In three months, Loudoun County will cross a major milestone as it makes room in its schools to provide every kindergartner a full academic day. The county marks that achievement a few years earlier than expected, but school leaders are warning that it will be tricky, maybe impossible, to sustain.
Superintendent Eric Williams recently outlined the challenges to providing enough classroom space for kindergarteners countywide to attend a full day, and offered a few potential solutions—everything from attendance zone boundary changes to fast-tracking construction of classroom additions.
Williams told the School Board at a meeting last week that a dozen of the county’s 58 elementary schools may not have enough space for full-day programs. The biggest obstacles are in the fast-growing Dulles South and Dulles North planning areas—that covers the southeast end of the county—that are expected to enroll a total of 16,827 kindergartners by 2022.
“One of the key takeaways is that we’re going to have challenges over the next few years, especially in Dulles North and Dulles South,” Williams said.
The superintendent stressed that, even with Goshen Post Elementary opening this fall and ES-31 opening in the fall of 2019, it is unlikely that all of the schools in that area can offer full-day kindergarten for the 2019-2020 school year.
School Board Chairman Jeff Morse, who represents the Dulles District, quipped after hearing the update, “Thank you, Dr. Williams, for the incredibly sad news for Dulles North and Dulles South.”
But Williams laid out recommendations to at least continue moving toward the goal of providing universal full-day kindergarten long term.
He is suggesting three-classroom additions at Hillside, Mill Run and Hutchison Farm elementary schools, to open in fall of 2021, the same time two new elementary schools, ES-23 and ES-29, will open. That would fast-forward by one year the classroom additions that the School Board had planned as part of its Capital Improvement Program to open in fall of 2022.
Kindergartners in the Dulles South and Dulles North planning areas may also need to be bussed to neighboring schools that have more classroom space. The schools Williams highlighted as “high risk” for lacking space in those areas are Arcola and Hutchison Farm for both 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years, and Goshen Post for 2020-2021.
Elementary schools in other parts of the county that Williams described as “at some risk” of lacking classroom space are Cedar Lane, Catoctin, Evergreen Mill, Countryside and Banneker. He’s recommending an abbreviated attendance assignment changes for Cedar Lane that would take effect in the fall of 2019; three-classroom additions at Catoctin and Evergreen Mill to open in fall of 2021; and moving one of the two FUTURA classrooms at Countryside, that serve students regionally, to Potowmack Elementary.
For Banneker, one of the county’s oldest school buildings in western Loudoun, he’s suggesting that the maximum allowed classroom size may be bumped up from 25 to 27 students. Williams added, “This is not the desired situation.”
At Morse’s suggestion, the board decided to wait until September to make a final decision on any of the superintendent’s recommendations. That will give the board time to get an updated student county and enrollment projections, that come in each year on Sept. 30.
Williams said he will also give County Administrator Tim Hemstreet a heads up that the School Board will likely be asking for more funding earlier as part of its CIP to build several classroom additions.
“This additional space is going to be crucial to provide full-day kindergarten, especially in fiscal years 2020 to 2022.”