As the morning bus approaches its last stop at 7:40 a.m., tinted windows obscure an interior packed beyond capacity. Half of the seats built to accommodate only two high school students hold three, in addition to backpacks, instruments and various sports gear. At the last stop, some are forced to sit in the aisle for the remainder of the ride.
With a total population of 2,252 students, the school exceeds its maximum capacity of 1,993 by over 250 students, producing a slew of structural problems for both students and faculty at McLean.
“It’s really difficult to get across the building on time with all of the traffic. I’m often late to my yellow hall classes since they’re so far from the rest,” senior Noor Al-Saloum said. “I purposefully take the longer route because I know it’ll be faster than having to squish through swarms of people.”
In the current academic year, the school hired 20 new teachers in order to account for the unprecedentedly large student population. While some have been required to inhabit one of 14 trailers, others have been assigned to floating classrooms. French teacher Rebecca Anderson rotates between three different classrooms every other day.
“My whole teaching life is on a cart, so I have to be very organized,” Anderson said. “It’s sort of like being an actress and making sure you’re setting the stage just right, but I don’t have much wiggle room.”
However, the issue of overcrowding is not confined to McLean alone. In fact, according to the FCPS Facility and Enrollment Dashboard, 13 out of 25 high schools in the county were over capacity as of the 2017-18 academic year. School board member Jane Strauss predicts the same pattern of growth will continue to impact the area.
“McLean is overcrowded; Marshall is overcrowded; Centreville High School is overcrowded; Chantilly is overcrowded,” Strauss said. “We are experiencing continued student growth and we are projecting continued growth.”
West Potomac High School is nearly 400 students over capacity, with a student population of 2,593. As a result, West Potomac senior Isabel Parkins has noted similar complications at the hand of severe overcrowding.
“It’s practically impossible not to notice the overcrowding at West Potomac. It’s especially apparent during the passing periods between classes, when hallway traffic comes to a complete standstill,” she said.
Despite a recent increase in the school board’s budget, FCPS remains unable to wholly compensate for the strains of dramatic population growth.
“The Board of Supervisors has allowed us to spend over $155 million a year. They’ve given us an increase of $25 million a year, but in order for us just to catch up with unmet need in the pipeline, we would need a yearly cash flow of about $255 million,” Strauss said. “Our renovations are behind. We need to build new classrooms, new schools. That is our problem.”
Considering the likelihood of continued population growth, the issue of overcrowding is more than a mere surplus of students within the county.