Our Man in Arlington

April 4, 2018 9:08 PM0 comments

clark-fcnpArlington schools have embarked on another perennial “can’t please all the people all the time” endeavor.

This winter, central education officials launched an Elementary School Planning Initiative that suggests a coming conversion of a neighborhood school (yet unnamed) to an option or theme school.

My neighbors in the Tuckahoe jurisdiction erupted. An anonymous flyer was produced. Crash meetings were convened to share worries.

So I sought clarification from Lisa Stengle, the system’s executive director of planning and evaluation. The upshot: A resource-strapped Arlington as a whole will be rethinking some elementary school habits, but specifics aren’t known but to God.

The context: All schools are crowded, projections on coming populations are iffy and the system must anticipate the 2019 opening of Alice Fleet Elementary on the Jefferson Middle School site, reopening of Nauck’s Drew Elementary as a neighborhood school and a Walter Reed Elementary re-opening in Westover in 2021.

Reacting to controversy during the 2016 adjustments to some high school boundaries, Stengle said, “We want to do this a little differently.” She cited the boundary policy’s six factors: efficiency, proximity, stability, alignment, demographics and contiguity. Opportunities for “creativity are lost if we take things off the table and only look at a portion,” she added. Which means reexamining all elementary schools at once.

The engagement process began with neighborhood meetings, surveys and a just-completed “walk zone review” to re-gauge children’s safety, county geography and possible expansions of zones to allow more walkers. “We hear that proximity is a key focus,” Stengle said. But the most difficult jobs for Arlington to fill now are bus drivers, she said. “If we reduce the number of buses to neighborhood schools, that’s more money for teachers and classrooms.”

Irked, the Tuckahoe parents did their homework. Some produced an anonymous flyer imploring folks to “Help Save Tuckahoe as Our Neighborhood School.” It warned of increased traffic, continued overcrowding and falling home values. It argued that the East Falls Church neighborhood was divided enough after I-66 was built in the 1970s (with more development coming around Metro). Unreliable projections, the flyer said, would produce under-enrolled options schools surrounded by overcrowded neighborhood schools.

The PTA weighed in with a formal letter warning against inaccurate data, adding that years of uncertainty would jeopardize Tuckahoe’s Discovery School Yard and outdoor learning program.

“We have not taken an official position,” PTA president Shalla Ross told me. “We want to make sure the process is fair, open and transparent. But it is premature to flag a neighborhood school to become an option school in 2021. Having that out there for two years is concerning. We want to make sure Tuckahoe has enough seats for kids” who live nearby.

School staff plan to draft a proposal by April 12. Then in June the school board would vote on whether any neighborhood school should convert to an option school like existing ones at Arlington Traditional, Science Focus and the Key Spanish immersion program. The board wouldn’t announce that theme school until November.

In tackling this three-D jigsaw puzzle from the central office, Stengle said she views it as “an opportunity” to rethink some history and definitions of neighborhood to focus on the future. “Change is hard,” she said. “But if everyone is doing it at the same time,” more will “feel like they own all the growth.”

***

A baseball season’s greeting to the Arlington Historical Society. Just over a year ago, it mounted on its website a swell collection of Arlington Little League images from the 1950s.

The action shots of teams playing at the early edition of Barcroft Park came courtesy of Hank Gordon, who grew up to be an Army man who served in Vietnam and an engineer. He kept his collection of baseball exploits — programs, clippings and team standings. His career begun on the peewee diamond continued at Gunston Junior High, Wakefield High School and Virginia Tech.

My favorite photo: Players shouting the post-game cheer for their opponents.

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