Tysons, VA

The Fairfax County School Board voted last night (Thursday) to change the boundaries for McLean and Langley high schools — but not in the way they had discussed last month.

Of the three possible boundary changes presented to the community in December, Fairfax County Public Schools recommended a modified version of Option C when the school board met on Jan. 21. Last night, however, the option presented for the board to vote on was “Option B,” which passed 11-1 with Member-At-Large Abrar Omeish dissenting.

The approved boundary change will reassign students from McLean to Langley in the Colvin Run Elementary School split feeder area, along with portions of the Westbriar and Spring Hill elementary school split feeder areas.

Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen also included a provision that would allow rising ninth graders affected by the boundary change to either attend Langley High School this fall or be grandfathered into McLean High School and get transportation provided for all four years of school.

Overcrowding is a decades-old problem at McLean despite several attempts to add space, the latest of which comes in the form of 12 modular classrooms that are currently under construction. They will be finished later this month and ready for students’ return in March, Tholen said.

The option that was favored last month would have shifted some Spring Hill Elementary students from Longfellow Middle School and McLean High to Cooper Middle School and Langley High.

Tholen said Option B came out ahead after the board weighed “many considerations, many of them contradictory,” from the impact of future developments to diversity at Langley High School.

“We heard loud and clear from those who participated in our public hearing and public engagement process: Clean up at least one split feeder while giving McLean some capacity relief,” Tholen said.

Community input is also the reason why the two feeder middle schools of Longfellow and Cooper were included in the boundary adjustment study.

As a result of the new boundaries, an estimated 190 students previously assigned to McLean will now go to Langley, and an estimated 78 students from Longfellow will be moved to Cooper.

“This is not a perfect solution. Neither were the other options,” Providence District Representative Karl Frisch said, adding that he would have loved to address the Colvin Run and Spring Hill split feeders “in their entirety.”

Frisch said this option relieves capacity concerns at McLean without overloading Langley or Cooper, and improves both the Colvin Run and Spring Hill split feeders. He added that FCPS and the board will continue studying capacity data for McLean, Langley and Marshall high schools as well as other schools in the Tysons area.

Omeish commended Tholen for her diligence but predicted the board will be “finding ourselves here in a few years” with this limited change.

“I don’t feel in good conscience that this is the most long-term solution,” she said.

Image via FCPS

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Fairfax County Public Schools has further refined a plan to relieve overcapacity at McLean High School using available space at Langley High School.

After presenting three possible boundary changes for the McLean and Langley pyramids at a community meeting on Dec. 7, FCPS Facilities and Transportation Services reviewed public feedback to refine one of its proposals, dubbed “Option C.” The updated option was presented to the Fairfax County School Board last night (Thursday).

For the last 10 years, overcrowding has persisted at McLean despite several limited attempts to add space over the years. The school sits at 118% capacity, with 2,350 students in a building designed for 1,993. Currently, 12 modular classrooms are being built to bring the capacity down to 100%.

The new recommendation from FCPS reassigns a portion of the area that currently feeds students from Spring Hill Elementary School to Longfellow Middle School and McLean. About 159 students would move from McLean to Langley, and about 73 students would move from Longfellow to Cooper Middle School.

“We have come a long way since work first began on the boundary adjustment between McLean and Langley pyramids,” Dranesville Representative Elaine Tholen said during the meeting. “Tonight, we are seeing some of the fruits of hard work our facilities staff has done to analyze option after option after listening to and incorporating public input.”

The original “Option C,” presented in December, considered reassigning students in the Spring Hill Elementary School split feeder area. After collecting emailed comments and verbal feedback, staff modified this option to create the new recommendation, said Jeffrey Platenberg, the assistant superintendent of facilities and transportation.

“This is a pretty natural process,” he said during the meeting. “We usually call these the hybrid recommendation.”

Staff who reviewed public feedback found that the communities involved were primarily concerned about the impact of development in and around Tysons, the possibility of too many split feeders, and the socioeconomic diversity of the schools involved, he said.

