Final Word Not So Final

Final Word Not So Final

Board sets school boundaries, but promises more study.

School Board members voted last week to set new boundaries for elementary schools in South Arlington, in a move to relieve crowding at some schools.

But board members said the unanimous vote at their Jan. 23 meeting wasn’t necessarily the last word on the subject. They promised to study the possibility of a neighborhood school for the Nauck community, a possibility that will come up for a vote in 2004. That would mean converting Drew Model School to a Nauck neighborhood school.

Hoffman-Boston parents and faculty will be left in limbo too, as last-minute, split decision motions left open a variety of variables affecting enrollment there.

Overcrowding at Randolph, Barcroft and Carlin Springs outweighed concerns of Nauck residents, who asked the board to delay redistricting long enough to consider that possibility of converting Drew Model School, which is currently available to students from all over the county, to a neighborhood school. Delaying changes would have been an advantage, said Alfred Taylor, president of the Nauck Civic Association, because construction and redevelopment in and around Nauck is making school enrollment unstable anyway. “It’s not a thing that’s going to stabilize in a year,” he said.

But Taylor and other Nauck residents can claim a partial victory from the board’s compromise, since the changes wouldn’t have been in place for the 2003 school year anyway. “Even if [Drew] went to be a neighborhood school, it could not take place by September,” Taylor said.

UNDER THE NEW boundary map, 10 neighborhoods in the Abingdon, Barcroft, Oakridge and Randolph school districts will change to different schools. According to next year’s enrollment projections, all South Arlington elementaries except Carlin Springs will be able to handle the students sent their way by the new boundaries.

The board’s action established boundary changes and policies on “grandfathering,” the option for certain parents to keep their children at their current school instead of following boundary changes. The board also outlined a process for monitoring the effectiveness of all the changes.

Carlin Springs would have been under-capacity if the board had passed Superintendent Robert Smith’s initial recommendation. Under that recommendation, 60 students were slated to attend Abingdon next year. Board member David Foster took issue with that plan.

Under Smith’s plan, some 60 current Abingdon students would have stayed at Abingdon, when Carlin Springs was closer, Foster said. They would have to cross a major road to get to Abingdon, he said, a possibility that school officials tried to avoid during redistricting talks.

“I think proximity does matter to elementary school folks,” said board member Mary Hynes in support of Foster.

“I didn’t feel that it would be responsible on my part to submit a recommendation…where any school would be at or above 100 percent capacity,” said Smith. Sending those 60 students to Abingdon was the only way to keep enrollment below 100 percent at Carlin Springs. Ultimately, board members decided, with a 4-1 vote, to keep those students close to home even if it meant full-capacity for Carlin Springs.

PROJECTIONS FOR next year’s enrollment under the changes assume that about 50 percent of students will take advantage of the board’s “grandfathering” clause, letting them stay at their current school.

But grandfathering raises questions about how effective the boundary change will be in shifting students to Hoffman-Boston, currently the only South Arlington elementary with less students than it can handle. Board members made that plan even less certain, by extending grandfathering for an extra year to all students from Nauck, not just rising fourth and fifth graders.

It’s a necessary evil, said Hynes, who proposed that move. Otherwise, if the board votes next year to convert Drew to a neighborhood school, Nauck students could switch schools twice in two years.

Elaine Furlow, chair of the board, voted against the proposal not only because of the possible implications for Hoffman-Boston, but because it could imply that the board is leaning toward making Drew a neighborhood school for the Nauck Community in 2004. That option is on the table, but people shouldn’t make predictions yet, Furlow said.

THE BOARD WON’T even have a proposal for how to proceed with the Drew/Nauck situation until its February 6 meeting, when Smith will present his recommendations. The motion passed last week simply authorizes “exploring ways to strengthen the relationship between the Nauck community and the Drew school, including the possibility of Drew as a neighborhood school.”

That means the boundary adjustment process will continue not only for Nauck and Drew, but for Hoffman-Boston as well. Other school boundaries will be exempted from the exploration process.

That’s a relief to many parents in other parts of the county, but it’s a major concern for others.

“Quite frankly, Hoffman-Boston is not looking forward to upheaval two years in a row,” said Lynn Dervin, Hoffman-Boston PTA president.

The board’s efforts to plan for that possible upheaval make sense, according to Oakridge parent Kevin Martin, who said the measures adopted by the board last week provide “the greatest flexibility” for studying the possible changes for 2004.