A planned overhaul of The Madeira School won the uncontested endorsement of the McLean Citizens Association last week as it moves towards the Fairfax County Planning Commission for review.
The Madeira School is an all-girl’s private school at 8328 Georgetown Pike in McLean founded in 1906. While not looking to expand its student population, the school is hoping to expand and renovate some of the outdated buildings.
The centerpiece of the proposal is the removal of the site’s existing science building so it can be replaced with a new structure with upgraded classrooms. Other additions include a stables building, a new residential hall, and new faculty housing.
In an article on the school’s website, school administrators say the new classrooms will replace outdated 1970s facilities that don’t meet the school’s needs and are difficult to maintain.
“Replacing Madeira’s current science facility is a critical need — and not only because our curriculum has outgrown it,” the school said. “We are limited by our current building, constructed in the 1970s, which is extremely costly to maintain, has an insufficient number of classrooms, antiquated laboratories, structural flaws, and inflexible spaces. The new building will elevate the program for Madeira’s engaged students and signals a bold new standard.”
With very little discussion, the McLean Citizens Association voted to approve a resolution endorsing the school’s application to amend its existing special exception permit during a board of directors’ meeting on April 7.
The Madeira School’s application to the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning states that it is seeking the following modifications and improvements:
- Removal of the existing Biedler Science Center building, elimination of a previously approved but unbuilt addition to the building, and construction of a new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) building. Construction of this building will be key to upgrading all of the School’s classrooms, because it will relocate several existing math classrooms out of the Schoolhouse I building, leaving a block of space that can be spread around both Schoolhouse buildings for reconfiguring and upgrading purposes.
- Removal of the existing Stables building, including elimination of a previously approved but unbuilt addition, and removal of the existing Gaines Hall Indoor Riding Ring building, and construction of a new Stables building, riding arena, and hot walker’.
- Removal of the existing two-story residence known as the “Farmhouse,” to be replaced by a new two-story, 5,000 square foot residence.
- Removal of the existing residence known as the “Laurels,” to be replaced with six units for faculty housing. The proposed faculty housing will be four-story two-over-two stacked townhouses. The density for such units has been reallocated from previously approved faculty housing units that were not constructed to their maximum approved square footage.
- Removal of the existing Health Center, to be replaced with eight units for faculty housing. The proposed units will be four-story two-over-two stacked townhouses. The density for such units has been reallocated from previously approved faculty housing units that were not constructed to their maximum approved square footage. The Health Center function will move into the current studio arts building.
The proposed improvements and uses are accessory to the existing primary use as a private school of general education with an enrollment of more than 100 students. None of these projects will encroach into the existing RPA. All previously approved structures that have not yet been constructed are deemed to be approved pursuant to the previous approvals and are depicted
The Planning Commission hearing for the project is scheduled for Wednesday, April 28.
Image via Madeira School
For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started, most Falls Church City Public Schools students are attending school in person five days a week.
Yesterday (Tuesday), 99% of elementary and 92% of secondary students went back to school full-time, fulfilling plans FCCPS had made to return students to pre-pandemic schedules on April 6.
Only 125 of the school division’s 2,500 students remain entirely virtual, according to FCCPS spokesperson John Wesley Brett.
“They came on foot, by car, bike, scooter, and bus to fill classrooms for the first time this year,” FCCPS said this morning. “It was a successful launch of in-person learning. The students’ experience with hybrid learning familiarized them with spacing protocols and mask-wearing, so they stepped smoothly into the new routines.”
A small cohort of students have been in-person since last fall, and beginning in February, elementary and secondary students came back for a hybrid schedule, with two days in-person and two days of virtual learning each week.
“With that success, and with nearly all of our staff and faculty fully vaccinated since mid-February, we feel confident in moving forward toward opening fully,” Brett said. “Despite the CDC’s recent update to its social distancing guidelines — lowering the 6-foot distance recommendation to 3 feet — we will still be adhering to the 6-feet distancing when possible.”
Mount Daniel and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School students now attend school from 8:50 a.m. to 3:50 p.m., with early release at 1:15 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Meanwhile, middle and high school students are now attending in-person classes four days a week, with Wednesdays as a virtual day.
“That will continue through the end of the year,” Brett said, adding that there will be no more changes to the schedule.
“As a parent, the full return of our elementary age children and the vastly expanded four-day access to in-person learning for our middle and high school kids is celebrated this week,” said parent Courtney Mooney, who is the president of a return-to-school parent group, Falls Church City Parents For Schools. “Parents know how much hard work has gone into getting us to this point the past few months and we couldn’t be more thankful to each person who has helped make this return happen.”
Since FCCPS announced it would return to a full five days a week of in-person instruction, 21 students who left the system and opted for private school or homeschooling options have now returned, Brett said.
Parents were given a deadline of March 15 to tell FCCPS their students’ learning preferences, but since then, FCCPS has continued “accomodating all requests for changes through [Monday] and will continue to do so,” Brett said.
He said enrollment has increased with the move to in-person learning five days a week but did not have precise numbers on-hand.
FCCPS has outpaced the rest of Northern Virginia in returning students to in-person classes, which Superintendent Peter Noonan attributed to the school division’s independence and relatively small student population.
“Because we are small and we are independent, we do have some opportunities to do some things differently than other large school divisions,” he told WJLA.
FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand announced on Monday (April 5) that the district is expanding opportunities for in-person learning this week and next week to certain pre-K through 12th grade students who have been identified as experiencing the greatest learning challenges.
