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Old 12-12-2011, 09:04 PM
 
2 posts, read 6,275 times
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Hi,

I recently moved to NOVA from overseas with my family (Me, wife and three young sons) to work in Washington DC for several years. I am after advice for places to live in NOVA and good options for Elementary School for my sons. One of my sons will start kindergarten as soon as we get a house. If it matters (where I come from we are far less concerned about race, colour or income, but it appears to be important in the USA..) I am a professional, native English speaker of Caucasian decent.

I have conducted a lot of research and after some driving around I (think?) I have decided to limit my search to the following areas (in no order of preference):

1) Mc Lean - Oaks Estate.
2) Falls Church - Barcroft Lake.
3) Vienna.

All these areas appear nice to live, but, the issue becomes more complicated when I factor in public elementary schools. What I am really interested I is thought s and opinions on the elementary schools serving these areas. Yes I have checked out greatschools etc, but would like some other opinions
My research has reviled (note: I have not actually visited any of these schools yet):

a) Mc Lean Elementary schools are well regarded for great test scores, but test scores are not everything in my honest opinion. I would prefer a more balanced school experience that also values art, drama, music and other non-traditional academic interests. I also don't like the idea of 'teach to test' just to achieve good scores.

By far my biggest concern with Mc Lean schools however is that it appears that class sizes are quite large (20-25+ students, compared to 15-18 in other Fairfax schools). I’m assuming that class sizes are large because the schools are popular due to high test scores.

Should I be concerned about large class sizes?

b) Barcroft Lake looks like a very nice area to live, but I am concerned that the local Elementary School (Sleepy Hollow ES) might not be good for my sons. I have heard that there is a very high legal and illegal immigrant population near by and the schools are subsequently overwhelmed with needy and potentially disruptive students, thus the educational environment may not be great. (This is what I have hear other people mention in other forms..)

c) Vienna looks good, the local school Freedom Hill ES probably looks the best of the options when I factor in class size and school activities.
So, can anyone off any opinions good or bad on the Elementry Schools in these areas?

The above comments are largely a combination of issues / comments I have collected after reading a number of resources - they are not necessarily my thoughts (except for the comments on Mc Lean schools). I would really appreciate your thoughts on my comments and information and welcome any contradictory advice.

Regards,

NewArrival

Last edited by NewArrival; 12-12-2011 at 09:16 PM..
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Old 12-13-2011, 06:58 AM
 
2,612 posts, read 4,765,944 times
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The best place for information on these schools is FCPS Home Page Redirect Page. Go to "schools and centers" and then click on the individual school's profile. Not only are test scores online, but also demographics. You would see, for example, that what has been said about Sleepy Hollow is accurate - it has a huge low-income, spanish-speaking population. Look there for demographic information about schools.

About test scores - test scores reflect the demographics of the school, not the teaching practices, contrary to what most of the country and the government would like to believe. Schools with very high test scores are schools with virtually no low-income students. Not only does it not reflect "teaching to the test," but it is schools with low scores that tend to do this, not schools with high scores. Schools with populations of challenging (low-income, esl) students often disregard all areas of the curriculum (especially arts, music, etc., up to and including lunch and recess) to get in more instructional time in math and reading. And still their test scores will not be as high as a school full of middle class students. Schools with populations of middle and upper middle class students don't worry about the tests at all - their kids can pass those tests without teachers teaching much of anything. Therefore, they don't teach to the test because they don't have to. So the very high test scores actually indicate the opposite of what you might think.

Finally, about the class size - I don't know of any Ffx schools with 15-18 students per class. The max number is the same for the entire county. The only time you will see classes with fewer students is if the school has some special program - usually aimed at low-income students - that reduces class size. This is typically only for a few grade levels, not for the entire school. For example, Kindergarten and first grade might have 15 students if there is some special funding for this, but I've never heard of a whole school with so few students per class. Again, that would be because the school has extra funding, likely the result of having low-income students, and once again you can see that it reflects a difficulty.

Go on fcps.edu and check it out. All the information is there. Hope this helps.

