(Updated on Oct. 24 at 10:15 a.m.) The option to make the Wilson School site in Rosslyn a new, 1,300-seat middle school does not appear to have support on the Arlington County School Board.
Although no final decision will be made until December on Arlington’s plan to construct school facilities for 1,300 middle school seats by 2019, School Board Chair James Lander and School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez both said last night they are not in favor of an urban middle school location.
“I still look at middle school kids, 1,300 middle school kids needing more green space, more fields,” Violand-Sanchez. She also said that, despite the strong support for keeping the H-B Woodlawn program in its current home at the Stratford building, “alternative programs have been moved. I know that H-B Woodlawn is a very, very valuable program. It’s an outstanding school. However, sometimes we may have to be open to see if there’s options for movement.”
Lander echoed Violand-Sanchez’s comments, saying “It is still my preference that the [Wilson School] site is not one that would be my first option.”
School Board member Abby Raphael, however, said she believes “the Wilson School site is a viable option.” New School Board member Nancy Van Doren did not express an opinion on the issue at the School Board’s meeting last night.
The School Board will vote on Dec. 18 to determine which middle school plan they would move forward with:
- Building a 1,000-1,300-seat neighborhood school at the Wilson site
- Building an 800-seat secondary school at the Wilson site and expanding the Stratford building to 1,300 seats
- Building 1,300 seats in additions onto the Reed/Westover Library site and Stratford
- Building 1,000 seats in additions onto the Reed/Westover or Wilson sites and 300 seats onto an additional middle school
The vote will be cast before either Barbara Kanninen or Audrey Clement — running against each other for the vacant School Board seat — are sworn in in January.
One option that appears to no longer be on the table is constructing additions onto four existing middle schools. The plan, which was the least-preferred by Arlington Public Schools staff, was determined to be too expensive and complicated relative to the others.
Thirty-six speakers from the public spoke before the Board, many of whom were advocating for keeping H-B Woodlawn in its current location. One of those speakers was Elmer Lowe, the president of the Arlington chapter of the NAACP, who said if the School Board decided to make Stratford a neighborhood school site, it would be turning its back on the country’s racial history.
Making Stratford a neighborhood school “was added on very late in the process in response to intense pressure and lobbying from parents in the surrounding neighborhood,” Lowe said. “It should be noted that these neighborhoods are made up almost entirely of white, affluent families… Choosing the neighborhood school option, which means that the current diverse and high-achieving student body would be moved out and the new students coming in from the neighborhood. It would therefore approximate the segregated student body that existed before the former Stratford Junior high School (integrated) in 1959.”
Lowe, who received applause for his speech, was not directly addressed by School Board members, but Lander and Violand-Sanchez both mentioned preserving diversity in their comments.
“The diversity issue often comes up, and folks manipulate the conversation to strategically make a point, and sometimes I take offense to that because, Arlington, I sometimes say, is a great party with a huge cover charge,” Lander said. “The population in Arlington is what it is. The Board and the county does not control, nor should they penalize for, where people live. I want a diverse school system. There’s people who prioritize what’s most important for their child. And we all have that right.”
Photo courtesy Preservation Arlington