News and notes from Reston (tm).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More black T-shirts than a Led Zeppelin reunion tour

As folks break out those awesome black T-shirts for tonight's final awesome public hearing on redistricting at Oakton High School, it turns out Fairfax school officials have been listening. Well, sort of.

Officials say that no scenario has been ruled out and that they are tuned in to what Superintendent Jack D. Dale called the "don't do it lobby."

"But," Dale said, "part of the process is to identify a solution other than that. . . . The School Board always has an option at the very end to not make any changes at all."
Tonight, school officials are seeking input on their awesome fifth option:
Some who are headed to Oakton High, Westfield High and Madison High would go to South Lakes High; others would attend Oakton High instead of Chantilly High. Herndon High boundaries would not change.
Well, we know how democratic the process has been so far. We also know how maturely folks have handled the prospect of change. Fortunately, we have our elected officials to show us the middle ground, right?
"The truth is not always determined by a show of hands," said board member Stuart D. Gibson (Hunter Mill), whose district includes South Lakes High. "I believe we should provide excellent educational experiences to all students."

Board member Kathy L. Smith (Sully) said she supports the redistricting process, particularly efforts to shrink enrollment at Westfield High and Chantilly High.

In the fall board elections, Smith's and Gibson's opponents were backed by a political action committee that sought to stop redistricting. The two incumbents won comfortably.

But board member James L. Raney, sworn in this week as an at-large member, was endorsed by the stop-redistricting PAC. Raney said he is "seriously considering" support of a moratorium. He said of the boundary study, "I'm not convinced that the criteria are right, reasonable or complete."
Oh, right. The PAC formed by the stopRD crowd, representing those who can least afford a drop in their property values in the struggling, transitional neighborhood of Oakton Woods, where one home is now valued at a scant $758,000. The funny thing is that even in Fox Mill, home of people who don't want their kids rubbing shoulders with kids who play with Bratz, there's some support for the idea of redistricting.
Not all parents are skeptical. Erika Castro, a resident of the Fox Mill Elementary attendance area, has launched a pro-redistricting Web site. She said that South Lakes is a great school and that she would prefer to send her children 10 minutes, rather than 45 minutes, down the road.

Her online petition has 500 signatures. But Castro said the issue is difficult to discuss with some neighbors.

"It's like politics. It's like religion," she said. "There are some things you are never going to see eye to eye on. Those people have to do what they have to do, and I have to do what's important for me."
Sadly, it's the students at the affected schools that are acting the most maturely. The Oakton High School student newspaper actually wrote an article about all the rumors surrounding South Lakes:
South Lakes High School is dangerous. At least, that is what a number of vocal parents speaking out against the West County Boundary Study want you to believe. Based on the claims of various parents, an outsider would presume the school is a constant battleground - a dead-end rampant with drugs and gang violence.

To rid ourselves of the status of "outsider," we took one day to visit this war zone. As students of Oakton, a school with rough pockets of its own, we shadowed students at South Lakes to observe and examine. How rough is it really? How does AP compare to IB? Overall, how do Oakton and South Lakes stack up side-by-side? Here is what we found.

The first rumor about South Lakes was dispelled immediately upon entering the building. There were, in fact, no metal detectors at the door. In reality, the only abnormality was all the construction equipment surrounding the school. No drug deals, no drive-bys, no violence - just students filing off busses and into the school.

South Lakes has had trouble shedding the negative reputation it acquired in the '80s. "Urban legends" have formed about the school and despite behavioral changes, the off-putting reputation persists.

"South Lakes was bad a long time ago," explained Jamal Cooper, a sophomore at South Lakes. "But it is completely different now. The people are different now."


As we walked through the halls, big groups of mentors sat in circles with their underclassmen "mentees" sprawled out around the floor. After playing two group- oriented games, the boys and girls split up and discussed any problems or topics someone was willing to suggest. When the circle came around to us, we asked the probing question.

"Do any of you feel endangered or not safe at any point in time?"

Not a single head nodded yes. In fact, most looked in confusion at each other, wondering why such a question would even be asked.

"Are any of you unhappy at South Lakes or wish you went to another school?"

Once again, not a single head nodded yes, and more confused glances were shot across the circle. We can sense insincerity; their answers were genuine. These students were not screened; they were not prepped. Until we walked into the classroom, they did not know we existed or what our purpose was.
And on the ever-informative online message boards discussing the topic, it was a SLHS student who said this:
You fight over the internet like a bunch of mean girls would. You don't have real facts, and you judge before you REALLY know anything, and you are hiding the REAL reason you don't want to come to South Lakes. I am an african-american student, and I know that you're afraid of diversity. Its apparent that that is the reason. You feel as though some hispanic gangbangers are going to hurt your precious child, when that's not even the case. You're afraid that the black kids who need affordable housing are gonna beat your kids up, when that's not the case. You can cover up your racism with test scores, and not wanting to lose the value of your home....but we all know.

And the whole anonymous posting thing?
You're a grown adult, stop coming at this like a scared child.
We won't print the responses she got. To be fair, we're sure they're all concerned about the band programs.

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