Meanwhile, Tholen said some have shared concerns about balancing populations amid COVID-19 uncertainties and ongoing development. Others worry that Cooper Middle School will be overlooked in the focus on McLean and Longfellow, and still other community members want FCPS to diversify the types of housing within the boundaries for Langley.

As for those worried about children in their final year of elementary, middle or high school, school board policy allows FCPS to grandfather in these students, Platenberg said.

The assistant superintendent said the proposed revision addresses some of these concerns while allowing FCPS to monitor growth at McLean and Langley high schools.

Tholen acknowledged that no plan will address all concerns, but she encouraged every neighborhood to share how they feel they would be impacted.

“We are still taking public input,” she said. “No final decision has been made.”

There will be a public hearing next Thursday (Jan. 28), and after that, the school board will vote to pick a plan on Feb. 4.

“Your input has been thoughtful and extremely helpful, so please continue,” Tholen said.

Chart via FCPS

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Fairfax County Public Schools officials presented three possible options for adjusting McLean High School’s boundary with Langley High School to address overcrowding at the former facility at a virtual community meeting on Monday (Dec. 7).

Officials say they considered several options and eliminated some when they determined that they would produce new overcrowding problems or create infrastructure or transportation issues.

Overcrowding has been a persistent concern at McLean throughout the past decade, as the school’s student population ballooned from 1,863 people in the fall of 2009 to over 2,000 people by 2012.

Despite several limited attempts to add space over the years, including the addition of temporary classrooms and the removal of lockers from hallways, FCPS says McLean High School is now at 118% capacity with 2,350 students in a building designed for 1,993 – a “substantial” deficit.

In comparison, Langley High School currently has 1,972 students and can accommodate 2,370 students after finishing a renovation last year.

FCPS has been exploring a possible boundary change for the two schools since early 2019. Feedback from a pair of community meetings in December 2019 led the Fairfax County School Board to add Cooper and Longfellow middle schools to the study’s scope on Mar. 9.

Longfellow Middle School is currently at 97% capacity with 1,334 students in a building for 1,374 students, though it is projected to exceed capacity going forward. Cooper Middle School has 992 students and will expand its capacity to 1,120 students after a renovation is completed around 2023.

Here are the three potential boundary adjustments that FCPS presented:

  • Option A: reassign an estimated 131 students from McLean to Langley and an estimated 53 Longfellow students to Cooper in a split feeder area that includes Colvin Run Elementary School and a portion of Westbriar Elementary School
  • Option B: reassign an estimated 190 students from McLean to Langley and an estimated 78 students from Longfellow to Cooper in the Colvin Run split feeder area, along with a portion of Westbriar and Spring Hill Elementary School
  • Option C: reassign an estimated 240 students from McLean to Langley and 113 students from Longfellow to Cooper from the Spring Hill split feeder area

FCPS Facilities Special Projects Administrator Jessica Gillis emphasized that no students attending Longfellow, Cooper, McLean, or Langley right now will be moved out of their current school.

FCPS officials also included an option for no boundary change. Projections show that both McLean and Longfellow will be over capacity for the foreseeable future, whereas Langley’s enrollment will drop to 1,855 students, or 78% of its capacity, in 2024.

With any boundary adjustment not expected to take effect until the start of the 2021-22 school year, FCPS is installing a modular with 12 classrooms at McLean High School to provide temporary capacity relief, though it will still be at 103% capacity. The school will also still have six temporary classrooms.

Dates for FCPS staff to deliver a recommendation to the Fairfax County School Board and for the board to take action after holding a public hearing have not yet been determined.

Map via FCPS

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Fairfax County Public Schools will host a community meeting to discuss a potential boundary adjustment for McLean High School at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 7, Dranesville District School Board Representative Elaine Tholen said in a newsletter sent out on Tuesday (Nov. 24).

