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Old 01-07-2013, 10:53 AM
Location: Chester County, PA
1,077 posts, read 1,776,936 times
Reputation: 1042


My main question is this - is the primary reason people view some FCPSs as better than others based solely, or primarily, on the demographics of each individual school?

I ask because I am currently looking to buy my first home in Fairfax county. While my wife and I don't have any kids yet, I certainly pay attention to the zoned schools for which a particular home is located, primarily because I know this affects both the current price and the potential resale value. One such area I have found interesting is Springfield and West Springfield. It seems that West Springfield HS is regarded as one of the best high schools while Lee HS (also in Springfield) is regarded as one of the worst high schools in the county and, as one would expect, homes in each respective boundary map tend to have different price points.

It seems to me that the biggest difference between these two schools is demographics. Lee HS has roughly 30% of its student body as caucasian while West Sprinfield has roughly 60% of its student body as caucasian. I am assuming most of the caucasian kids in each high school generally come from wealthier families and have a socieconomic background that contributes to them doing better in school and, accordingly, Lee HS has lower average test scores than West Springfield, but I seem to think that the opportunities would be there in either school for a motivated student to excel. In fact, it could be easier at Lee HS as such a student could face less competition for honors/AP/IB classes. I don't know - just some thoughts. I, myself, graduated from a public high school in San Diego that had demographics much more more similar to Lee HS, and I was able to take all of the AP courses I wanted to, and ended up at several top tier universities for undergrad and then law school.

I guess I ask because I am trying to figure out how much this matters to me in buying my house. Obviously, my wife and I don't have kids yet, so we can always move later in life if a particular school becomes important to us, but just trying to get some thoughts from others on FCPSs. I would be interested to hear how others have approached this in their search for the right NoVA neighborhood.
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Old 01-07-2013, 11:03 AM
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IMO, by the time your child is in HS the type of student you have will dictate whether you think they would do well in this type of environment. I think that the elementary school is the more important factor. Do you want the children in your kids class to have a majority of kids where English is not their primary language?
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Old 01-07-2013, 11:31 AM
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Test scores, faculty:student ratios, number or percent of students who drop out or graduate, etc., are not based on race. As you alluded, socioeconomic status is more of a determining demographic than skin color.
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Old 01-07-2013, 11:38 AM
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I'd focus more on the elementary school that your potential house would be feeding into, not high school. Since you don't even have kids yet you're at least 5-6 years away from even that.
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Old 01-07-2013, 11:53 AM
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I think it depends on what you can afford and your appetite for risk. Homes in the West Springfield HS will be more expensive than those in the Lee HS district, but probably more likely to hold their value in adverse conditions.

However, depending on where you're looking in the Lee HS district, there potentially could be more upside potential over a longer time period. For example, the Springfield Mall area that is being redeveloped (and the area where Fairfax County is trying to persuade the FBI to move) is in the Lee HS district. At some point, if everything goes in that area's favor, it could be very positive for people who bought homes in that district when it was less expensive. But, in the short term, you take the risk that the Springfield Mall redevelopment will be a bust, the FBI will move to PG or Loudoun rather than Fairfax, and that schools in the Lee pyramid will continue to be viewed less favorably than schools in West Springfield and Burke.

Last edited by JD984; 01-07-2013 at 12:19 PM..
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Old 01-07-2013, 11:54 AM
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How much schools matter in Fairfax County is debatable, since there really aren't any truly awful ones. People will debate it though. I find the notion kind of silly that it doesn't matter and parents shouldn't care at all(which some people will suggest).

It's kind of like car shopping and looking at a Lexus, Honda, or Hyundai. They'll probably all get the job done yet people still put tons of thought into the decision. Why wouldn't you do the same thing for the choice of where to send your kid to school?

Last edited by FindingZen; 01-07-2013 at 11:57 AM.. Reason: deleted orphaned quote
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Old 01-07-2013, 12:04 PM
12,905 posts, read 15,580,718 times
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I live in PWC so I can't specifically comment on the intricacies of specific schools in Fairfax, but I think you are spot on in your assessment. The curriculum is the curriculum is the curriculum. The differences in test scores, graduation rates, etc. all have to do with where the student body is on the socioeconomic ladder. We have the same deal going in PWC. I know quite a few kids who got stellar educations in one of the worst PWC high schools--went on to UVA, military academies, full rides at other colleges. If you are a motivated, conscientious student, you will do well anywhere.

So, at this point in your life, you have no children and you are going to assume that YOUR child will be motivated and fantastic. It doesn't always work out that way, despite your best intentions. So that's one thing to keep in mind.

The other "theory" to think about is that, at the middle and high school levels, peer influence becomes very, very important. For many kids, it is one of the biggest indicators of how well they will do in high school. There are, of course, kids who will break that mold but most teens are very susceptible to their surroundings. This is where you get into the subtle differences between the FFX County Schools. How comfortable are you that your child is going to be in a school where the graduation rate is not 99% but is 80%. How comfortable are you with your child in a school where the rate of kids going on to college is only 70% instead of 100%? My son goes to a private school where the "go to college" rate is 100%. Very different from the school he was in where it was about 68%. The problem is that you never know what kind of kid YOU are going to end up with. That's why people flock to those districts where all those percentages are high--because parents know that perfectly good kids can find some alternatives to be attractive.
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Old 01-07-2013, 12:06 PM
Location: Chester County, PA
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FCNova - I think you phrased my primary question better than I did in my opening post, that is, I guess I am really asking how much schools matter in Fairfax County. My opening post might have been a little too focused on demographics, when I think this is the real concern underlying my question. Should I be fairly confident that no matter where I buy in Fairfax County, I am going to have pretty good schools or should I really try to avoid buying in certain areas? I imagine the answer is probably somewhere in between.

JEB77, I really appreciate your response - I think that really puts things in perspective for me. It really is a risk/benefit type of analysis when evaluating a home's particular location.

Thanks to the others for your responses so far as well. Definitely appreciate it.
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Old 01-07-2013, 12:32 PM
Location: Chester County, PA
1,077 posts, read 1,776,936 times
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If its helpful and/or if anyone has any additional thoughts, the primary reason motivating my post today is that I am going to look at a couple of home in the Saratoga section of Springfield. I'm not very familiar with the area other than what I'm seeing in the pictures of the homes, but they seem quite nice - nicer than some of the similar homes I have seen in West Springfield, but priced somewhat lower. It seems to me that the main reason for this is that Saratoga Elementary is in the Lee HS pyramid as opposed to West Springfield or South County, but I'm sure there could be other aspects of the area that are not as desirable.

Any additional thoughts are most welcome. Thanks.
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Old 01-07-2013, 01:33 PM
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You are at least 14 years away from sending a child to high school. The chance that you will still be in the house you haven't yet bought when the child you haven't yet conceived is ready for high school is probably pretty slim. But the market has already revealed to you that certain school pyramids are perceived by homebuyers/sellers to be more desirable than others. Yes, the curriculum is ostensibly the same, but a student's experience in a school filled with high achievers will be very different than that same student's experience in a school filled with needy, low-performing classmates. Even if a child is relatively immune to negative peer influence, he may well be miserable in a school with very few intellectual peers.
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