2016 Year in Review: Education in Loudoun County
The school system became much larger, which fostered a plethora of unique and complex challenges. An additional 2,000 students matriculated into the school system, bringing total enrollment numbers up to over 78,000 students. Two new schools opened, making the total count of schools in the district 89. Over 700 new teachers and staff were hired by the school division this year, raising the number of LCPS employees to nearly 11,000.
Growth from developments approved by Loudoun’s previous Board of Supervisors has caused an exponential increase in student enrollment in Dulles schools, according to LCPS leaders. In order to serve the growing student population, the Loudoun School Board had to redraw school boundaries several times this year.
Mercer Middle School in Aldie filled to 118 percent of its capacity. The school is so overcrowded this year that 400 of its 600 eighth-grade students are shuttled to take classes in a wing of John Champe High School. The School Board recently voted to make a new middle school (MS-7), slated to open in 2018, into an intermediate school for two to three years to get over an enrollment hump expected for that time period.
The central Loudoun rezoning process in March drew criticism and international attention after activist group Educate Don’t Segregate started a movement asking the board to not reverse its policy of socio-economically balancing Leesburg elementary schools. The group formed after some board members proposed plans to populate two Leesburg elementary schools with over 50 percent impoverished Hispanic students. The board ultimately passed a “compromise” plan that did not create two new Title 1 schools. However, critics say one school, Frederick Douglass Elementary School, still has too high of a population of Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) students and English Language Learners (ELL).
During the last school year, at least five LCPS students committed suicide, a number that has left parents and students reeling. There was one student suicide attempt at Stone Bridge High School during the school day on Dec. 14.
Tim and Erin Gallagher, parents of a Potomac Falls High School student who took his own life last school year, filed a wrongful death lawsuit Dec. 2 in Loudoun County Circuit Court against their son’s school counselor. The family says they're seeking $5 million from Loudoun County Public Schools in damages for the loss of their son. The complaint alleges Jay Gallagher’s counselor, Richard Bader, committed “acts of simple and gross negligence,” by not notifying the boy’s parents when he learned the teen was at risk. An attorney representing Bader denies the counselor handled the situation improperly or illegally.
For the past year, the Loudoun chapter of the NAACP has pressured the school system to hire more minority candidates. According to LCPS records released last year, 88 percent of teachers are white while 48 percent of its students are non-white. By having more minority teachers and principals, the school system has a better chance of fixing the minority student achievement gap, the NAACP contends.
This year LCPS hired a diversity recruiter to actively seek out qualified minority applicants. The school systems also contracted diversity training that was made available to all principals. Out of the 16 new principals hired this school year, four are African American.
Phillip Thompson, president of the Loudoun NAACP, called school system’s newly implemented diversity training for administrators “a joke” in July.
In December, the Times-Mirror published a story detailing allegations of sexual misconduct against Brian Damron, former band director at Dominion High School. Damron resigned from a position in a Florida school system Nov. 1 after an internal investigation substantiated claims that he allegedly made sexual advances toward a student, among other inappropriate behavior. Multiple students and teachers told Duval County Public School Police that Damron made statements about having relationships with former Dominion students and having to leave the school after being accused of sexual harassment, according to the investigative report.
John Brewer, principal of Dominion, abruptly went on leave Dec. 3 after new allegations against Damron unraveled in the public eye. On Dec. 8 the Times-Mirror reported that Brewer and Michael Pierson, LCPS music supervisor, wrote letters of recommendation for Damron after the school system reported an alleged incident of inappropriate behavior to police in November 2014.
A wave of support from parents and students in favor of Brewer followed his leave. A large crowd showed up to a School Board meeting to show their support for the principal and to ask for transparency from the administration. The Times-Mirror published an editorial Dec. 15 calling for LCPS to end its policies of protectionism and for an independent investigation into the matter.
LCPS continues to be one of only three counties in Virginia – and the only school system in the D.C. metro region – that does not offer universal full-day kindergarten. This year the division went from offering FDK to 35 percent of eligible students to 53 percent. Superintendent Eric William’s proposed fiscal 2017 budget included plans to offer FDK to 75 percent of eligible students, but there wasn’t enough money allocated by the Board of Supervisors to do so.
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