The proposed boundary adjustment is intended to address overcrowding at McLean High School, which currently has 2,292 students in a building designed for 1,993 students, according to FCPS.

With enrollment at McLean High projected to increase over the next five years, FCPS has been exploring the possibility of moving the school’s boundary to instead send some students to Langley High School, which increased its capacity to 2,370 students after being renovated in 2018.

As of this October, Langley High School has 2,004 enrolled students.

Plans to adjust McLean High’s boundaries have been in the works since at least early 2019. FCPS even held two boundary scope community meetings last December, but the process was put on hold as the Fairfax County School Board’s focus shifted to challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tholen says FCPS staff will use the upcoming community meeting to present information and options for the boundary adjustment to community members, who will then give feedback that will be shared with the school board.

Public input from the previous meetings convinced the school board to expand the study’s scope to include the boundaries for Longfellow Middle School and Cooper Middle School as well as McLean and Langley High, according to Tholen.

“If we move forward with a boundary adjustment, the plan will be for students to move from their elementary school to Cooper and then to Langley, or to Longfellow and then to McLean,” Tholen said.

In the meantime, FCPS hopes to “increase the comfort and efficiency of educational spaces” at McLean High School by replacing trailers on the school’s tennis courts with a modular unit that has 12 classrooms and restroom facilities.

Tholen says the unit has been placed at the school and will be ready for use in late December, though whether any students will be allowed to use it at that point remains to be seen.

FCPS staff has also been working with staff from Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust’s office, Providence District staff, and members of the McLean Citizens Association “to enhance data analysis for Tyson’s area development and the impact on schools.”

“We are fortunate to have John Foust as a member of that work group,” Tholen said. “I will be working with these groups to look at our next steps for further capacity work at McLean High School and the surrounding areas.”

Photo via McLean High School PTSA

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There were spells cast and monsters launched. There were fashion shows and combats. But, the real magic happened when the clock struck midnight on June 18 when teenagers around the world dropped the curtain on a three-day gaming spree to help Broadway actors impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

A group of about 70 teenagers from around the world gathered virtually for a 72-hour Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) marathon game this past weekend. The event raised $1,157 benefitting Broadway Cares, which supports actors.

“You could definitely tell that everyone had fun,” said Elizabeth Tippens, the organizer of Teens4Broadway, following the event. “People who have never met before were having a great time.”

Tippens, a rising junior at Langley High School and theater student, organized the game and Teens4Broadway along with seven other local teenagers. She said the idea came to her while playing D&D with her friends during the stay-at-home order. Her friends love theater and wanted to support the industry, so they decided to create a fundraiser to benefit actors. 

“We’re informed about some Broadway things just from being in theater, and we also play D&D a lot,” says Lily Spiller, one of the dungeon masters.

“With COVID, there’s a lot of things going wrong for a lot of people in theater, because theater is a pretty in-person thing. We wanted to do something to help with that,” said Spiller.

D&D is a fantasy tabletop roleplaying game that allows players to create their own characters. A dungeon master serves as the game’s storyteller while maintaining the setting of the fantastical world. A roll of the dice can often determine the life or death fate of players’ characters, according to the D&D website

From there, Tippens connected with Broadway Cares, a nonprofit that provides assistance and aid to actors. She and her friends came up with a live virtual marathon game of D&D to raise money for the Broadway Cares Actors Fund. 

Teenagers from Virginia to Scotland gathered to play. Anyone interested was invited to watch the game live with the option to donate money. Viewers who donated certain amounts of money could influence the game and the players. For example, with a $25 donation, a healing potion could be delivered to any of the players. 

“There were quite a few $50 donations, which were the party heals,” said Tippens, adding that $50 allowed donors to heal the entire party and give spell casters all their spells back.

However, the real chaos came from the $100 donations, which gave the donor the power to choose any D&D monster of the party’s level to be dropped immediately. 

“The main way it was influenced was because of the big monsters people were dropping on us,” said Tippens. 