Found this for class size: http://www.fcps.edu/it/studentreport...izeAvg2010.pdf

Last edited by marie5v; 12-13-2011 at 07:16 AM..
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Old 12-13-2011, 07:08 AM
 
27 posts, read 50,159 times
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The only time you get class sizes of 18 kids is when you have a Title I school (high percentage of free/reduced meals kids). Otherwise, you will find classes from 25-30 kids across FCPS.

While I'm not someone to push McLean just b/c it's richer and has great test scores (I live in the "undesireable" part of the county == south end), what people are really talking about is getting a school where the peers are adding to the learning experience rather than taking extra resources/time away from your average (or somewhat above average) kid.

For that reason, people think about how wealthy (which usually means how white and asian) the school is. To the contrary line of thought, it is probably better to be in a Title I school (where the classes are small) as an average kid than in a school where it doesn't meet Title I funding standards, but still has a pretty high FARMS (free/reduced meals) population. For instance a school with 25-35% FARMS isn't going to get Title I funding, so the classes could be 30 kids, and the attention goes to the kids who aren't meeting the benchmarks. If you go to a school with 50% FARMS, it gets Title I funding, classes are 18 kids, and b/c they have resources to throw at the FARMs kids, they can separate out the ones who are already meeting the benchmarks and give them more attention that they might get in another school.

But, on the whole, people tend to want to be in a school where the other people are of similar socio-economic levels... so people always want to tout McLean. There are MANY other areas in the county that have solid families, good/great schools, and are not overwhelmed with needy students.
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Old 12-13-2011, 08:46 AM
 
5,071 posts, read 8,636,362 times
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I live in McLean, but don't know where "Oaks Estate" is. Are you referring to Langley Oaks? If so, that's in the Churchill Road ES district. People like it a lot, and it has a program for gifted students, but the class sizes are large, as you mentioned. People don't simply "tout" McLean because of the schools, but also because it's an easier commute to DC than other places further out in Fairfax. People around here do uniformly seem to have high expectations, which some people welcome and others might find oppressive.

Lake Barcroft elementary schools (Bailey's ES, Belvedere ES, and Sleepy Hollow ES) will have smaller class sizes because they have sizable numbers of low-income students and students learning English. Those students don't live in Lake Barcroft, but in some of the other neighborhoods nearby. People like Lake Barcroft because it has a large collection of contemporary homes from the 50s and 60s and, well, because it has a private lake.

Vienna is great, though not as easy a commute to DC as McLean or Lake Barcroft (though you might be able to take Metro from Vienna or Dunn Loring). Lots of family-oriented activities there. Freedom Hill ES is just one of the elementary schools that serves students who live in Vienna; there are many more. It's more diverse - ethnically and economically - than most of the elementary schools that serve students who live in Vienna, as its school boundary includes some apartment complexes in West Falls Church off Route 7 near Marshall MS, but less so than the Lake Barcroft area schools. From what I can tell, people whose kids have attended Freedom Hill also like it a lot.
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Old 12-13-2011, 12:55 PM
 
298 posts, read 596,997 times
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We live in McLean, too, and I have the same question as JEB77 about "Oaks Estate." I also figured you meant Langley Oaks, which is a nice area. We looked at houses there fairly recently. That's Langley HS district, and I'll trust JEB77 that it is Churchill Road ES.

I don't know Churchill Road ES. The student:teacher ratio there looks like the worst of all the McLean ES (34:1 based on what I found online). But like you said, the test results look very good, as good as any other McLean ES.

The ES that I know about in McLean are Franklin-Sherman, Chesterbrook, and Spring Hill. All have good reputations. F-S is the smallest. It may even be the smallest in FCPS -- I believe FCPS considered closing it at one point but they renovated it instead, and it seems quite nice. My son plays soccer for MYS there. Student:teacher ratio at F-S is around 20:1 based on my quick online lookup. We also have friends with kids at Chesterbrook ES and Spring Hill ES, and I've heard nothing bad about those schools.

There also are very good private and parochial elementary schools in and around McLean, if that's a consideration. I am not as familiar with the Falls Church or Vienna schools.
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Old 12-13-2011, 01:18 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SallyField View Post
We live in McLean, too, and I have the same question as JEB77 about "Oaks Estate." I also figured you meant Langley Oaks, which is a nice area. We looked at houses there fairly recently. That's Langley HS district, and I'll trust JEB77 that it is Churchill Road ES.

