Between the Lines in Arlington

Between the Lines in Arlington

Arlington parents and community members express concerns about middle school boundary changes.

New Arlington middle school boundaries proposal.

New Arlington middle school boundaries proposal. Photo contributed

With a new middle school coming online at Stratford in 2019, the middle school boundary changes were inevitable. The School Board will vote on the changes at its Dec. 14 meeting, but a public hearing earlier on Nov. 30 provided a reminder of the human cost of redistricting.

Stratford will be Arlington’s sixth middle school. The new boundaries will create a new district for the school and seek to help address crowding among the other Arlington schools. An estimated 1,545 students will be reassigned under the redistricting plan.

For many of the parents speaking at the School Board meeting, there were concerns about losing a sense of community.

“This is an extremely important issue to my neighbors and I,” said Reem Akkad. “My husband and I are both working parents. Our families live on the other side of the country ... I’m a very busy mom juggling a great deal. The parents that I meet every morning when I drop off my son, a very important moment of my day, is an incredibly important time for the building of our community.”

Parents from Lyon Village and other communities subject to redistricting shared stories about neighbors becoming close friends and helping each other in great need; bonds built often through their children’s common school.

But there were other, broader concerns expressed by some at the Nov. 30 meeting, that the planning redistricting doesn’t do enough to relieve the economic and racial disparity of some of Arlington’s schools.

“When I looked at the numbers, I was concerned about the level of segregation in the middle schools,” said Richard Gibson, pointing specifically to the Patrick Henry apartments. “These apartments are predominately hispanic and economically disadvantaged. It’s 0.8 miles … to Swanson Middle School, but they are zoned for Kenmore, which is a 1.5 mile walk. I’m struggling for a reason for why these students are being kept out of a more affluent school that doesn’t involve property values. I know it’s hard, that you can’t make everyone happy, but this seems like a low hanging fruit for diversity.”

Some of these problems, parents and community members say, extend across the redistricting plan. Percentage of economically disadvantaged students in 2022 ranges from 52 percent at Kenmore to one percent at Williamsburg. Williamsburg also remains two percent black, six percent Asian and Hispanic, with 79 percent white.

“Swanson will be over capacity by 2022, while Williamsburg will be under capacity,” said Terry Randall. “Yet, the plan actually moves planning blocks from Williamsburg to Swanson. These estimates could be wrong, the reality could be worse, the imbalance could be greater. It’s irresponsible to have a plan that on day one has so much imbalance between the different schools. It’s not a good use of resources, it’s not good for the students. Take a look at the plan and redraw the boundaries.”

The redistricting plan will be voted on at the Dec. 14 School Board meeting, where School Board member Reid Goldstein said he and likely others on the School Board would try to work a few changes.

“It could be exciting, it could be boring,” said School Board chair Barbara Kanninen, “you’ll just have to tune in and figure out which.”