Arlington Public Schools is preparing to redraw boundaries for a half-dozen schools to relieve high enrollment and over-capacity at three of them.
The boundary process, which will go into effect next fall, is “limited in scope” and will target Abingdon Elementary School, Gunston Middle School and Wakefield High School.
“The boundary process will bring enrollment at these three schools to more manageable levels for the 2022-23 school year by re-assigning some planning units to neighboring schools with capacity to accommodate additional students,” APS said in a School Talk update to parents last week.
For each school, staff will focus on planning units where neither school is in walking distance, according to APS’s 2021 boundary process webpage.
APS says it will move some planning units from Abingdon to Drew Elementary School, which is two miles away. As of Sept. 30, Abingdon has 688 students and a projected capacity utilization rate of 119%, compared to the 433 students and use rate of 76% at Drew.
This direct step to balance enrollment comes on the heels of a less successful attempt to alleviate the overcrowding without redrawing boundaries. During the 2020-21 school year, APS set up a program encouraging families zoned for Abingdon to choose to send their children to Drew, with transportation provided.
Only 12 students took the “targeted transfer” option. School Board members said a dozen students would not make a dent in the schools’ enrollment imbalance and predicted the need for a boundary process.
“[The option] did not come out with numbers that were able to solve the problem,” Board Member Monique O’Grady said during an Aug. 26 School Board meeting. “I did want to point out that we have given the community the choice to go to what I think is a phenomenal school. After trying that, I think we’re at a different point in time, where we maybe need to take more intentional action.”
Some Gunston planning units will be moved to to Thomas Jefferson Middle School, but current Gunston students will not be affected. Gunston has 1,109 students and a projected capacity rate of 112%, compared to Jefferson’s 849 students and 101% use rate.
APS intends to move some planning units from Wakefield to Washington-Liberty High School, but the moves will not impact current Wakefield students. Enrollment and capacity rate margins are closer for the schools: 2,241 versus 2,174 students, and 108% versus 102%, respectively.
Despite the limited success of targeted transfers at the elementary level, APS plans to offer them so that current Wakefield students can opt to attend W-L next fall.
During the same August meeting, Executive Director of Planning and Evaluation Lisa Stengle said APS is offering the option because she’s “not sure moving ninth graders will be enough” to balance out Wakefield’s rising enrollment.
“With boundaries we want to be cautious, because we may have to come back and make changes in the future, and we don’t want to have to redo things,” Stengle said. “This way, it’s a choice.”
Community engagement sessions on the boundary process will begin with a virtual meeting on Saturday, Oct. 16. Engagement will run through the end of October.
Superintendent Francisco Durán will propose a more detailed plan during a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 16. Two weeks later, on Tuesday, Nov. 30, there will be a public hearing. The School Board is expected to vote on his proposal on Thursday, Dec. 2.
An attempt by Arlington Public Schools to balance enrollment without resorting to a boundary change did not go as planned.
This year, the school system encouraged families to apply to transfer from Abingdon Elementary School in Fairlington, which is projected to be at 119% capacity this fall, to Drew Elementary School in Green Valley, which is projected to be at 76% capacity. The schools are about two miles apart.
The application window closed two weeks ago, and so far, only 12 students are taking the “targeted transfer” option, which includes transportation to the new school, APS project planner Sarah Johnson said during last week’s School Board meeting.
Families can still apply and the school will admit families on a case-by-case basis, administrators said. If the option does not yield more transfers, APS will likely begin discussions this fall to modify the two schools’ boundaries, said Gladis Bourdouane, another project planner with APS.
These changes would come on the heels of the smaller-scale boundary process the board approved in December and ahead of a projected, larger-scale boundary process planned for as early as 2022.
In 2018, another boundary process proved controversial after parents at Abingdon and Henry elementary schools objected to proposed boundaries that would have sent some students at both schools to Drew.
Responding to the lack of interest in transferring this time around, School Board members urged administrators to review the voluntary transfer effort. They were divided, however, over whether this option could work in the future.
“I find this targeted transfer thing wholly inadequate,” Board Member Reid Goldstein said, adding that as far as he is concerned, it has “fallen on its face.”
Goldstein said he was “extremely distressed” when the boundary process last fall did not include Abingdon, despite being overcrowded for years. Instead, he said, the boundary changes last fall mostly adjusted neighborhood schools in the northern half of the county and did not take into account overcrowded schools in South Arlington.
