Thursday, September 29, 2005

Class Sizes in Fox Mill Elementary School

The following information may be of interest to anyone who is concerned about the enrollment and the class sizes at our school. If you have any thoughts on this information, you may want to provide them to our elected representatives.

Enrolment at Fox Mill has increased from 619 students at the beginning of the 2003-04 school year to 750 students at the beginning of the current school year. That is a 19.5% increase in 2 years. The figures are:

Student enrolment at Fox Mill Elementary School, 2003-05
Month/Year..............Number enrolled.............Source Link
Sept. 2003.......................619........................FCPS Web site
Sept. 2004.......................672........................FCPS Web Site
Sept. 2005.......................750........................Principal Sheehy

Class Size
In October 2003, Fox Mill had an identical average class size as the county average – 21.8 students. Since then, our average class size has increased to 24, which is 10.1% in 2 years. By contrast, the county average declined in 2004 to 21.4, and 2005 data does not appear to be available yet. The figures are:

Average class sizes at Fox Mill Elementary School compared to Fairfax County, VA, 2003-05
Date................Fox Mill........County Average.......Source
Oct. 31, 2003......21.8..............21.8...................FCPS Web site
Oct. 29. 2004......22.4..............21.4...................FCPS Web Site
Sept. 2005..........24.0............unavailable...........Principal Sheehy

While our enrollment and class sizes are increasing, tax assessments are also increasing. On September 13, 2005, The Washington Post reported that real estate assessments in Fairfax County are up 85% since 2000, and that the county had a $46.6 million surplus in its 2005 fiscal year. In our neighborhood we're guessing that assessments are up more like 100 to 125%.

If we're paying twice as much in taxes, why do we have more kids in every class?

How to contact FCPS personnel and elected officials about this matter:
Stuart Gibson, Hunter Mill School Board Representative
Catherine Hudgins, Hunter Mill Board of Supervisors Representative
Gerald Connolly, Chairman, Board of Supervisors
Patricia Sheehy, Principal, Fox Mill Elementary School
Betsy Goodman, Assistant Superintendent, Cluster VIII
Jack Dale, Superintendent, Fairfax County Public Schools

Send an email to all of the officials listed above

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Japanese Language Immersion Program Watch

For more than 10 years several schools in Fairfax County have offered a Japanese Language Partial Immersion program, where children spend half their day learning the curriculum using only the Japanese language.

This program, along with other language immersion programs offered in Fairfax County schools, is one of many elements that draw parents to bring their children into the Fairfax County Public School System (FCPS) when relocating to the greater Washington DC area.

Recent overcrowding issues threaten this program.

In Floris Elementary School, in Herndon Va, the Japanese Immersion program is scheduled to begin winding down in school year 2006-07. As a result, parents of rising 1st grade children, wanting to offer their children this program, will be relocated to Fox Mill Elementary School.

Fox Mill Elementary School has recently experienced overcrowding, to the extent that two classes are to be moved into trailer-based classrooms and a third class will occupy the school's art room. See the companion article “Overcrowding in Fox Mill Elementary School” for more details.

It is essential that FCPS administrators do not repeat the mistakes they made at the start of school year 2005-06, when they faced a sudden influx in the student population at Fox Mill Elementary School. Those mistakes were:
1) A failure to notify parents of existing students about the overcrowding, its causes and the impacts on their children in a candid and timely manner
2) A failure to consult with stakeholders in the school, namely parents and neighbors, regarding the decision making process for the introduction of trailer-based classrooms in the school
3) A failure to adequately plan for the likelihood of the school population increase
4) A failure to ensure adequate classroom space was available to accommodate new arrivals at the school, when they arrived.
5) Allocating children to classroom space that was clearly never designed for such purposes, namely the bay areas that form the nucleus of each classroom wing, (also referred to as a BEI or POD), and finally
6) A general lack of open and honest dialog with parents at the school.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Overcrowding in Fox Mill Elementary School

Parents at Fox Mill Elementary School, in Herndon, Va, have been having a tough time, since school started this year and Fairfax County Public School System (FCPS) have done little to help the process.

Largely as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the school population rose from 645 to 725 at the start of the 2005-06 school year. This is not to suggest that children who have been relocated as a result of this Act are not welcome at Fox Mill, but rather that the complete lack of foresight on the part of county planners and Federal authorities in the way the Act is administered has led to inept handling of the resultant overcrowding.

The situation has been made worse by FCPS officials, who failed to adequately inform parents and guardians of the impact of the sudden increase in the school population.

One such impact was that two classes of children, no longer have a formal classroom.

Orientation day was the first parents were alerted to this developing situation, when they began looking for the classroom for their children.

At a meeting between parents and FCPS Administrators on September 12, FCPS personnel had the audacity to tell parents in one breath that the current classroom situation was adequate and in the next breath tell them that trailers will be brought into the school to remedy the overcrowding.

In addition to the sudden and unannounced arrival of trailer-based classrooms at Fox Mill, FCPS personnel exacerbated the situation by plonking the trailers along side the school in full public view of the neighborhood. With the addition of above ground utilities, in a neighborhood where all utilities are underground, it is not surprising that local residents are up in arms about the entire mess.

FCPS administrators have steadfastly refused to remedy neighborhood and parental concerns in a satisfactory manner. FCPS refuses to consider moving the trailer-based classrooms behind the school where they would be out of sight, have improved security, and easier access to facilities in the remainder of the school.

FCPS officials apparently receive the results of Standards of Learning (SOL) tests as early as June, but do not act on those results for months later, producing the current over crowding crisis which Fox Mill Elementary now faces. Left unchanged the current procedures will see this situation repeated many times at many different schools in Fairfax County.

Principal Sheehy, who arrived to take over the post of principal starting this school year, has been faced with angry parents almost since the first day school commenced. Parents of Grade One classes also complained about the effects of overcrowding in their classes and as a result current rooms within the facility will be repurposed to accommodate a new Grade one class, as soon as a new teacher can be hired.

On a positive note, Principal Sheehy, acted promptly to address a noise problem caused by the HVAC plant near the 6th Grade classroom area. The trailer-based classrooms are being refurbished and FCPS officials now state that they will be ready for occupancy in the first week of October. For more information on issues related to trailer-based classrooms see the overcrowding web site, which also contains a link to the school's official web site.