Starting April 20, depending on school capacity, students attending hybrid instruction with a preference for full-time instruction may be able to start four days of in-person learning per week.
FCPS said that the expansion is based on the CDC’s new guidance permitting three feet of social distancing in classrooms depending on community transmission rates. The availability of space and staff will also affect how many students can get additional in-person instruction at each school.
Virginia Department of Health data shows that, based on CDC metrics, Fairfax County and Falls Church City currently have “substantial” transmission as of the week of April 3. They both had “high” transmission during the week of March 27, but Falls Church City was “moderate” the week before that.
The CDC says middle and high school students should maintain at least six feet of social distancing in areas with high community transmission, but that could be reduced to three feet when transmission is low, moderate, or substantial, as long as mask use is universal.
A new private school for early childhood education could open as soon as this summer in Tysons.
Owners Kate and Brian Mulcahy held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Celebree School of Tysons-Jones Branch on Wednesday (March 31). It is the first Virginia location for Celebree School, a network of early childhood education centers.
The school is located on Valo Park’s 16-acre campus at 7950 Jones Branch Drive and will serve infants through pre-kindergarten children.
“Truly, the curriculum, the program we’re going to provide to these kids…it gives me chills,” Kate Mulcahy said. “We are going to give these children the best possible start to life while giving their parents incredible piece of mind and flexibility. We are just so excited to do that.”
Celebree aims to open the school this summer, and pre-enrollment has already begun.
Celebree School announced on April 21, 2020 that it had signed a franchise agreement with the Mulcahys to open a center in Fairfax or Arlington county. The couple signed a lease with Valo Park on Nov. 10 to open the center.
Leaders of organizations representing the Tysons area, including the Tysons Partnership and Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce, were among those in attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony.
“There is no greater opportunity right now than to serve your community through education and childcare, particularly early childhood education,” Tysons Partnership communications director Drew Sunderland said. “As my fellow parents know, the pandemic’s only amplified this need for quality schools. Childcare facilities has provided lifelines to families.”
Founded in 1994 in Lutherville, Md., Celebree School began franchising in 2019 and has now expanded to over 40 locations in 12 states that are open or under development, adding franchises in New York, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
“Today is a huge milestone in so many ways,” Celebree Schools founder, president, and CEO Richard Huffman said.
He called the groundbreaking a meaningful occasion for “not only expanding the brand into Virginia and bringing high quality preschool to families in McLean, Virginia, but also sitting around watching this vision and dream come true of offering this concept and this kind of business to a family like the Mulcahys.”
The City of Falls Church’s plan to reopen school buildings remains on track, and some students could be learning in-person full-time after spring break, which runs from March 29 to April 2.
Like their Fairfax County peers, Falls Church City Public Schools students currently have the option of going into school twice a week or taking all-virtual classes. Students getting special education services and children in the Virginia Preschool Initiative are in-person four days a week.
“It’s been quite a couple of weeks,” FCCPS Superintendent Peter Noonan said during a school board meeting Tuesday night (March 9).
Unlike Fairfax County, though, Falls Church has announced plans to potentially let some students attend in-person classes five days a week in the near future.
Staff at Jessie Thackrey Preschool and Thomas Jefferson and Mount Daniel elementary schools have started planning for a return to full-time, in-person instruction on April 6. Classes will be led by teaching staff members who have been fully vaccinated.
FCCPS spokesman John Wesley Brett said, on that day, both elementary schools will return to the “pre-pandemic” schedule of 8:50 a.m. to 3:50 p.m., including the usual early release at 1:15 p.m. on Wednesdays.
“Each school will implement mitigation procedures and work to ensure that continuity of instruction is provided,” he said. “Parents may opt to have their child remain in a virtual model and have until March 15 to make their choice known.”
FCCPS also hopes to eventually expand full-time, in-person learning to secondary students, but planning is more complex, Noonan said.
“There is a growing chorus from VDH and VDOE to get our students back in school sooner rather than later,” he said. “That’s something I think we can all agree with, and it’s something we all want.”
The VDOE advises schools to weigh the risks of not opening schools over concerns that 100% of COVID-19 risks cannot be mitigated.
“Long-term school closures as a mitigation strategy for COVID-19 transmission may cause inadvertent harm to children,” the guidance said. “For example, children who do not have in-person instruction may suffer learning loss with long-term effects, mental health issues, or a regression in social skills.”
FCCPS could move forward more quickly if it follows the lead of other school systems across the nation that have reduced social distancing requirements from six feet to three feet, argues Courtney Mooney, a parent who has been advocating for five days a week of in-person instruction as part of the group Falls Church City Parents for Schools.
Mooney noted that the six-feet rule is not universally agreed upon by scientists and health experts. For instance, the World Health Organization recommends physical distancing of at least one meter — or three feet — after a study it funded found that would be sufficient to significantly reduce the risk of infection by the novel coronavirus.
“I think Superintendent Noonan wants our kids to be back,” Mooney said. “FCCPS needs to continue actively engaging parents and providing the level of detail they’ve provided the last two weeks.”
She credited FCCPS for responding to what she described as mounting frustration and declining trust among parents. As more details are released, parents are trusting the planning process more, she said.
Noonan has also incorporated parents, teachers, staff and community representatives into a newly formed Reopening Advisory Group that met for the first time this week, Mooney said.