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School leaders present options to ease overcrowding at Mercer Middle School

As the realities of exponential student growth in already overcrowded Dulles middles schools set in, school leaders and administrators are getting creative with possible solutions.

School Board members Jeff Morse (Dulles) and Beth Huck (At Large) hosted a town hall meeting Thursday to address possible solutions to overcrowding at Mercer Middle School. The school’s principal, Bob Phillips, also presented a run down of what school days would be like for eighth-graders if the School Boards opts to create an annex for excess students in portable classrooms at John Champe High School.

“We’re used to growth, but not at this rate in this small an area. It’s all in the Dulles District and the Blue Ridge District,” Morse said during his presentation. “Not only are we growing, it’s exponential. It doesn’t seem to level off.”

Right now Mercer is at 118 percent capacity. According to Loudoun County Public Schools projections, if nothing is done before the next school year, it will be at 138 percent capacity by fall 2016.

“When schools get above 120 percent, they become dysfunctional,” said Morse. “That’s when classrooms start to spill out into hallways.”

There are two new middle schools slated to be constructed in Dulles, however, they will not be ready until 2017 and 2021.

“That doesn’t help us now,” explained Morse. “There are a lot of options and a lot of them are not very popular.”

Morse presented the following recommended mitigation options:
• Accelerate the installation of portable classrooms already scheduled to go in at John Champe High School for Mercer Middle School students to use.
• Short-term attendance boundary adjustments south of Route 50 to accommodate Dulles South students at a Dulles North middle school.
• Rezone some planning zones to the new Middle School 9, opening in 2017, filling excess capacity.
• Accelerate construction of the new Middle School 7 by one year.

Morse said that all of the options have logistical challenges. If the board chooses to rezone students to Middle School 9 it will only be “biding times to get us to the next school we’re going to build.

If the board chooses to accelerate construction of Middle School 7, there will be significant challenges to see it come to fruition in time.

Accelerating the portable classrooms at Champe “doesn’t solve the problem but it gives us another two years before we break any capacities,” said Morse.

Plus, the portables at Champe could be used for the high school in 2018, when the overcrowding in the middle schools makes its way to the high school level. LCPS predicts Champe will be at 121 percent capacity by 2018.

Phillips presented a detailed breakdown of how the annex option would work for Mercer students.

He said 400 of next year’s 600 eighth-grade students would be on an A-B schedule and would shuttle back and forth from Mercer to Champe every other day. In order to reduce confusion, all students would start and end the day at Mercer.

The nine new portable classrooms would be used to teach three English classes, three math classes and three civics classes. The Mercer annex at Champe would have nine teachers, an administrator and a secretary onsite.

If the plan is approved, additional funding would go to Champe to hire an additional assistant principal, school counselor and the extra staff at the annex.

Phillips assured that the students who attend the annex will not have contact with Champe students.

“It will be located on the side of the campus, so the students won’t have to go in front door,” he said. “We will have our own front office. When the students go to the gym and cafeteria are the only two times they would possibly interact with a high school student. But they won’t be changing classes at the same times.”

Morse pointed out that Mercer, the largest middle school in the county, is already doing everything it can to be efficient. Every possible space, including bookrooms and the school auditorium, are converted into classroom space already.

The School Board member said he welcomes any other possible options for consideration.

Since more personnel will need to be hired for the annex option, Morse said he expects a decision to be made by the School Board in the next few weeks.

Upcoming attendance zone public hearings:
School Attendance Zones Overview/Public Hearing for MS-9 & HS-11 on March 28 at 6:30 p.m. at the School Administration Building.

School Attendance Zones Work Session for MS-9 & HS-11 on March 31 at 6:30 p.m. at the School Administration Building.

School Attendance Zones Briefing/Public Hearings for MS-9 & HS-11 on April 4,7,11 and 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the School Administration Building.


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