Tysons, VA

McLean High School is one of three Fairfax County public schools that have canceled plans to serve as test centers for the SAT on Nov. 7.

One of the other schools, Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, has scheduled a make-up date for Nov. 21, but McLean’s next SAT test date is not until Dec. 5. The third school to opt out of the Nov. 7 testing date — Westfield High School in Chantilly — does not appear to be offering the SAT again until Mar. 13.

Fairfax County Public Schools says it is customary for individual schools to make their own decisions about hosting the SAT, because they are responsible for assigning staff to proctor the test.

“The three schools that cancelled in Fairfax County for November 7 cited various reasons for doing so, primarily due to staffing difficulties,” FCPS director of news and information Lucy Caldwell said in a statement to Tysons Reporter. “Fortunately, students are able to take the exams at any of the schools where it is offered.”

Higher education institutions have long used scores from standardized tests like the SAT to help determine student admissions, but skepticism of this approach has grown in recent years, with critics arguing that the tests tend to be culturally biased and favor students whose families can afford to pay for private tutoring.

According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, also known as FairTest, more than 1,630 four-year universities and colleges in the U.S. have made reporting SAT or ACT scores optional for fall 2021 admissions, including Fairfax’s George Mason University, which became the first public university in Virginia to adopt a test-optional policy in 2007.

Because of school closures and public health concerns triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Association for College Admission Counseling released a statement on Aug. 26 urging public institutions to make standardized test scores optional for the 2021-22 admissions cycle.

“Inequities caused by COVID-19 disruption – loss of family income, secondary school closures, interruptions in the K-12 educational program – will worsen an already difficult situation for millions of students,” NACAC said. “In this critical time, public colleges must be mindful of their founding purpose of serving students and families and recognize that lifting testing requirements in 2020-21 will be in the students’ best interest.”

College Board, the nonprofit that oversees the SAT, asked colleges to provide flexibility by extending deadlines for receiving test scores, giving equal consideration to students who can and cannot submit scores, and recognizing that students who do submit scores may not have had the opportunity to take the test more than once.

After putting the SAT on hiatus in April, May, and June, College Board resumed administering the test in August, but the organization notes that “there is limited testing capacity in certain areas due to public health restrictions and high demand.”

FCPS high schools hosted an SAT School Day on Sept. 23. A list of schools that will be hosting the SAT on Nov. 7 can be found at fcps.edu/sat.

Students are required to wear masks, complete a health screening questionnaire, and register the exam ahead of time, rather than on-site, among other guidelines.

“Fairfax County Public Schools is committed to the health and safety of all staff, students, and parents/guardians,” FCPS says. “All testing procedures and safety protocols will be followed to ensure testing and cleaning practices meet current health department and division guidance.”

Photo via McLean High School PTSA

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In an update to the McLean Citizens Association, School Board members Elaine Tholen and Karen Keys-Gamarra outlined some changes coming up as Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) begins to take a look at long-term planning again.

One of the biggest topics in the area before the pandemic was a proposed realignment of McLean’s high school boundaries.

According to FCPS:

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is considering a boundary adjustment to provide capacity relief to McLean High School. Currently, McLean HS has more than 2,350 students in a building with design capacity of 1,993 students. Enrollment at McLean HS is projected to increase in the next five years.

Langley High School, which is close in proximity to McLean HS, recently completed a renovation that increased its design capacity to 2,370 students. Current enrollment at Langley is 1,972. Enrollment at Langley HS is projected to remain the same or decrease in the next five years. FCPS is not planning to recommend moving students out of Langley HS as part of this boundary adjustment.

Those plans got put on the back burner as FCPS dealt with the response to the pandemic, but Tholen said those plans are starting to come back.

“We don’t have specific dates around the McLean/Langley boundary change,” Tholen said. “That’s something that we had started working on at the end of last year and through community comments have incorporated Cooper [Middle School] and Longfellow [Middle School] into that process. We anticipate that we will be moving forward with that so we can have something in place for next fall.”

School Board members also said that the Board had told Superintendent Scott Brabrand that the proposal to change admissions the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology needed more data.

“the goal is to make sure those students who rise to the top will not be overlooked while giving oppurtunities to those schools that have previously not participated,” Keys-Gamarra said.

The McLean Citizens Association had previously criticized FCPS for the speed with which it introduced the merit lottery proposal, saying that the process needs more transparency and community engagement.

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McLean High School plans to have its new modular ready by mid-December.

Ellen Reilly, the school’s principal, wrote in a newsletter to families today that the school’s tennis courts will close next Monday, July 13, so that the trailers can occupy the space.