The game took place over Roll20, an online roleplaying site geared towards tabletop roleplaying games, such as D&D. Each player was required to make an account on the site to be eligible to participate. The game was then live-streamed via Twitch, a live streaming service often used by gamers. The group had specific technicians to ensure that donations were verified and that the technology ran smoothly throughout the three-day marathon. 

Despite the fun, Tippens said there were many technical challenges. These included a lag on the website due to the high volume of people, a problem with audio where some people couldn’t be heard, and kids not showing up to some of the later slots. Additionally, Roll20 was down for about three hours on one of the days, and a session was canceled because of it. 

This marathon game may only be the beginning of more games in the future held by Teens4Broadway.

Tippens said she has projects in mind for how the game can be improved if it were to happen again, such as using different software for the virtual play. She also mentioned a potential name change and possibly supporting other organizations besides Broadway Cares to reach a broader audience. 

“We definitely have ideas in the works for future events.”

Photo courtesy Elizabeth Tippens

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Editor’s note: Tysons Reporter will temporarily have “Morning Notes” every weekday instead of twice a week to accommodate more news.

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How One Local Faith Group is Adapting — “The ongoing COVID-19 public-health crisis has caused many organizations to regroup. Among them is Arlington/McLean Young Life Capernaum, which works with young people with special needs.” [Inside NoVa]

Local Students’ Research Lauded — “Emily Sun and Abigail Xu, students at Langley High School, have been selected as the 2020 recipients of the STEM Excellence Award bestowed by the McLean area branch of the American Association of University Women.” [Inside NoVa]

Shopper Limits at Harris Teeter — “Kroger Co. will limit the number of shoppers it allows in each of its stores across the country — including its Harris Teeter-branded stores — beginning Tuesday…The standard grocery store building capacity is one person per 60 square feet. Kroger will now limit capacity to one person per 120 square feet.” [Washington Business Journal]

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Before the coronavirus prompted Fairfax County Public Schools to close, Superintendent Scott Brabrand said a proposed boundary change for McLean high schools won’t impact students later this year.

The Fairfax County School Board voted unanimously at the meeting on March 9 to expand their study of a possible boundary change for McLean and Langley high schools to include the two feeder middle schools — Cooper and Longfellow.

The draft CIP says that McLean High School is currently at 118% capacity, with projections showing the population increasing to 122% capacity in the 2024-2025 school year.

The boundary change would shift students from McLean High School to nearby Langley High School, which has a current capacity of 83%.

Elaine Tholen, who represents the Dranesville District on the school board, said that community input at meetings in December pushed for middle schools to be included in the proposal.

Tholen added that Cooper Middle School is set to get renovated. “That doesn’t need to slow this process,” she said.

Originally, boundary scope meetings were expected to continue into the spring with the goal of voting and having a decision so that the change could impact the 2020-2021 school year.

But Tholen and Brabrand said that the 2020-2021 goal is too soon, especially since high school students have already signed up for their fall classes.

Brabrand said that having the boundary change in effect by the 2021-2022 school year would be more likely.

It is unclear if the coronavirus pandemic will delay that timeline.

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How overcrowded could McLean High School be four years from now? The proposed Capital Improvement Program for Fairfax County Public Schools has an idea.

The draft CIP says that McLean High School is currently at 118% capacity, with projections showing the population increasing to 122% capacity in the 2024-2025 school year.

While the new projections are lower than previous ones — the last CIP expected McLean High School to reach 127% capacity by 2022 — the overcrowding has sparked vigorous debate on how to get students out of the trailers.

One idea that county officials are pursuing would shift students from McLean High School to nearby Langley High School.

Langley High School has a current capacity of 83%, which is projected to drop to 78% by 2024, according to the draft CIP.

Meetings in the fall solicited community input on the proposed boundary change and are expected to continue next year.

FCPS staff have said they want to implement a decision so that the change can impact the 2020-2021 school year.

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