Rising fifth-graders at Mountain View Elementary won’t be going to Walton Middle School after all.
Instead, the Albemarle County school division will spend $1 million to install an eight-classroom trailer at Mountain View following a recommendation of a school working group. The working group was established after outcry over the proposed plan to send the roughly 115 fifth-grade students to Walton to ease overcrowding at Mountain View.
The division is expecting 704 kindergarten through fifth-grade students to enroll at Mountain View for the coming academic year. The school’s capacity is 624, which does not include pre-kindergarteners. So far, 651 K-5 students are enrolled, according to data provided to the working group last month.
School and division administrators told parents in May that fifth-graders might be moved to Walton, an announcement that was met with questions and criticism. Division officials have said it wasn’t feasible to install a trailer at the school and pointed to the experience of the 2019-20 school year when 721 students — 91 more than projected — enrolled, in explaining the rationale behind the move.
During a recent meeting, the county School Board approved spending $1,007,445 out of the division’s fund balance for the trailer. There was no public discussion about the plan.
School and division administrators worked with the group of more than 20 parents, teachers and community members over the course of last month to come up with immediate solutions for the overcrowding. Keeping all of the students at the school was a priority for the group, said Paul McArtor, a Mountain View parent and member of the working group.
The working group met four times last month to review data and different options before recommending that the division install the trailer. They left the specific details, such as where the trailer should be placed on the campus or how the building spaces should be utilized, up to division and school staff, he said.
McArtor said that based on working group presentations, the trailer won’t be installed and ready for occupancy until October. In the meantime, school staff will have to make adjustments, such as using art and music rooms for general classrooms. The working group suggested that the school system explore hiring more teacher assistants for classes in the trailers and having students eat lunch in their classrooms.
Potential sites for a trailer would either be on a field farther away from the building with obstructed sight lines, or on the basketball courts near the area where a future school expansion is planned, according to a presentation in May.
McArtor said the trailer could be a two-year solution.
For the long term, a six-classroom, $6.2 million expansion of Mountain View is in the works, along with a study of potential solutions such as building a new school or redistricting. Mountain View has been expanded twice since opening in 1990.
The working group meetings were recorded but not made public.
In May, after the initial announcement that fifth-graders might attend Walton, schools Superintendent Matt Haas apologized to families for the decision-making process. Shortly after that meeting, the division convened the working group.
“It is a weight off my shoulders,” Haas told the group at its June 9 meeting. “I know you are speaking for the whole school community ….”
Haas also thanked those who volunteered to serve on the committee, adding that their work could be a model for how the division makes decisions going forward.
“I wish we did this half a year ago,” he said.
Overall, McArtor said the working group went well.
“But I think there were some people in the working group that took this very seriously and weren’t going to let this just be some, ‘OK, let’s spend four weeks and come up with a solution that the county already wants us to have,’” he said. “… I was really pleased that Dr. Haas and his team were open to change.”
The working group’s meetings also revealed broader frustrations with the school system, from how it reaches out to families to how it handles overcrowding, including a concern that the division wouldn’t act on the group’s recommendation.
“I think the only reason we’re here is because affluent families made a big fuss, rightfully so,” said Lucy Montalvo, a mother of a rising kindergartner and a former fifth-grade teacher, at the group’s June 17 meeting. “… I’m glad that we did get to this point because now we can talk for all families, but not all families are represented here. There’s a lack of Black families in this group, as well, so they don’t get to voice their opinions, either.”
Montalvo, who works at the University of Virginia’s Equity Center, said in an interview that there wasn’t a similar outcry when the division was looking to move Mountain View’s Bright Stars classes to Walton. That move was considered in early 2020 but was abandoned after the pandemic disrupted the school year.
“Those families weren’t even informed,” she said.
In the working group, she said the clear goal was to make a plan for keeping the fifth grade at Mountain View.
“That’s definitely a good thing that fifth-graders are staying at Mountain View, and I hope that the Mountain View community continues to make an equal outcry in the name of equity even when the decision doesn’t directly impact their child,” she said. “I wonder how the central office will continue to manage communicating their plans to address overcrowding in a timely manner to all families.”
McArtor acknowledged how some families were able to attract attention on the fifth-grade issue and make a change.
“We, as a school population, need to make sure that we include what’s best for everybody in the school and not just smaller groups,” he said.