FCPS will evaluate Kent Gardens ES to address overcrowding this year

Kent Gardens Elementary School in McLean (via Google Maps)

The Fairfax County School Board amended its new capital projects plan last week to prioritize finding solutions to overcrowding at McLean’s Kent Gardens Elementary School,

The Fairfax County Public Schools Fiscal Years 2024-2028 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) was approved unanimously last Thursday (Feb. 9) late in a five-and-a-half-hour meeting mostly spent debating new calendars for the next three school years.

“I understand that the CIP is not perfect, but there’s lots of data and information and a spending plan that we need to move forward on to continue our construction and enrollment projection work efficiently,” Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen said.

According to the CIP, which outlines the school system’s short-term capacity needs and renovation plans, Kent Gardens is currently at 121% capacity with 1,023 students. The only school with a higher capacity utilization — Wakefield Forest Elementary School — is in the midst of an expansion.

FCPS has made tweaks over the years to reduce the capacity deficit, adding temporary classrooms, rearranging the interior layout to be more efficient, and reducing the ratio of out-of-boundary students allowed in the school’s popular French immersion program from 40% to 25%.

However, staff have “exhausted ways to modify the building” and a more significant programming or boundary change is needed, said Tholen, whose district includes McLean.

The amendment, which she called “long overdue,” designates Kent Gardens as a priority for boundary or capacity adjustments, directing staff to review and identify options. The CIP previously only recommended that the school be monitored.

“I want to thank Principal [Holly] McGuigan and the Kent Garden Elementary School students, parents and community members for speaking to us over the last year on this topic,” Tholen said. “I do agree with them that dealing with the overcrowding should’ve happened long before this and I will not make any excuses for the delay.”

At-large board member Abrar Omeish noted that FCPS paused consideration of boundary adjustments in 2018 so the school board could update its policy, though no changes have been adopted even after a consultant presented a final report on Dec. 14, 2021.

“I’m excited to see when that will be coming forward, but…in the meantime, [at] Kent Gardens, the problem there has only grown, and we haven’t been able to address it, so this is an opportunity to do that,” Omeish said.

FCPS has since resumed evaluating boundary changes, implementing adjustments in the McLean and Justice high school pyramids in 2021 that are now being phased in.

The CIP also lists the Marshall High School pyramid as a priority for a boundary review in anticipation of the planned Dunn Loring Elementary School, though a potential scoping isn’t expected until 2026.

With the prioritization of Kent Gardens approved, FCPS will present an analysis and recommendations to the community sometime this year, Tholen said. The review will take into account public input that has already been shared, including at a community meeting on the capacity challenges in October.

“Community input will be sought on these options before a final decision is made,” Tholen said.

Read more on FFXnow…

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