Discussions on expanding Advanced Academic Programs to include more elementary and middle schools is taking on the tone of a boundary debate.
Fairfax County school administrators propose increasing the number of Advanced Academic Programs to include 14 additional middle schools and six additional elementary schools. If implemented, all middle schools would have AAP Centers and programs would be available at the elementary school level in all of the school system’s eight pyramids. Currently the AAP Level IV Centers are not available in six pyramids — Falls Church, Marshall, Annandale, Edison, South County high schools and Robinson Secondary School.
Advanced Academic Programs are offered to advanced learners with the goal of challenging those students who learn at a faster rate, think of a higher level and/or study sophisticated and complete content, according to FCPS. These students are identified through an examination process. While some of the programs are pull-out or small-group interaction within the classroom, the Level IV program is a full-time program for students grades three through eight.
The School Board is scheduled to discuss the expansion proposal during its Dec. 10 work session at the Gatehouse Administration Center. A vote could come as early as January, with changes taking effect next fall.
Grandfathering would allow children in fourth through sixth grades to stay in their current schools, but third graders would be impacted. At the middle school level, the shift would impact rising seventh graders. Eighth grade school assignments would not be affected.
Parents of students currently in programs voiced concerns during a series of outreach meetings held last week. Topping their list of issues was the expedited speed of the proposed shift.
“I do not think that a School Board decision in December-January provides adequate time to plan and implement this middle school proposal across the county,” said parent Rachel Rothstein, the mother of a fourth grader at Great Falls Elementary and an eighth grader at Kilmer Middle School. While neither of her children will be affected by the shift directly, Rothstein said she is concerned that changes to the program could diffuse quality of programming offered. The school system proposal includes plans to train additional teachers on AAP curriculum for the expansion.
“I am very concerned that this proposal…will negatively impact the rigor of Level IV AAP programs,” wrote parent Nancy Deng in a letter to her School Board representative Jane Strauss (Dranesville District). Deng, the mother of seventh-grade twins said the outreach meetings did not offer parents enough information on how changes would be implemented logistically. Several parents complained that the meetings lacked detail beyond a PowerPoint presentation outlining the plan. They said they wanted to know how the shift would impact each school and specifically their children.
“Without clarification of those important issues and without clear commitment of financial and human resources to support the Level IV AAP program at each middle school, it is very troublesome for parents to anticipate the consequence of this reconstructing at such as massive level,” Deng wrote.
Expansions to the AAP centers were proposed by a staff task force that convened last spring. The school system argues that the increase in services will provide equity of access to currently underserved children, while simultaneously reducing crowding in schools that enrolled AAP students, who would normally attend their neighborhood school. Staff said even with the cost of training and/or hiring new teachers for the expansion, the school system will save money when they are not transporting students to locations outside of their base school attendance areas.
“The plan to expand the AAP Centers is evolving based on the input we have received from parents and citizens at the community meetings,” FCPS spokeswoman Mary Shaw said, adding that a revised recommendation reflecting parents concerns would be posted to the school system’s website Thursday, after the newspaper’s deadline.
“The reason why this is moving along with a sense of urgency is because of the severe overcrowding currently at Louise Archer, Haycock and Hunters Woods Elementary Schools,” Shaw said.
In the weeks to come, before the student holiday recess, parents say they are looking for more detail, which will allow the School Board to make informed decisions.
“While we have very few concrete facts, the few we have are disturbing,” parent Angela Smith said. “While the current middle school centers offer a large group of kids the opportunity to be together with their peers both academically and socially—this new approach would see middle schools with as few as 11 kids per grade in AAP. How can you run a meaningful program with 11 kids?”