Several public schools in Arlington County are overcrowded – particularly in the north end of the County. Students spend their days in trailers, a.k.a. “relocatables” or “learning cottages”. Lunch rooms, gymnasiums, art rooms, and music rooms are all at capacity. (And yes, I realize as I write this we’re exceedingly lucky to have all these rooms in the first place!) I cringe when I think about the school up the street – a school that completed a major remodel in 2005 and already houses more than 100 more students than it was designed to hold. It reeks of poor planning. Other schools are much worse off – with up to twice as many students “too many” (Nottingham is at 142% of capacity with 727 total students!). But no matter how we got where we are, we’re here – and the School Board will solve the problem this year. If you have an opinion about the changes that are coming – NOW is the time to provide feedback. Because this process is moving quickly, and I have a feeling once the train is out of the station, it won’t turn back.
Overcrowding can be solved in two basic ways: (1) build additional capacity or (2) move children to spaces where there is excess capacity. While the second might seem logical, in Arlington it would mean ripping neighborhoods apart, long bus rides for students who already face a long school day, and increased uncertainty regarding schools which can affect everyone’s property values and housing decisions. Arlington has opted for the former solution – and the new school will be built on the current Williamsburg Middle School campus. That school will house about 600 students. Those students will come from overcrowded neighboring schools. The likely affected schools are Ashlawn (getting its own addition and adding students from other schools), Glebe (can we have one of those additions?), Jamestown, McKinley, Nottingham, Taylor, and Tuckahoe. The process has been dubbed “More Seats for More Students”.
Here are some of the issues you may wish to weigh in on.
(1) What will the grandfathering policy be, if any? Will students already at a school be allowed to stay if they choose? What about siblings? Is there a middle-ground solution that allows an older child to say at her current school?
(2) And the other side of the coin – can students move early? The new school is set to be up and running in 2015. If you know your child will be shifting to another school (except the one not yet built), can they shift early to promote continuity of their educational experience?
(3) Planning units – the neighborhood groupings of students that are the base for capacity planning – are being thought of as fixed (although recent discussions make this question more open). If you live on the edge of a planning unit, maybe there’s a reason your particular piece of it ought to be part of a different planning unit than it is currently part of. Tell the school board!
(4) Should we continue to allow special programs at school, e.g., Montessori classrooms, if that means neighborhood children aren’t able to attend their school, or should those classrooms be freed up for neighborhood children?
(5) Will students from schools be kept together? Several of the plans not only split up elementary schools, but the children peeled off from their current schools can end up at three different elementary schools. Is this OK?
(6) Proximity: Some of the plans involved moving students to school that are up to 3 miles away from their current school. These students are closer to 13 of the 22 elementary schools in Arlington. Are we going to allow this?
I think what Arlingtonians well know from previous processes – the squeaky wheel gets the oil. If you have an opinion – get ye to the next office hours on Monday, February 25 from 5:00 – 7:00 with Emma Violand-Sanches (School Board Chair). And – send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. Use multiple email address if you must (kidding)!
When not worrying about which of her children’s friends will be moving to a new school, Elaine writes about her two children at Connor and Helen Grow Up!