With the first proposals for the new attendance zones for Loudoun County Public Schools announced at the March 11 work session, the community is split – both literally and figuratively.
With two new high schools, HS-6 and HS-8, and one new middle school, Trailside, opening in Ashburn and Dulles North, the School Board will spend the next six weeks devising new attendance zones. The boundaries will affect five high schools (Briar Woods, Broad Run, John Champe, Stone Bridge and Tuscarora) and five middle schools (Belmont Ridge, Eagle Ridge, Farmwell Station, Mercer and Stone Hill) communities. Both HS-6 and Trailside are slated to open in fall of 2014 and HS-8 will open the following fall.
Executive Director of Planning and Legislative Services for Loudoun County Sam Adamo, presented his staff's proposal at the March 11 school board attendance zone work session.
Under Adamo's plan, each middle school would feed into one high school in an effort to keep kids together from sixth grade to graduation. However, some of the largest homeowner's associations, including Belmont Country Club, Broadlands, Brambleton, Ashburn Farm and Ashburn Village, would be split into two different school zones.
“The base plan acknowledges the size of many of the planned communities and HOAs divided by this proposal” Adamo said at the meeting. “But in order to bring existing and projected student enrollment under control and within the school's capacity, staff does recommend this as a viable alternative for the area solutions. “
According to Adamo, the primary consideration when creating new zones are facilities, proximity, community and demographics, with accessibility, “clusters” and stability being secondary concerns.
While the School Board expressed appreciation at the time spent developing the plan, some of the members were less enthused about the plan itself.
“It really is an assault on most of the major HOAs in the greater Ashburn area,” School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger said to Adamo at the meeting.
Adamo explained that rather than keep the HOAs together, his group elected to lessen the student populations at each school.
“We really looked at this as an opportunity to finally stabilize enrollment,” Adamo said. “If we had to weigh a community HOA versus having a school within its capacity within the educational programs the school was designed for, we opted with maintaining the school within its educational capacity rather than keeping them chronically overcrowded.”
Though some parents breathed a sigh of relief as their kids appeared to maintain their expected attendance areas, others are dismayed to see their children forced into a new zone.
One such parent is Lori Watson, whose seventh grade daughter, currently a student at Stone Hill Middle School, will be forced to move to HS-6 upon its opening in 2014.
Watson and her family live in the rather small community of Windermere, located in between Claiborne Parkway and Belmont Ridge Road.
“We can see Briar Woods from our house,” Watson explained.
If the new zoning guidelines remain, Watson's daughter will actually drive past Briar Woods High School en route to her new school, three miles further away than Briar Woods.
“It's just unacceptable to bus students to a further away school,” Watson said. “She's excited to to go Briar Woods. She's already part of the community.”
With seven more attendance meetings remaining on the docket, the proposed plan is hardly set in stone. There are still four public hearings scheduled, including one March 18 at the Loudoun County Public Schools administrative building. Additionally, the School Board will accept community members' submissions for attendance zones.