Parents at a Fairfax County Public Schools meeting Tuesday night demanded the system answer questions about the overcrowding and relocation of students from some Advanced Academic Program Centers, along with quality assurances for new centers that could come with a program restructuring — opting largely to ignore written survey sheets and approach officials for dialogue instead.
At the meeting at Westfield High School, the first of three scheduled on the issue this week, FCPS addressed about 200 parents of Clusters 6, 7 and 8 about a proposed restructuring of the centers, which would ensure each of the six pyramids without an elementary-level center — which offers a full-time "highly challenging instructional program" — had one. It would also create centers at the 15 middle schools without the program.
A restructuring would also address overcrowding at some centers that already exist, in part by moving students to areas with extra capacity, or relocated centers, school officials say.
Parents at Tuesday's meeting said they agree the children in the six county pyramids that don't have AAP centers deserve to have the same opportunities their own children receive, but didn't understand why FCPS was considering disturbing the entire system.
Though FCPS won't address his cluster until Thursday night, Cluster 2 parent Eric Johnson attended the Tuesday meeting because he shares a growing feeling among parents a decision has already been made.
At the meeting Tuesday, FCPS planned to break the parents up into small groups based on their students' AAP centers and have them discuss and record their concerns, which officials said would be addressed before a decision is made in January 2013.
But Linda Dempsey, a parent from Cluster 1, demanded answers out of format, supported by applause from other parents.
"Excuse me, what about addressing some of the systematic questions, that I know from talking to other parents at my school, about the new AAP Centers that aren't actually going to follow the standards that are listed in the facts? There are documents that suggest that there will be a blend of honors and AAP classes at the new centers. Can you address those types of issues?" she said.
Assistant Superintendent for Communications and Community Outreach Barbara Hunter said Dempsey's question — along with other concerns, questions, and suggestions from parents — should be written on the form provided at each table. FCPS would then compile those suggestions and consider them before making a decision.
Other parents said convening with fellow parents — instead of small groups of school officials — isn't helpful. Rob Mozeleski, whose student currently goes to the Greenbriar West AAP center, said he doesn't need to write down his concerns and questions.
"Sitting down with 10 other people and discussing what my problems are isn't going to help," Mozeleski said.
Though a few small groups talked out their concerns and wrote them down to give to FCPS before the end of the meeting, many parents approached school board members and staff to ask their questions and get answers directly.
Sloan Presidio, a newly-appointed superintendent of instruction, was surrounded by a small group of parents, including James Taylor, who asked Presidio about the actual purpose of the meetings.
"There are emails going around among parents that are saying not to go because it's not worth it. They've already made their decision," Taylor said.
Presidio said they wanted to speak with people and take questions and concerns into consideration before making a decision. He also suggested the parents speak directly to their school board members.
"I will advise you to contact your school board members, but I will deliver this feedback," Presidio said.
Dempsey said she thinks the system is seeking public input, but shouldn't make a decision so quickly.
Steven L. Greenburg, President of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said FCPS should have started meetings earlier to receive feedback from teachers, administrators and parents. That, Greenburg said, is where most of the parents' distrust is coming from.
Greenburg also said teachers and parents are concerned about whether there are properly trained staff members for the proposed centers, so the quality of the new centers are also in question.
Johnson said he thinks the system is going to take the information it receives in this week's meetings and quickly try to include it as it moves forward with a plan.
"I'm kind of stubborn. Even if they've made the decision, they need to know we didn't agree. I don't want them to come back in a month and say we got public input and nobody complained," Johnson said. "I am afraid they've already made a decision, and a lot of that comes from when we were first having these conversations."
Not many parents indulged in writing down their concerns or suggestions right away during Tuesday's meeting, but schools spokesman John Torre said at the end of the night, the system received "34 written submissions with suggestions and comments from the groups, and another 41 individual submissions."
Johnson offered one general suggestion: build more schools because overcrowding is a constant issue for the school system.
School board members will listen to a summary of parent concerns at their work session Dec. 10, officials said Tuesday. Tentatively, the board is scheduled to make a decision in January 2013.
This article has been updated.