Boundaries: Coping with change
By Elizabeth Coe
Five days a week for the past five years, Adam Weber has ridden the bus to Mill Run Elementary School two miles away in Ashburn.
There, the fourth-grader has gotten to know his teachers, administrators and fellow students. His mom, Jeanne Weber, has been an active member of the Parent Teacher Organization, and the family members have each dedicated themselves to the school.
But next year, for his last year in elementary school, Adam will be attending Creighton’s Corner Elementary with new teachers, administrators and students, almost six miles from his home in The Regency neighborhood of Ashburn.
Adam is one of hundreds of elementary school children across Loudoun who will switch schools next year because of boundary changes implemented by the School Board this spring.
For the most part, parents say they are frustrated that their children are being forced to make these changes.
“He’s not happy at all,” Weber said of her son. “Our concern is that [Creighton’s Corner] is not in our neighborhood. We don’t shop around there, we don’t go to restaurants around there.”
Adam’s siblings, second-grader Audrey and kindergartner Dylan, will also be moving to Creighton’s Corner, along with about 140 other students from The Regency and surrounding area.
Some students from Legacy Elementary School in Brambleton will also be moved there because of overcrowding.
School Board Chairman Robert Dupree Jr. said that while the boundary changes are not ideal, they were necessary this year.
“We are in a position that we must take advantage of the seats we have, because we don’t know when we might get additional schools constructed,” he said. “We had to move some residents we’d really hoped not to move, but we had no alternative.”
Boundary changes in Ashburn were made because an elementary school planned to open in 2010-2011 in the Moorefield Station development has been pushed back to the 2012-2013 school year.
Considering the available space at Creighton’s Corner, which is one year old and under capacity, the school system chose to bring in children from Legacy and Mill Run to balance enrollment levels next year.
Regency resident Nichole Towers, who has two children affected by the redistricting, said she is concerned.
Towers’ fourth-grade son, who did not want his name printed in the paper, does not want to leave his school.
“It’s kind of difficult because you have to leave some of your old friends and make new ones,” he said. “It’ll be hard knowing and loving my teachers from kindergarten to fourth grade, and then leaving.”
Parents are also worried about the additional time on the bus – 20 to 30 minutes each way — attending Creighton’s Corner will add to their young children’s lives.
For Chris Mack, whose second-grade daughter has a life-threatening tree nut allergy, that added time without much supervision is a cause for concern.
“When you have kids that are unsupervised on the bus for 30 minutes, you have kids like my daughter who are exposed to higher risks,” she said. “A lot of issues get raised.”
Mack doesn’t understand why students are being moved to Creighton’s Corner, the ninth-closest elementary school to her home. Other schools, such as Hillside, Rosa Lee Carter and Cedar Lane elementaries, are closer and would be more convenient, she said, but these schools were not included in the boundary adjustments.
Parents of some students at Legacy Elementary near Brambleton are also preparing for change – again.
Students who live within the Brambleton community in Ashburn were able to stay at their neighborhood school, Legacy. But some students from the surrounding area, who had been attending Legacy, were moved.
Julie Jennings, of Vantage Point, said her fourth-grader, William, was switched from Mill Run Elementary to Legacy four years ago when he was entering first grade. Now the family is being moved again.
“I think three schools for anybody shouldn’t happen if it can be avoided,” she said. “The impact on the kids should come first.”
Psychologist Michael Oberschneider, director of Ashburn Psychological and Psychiatric Services, said he has treated children for increased anxiety and stress from school adjustments.
“Elementary school-aged kids do best when their lives and schedules are predictable and consistent,” he said. “They rely on their lives being that way, and that’s when they learn best and function best. While many kids can adjust just fine in response to an abrupt transition, some kids simply cannot.”
Elementary schools in western Loudoun have had their boundaries redrawn largely because of the new Kenneth W. Culbert Elementary School in Purcellville, which opens in the fall.
The school has a capacity of 829, and about 550 students will attend the school in its first year.
While some elementary school boundaries were modified to establish an attendance boundary for Culbert, the school will directly draw from the current attendance areas of Hamilton, Lincoln and Mountain View elementary schools.
Some parents who have children at those schools and others who have been affected say they were unfairly impacted by the opening of this large new school.
Mike Keane, whose children attend Hillsboro Elementary, does not understand why they are being forced to move to Mountain View Elementary School to make up for students lost to Culbert.
“This is a small community,” he said. “It’s a school that has one class for each grade. These grades make up athletic teams, neighborhoods. They make up the identity of our community.”
Now that community is broken, he said.
Emily Allred, of Hillsboro, said she and other parents will apply for a special exception so that her children can remain at Hillsboro.
She said she is most frustrated by the fact that the School Board decided to move children from Hillsboro when there was no overcrowding and no pressing need or crisis at hand.
School Board member Priscilla Godfrey (Blue Ridge), who represents the area, has expressed the view that with new development coming to the area and new homes being occupied in the next three years, there was a need to relocate students from Hillsboro.
In Leesburg, some parents are feeling a different kind of frustration.
The School Board made the decision not to redistrict the elementary schools in the Leesburg area this year, but several parents say this is a mistake.
Those parents were calling on the School Board to change elementary school lines, saying an unfair distribution of economically disadvantaged and English as a Second Language students is a source of imbalance in the schools.
“I think the disparity that exists between schools does need to be addressed in some fashion,” said parent Dave Uehlinger, whose children attend Catoctin Elementary School. “How can Catoctin get distributed 35 percent disadvantaged families, while two miles away another elementary school gets 4 percent?”
Uehlinger and others say this disparity leaves some schools, like Catoctin, in financial trouble and with the inability to recruit volunteers and PTO participants, while others can easily raise money and are having to turn away volunteers.
“I want diversity for our children, but there’s no reason why our school should struggle so much while all these other schools are fine,” said Catoctin parent Jill Drupa.
The School Board did discuss shifting some students in the Leesburg area, but decided against it.
School Board member John Stevens (Potomac) said he felt the board made the right move by leaving the boundaries in place for now.
“Moving children between schools should be the option of last resort,” he said. “To move kids, we should demonstrate that there are problems, that a boundary change will solve those problems, and that nothing short of a boundary change will solve those problems.”
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