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School Boundaries Incite Ire

Proposals to redraw elementary lines draws complaints in South Arlington.

Efforts to redraw school boundary lines are always controversial, without the addition of new programs.

But the selection of Claremont Elementary School as the home of Arlington’s second Spanish immersion program will eat up valuable desk space in already overcrowded South Arlington, and proponents of neighborhood schools are letting the school board know that it will take careful planning to arrive at an acceptable solution.

“Choice schools” like Claremont, Drew Model School and Arlington Traditional School, aren’t a bad idea on their own, according to parent Reid Goldstein. The problem, he said, is that “they mask the fact that relief is not being given to neighborhood schools.”

Goldstein lives in Douglas Park, currently in the Randolph Elementary School district. But he sends his daughter to Long Branch Elementary, because he says efforts to relieve overcrowding at Randolph were not progressing fast enough.

Randolph, currently operating at 155-percent capacity, sits atop the list of the most overcrowded elementary schools in south Arlington. Barcroft and Carlin Springs are at 133 and 107 percent capacity, respectively. Abingdon and Henry, both currently at 98 percent capacity, will also have similar problems in the coming years, unless changes are made.

Building additions to existing schools would be difficult if not impossible, since land is at a premium throughout the county. But some schools remain under-enrolled, so redistricting offers a possible solution. By redrawing boundaries, students from overcrowded schools can be sent to schools like Hoffman-Boston, which currently operates at just two-thirds of its full capacity.

In early February, the Boundary Development and Program Planning Committee began meeting to develop redistricting proposals. The committee developed two different scenarios, which it presented to the public at three community forums in the last week.

Committee members will use citizen comments and suggestions to modify their plans before making a recommendation to the superintendent in December. The school board is not expected to act on the matter until sometime in early 2003.

COMMITTEE MEMBERS EXPECTED some objections from parents. No one wants to switch schools, they found, but obviously many will have to. “You don’t want to go three schools away just because there’s space,” said Tiera Bonnefond, a Barcroft parent.

But it’s more than just an issue of convenience, according to Lander Allin. It’s about maintaining close-knit communities. Allin is a resident of Alcova Heights, one of the neighborhoods involved in the boundary tug-of-war.

Although the neighborhood has been in the Barcroft school district for decades, students from Alcova Heights could be sent to Henry next year. It’s just a mile farther, but because Henry lies on the other side of Glebe Road, the redistricting would eliminate the possibility of walking to school. It would also splinter a community, according to Allin.

“We have very long-standing ties with the Barcroft neighborhood and the Barcroft school,” he said. “We feel it’s important to maintain those ties. Anything that divides up a neighborhood like [Alcova Heights and Barcroft] or Nauck, that’s not right.”

Residents of the Nauck community have been some of the most outspoken in the redistricting controversy. The issue, according to Ingrid Gant, is the need for neighborhood schools.

Although Gant lives within walking distance of Drew Model School, a countywide elementary program, she had to file for a transfer to allow her child to attend. Children in her neighborhood, she said, are split among Drew, Abingdon and Oakridge.

Gant, who spoke at all three community forums, said she hopes that the redistricting plans will establish Drew as a neighborhood school for the Nauck community.

BOUNDARIES FOR NEIGHBORHOOD and choice schools are under discussion in two separate separate processes, but the two issues relate. While the Boundary Development and Program Planning Committee are still discussing elementary school boundaries in community forums, the school board is set to vote on boundary decisions for the Claremont and Key bilingual Spanish immersion programs at its Dec. 5 meeting.

At the forum on Saturday, Nov. 23, some parents said Arlington’s choice schools are one of the problems facing redistricting for overcrowded elementaries. “They’re all in places that could alleviate overcrowding if they were neighborhood schools,” said Bonnefond.

Indeed, the boundaries of the three most crowded schools, Randolph, Barcroft and Carlin Springs all border Claremont. The decision to make Claremont a choice school rather than a neighborhood school presents problems for south Arlington schools, where student enrollment continues to rise.

“The placement has become a very big problem,” said Marjorie Miller, a Barcroft parent. Claremont and other choice schools don’t have to deal with overcrowding, no matter where they are located, because school board policy sets a cap on enrollment at those schools.

The policy is unfair to students in overcrowded neighborhood schools, according to some parents. “That notion needs to be revisited,” said Goldstein.

The school board may be forced to do so in the future, since overcrowding will still be a problem even after redistricting. According to projections by the boundary committee, Barcroft and Carlin Springs would still be over 100 percent capacity in either proposed boundary change.