Haycock Elementary School teacher Donna Bertsch’s voice broke from a mixture of nerves and emotion as she addressed the county School Board last week on an issue impacting her students.
“It’s difficult to speak publicly about this issue because I really do not want any of my current or former students to feel hurt,” said Bertsch, a third-grade teacher in Haycock’s Advanced Academic Program center for intellectually gifted students.
“To you students I want to say, ‘The thoughts I share are ones you and your parents may not necessarily agree with; but I care very much about each of you and nothing I will say is meant to be personal.”
She, like many Haycock Elementary educators, advocate the removal of some Advanced Academic Program students, who are adding to crowding issues at the elementary school.
Haycock Elementary is currently 180 students over capacity. It enrolls some 437 AAP center students — many who travel from outside attendance areas to Haycock — and 519 regular education students.
“I believe without real relief in the near future we will be asked to carry on in near impossible circumstances,” Bertsch said. “Our overcrowding and our upcoming, greatly needed renovation have come together in a perfect storm and created a crisis.”
Opening a new AAP center at neighboring Lemon Road Elementary School could spare students and teachers at Haycock this crisis.
“While I acknowledge this creates a wrenching situation for many students and their parents, from my perspective it is the only viable, expedient and fiscally responsible solution,” Bertsch said.
Late last week, the county School Board voted to aid Haycock Elementary and others by opening three new Advanced Academic Program centers at Lemon Road, Navy and Westbriar elementary schools. These centers would remove students from Haycock, Hunters Woods and Louise Archer elementary schools, where pressures of crowding are currently being felt.
The new AAP centers will open fall 2013. Shifts in student populations would impact next year’s third-graders. With the exception of the new Lemon Road’s AAP center, rising fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade AAP students will remain at their current centers. Lemon Road’s center, also opening in the fall, will serve all eligible third- through fifth-graders from Lemon Road, Westgate and Shrevewood elementary schools.
“What we’re [approving] tonight is scaled way back from the initial proposal back in the fall… The initial thought was actually to make changes across the county,” School Board member Patricia Hynes (Hunter Mill District) said. “This is part of an effort to better align facilities and instruction, which to me means just moving kids closer to home.”
Many students currently attending AAP centers at Haycock, Hunters Woods and Louise Archer are transported to these elementary schools outside of their regular base-school attendance area.
Hynes represents two schools impacted by the change, including Louise Archer, which serves as the AAP center for children who would normally attend seven area schools. Louise Archer’s AAP population for third- through sixth-graders is larger than those representing neighborhood children attending regular classes.
Hynes said that the new centers at Lemon Road, Navy and Westbriar elementary schools would help curb crowding at other schools.
In addition to the new centers in elementary schools, the School Board voted to add an AAP center — opening in fall 2013 — at South County Middle School.
Part of the reason for the reduction in proposed expansion plans — which initially included 14 centers added to middle schools and six to elementary schools — was concerns voiced by some School Board members that the expansion to some areas might spark problems countywide. Parents of students in AAP centers also complained about this proposal.
As a result, board members directed the superintendent of schools to conduct an analysis on the quality of the Advanced Academic Services, which will be presented to the board no later than June 30.
“We have a lot of larger issues to look at in the AAP program,” School Board member Sandy Evans (Mason District). “We have just approved an analysis of our AAP program to see if this is the best we can do or if there are other models… There are some areas where we could improve and need a more robust program. Whether there is a different model out there, whether we are properly serving the entire range of children, whether we’re identifying and preparing children for advanced academics — these are all serious questions and we need the analysis.”