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APS mulls moving Spanish immersion program from Gunston to Kenmore Middle School

Gunston Middle School (file photo)

Arlington Public Schools is mulling moving the Spanish Immersion Program at Gunston Middle School to Kenmore starting two years from now.

The move would be part of a planned middle school boundary process also set to go into effect the same school year. APS is looking to balance middle school populations, as, without boundary changes, Gunston and Swanson are projected to become overcapacity and Williamsburg and Kenmore are projected to have seats available.

The school system says relocating the immersion program would also bring it to an easier-to-access school. In the Glencarlyn neighborhood, off of Route 50, Kenmore is more centrally located than Gunston, which is near the border with the City of Alexandria.

“We believe that by moving the program to a centrally located school, we will be able to enhance the program’s offerings and create new opportunities for our students to flourish,” staff said in a letter to parents, posted on the DC Urban Moms and Dads forum. “The decision to relocate this program was driven by our commitment to provide the best possible educational experience for our students.”

The change would apply to incoming sixth grade students. APS administrators say they will be spending the summer studying how this would impact students and whether those in grades 7 and 8 can finish their time in the immersion program at Gunston.

“Students who are enrolled in the program at that time will remain in the program and will be transferred to Kenmore when the program relocates to Kenmore,” reads the letter to parents.

Two-thirds of immersion students at Gunston are projected to fall within the new boundaries for Kenmore after a potential boundary process, per a presentation during a recent work session.

“I understand the rationale for wanting to move immersion out of Gunston for a variety of reasons, but what caught my attention is talking about transportation impact and congestion,” School Board member Mary Kadera said during the work session. “This is not meant to throw a total wet blanket over the idea of immersion at Kenmore but I would be interested… to understand congestion on Carlin Springs Road and the Kenmore site specifically.”

As a parent of students who went to Kenmore, she says she can appreciate the congestion on Carlin Springs Road and difficulties getting in and out of the Kenmore parking lot.

“We already have a bit of a knot there,” she said. “I’m concerned about moving an immersion program to that school when we know that a healthy number of immersion students end up being driven by a parent.”

Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Operations Renee Harber agreed that transportation is top-of-mind for staff with this potential change. She projects the total number of buses going to Kenmore would increase from 11 to 19, without any decrease to Gunston, which needs buses for the Montessori program also located there.

“[Transportation] is a concern of ours,” she said during the work session. “We have to really review and study additional transportation demand options for this.”

Cristina Diaz-Torres, who is now the School Board Chair, encouraged families to “poke holes” in the handful of programmatic changes on the table so they can be improved.

“Our doors are open and are going to be open for the entirety of the summer and we really want to hear your thoughts and perspectives now and also in the fall,” she said. “This is not a decision that any of us are going to be taking lightly.”

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