I am writing as a member of the recent Redistricting Advisory Committee, as well as a parent of two Brownsville Elementary students, in response to the recent article regarding a potential expansion of Crozet Elementary (Redistricting Committee Recommends “Holding Pattern” for Elementary Schools, January 2013).
First, I’d like to address the notion that a vote for the “holding pattern” option at Meriwether Lewis School “had become a move to add on” to Crozet elementary. In fact, the committee’s decision to recommend against redistricting at MLS was determined, in its entirety, by issues regarding capacity and space utilization at that individual school building. Based on current class sizes, as well as additional available classroom space, the committee determined there was “no compelling reason” to redistrict between 30-50 students at this time. There was no discussion of adding onto Crozet elementary as a way to deal with excess enrollment at MLS.
The idea of an expansion at Crozet elementary is a separate line of discussion for the committee and relates to anticipated enrollment growth in the Crozet area. The committee voiced almost unanimous concerns about the ability of the two Crozet elementary schools to handle an expected influx of students over the next five to 10 years, which is a practical inevitability due to current and planned housing development in the area. The committee believes that recommendation of an expansion to Crozet elementary is the most expeditious and cost-effective way to increase school capacity for our local schools. Further, after reviewing feasibility studies and building plans provided by the county, as well as investigating the estimated number of new homes to be built in the area, the committee recommended that the Long Range Planning Advisory Committee (LRPAC) explore the idea of a larger addition to the school. In light of expected housing growth, such as the planned Westlake Hills community (which is zoned for Crozet Elementary), the committee believes that it would be ultimately ineffective to expand the school by only 130 seats, as the current plan states.
At a time when capital resources are scarce, and knowing that additional resources will be needed to address growth at WAHS and Henley, it’s important (and practical) for us to consider options that optimize existing school buildings for the long-term. A large expansion at the school is physically possible, had already been studied and designed, and provides the most flexibility for future enrollments at a cost that will be significantly less than a new school building.
Second, I’d like to address relates to concerns voiced by the Crozet Elementary PTO about the “ideal size” of their school. Many statements have been made that the size of Brownsville elementary, which is now at 707 students, is not “healthy.” As an active PTO member, I take issue with the notion that growth, per se, is always a negative thing for schools. Brownsville is, in many ways, a state-of-the-art physical building, and boasts a number of technological and other learning tools that enhance student learning on a daily basis. Class sizes at Brownsville are properly sized, so that even though the overall school population is large, the student/teacher ratio has remained stable over the years of growth. Special classes, such as art, music, and PE are high priorities at Brownsville, and there has been a push to increase the reach of gifted and intervention programs for all students. One of my son’s favorite activities is when his first grade class is visited by the Gifted teachers for math enrichment. Student achievement is high, and the student population is increasingly diverse.
I also believe the quality of the Brownsville environment is of extremely high quality. Teacher and administration interaction with students happens often; my fifth grade daughter is often asked by teachers and administrators about her soccer games or other outside-of-school interests. Parents are always welcomed and are, generally, highly involved in all types of school activities. I am greeted on a first-name basis each time I visit the school, as is my two-year-old son, who freely gives out hugs and high-fives to a number of staff and students at Brownsville! I know that my children are known and cared-about by the teachers and administrators at Brownsville. The idea that a school environment will automatically become “unhealthy” simply by virtue of a certain enrollment size is certainly not being borne out at Brownsville Elementary.
Nor do I believe this would happen with an expansion at Crozet. A number of Brownsville parents, me included, would likely be impacted by redistricting moves between the two schools. We would look forward to being equally active at any future school. The article referenced the past “rich community with lots of engagement” that used to be the norm at Crozet elementary. I believe that an expansion of the school could once again provide a way to increase volunteerism and, ultimately, strengthen the school community.
Of course, we know that large schools can become institutional, anonymous places where students can easily get lost in the shuffle. However, it’s my strong belief that school growth can be managed proactively, with focus and foresight that emphasizes strong administrative leadership and an exceptional teaching staff. Positive growth also makes room for parent involvement, and encourages collaborative partnerships between schools, PTOs, and the larger communities. I have seen all of this being carried out with much success at Brownsville, and believe it can happen at Crozet elementary as well.