Small adjustments to attendance zone boundaries may be the cheapest and easiest way to free up classroom space for full-day kindergarten.
That was the sentiment of School Board members who backed a new boundaries policy Tuesday evening.
How to provide every Loudoun kindergartener with a full, six-hour school day has been a years-long debate. Under the leadership of the previous superintendent, it seemed the only solution was to build classroom additions, a multi-million-dollar option. Since Superintendent Eric Williams was hired in 2014, he has agreed that classroom additions may be the best option for some schools, but has suggested the board consider “slight, targeted” attendance boundary adjustments to deliver the program to others.
Following his recommendation, the board voted 6-2-0-1 to adopt a policy change that allows for an expedited process for boundary changes under specific circumstances. Those include converting a traditional school to a charter school, addressing a new housing development that would otherwise cause overcrowding at a school, and reassigning 15 percent or less of a school’s students if it would allow for at least one full-day kindergarten classroom without overcrowding that school
That last one was the issue that was most debated during Tuesday’s board meeting. Williams and his team of planners have asked for flexibility to recommend that the board undergo an expedited boundary process when reassigning 15 percent or less of a school’s students would free up space for full-day kindergarten. They said a review process with fewer public hearings and work sessions help bring full-day kindergarten to more schools.
The School Board had initially considered keeping that threshold at 10 percent of a school’s population, but Williams said the policy should provide flexibility to reassign 15 percent if the board wants to bring full-day kindergarten to the more crowded schools.
During a June meeting, School Board member Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin), who is skeptical that any boundary change would be minor, asked for specific examples where reassigning fewer than 15 percent of a school would allow for full-day kindergarten.
Assistant Superintendent of Support Services Kevin Lewis presented two examples Tuesday. At Cedar Lane Elementary in Ashburn, reassigning 106 students—14.6 percent of the school’s enrollment—to neighboring Newton-Lee Elementary would allow for five full-day kindergarten classrooms. Last school year, Cedar Lane had just one full-day class. At Lucketts Elementary just north of Leesburg, moving about 47 students to Waterford Elementary would free up space to provide for one full-day kindergarten class.
“The question at hand is how we can satisfy the need for universal full-day kindergarten. … This is just an illustration of how the tool would work, and where it would work,” Lewis said. “The School Board could always say we don’t want to do it in any particular case. So the ultimate decision still rests with the board.”
DeKenipp said he’s still foresees these potential boundary changes as disruptive, and he criticized board members for drafting a long-term policy to fix a short-term problem. “We’re doing boundary processes right now without any public input. We’re making decisions that affect the schools and the communities and the families that live in them.”
On the other side of the debate, Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) said boundary adjustments will likely be the answer to bring a full-day program to kindergarteners in his district. “In the Dulles South area, we’re going to potentially have this exact situation.”
To demonstrate just how desired a full-day program is, Joy Maloney (Broad Run) said she recently mentioned on her Facebook page that one full-day kindergarten class had opened up at Mill Run Elementary.
“That post went viral. That’s the need we’re talking about here,” she added. “In order to provide universal full-day kindergarten as quickly as we can, this policy will help us in that fashion.”