As Loudoun County continues to grow at a rapid pace, it is only natural that infrastructure improvements will be made to accommodate the needs of the expanding population.
The School Board is currently weighing proposals to re-allocate students from schools which have significant overflow problems to the two news schools opening next fall in Ashburn. Whether this redistricting process will inevitably cause some inconvenience, seriously overcrowded schools (such as Creighton’s Corner, which was busing more than 100 students per year to other schools to handle the overflow) genuinely need some relief, for the sake of the students, the staff, and the school’s performance.
However, amid the reallocation process, the LCPS staff is proposing to detach a small piece of the community in Lansdowne from Selden’s Landing, a true “community school” that currently serves no other communities in Loudoun County, and move this handful of kids to Steuart Weller, increasing their time on the bus from 10 minutes to 30 minutes, displacing them from the broader community in which they live, and sending them to a school that is located in the midst of a large development just beginning to grow. This is a solution in search of a problem.
Selden’s Landing is one of the highest-performing elementary schools in Loudoun County, based on both test scores and community satisfaction. While past years have seen a few kids temporarily bused elsewhere to deal with overflow, that was not the case this past year, and the population of the Lansdowne Community has stabilized, such that none of the board’s five-year projections suggest an increase in the student population. As a comparatively mature neighborhood, this makes sense, as the net increase in school-age children will reflect both inflow and outflow from the community.
The unique character of Selden’s Landing as a “community school” for Lansdowne helps bind our community together, complementing and accentuating the sense of neighborliness and civic pride that Lansdowne residents feel. When we moved our family to Loudoun County from Fairfax, the neighborhood school was a critical determinant of our choice to live in Lansdowne, as was the established, settled nature of the community, where they could develop enduring friendships with schoolmates and neighbors throughout childhood, Destroying a critical link to our community for the sake of reducing the enrollment by less than 10 percent, when the population has stabilized and the school is performing well, is a clear case of incurring an enormous cost for the sake of a dubious benefit.
Additionally, it is worth considering the impact of the move on Steuart Weller, the enrollment at which will continue to be close to the “ideal capacity” envisioned by the LCPS. As the One Loudoun development grows, the enrollment at S.W. will expand once again, despite unrealistically low projections from the LCPS staff about the number of students expected to originate from this vast new development. It is not unrealistic to expect that, within a few years, the Board will be forced to consider redistricting the student population again for this relatively new school, instead of working to increase stability and certainty for the students there.
Every citizen understands that the needs of struggling schools must be met, and genuinely overcrowded schools that have to bus large numbers of children elsewhere cannot stabilize and excel in the way we expect from Loudoun County schools. However, the arbitrary decision to break up the Lansdowne community, for the sake of moving a comparatively small number of students out of a well-performing school with a high level of parental engagement and satisfaction, smacks of bureaucratic indifference to the needs of Loudoun County residents. Planning Zones are not puzzle pieces to be moved around in search of someone’s idealized balance, and shifted again every few years at the whims of county planners when the load needs re-balancing. They represent the homes and neighborhoods of children and their families, many of whom chose to live in Loudoun for the very sense of community and civic engagement that these proposed changes threaten.
The LCPS staff, and the School Board, who face a thankless task as they attempt to address the needs of residents throughout the county as population growth continues apace, can save us all a great deal of aggravation and heartache by focusing on the genuine problem areas, while letting stabilized and high-functioning schools remain untouched. In so doing, they will also be doing the right thing.
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