To understand High School boundaries and their relationship with the middle and elementary schools, let’s start by defining the concept of School Pyramids, as they are used in the Fairfax County Public Schools district.
What are School Pyramids?
School Pyramids are a way to group schools for administrative purposes.
Most School Pyramids in Fairfax County have one High School, one Middle School, and about six Elementary Schools. These eight or nine schools all belong to the same School Pyramid.
For example, let’s look at the Oakton Pyramid and the schools that comprise it:
- Oakton HS
- Carson MS
- Crossfield ES
- Fox Mill ES
- Mosby Woods ES
- Navy ES
- Oakton ES
- Waples Mill ES
How are School Pyramids different from School Boundaries?
In practice, School Pyramids do not translate directly into School Boundaries.
For example, a high school boundary encompasses a large area. In our example, you can see how the Oakton High School boundary covers a wide area. See the area marked in red below (the numbered circles correspond to the location of the schools on the list above):
How do Middle School Boundaries correlate to High School Boundaries?
Logic would dictate that the middle school boundary for the Oakton Pyramid (i.e. Carson MS) would encompass the same area. But that’s not the way it works in real life.
In practice, most middle school boundaries will have some overlap with their high school boundary, but it’s rarely the same area.
See in this image below how the Carson MS boundary overlaps and extends beyond the northwestern end of the Oakton HS boundary (and into the Westfield HS and the South Lakes HS boundaries):
Introducing the “Split Feeder” issue
What happens when the Carson middle school boundary has some kids that live in the Oakton HS boundary, and some kids that live in a different high school boundary?
That’s called a “Split Feed”, because the middle school doesn’t feed all the kids directly into the high school in the same pyramid, but instead, some kids end up going to a different high school, in a different pyramid.
Unfortunately, this split feed issue is not restricted to middle schools. Split feeds happen at the elementary school level too.
Elementary School Boundaries are also affected by this “Split Feed” issue
To make matters a little more interesting, many elementary schools are split feeders too. This means that, while they belong administratively to a specific School Pyramid, their boundaries might extend beyond their pyramid’s Middle and/or High School.
Let’s see a real-life example of a mixed-pyramid family:
Let’s take the example of the Beatty family, with their three kids: Emmet, Manny, and Hugh.
Emmet goes to Elementary School, Manny goes to Middle School, and Hugh goes to High School.
- Emmet attends Navy ES (#6 in the first image), which belongs to the Oakton Pyramid.
- But Louis doesn’t go to Carson MS (which is part of the Oakton Pyramid) because Carson’s boundary doesn’t overlap with Navy’s. Instead, Manny attends Franklin MS (which belongs to the Chantilly Pyramid).
- Thankfully, Hugh does go to Oakton High School, as expected.
And here’s another interesting mixed-pyramid example:
Let’s assume that the Beatty’s live in the Fox Mill ES boundary (# 4 in the first image). Fox Mill ES belongs to the Oakton Pyramid.
- Emmet would attend Fox Mill ES,
- Louis would attend Carson MS (also in the Oakton Pyramid), but
- Hugh would attend South Lakes HS (and not Oakton HS, as we would expect).
So, what is the lesson here?
It’s easiest to choose your favorite High School boundary first
Choosing a High School boundary first makes it easier to find a home because the attendance areas are much larger.
Once you narrow down your choices to a couple of High School boundaries, then, you’ll want to leave your search open to all the Elementary and Middle Schools that feed into that High School, whether they belong to the same School Pyramid – or not.
When you find homes that meet your criteria, you can confirm the rest of the assigned schools by going to the official boundary site:
fcps.edu/boundary, and then decide whether the combination of schools is to your satisfaction.
If you are interested in a particular combination of schools, we’re happy to activate those boundaries on the interactive map so that you can see where (and if) they overlap. Simply let us know.