Until the new modular is ready later this year, the trailers will need to stay on the tennis courts, she said.

Plans to address the school’s overcrowding with a proposed boundary adjustment have stalled as the Fairfax County School Board grapples with COVID-19 challenges.

The modular will replace 14 trailers at the school in an effort to alleviate some of the overcrowding issues, Elaine Tholen, the school board member who represents the Dranesville District, previously said.

Reilly said that she will keep families updated on the construction progress

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(Updated 9:15 a.m.) Hundreds of people chanted and marched in a Black Lives Matter protest led by six McLean High School students on Wednesday.

The protest kicked off around 2 p.m. in the parking lot of McLean High School with passionate speeches from students across Fairfax County and local elected officials calling on students and adults to fight racism.

“It’s kind of crazy I have to tell people I shouldn’t be killed, but here we are,” one student speaker said, later adding: “I don’t want my last words to be, ‘Don’t shoot.'” I want them to be, ‘We did it.'”

The speeches touched on a common theme: the fervor of youth activism.

“Our generation is the one that is going to change the world for the better,” Kendall J., a rising senior at McLean High School, told the crowd. Speakers encouraged parents to better support their kids’ activism.

People with voter registration forms circulated the crowd, encouraging teens about to turn 18 to vote in the upcoming elections.

For safety precautions due to the coronavirus pandemic, participants tried to social distance by spacing themselves out in the parking lot. Face coverings were required, and an organizer cleaned the microphone between each speaker.

Participants shouted chants like “No justice! No peace! No racist police!” and “Black Lives Matter!” At one point, the participants responded to a prompt of saying “I love you” to the people standing closest to them.

After a short prayer moment, the protesters took to the streets, flooding Clearview Drive around 4 p.m. “There are so many people here,” one of the organizers said into his walkie talkie as the march began.

“No justice. No peace. No racist police,” a young child with an adult on the corner of Westmoreland Street and Clearview Drive said as the march headed northbound on Westmoreland Street. Several drivers honked and waved in support.

Tysons Reporter witnessed a moment that punctured the peaceful and passionate protest: a white male driving by the protesters on Westmoreland Street shouted out his window that all lives matter and that they should “cut the bullsh*t.”

The protest was one of several anti-racism events in the Tysons area sparked by George Floyd’s death and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Like several protests and rallies in Falls Church, the McLean protest drew a diverse crowd spanning different generations and races.

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After her graduation from McLean High School in 2018, Isabel Romov received a prestigious scholarship that allows her to study a rare heart disease that can cause sudden death in young adults.

Romov is an upcoming junior studying biotechnology at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. As the inaugural Beckman Scholar, Romov will assist JMU Chemistry Professor Nathan Wright with research over the course of a roughly 15-month period, according to a press release.

Romov will focus on arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy. The disorder is transferred genetically from someone’s family and causes arrhythmias and thickens the walls of the ventricles in the lower chambers of the heart, the press release said. It affects roughly one in 5,000 people, according to Boston Childen’s Hospital and can cause sudden death, cardiac arrest or the sudden loss of consciousness.

Though Romov hasn’t worked with Wright before, she first expressed interest in his work after viewing one of his guest lectures.

For the research, the team is looking at the DNA, learning how to block the disease mutation and creating a “molecular Band-Aid” to cover it up, Romov said.

The scholarship includes $18,600 to funnel into her research.

Romov said the scholarship is competitive, and she thinks she was chosen because of her dedication to perfection, high grades and drive to help people after her mother passed away from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) almost two years ago.

“It has given me a motivation I don’t think anyone else has unless they’ve been in that situation,” she said. “I want to help people and the fact that science works for me and I love it is secondary.”

Growing up, Romov said she struggled during high school because many of her teachers didn’t realize what was going on in her family life, but she said she was thankful for the competitive curriculum that helped her prepare for college.

Now at JMU, Romov serves on the board for Delta Gamma, a social sorority she said strives towards high grades, and is also a member of TriBeta, an honor society for biology students.

After college, she hopes to work with a biotech company or another institution that will help her pursue a graduate degree. Since Romov said she has been working since she was 14 years old, one of her main goals in life is to become financially independent.

“Going to a job is very exciting for me and I’m excited to learn and work in the science field.”

Photo via JMU/Facebook

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Six McLean High School students are planning a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest on Wednesday afternoon.

Sophie T. told Tysons Reporter that they want the protest to “show our support for the BLM movement and speak out against racial injustice and inequality.”

