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Bobby O: Follow Policy 2-32 on Boundaries

As the school system makes boundary adjustments related to two new Ashburn schools, former school board member urges current board to stick to written policy.

Below is a discussion article on school boundaries and school management that didn't seem to be covered very thoroughly by local media. Hopefully this allows for a genuine conversation about what can be done to maximize the quality of education and the fair distribution of tax-supported resources to accomplish that goal.

Currently there are two new elementary schools being constructed to support the growth in LCPS demand in the Ashburn area that necessitate discussion. Elementary schools are inherently local by design, definition, school policy and school practice so these are not fungible seats allowing students to be bused from anywhere in Loudoun to Ashburn. They don't belong to any community or homeowners association but the long-held and, most times, practiced policy of trying to keep students in the same school as their neighbors continues. The point of this discussion is to welcome constructive comments that identify a legitimate issue with reasonable suggestions how the issue can be resolved. Suggestions should be impactful and courteous but never underestimate the affect to a child, neighborhood or spirit of a community if its belief in fair treatment is mishandled.

Loudoun County Public Schools Policy 2-32 was recently re-written as a guide to all school boards on what appear to be the primary criteria that need to be evaluated for any boundary change. The staff in charge of presenting data to the school board for review of boundaries is highly adept in presentation skills and comparative analysis. Boundary analysis can be difficult to follow if one merely hears or reviews a series of ad hoc stories about a particular classroom, teacher, child, street, neighborhood or principal etc. Policy 2-32 was reviewed in extreme detail by prior boards to provide a framework by which future boards can weigh the relative impact of every future boundary change against the variables that decades of experience found important. This policy does not pre-suppose one variable is self-determinant but rather insures transparency in consideration. We currently see multiple plans being discussed by the Loudoun School Board with various angles of review, but to my understanding there has still been no demand that LCPS staff provide a fully comparative checklist of each plan against the criteria of policy 2-32. This becomes untenable, based on my eight years of experience on the school board. A parent of a child being sent to a different school should be able to show that child how their planning zone fell into the policy of the school board that was followed. It should no longer acceptable or condoned as some last-minute expedient to just make the numbers. It hasn't been long since we heard self-serving and soon to be forgotten school board member rhetorical speeches on decision night leading to a court appeal.

How hard is it to produce a comparative chart showing the relative efficiency, demography, community, feeder impact (K to 12), special education consistency, etc.? Now that LCPS has multiple co-located school complexes such as MS-6/Newton-Lee ES, Mill Run ES/Eagle Ridge MS, Tolbert ES/Harper Park MS and soon-to-be Belmont Ridge/HS-8, why aren't the relative amounts of space resources available for analysis rather than busing children out of their neighborhoods for infinity? Isn't DN39 part of the Belmont Country Club Community, less than a mile from Newton-Lee, MS6 and Stone Bridge yet one of the plans suggests their children move from NLES to Belmont Station without any of their neighbors and with all other children in the school going to MS6 and Stone Bridge, both of which are well within their walking capability. How would this decision fit in the parameters of efficiency, community, demographics, feeder consistency or even frequency of being moved? This example should not be guessed at, but should be an obvious point of analysis done by staff prior to the proverbial 11th hour so the public can appreciate that the school board is actually trying to follow policy 2-32. The above example was brought forward to show the need for the policy 2-32 framework not to criticize any particular plan. When MS-6 is built next to Newton-Lee is it really an impossibility that these co-located facilities could not be managed to work together to teach children from K through 8th grade?

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