I don't know Churchill Road ES. The student:teacher ratio there looks like the worst of all the McLean ES (34:1 based on what I found online). But like you said, the test results look very good, as good as any other McLean ES.

The ES that I know about in McLean are Franklin-Sherman, Chesterbrook, and Spring Hill. All have good reputations. F-S is the smallest. It may even be the smallest in FCPS -- I believe FCPS considered closing it at one point but they renovated it instead, and it seems quite nice. My son plays soccer for MYS there. Student:teacher ratio at F-S is around 20:1 based on my quick online lookup. We also have friends with kids at Chesterbrook ES and Spring Hill ES, and I've heard nothing bad about those schools.

There also are very good private and parochial elementary schools in and around McLean, if that's a consideration. I am not as familiar with the Falls Church or Vienna schools.
Teacher-student ratio is *technically* the same for the entire county, since the staffing formula is mostly the same. Differences happen the same way they do in class size - schools with larger populations of needy students get special funding or qualify for additional staff based on their populations. For example, schools with esl students get extra esl teachers.
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Old 12-13-2011, 03:32 PM
 
Location: Virginia
8,113 posts, read 12,679,374 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by marie5v View Post
Teacher-student ratio is *technically* the same for the entire county, since the staffing formula is mostly the same. Differences happen the same way they do in class size - schools with larger populations of needy students get special funding or qualify for additional staff based on their populations. For example, schools with esl students get extra esl teachers.
Class size does vary, not only from school to school, but from grade level to grade level. The past few years my grade level (third) has ranged from the upper-teens to low 20s per class. Anything over 25 would be getting pretty large. Kindergarten and sixth grade always seem to have the big numbers.

I agree with Marie5v. You can gather a lot of info off of the school profiles.
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Old 12-13-2011, 03:55 PM
 
Location: Chapel Hill, NC, formerly DC and Phila
8,569 posts, read 12,665,533 times
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I will make one general comment with regard to class size. It's hard to tell it from looking at the school profiles because it changes every year and is different for each grade. I will give you some real life examples from my children's Vienna elementary school. Last year my 3rd grader started out with 28-29 kids in her class. By mid-year at one point they had 32 children! It was horrible. This year, her same class (now 4th grade) has 26 kids per class. Last year while my 3rd grader had a horribly huge class, my Kindergartner was sitting pretty with 22-23 kids in her class. The Kindergarten class the previous year had 30-31. This year, my daughter's 1st grade class has ~26 kids in her class. The current 3rd grade class has only 20 (in my friend's son's class anyway)!

Class size is constantly changing. And some grades within one school are bigger than others. Sometimes the class size is big enough to push it up to have another teacher (going from three classes to four, for example) resulting in small class size. And sometimes it isn't, resulting in big classes. But then it might be big enough the following year to have another teacher added.

My friend goes to another elementary school in Vienna. I know in her daughter's Kindergarten class, she was complaining about the size being about 28 kids (when my daughter had about 22). Yet when her daughter was in 3rd grade, she ony had 22 kids in her class when mine had 31-32.

All that to say, don't pick your school based on what you think the class size will be.

ETA: I see that TGBWC basically said the same thing I did, right before I did, and much more succinctly! :-)
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Old 12-13-2011, 04:21 PM
 
518 posts, read 1,295,086 times
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I like the neighborhoods around Lake Barcroft, probably because I like mid-century modern architecture. Lots of windows really open up those homes to the outdoors. There are also plenty of mature trees. I don't much care for the dumpy commercial areas and run down apartments nearby. The area has cleaned up though over the past decade.

I'm not much of an expert on the schools in that area. JEB77 could go into more specifics on the individual elementary schools that he mentioned. But if you will be in the area through high school, JEB Stuart High is respectable, and has strong neighborhood support.
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Old 12-13-2011, 08:59 PM
 
2 posts, read 6,275 times
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Thanks for all the detailed replies.

Yes I was referring to Langley Oaks - my mistake ; )

As it turns out it looks like the Vienna and Lake Barcroft options for houses have dried up while there are more options for Mc Lean. We will be having a final look with the estate agent tomorrow and hopefully decide to make an application.
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