The protest is scheduled for Wednesday (June 10) from 3-5 p.m. and will start at McLean High School. After some speakers, the protesters will march down Chain Bridge Road around 3:50 p.m.

According to the flyer for the event, participants are encouraged to bring water and social distance. Masks will be required.

Sophie said that they are expecting a “decent turnout” and have invited local religious leaders to march and pray with the crowd.

Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

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A Fairfax County School Board member says that 14 trailers at McLean High School will soon get replaced with a modular unit to help address overcrowding issues.

Elaine Tholen, the school board member who represents the Dranesville District, said in her newsletter yesterday that the school board is looking to add a 12-classroom unit and bathrooms outside the school building. Tholen called the plan “an effort to alleviate some of the overcrowding issues.”

School officials’ consideration of a boundary change for the school, which is at 118% capacity, with nearby Langley High School has stalled as the public school system grapples with changes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Tholen reiterated in her newsletter that plans to implement the proposed boundary change this fall will no longer happen.

“As soon as we can figure out the best way to have public meetings to move forward on the boundary scoping process, those meetings will continue,” she said.

Now, the modular idea will be on the consent agenda for the school board’s upcoming meeting on May 7, Tholen said. Following the meeting, families in the McLean and Langley pyramids can expect a note, she added.

“We will continue to analyze development numbers and enrollment figures for McLean High School to monitor the need for an addition to the school,” Tholen said.

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Updated 4/29/2020 — This story originally said the school board would discuss the proposal. The item was instead on the school board’s list of new items. 

A proposal that would add a modular to mitigate overcrowding at McLean High School heads to the Fairfax County School Board tomorrow (Thursday).

School officials have been trying to find a way to lessen crowding issues at the high school, which has resorted to more than a dozen trailers to accommodate classes.

The draft CIP says that McLean High School is currently at 118% capacity, which are projected to increase in the 2024-2025 school year and could rise even more if the school sees an employment spike due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In March, the school board voted to expand the study of a possible boundary change for McLean and Langley high schools to include the two feeder middle schools.

Elaine Tholen, who represents the Dranesville District on the school board, has said that the original goal to implement the boundary change by the 2020-2021 school year won’t happen.

Tholen told families during a digital town hall last week that the modular idea would be a short-term solution “to make that situation much better.”

Now, the school board will consider whether or not to jumpstart the project by awarding a contract to a bidder, but the board won’t vote on the matter tomorrow.

“Bids were received on March 25, 2020,” according to the agenda. “The bid tabulation and recommendation for award will be furnished prior to the May 7, 2020, School Board meeting.”

The proposed modular addition will be paid for by the 2017 bond referendum, according to the school board.

In addition to the high school modular idea, the school board is scheduled to hear an update on the distance learning plan and the superintendent’s recommended changes to fiscal year 2021 budget.

The meeting is set to start at 10 a.m.

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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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Concerns about a proposed boundary change impacting high students in McLean dominated the public hearing last night on the Capital Improvement Program for Fairfax County Public Schools.

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.

“For years, we have cobbled together a bandaid patchwork of solutions that were never meant to be permanent,” Kimberly Adams, from the Fairfax Education Association, told the school board about the trailers at McLean High School.

Adams said that the school board needs to ask for more funding to pay for additional improvements that will add more school space.

One idea that county officials are pursuing would shift students from McLean High School to nearby Langley High School, which has a current capacity of 83%.

Meetings in the fall solicited community input on the proposed boundary change that could impact the schools for this upcoming 2020-2021 school year.

More than a dozen parents, students and locals urged the school board to renovate McLean High School, add a modular brick-and-mortar addition, add IB classes at Langley High School or allow McLean families the option to enroll their kids at Langley High School.

Two McLean high school students, who spoke together, said that they don’t support the boundary change and would prefer to see a modular instead.

Jennifer Colman, a McLean High School parent, told the school board that the CIP has “good options” for the school, but that the boundary change is not one of them.

“Take the boundary change off the table,” Colman said.

And if a boundary change does happen, several parents, like John Callanan, urged that the change happens for the lower grades, like with students in elementary school, rather than at the high school level and that the boundary change not split up families.

“If we must consider boundary changes do it from elementary to middle to high school,” Callanan said. “Do not begin at the end.”

All of the testimony wasn’t about McLean High School overcrowding — several students urged for support of solar polar legislation and building schools that are equipped with solar and geothermal systems so that they can be net-zero energy.

Some parents urged for the school board to address overcrowding at Shrevewood and Kent Garden elementary schools. Other people said that the schools need to have more support for twice-exceptional autistic students.

Image via FCPS/YouTube

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