Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Don’t Sacrifce Children’s Education Because of Poor Planning

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has for years in their projections, grossly underestimated the number of students at Haycock Elementary. Today, Haycock is drastically overcrowded.

Its capacity as listed in FCPS’s own Capital Improvement Plan is 732 students, yet the school currently houses 968. FCPS’s solution now that the situation has become untenable? Targeting a small group of students and pushing them out. No one is happy about the overcrowding situation at Haycock – not the parents, not the administration, nor the school board. However, this situation should not be a surprise for FCPS as Haycock parents have over a nine-year period repeatedly warned that FCPS enrollment projections were not accurate. Yet instead of owning up to its failure to accurately predict enrollment, FCPS has resorted to scapegoating a small group of students and deporting them from Haycock. This action is not only irresponsible and shameful, but harmful to the children involved.

FCPS has proposed to transfer existing Haycock Advanced Academic Program (AAP) students who reside outside of the boundaries for the McLean High School pyramid to a new AAP center they intend to create for students in the Marshall High School pyramid. FCPS estimates that this will reduce the Haycock school population by 140 students. FCPS has indicated that it has no intention of grandfathering in the current Haycock AAP students who live in these areas, despite the fact that these students have already had to change schools once when entering the AAP program and are now an established part of the Haycock community. Some affected students were redistricted just this year from Louise Archer to Haycock when students from Freedom Hill, which feeds AAP students to the Louise Archer center were redistricted to Lemon Road, which feeds AAP students to the Haycock center. It would be incredibly cruel for FCPS to force these children to transfer yet again.

Unnecessary school transfers are detrimental to our children’s wellbeing. Children join the AAP program at Haycock in third grade or thereafter as circumstances warrant. All of the affected children began their education at schools other than Haycock and then transferred to Haycock for the AAP Program. FCPS proposes to transfer these children yet again for its own convenience because it failed to properly estimate and plan for the explosive Haycock population growth. Some academic data in this area suggest that multiple school moves may be harmful to a student’s academic performance, with at least one study showing an impact particularly in mathematics performance. Moreover, school transfers such as this one disrupt and damage children’s friendships and social support systems. FCPS grandfathered in the Kent Gardens AAP center students and any qualifying siblings when they were removed from Haycock some years ago because of overcrowding. Certainly our children deserve the same treatment.

So what is the right solution? It is clear that the Haycock student population cannot continue to grow at its current pace and that a solution is required. Eventual realignment of the AAP elementary center boundaries may be one appropriate answer to the overcrowding problem. If realignment is indeed the appropriate measure, students already attending Haycock should be permitted to stay at Haycock and complete their elementary education. To do otherwise would be an injustice to these students.

FCPS should solicit stakeholder input regarding the location and structure of the new Marshall Pyramid center. To date, FCPS has kept parents completely in the dark as to its plans. Parents have resorted to web forums and back-room gossip to get information that should be available as a basic matter of transparency and good government. The proposed changes would involve moving students out of both the Haycock and Louise Archer AAP Centers and into a newly created center starting in September 2013. Both Haycock and Louise Archer are among FCPS’ finest AAP centers. Parents are understandably alarmed by the change and concerned that a hastily organized center may not have the same academic rigor. Moreover, the Marshall pyramid boundaries are irregular and cover a large distance. Some parents will understandably be concerned about the long bus ride through ever increasing Tyson’s Corner traffic that their children may be required to take to reach a new center.

I urge FCPS to establish a transparent process through which the parents’ concerns and needs are heard and incorporated. If FPCS is convinced that it is necessary to realign the elementary AAP center boundaries, this should be done only with full input from the affected families and the precedent of grandfathering of existing students should be honored. This will provide the necessary time to properly plan to make any future centers as excellent as Haycock; time and planning which FCPS has so far not invested in our children.


 Mary Ruppert is a parent of a child in Haycock Elementary School.