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School Board Hears Nauck Concerns

Superintendent Recommends Limited Study of Neighborhood School Possibility

Many children in the Nauck neighborhood can see the school from their homes.

When they wake up in the morning, they can look out their front door or back window and see the school building, waiting for students to come.

There’s one problem – for many Nauck children, the school in their neighborhood isn’t their school. Many students can see the doors of Drew Model School from their homes but take buses to Hoffman-Boston, Abingdon and Oakridge.

“We want the neighborhood schools so our kids can go there without having to transfer in,” said Ingrid Gant, a Nauck parent whose children attend Drew. It’s not fair, she said, for students to have to transfer into a school in their own neighborhood.

Last Thursday, Arlington School Board members held out hope to Nauck residents that Drew could become a neighborhood school. County schools’ boundary development committee completed months of work on redrawn elementary school boundaries for South Arlington elementaries. But at their Jan. 9 meeting, school board members heard a recommendation for a study into making Drew the Nauck neighborhood school.

Nauck residents need to be heard, Superintendent Robert Smith told the board, but boundary changes must take place first. The limited study has some residents hopeful that a compromise can be reached between Nauck residents and supporters of the Drew Model School, which has been the target of much of the debate. But others say Smith’s recommendation is too little too late, and that moving on boundary changes in South Arlington will continue to slight Nauck children.

DREW, AT 3500 S. 23rd St, sits almost exactly in the middle of the Nauck neighborhood, boxed in by South Glebe Road, Walter Reed Drive, South Four Mile Run and Shirlington Road.

But Drew is also one of three county-wide choice schools, meaning parents from all over the county go must apply to the school in order for their children to attend. Bryant Monroe, a Drew parent, said that process is part of what makes the school a success.

“Choice school means that parents have picked the school. It comes with a level of commitment,” he said.

Mary Hynes, a school board member, tends to agree. “They provide options to parents… and they let us handle population shifts in a way that’s pretty friendly to our population,” she said.

Alfred Taylor doesn’t deny that choice schools are valuable to the school system. But neighborhood schools are even more important, said Taylor, president of the Nauck civic association and a lifelong activist for the neighborhood. “We feel that neighborhood schools are the glue that holds communities together,” he said.

When students attend a school in their own neighborhood, Taylor says that school becomes “a part of their lives rather than just something they go to to take classes.” That leads to higher achievement as well as stronger neighborhoods, he said.

SOME NAUCK STUDENTS do attend Drew, but they must go through the same application process as students from the farthest corners of the county. That puts an unnecessary burden on parents, Gant said.

Parents from other areas of Arlington used a similar argument throughout the boundary development process to protest changes that would have split neighborhoods between attendance zones.

Taylor hopes the school board will see the irony. “The arguments about the boundaries have been that they would break up neighborhoods,” he said. “They advanced our argument.”

DISAGREEMENT BETWEEN Nauck residents and Drew parents has been a stumbling block in discussions. Taylor says the problem has been miscommunication. “A lot of Drew parents are saying that we’re trying to close the school and shut down the program, and that’s not true.”

The real question, he said, is whether to consider Drew a program or a building. Drew parents are interested in the program; Nauck residents want the building. “If it’s a good program, it can operate in any building,” he said. Thus, the Drew curriculum could be implemented at a different facility and Nauck residents could have their neighborhood school.

Communication problems could be resolved in the near future. Taylor and other Nauck residents plan to meet this week with Monroe and a group of other Drew parents.

“We want to learn about what’s on their mind, what their ideas are about what should happen, and what’s led up to all this,” said Monroe. “Obviously there’s a lot of history.”

COMPROMISE AMONG PARENTS could get the school board off the hook as they prepare to study the controversial issue.

Right now, the limits of the board’s study are unclear, said Elaine Furlow, school board chair. One thing is certain though – the board won’t make any hasty decisions regarding Drew. “It would be very careful,” said Furlow.

She expects the board to follow Smith’s recommendation, excluding Oakridge and Barcroft from the process, since those schools have just been through several months of controversial boundary changes. Hoffman-Boston and Drew, then would be the only schools considered in the investigation of a Nauck neighborhood school.

In the future, however, broader studies will be necessary. “They’re going to have to realize everything can’t always shift south and east,” said Taylor. That kind of attitude has limited boundary changes to South Arlington schools, he said, where overcrowding is the worst in the county.

Those boundary changes will take effect in the fall of 2003, but Nauck residents will not have an answer to their pleas for a neighborhood school until at least 2004. That too is cause for concern to residents.

“I think the whole process should be delayed,” said Taylor. By relieving overcrowding at other schools immediately while deferring the Drew decision, the school board is yet again giving Nauck children a lower priority than students from other parts of the county, he said.

Nevertheless, Taylor remains hopeful that the situation can be resolved. “The only thing I can hope… is that the school board takes a real honest look and makes a decision based on the facts,” he said.