Neighborhood Expert: Things I wish I’d known about FCPS schools before picking one

Laura Schwartz is a licensed Realtor in VA, D.C. and MD with McEnearney Associates in Vienna. You can follow Laura on Instagram at @LauraSchwartzRealtor or her Facebook page. Laura can be reached at 703-283-6120 or [email protected].

If you’ve been reading these for a while, many of you know I’m a Vienna-based Realtor® and mom, and I’m also married to a public school educator. My perspective of schools around the area is influenced by so many different factors.

I have a lot of homebuyers right now who don’t have kids (yet) and are going strictly off school ratings when deciding where they should live. However, school ratings are not the be-all and end-all of how to pick a school system for a child.

Here’s what I wish I had known before I had kids, before I moved to Vienna, and before I bought a house tied to a school.

You have no idea what raising kids will be like until you have them. Will both parents work? Will one stay home? Will one job be flexible enough to drop off/pick up? For example…

  • School hours vary by individual school. Some elementary schools start at 8:30 and others start at 9:15. Will you need before and/or after-school care? Not every school has that on site (it’s called SACC). For instance, Louise Archer buses kids to Flint Hill ES or Vienna ES. Marshall Road has a long waitlist, and some kids get bussed to the rec center.
  • Maybe you don’t need full-time after-school care, but an extra day or two a week for the kid(s) to stay late at school to socialize won’t hurt. Did you know some schools bring in awesome organizations to run after-school activities? Some others don’t.

Do you have a set idea of what kind of education you want your child to have?

Here’s an example: Not every school offers a second language. (This one really blows my mind.) Wolftrap offers Mandarin. Colvin Run, Cunningham Park, Flint Hill, Franklin Sherman, Haycock, Churchill Road all do, too. Kent Gardens offers French. Archer and Vienna Elementary? No second language at all.

What about the gifted and talented program? Do you know what the Advanced Academic Program is?

In the second grade, all of the students take a standardized test, along with an application to the AAP program (which is really the gifted and talented program). Many of the kids who get in will go, which will make the home school classes smaller. For others, they may choose to stay at their home school because some have a level IV center on site. (Cunningham Park, Chesterbrook, Franklin Sherman, Marshall Road, Wolftrap, etc.) Otherwise, you’re really relying on the “Gifted Education Teacher” at the school to give advanced opportunities to your child.

What is the school community like?

This one is hard because I don’t think many people talk about the social dynamics in the parent scene at schools. Is it cliquey? Is there a large engagement with the PTA? Are there opportunities to meet other parents?

I have found even at a small elementary school, the best opportunity to meet other parents is at the playground after school. If you’re a working parent and can’t do that, you’re toast. The next best thing is through sports (VYI, VLL, etc.), but they don’t always group the kids by school, so you’re not guaranteed to be on a team with your neighborhood school kids. Ask around on this one. Check the PTA social pages for engagement.

As a Realtor® there’s only so much I can share about schools, demographics, etc. so some of this you do have to research on your own. But if you’re thinking of moving and have specific questions, please know you can always email me at [email protected].

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