nothing. It is my understanding that the Middle Schools will go thru a rezoning process in a couple of years. If we rezone now, there is the very likely possibility that the kids that are being rezoned, will be rezoned again once they are in middle school (basically they will be bounced around by PWCS like ping-pongs). Let’s take an enterprise approach and aligned all three levels of school at the same time. This would limit the impact on the kids and allow for a more holistic approach taken into account the community and how it interacts to the educational environment.
2. Do nothing for the eastern portion of Occoquan District. Again, it is my understanding that Occoquan Elementary is slotted for a whole new school in a few years. Of course, I fail to understand how PWC was unable to find a location closer to the eastern side for the new school, but their plans are to find a location (again in the eastern side) in the near future.
3. Use portable classrooms. While the trailers are normally reviled, I took classes in trailers and the learning experience is no different than in-building classrooms. According to the November 1st article Prince William County leaders to consider $143 million plan to eliminate classroom trailers by Emily Sides, PWC is planning to spend a grotesque amount of money to eliminate the trailers. Which doesn’t make sense, since some of those trailers were just placed and they have not been used. On that same article, the reason given for the elimination of the trailers, is that they were not safe. I don’t understand that reason. PWCS is notorious for canceling or delaying school the instant a snow flake is predicted to hit the ground. Tornadoes are not common for this area and we can see hurricanes coming days away. In case of a fire or other in-building emergency, the kids in trailers are already outside the school (which is the best place for them). In case of an emergency in a trailer, those are easy to evacuate (is just one room).
4. Scrap the new school. That location should have never been purchased in the first place. Sale the land and take the money from that sale and some of the 143 million that they are planning to use to remove the trailers and build an actually “strategically” located school.

Joseph George for Neabsco District

Freddy,

Thank you for laying out your mindset on this topic. This is only my opinion on your four ideas, but one that has been invested in the schools for about 15 years:

#1 - You're right about the middle school shifts, but the elementary school shifts are for longer term thinking. I'd like your shifting "all three levels" at the same time, but the issue is not all schools have the same progression. My elementary school is zoned for three different middle schools and then two separate high schools (which with specialty programs is not as much as a concern as many would think).

#2 - The School Board decided to "work around" Occoquan Elementary the last boundary shift, which could happen again, but if they would have allowed the shift to occur before, they would have been "left alone" this time around (part of the committee's parameters). It's not fair or optimum that other schools must shift and Occoquan does not.

#3 - Schools, like Occoquan, have shown that trailers do not negatively impact learning, but that's not across the board. Additionally, the world has changed from when you and I were in school, so trailers were more of an eyesore than a safety concern. When it comes down to your school's safety concerns, please speak to the Principal, Mr. Lint, and ask him how difficult (or easy) each of those scenarios are for him and his staff.

#4 - If you have information for a location better than the current site, which is about the same price range, and would "leave Occoquan alone", I'm sure the PWC BOCS want to know. Remember, the PWC BOCS, not the School Board or School Division, conducts land purchases.

april

HERE HERE!!! The zoning directly impact my family we started. We bought our house because the new school was being built down the street, and we thought we'd remain apart of the Occoquan district. Our kids attend Westridge...we love it/they love it! The new schools proposed boundaries put us in the worse position...mixed with the poorest performing schools and demographics. More importantly, none of the plans fix the overcrowding at Occoquan or OBES. This is a mess! My family has the means so we'll be driving our kids to school and we're looking into private schools. Two of our neighbors drive their Middle schoolers to OB rather than Woodbridge where we're zoned for. It's just super closer and better performing.

Freddy Rodriguez

I reviewed plan 3 and 3a and once again, its just edits to plan 1, not an alternate plan. During the meeting we were led to believe that the committee would be independent and free to come with its own conclusions. This seems not to be true. My child’s school committee representative got back with me and confirmed that committee members were not allowed to introduce a new plan. As soon as a new concept or idea was introduced, it got batted down by the PWCS staffer. It appears that the PWCS Board assigned a minder to ensure that the committee arrives at a predetermined destination.
Like I stated on my original comment, the whole thing is ridiculous and abusive. I seriously doubt that the new property was purchased without a plan on how they were going to zone the new school. If I am right, this means that they had this awful rezoning plan in their back-pocket well before they purchased the location, started building the new school, or made the plan public. The first public hearing was held on Thanksgiving week when many people were out of town and the only PWCS Board meeting open to public comments is being held on January 2nd when, once again, many of us will still be out of town.
I was reading the PW Parkway ES Boundary Portal and I was shocked to read the following, “Opportunity exists to publicly share your perceived concerns, suggestions, and preferences to the School Board at its public meeting on January 2, 2019.” So according to this, our concerns are not real, they are just “perceived”. I would have a hard time telling my child that his concerns are perceived, and the parents, adults, are the portal’s intended audience. That’s fairly condescending…..

Mr. Rodriguez, I could not disagree more that when a new concept or idea was introduced, staff did not allow it to occur. What they did was show what the enrollment and demographic percentages were and the group decided that the ideas were not going to work. I understand this is what you are being told, but it is not an accurate representation of what the Boundary Committee did.


To take your idea of an alternate plan, not building off of the Preliminary Plan, would have started with the current boundaries, and start determining what neighborhoods would be shifted to the PW Parkway Elementary School and then took in community feedback, making adjustments from that input. It's not much different than what we did, based off of adjustments/feedback. There have been a couple of School Board meetings that parents could have provided feedback (28 November and 12 December), as well as the 2 January School Board Meeting where the Public Hearing takes place when the board receives their first reading, and then the 16 January School Board meeting where there will be another Public Hearing prior to the board making their decision.


I agree with you, though, that "perceived concerns" is a poor choice of words.

april

Occoquan District has the best performing schools in PWC. The schools are overcrowded on the Old Bridge Rd corridor because it's most ideal to raise a family there - great schools, community, churches, and kid athletic teams. The school board is NOT fixing the overcrowding with any of the 3 proposals for the new school! Students should be shifted from one Occoquan district school to the next...they're all well supported with quality PTAs, administrations, and families. The new school should include some Westridge ES/Penn ES/and Vaughn ES boundary. The new school has been redistricted to FAIL - Vaughn and Hillendale (low income/Non english speakers) merger - i feel bad for the teacher given this Ugly baby. I'm VERY disappointed that no citizen is willing to do the hard work. Every school and community is protecting their 'rice bowl' rather than facilitating the success model of good academics and community that exists in the Occoquan DISTRICT!!! Zone the new school with Old Bridge community, some PW pkwy, and the new construction NE PWC neighborhoods this will take the pressure off Occoquan.

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