Parents, School Leaders Talk Solutions for Overcrowding

A meeting on school overcrowding Thursday evening was, well, anything but overcrowded.

About two dozen parents filed into the auditorium of Mercer Middle School to get an update from Loudoun County School Board members about when the middle schools in the southern end of the county will get some much-needed relief.

All of the middle schools in the Dulles South and Dulles North planning area are operating at or above capacity. But Mercer Middle School, just off Gum Spring Road, is especially packed.

This year, school administrators created traffic patterns in the hallway so the 1,584 students can move between classes in a safe and timely fashion. On the first week of school, the enrollment surge was so far beyond projections that buses filled up and students were left to sit in the aisle, according to one parent.

“We’re used to growth, but we’re not used to this rate of growth,” Morse said.

Mercer was projected to be 111 percent of building capacity of 1,350 this school year, but a slew of unexpected new students enrolled, hiking it to 117 percent capacity. By this fall, the student population is projected to reach 138 percent capacity.

Renee Lowe, whose daughter attends Mercer, said in an interview that she doesn’t think high enrollment is necessarily hurting her daughter’s education. But it has made other things difficult, like basketball practice. The only time the gym is available for her daughter’s team to practice is from 8:45 to 9:30 p.m. so she’s been going to bed past 10:30 p.m. each night.

It’s also been tough for her daughter to keep friends, because each semester she’s in classes with a whole different group of students.

“It’d be nice for her to see at least a few familiar faces in class,” Lowe said.

She and her husband and two daughters moved from Fairfax to South Riding three years ago, when the southern end of the county was still early in its development.

“Seems like everyone moved at the same time,” she said, adding that developers should be required to do more to ensure the communities their building have enough infrastructure, like schools, to support the population.

Relief is coming, Morse and Huck told those in the audience. But it will take a couple of years to reach it.

A new middle school, referred to as MS-9, will alleviate some overcrowding when it opens in fall of 2017. School Board members also want to accelerate the opening of MS-7 (planned to be built on land on Braddock Road) one year, to have it open in the fall of 2018 opening. As part of its Capital Improvement Program, the School Board has also requested $2.96 million to purchase classroom trailers to house Mercer students. The trailers would be placed on the John Champe High School campus.

That capital funding request is now in the hands of the Board of Supervisors, which is expected to vote on the matter in April.


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