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Your School Board would like to clarify a few points and explain our rationale for why a middle school is needed.
The line item for a new school first appeared in the City’s Capital Improvement Plan in 2016. According to the City’s 2016 CIP, a new school was to have opened this year, 2021.
The last new school building built in Fredericksburg was constructed in 2006. Our FCPS enrollment has increased by 1200 students since then. Our current enrollment is nearing 3700 students, yet we only have two elementary schools. The average size for an elementary school in the state of Virginia is 535. Our elementary schools have enrollments of 800 and 924. Nearly twice the state average.
There has also been Free Lance-Star coverage recently about our school division’s rankings on internet school ranking sites. We must do better and make the necessary changes to improve achievement for all students. There is not a simple solution. Improving student outcomes requires a multi-layered approach which we have begun. We are working diligently as a district to remedy this situation with the implementation of new programs and increased student support structures. Please review recent school board meetings for details.
Much academic research has been done on optimal school size. One thing that is clear in reading these studies is that children have better academic and social outcomes in elementary schools that have an enrollment of approximately 500 students or less. We are committed to academic excellence and providing the best opportunities for our FCPS students. We must manage our elementary school capacity to align with research and evidence-based practices.
Meeting the academic needs of our children in the optimal environment with the appropriate resources and support is critical to their future academic success. Academic success at all levels is predicated on the success of children at the elementary level.
If smaller elementary schools are what we need, why are we proposing a new middle school? The plan for building a new middle school includes a plan for repurposing our existing Walker-Grant Middle School building into a third K-5 elementary school. Renovations will be completed using state and federal funds. This would give us three elementary schools with approximately 630 students in each. By dividing our current two elementary schools into three, our operating costs will also be divided. One third of teachers will go to the new school. Though we will incur additional costs, they will be manageable.
A renovated Walker-Grant Middle School building will serve our needs as an elementary school, but as a middle school, it is outdated and inadequate for current and future middle school programming. The middle school is reaching capacity limits, and the wave of enrollment we see at the elementary level is progressing to the middle school. Projections indicate that we will be over capacity at the middle school within three years. We also know that our current middle school, built in 1988, does not support additions because its core facilities, i.e. cafeteria, library, music, and art spaces cannot be expanded per a recent architectural study.
The current Walker-Grant Middle School building is not designed for innovative learning at the middle school level. It lacks an adequate instructional set-up, media center, science, technology, engineering, the arts, math lab, collaboration areas, field space, and parking. Building a new middle school has the advantage of incorporating and designing required Career and Technical Education (CTE) spaces at the middle school level. This will help FCPS expand opportunities to grow our high school CTE program. This allows us to add years of life to an existing building as we prepare to repurpose the middle school into something that will serve our community well into the future.
Our students need a third elementary school and a new middle school in three years and we are proposing a cost-effective way to make this happen.