For more than three decades, Jacqueline Coachman said, parents in the Nauck neighborhood have sent their children on long bus rides. After three decades, it’s time those students came home.
Addressing the School Board at its Dec. 4 meeting, Coachman urged board members to adopt a measure that would send children from Nauck, a historically black neighborhood in South Arlington, to Drew Model School. Drew served as Nauck’s neighborhood school from the 1940s until 1971, when students were bused around the county as part of a court order ending segregated schools.
Since then, the Drew school building has become home to a county-wide alternative elementary program, and parents in that program question whether there will be room for them if Drew becomes the school of choice for Nauck students. But when the board votes on Drew’s fate on Dec. 18, Nauck residents like Coachman will be urging the members to return Nauck students to the school just down the hill from their homes.
“When the neighborhood schools were closed, we endured. When only black students were bused, we persevered,” said Coachman. “We paid our dues, and everybody else’s. We shouldn’t have to endure forever.”
ACCORDING TO RECOMMENDATIONS from schools Superintendent Robert Smith, there should be enough space at Drew to keep the Model School and Montessori classes there for the 2004-05 school year, while at the same time bringing some Nauck neighborhood students into the school.
Current projections for next year’s enrollment at Drew show the school operating at about 70 students below capacity. Meanwhile, there are 330 students in three planning zones that make up Nauck.
Of those, 127 already attend Drew, and another 50 students attend other countywide alternative elementary programs. Most of the remaining students are split between Abingdon and Hoffman-Boston elementary schools. Smith’s recommendation would allow those 153 students to enroll at Drew, or continue going to their current schools.
In October 2004, Smith wrote, the school system can begin evaluating how many Nauck students have moved to Drew, and how many more can be accommodated there, with an emphasis on maintaining Drew as both a “neighborhood school … and countywide accessibility of graded and … Montessori programs currently at Drew.
Based on past boundary changes in the past, however, Smith predicted that most Nauck students would stay at the schools in which they are already enrolled.
Those are predictions echoed by Alfred Taylor, president of the Nauck Civic Association. “A lot of parents may not want to change their students from the schools they are attending now,” he said. “They may have flowed into the fabric of that school.”
DREW PARENTS AREN’T as confident about those projections. Identifying himself as the father of two Drew Montessori students, Bryant Monroe asked the board to take some steps to protect the countywide programs at Drew.
“I ask that you change the superintendent’s proposal, adding a component that would guarantee and maintain the current number of county-wide seats at Drew,” he said on Dec. 4, “while accommodating the Nauck community with access to the 100-plus seats available.”
Despite those requests, Monroe said this week, Drew parents have taken a somewhat glum outlook on the future of the school. “There are Drew parents that have come to live with the fact that we have this change,” he said. “When you come right down to it, a lot of us are just tired and frustrated that our countywide program is not being considered as an equal partner.”
Promises of a review of Drew’s future next October are “small comfort,” Monroe said. If the Nauck community responds enthusiastically, the numbers are going to fill up quickly, and Drew programs will have to be housed somewhere.” Without space at Drew, those programs may have to move.
SUCH FRUSTRATIONS are understandable to school system planners. They would like to offer some reassurance, or at least concrete numbers, to Nauck and Drew parents alike.
There will be more certainty after the School Board votes on what to do with Drew on Dec. 18. If board members make Drew the neighborhood school for the Nauck, Arlington Public Schools planning department will begin to collect data to determine how many Nauck students are likely to transfer to Drew.
However, “we can’t do anything until January,” said Mark Macekura, special projects planner for Arlington schools. “I understand that it’s frustrating for parents.”
That wait may be frustrating, but according to Coachman, it’s nothing like the wait for Nauck parents. Drew Elementary School, closed in the 1971 desegregation, was descended from a school founded by freed slaves and black Union soldiers living in Freedmen’s Village in 1875.
“The communities of Arlington benefited immensely from the decision to desegregate schools,” said Coachman. “ But the burdens were borne almost exclusively by Nauck.”
Imploring the board to adopt Smith’s recommendations for Drew, Nauck resident and Drew parent Portia Clark told the board to give the community its due, keeping South Arlington students closer to home. “A school is the glue that holds a community together,” she said.