Tysons growth contributes to continued McLean overcrowding

School still over capacity after boundary change, modular addition

Over the past 10 years, Tysons has quickly become Northern Virginia’s new urban hub of business, commerce and development, bringing thousands of people to the Tysons area, leading to increased student enrollment in local schools.

“Most of the residential development in the Tyson’s area is in the Marshall High School boundary,” Dranesville District Schoolboard member Elaine Tholen said. “The biggest impact [of Tysons’ growth] will probably be on Marshall.” 

Despite that Tysons is within Marshall’s boundaries, those who work in Tysons often choose to live in McLean due to the close proximity and suburban environment, leading to a large increase in the number of students enrolled at McLean High School. 

Currently, the county uses a student yield formula to calculate the perceived impact of new residential units on the school system. Some suggest that due to differences in development and construction across different parts of the county, the student yield formula may need revision.

“A lot of the time, things are approved but never actually get built, or the construction timeframe is lengthy,” Tholen said, suggesting that the student yield formula may need revision. “We’re trying to work on [reviewing the formula] as a way to improve the community.”

While Fairfax County meticulously planned new essential infrastructure in Tysons, the need for capacity adjustments in schools wasn’t as carefully considered. According to the latest data in Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development’s (DPD) Tysons Tracker, McLean’s student population is projected to rise to 128% capacity by the next school year. The module was published by the department’s Urban Centers Section Tysons Branch, contradicting Fairfax County Public School’s own data in the 2023-2027 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

At a Sept. 8 Superintendent Community Conversations event at McLean High School, Tholen expressed concerns about how FCPS is collaborating with DPD. 

“There hasn’t been great communication between the county and the school district,” Tholen said at the event, speaking to a crowd of mostly parents.

McLean’s overcapacity peaked at 118% prior to the pandemic, and following the installment of modular buildings, that number was reduced to 107% during the 2021-22 school year. Plans for a new high school within the boundary lines of Herndon High School, to be named Western High School, began in 2019 among multiple other elementary schools to be built in coming years.

“Our biggest challenge is predicting growth over the long-term. The projections we do have are a planning tool, but [are] subject to outside forces,” DPD told The Highlander.

Additionally, communication between the school district and county authorities may improve in coming years. Two new positions were added to Facilities Planning Services within the school division over the past year under new funding allocations.

“I’m hoping that [the addition of 2 positions in Facilities Planning Services] will help them keep doing this work and keep it moving forward and help us have more accurate information and better communication with the community,” Tholen said.

At the moment, McLean High School’s district is split into four discontiguous geographic pieces, as the only high school pyramid in FCPS split in such a way. Rerouting all students in one of these pieces from McLean to Langley High School was originally planned by the school board to best mitigate crowding, but those plans faced heavy pushback from community members. That proposal was ultimately substituted with a slower ‘phasing’ transition to Langley High School.

“The [gradual Langley HS] phasing will be complete with all grades fully implemented by the 2025-26 [school year],” FCPS Facilities Planning Services (FPS) told The Highlander, adding that “FPS coordinates with the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) frequently.”

On average this communication occurs on a bimonthly basis, according to Fairfax County DPD. FPS could not provide a response addressing the inconsistencies between county data and school division data on McLean High School by the time of publication.