“Twelve students are not going to go a long way toward balancing the huge overcapacity at Abingdon and the under-capacity at Drew,” he said. “I’m going to ask you, [Superintendent Francisco] Durán, to try and put some more aggressive measures in place to try and beef up only 12 students who are going from our most overcrowded school to our least crowded school, and not wait another two years before they get relief.”
As of now, administrators have no plans to keep advertising the transfer option, said Lisa Stengle, the executive director of planning and evaluation for APS.
The school system’s marketing efforts included setting up a website and releasing School Talk messages, while the two schools published information on their websites and mentioned the option during back-to-school events, Johnson said.
“We did make significant outreaches to the Abingdon families,” she said.
Despite the closed application window, APS is still encouraging families to apply. Whether students are accepted will depend on school capacity, staffing and finances, and not every family who applied thus far was eligible, she said.
Coyotes have been known to roam around Arlington, but sightings of the bashful wild canines are relatively rare.
Nonetheless, a coyote is causing a stir in the Fairlington area after being spotted multiple times around the neighborhood, according to posts on a local Facebook group.
The Animal Welfare League of Arlington, which runs the county’s animal control operation, says it’s aware of the coyote sightings. The animal’s behavior, however, is so far not sounding any alarm bells.
“[We] received three calls from the public yesterday about a coyote spotted behind Abington Elementary School,” AWLA spokeswoman Chelsea Jones told ARLnow last night. “All the calls reported the coyote was exhibiting normal behavior, and by the time [an animal control officer] arrived the coyote was gone.”
“Coyotes do live in Arlington County, although sighting are typically rare,” Jones said. “They pose no threat to humans. We do, as always, recommend keeping your pets inside when not supervised, for this, and many other reasons.”
The last time we reported on an instance of a coyote spotted out in the open in Arlington was five years ago, when one was photographed along Washington Blvd.
“These animals learn to live next to humans and not mess with humans,” Arlington Natural Resource Manager Alonso Abugattas told ARLnow.com in 2014. “There have been cases, however, where feral cats and loose dogs, coyotes will occasionally eat a smaller dog, both as a competitor and as prey. Cats are considered prey as well. That’s the only way that they might affect the public.”
Schools may be closed, but Arlington PTAs have stepped up and supported local families in their school communities through the coronavirus pandemic.
At K.W. Barrett Elementary School in the Buckingham neighborhood, the school PTA has gone through two rounds of grocery gift card distribution to families in need.
“To date, we have distributed a total of $19,500 worth of grocery gift cards for Harris Teeter, Safeway and Giant,” Melanie Jones and Will Le, representing the Barrett PTA, said in an email. “In the first round (in early April), we distributed or mailed out $8,350 in $50 grocery gift cards (128 distributed; 39 mailed to families). In the second round (in early May), we distributed or mailed out $11,150 in $50 grocery gift cards (203 distributed; 20 mailed to families).”
The PTA has also distributed 275 school supply kits, paid from PTA funds totaling $1982.
The pair said in the email the PTA has received a total of $25,235 in donations and gift card contributions from families and friends and through the One Pantry at a Time GoFundMe set up by Arlington teachers.
The PTA’s goal is to do another gift card distribution in early to mid-June.
“Based on our past distribution (and with $5,735 and 40 gift cards to work with) we believe that another round of $50 grocery gift card distribution will require an additional $4,000 of donations,” the pair said.
Additional donations can be made to the PTA’s efforts through:
- PayPal to [email protected] (with the note “gift cards for Barrett families” and sent as friend and family)
- Venmo to @Melanie-Jones-10
- Givebutter, though donations here have a fee
- Gift cards donated to the Barrett PTA in $50 denominations.
The Barrett parents said the plan is to shift towards the distribution of groceries and other items of need rather than gift cards. This would require more volunteers and logistical support, but Jones and Le said it would be less costly and let the PTA utilize their own funding.
Other school PTAs have been organizing similar efforts.
“We have heard that families are being threatened with eviction, despite the governor’s stay on evictions,” the PTA said on the donation page. “Our goal is to have rent covered for these families through June. We would like to provide rent relief for families as soon as possible. When you pledge to make a contribution, a volunteer will get in touch with you via email within 24 hours regarding details. Checks will be written directly to property managers or landlords.
Emily Vincent, Vice President for Communications for the County Council of PTAs in Arlington, said these PTAs are continuing their missions to help their communities despite school being closed for the rest of the academic year. Such efforts are on top of Arlington Public Schools’ meal distribution program for families in need.
“Despite Arlington County’s wealth, a significant portion of our families experience economic difficulties,” Vincent noted in an emailed statement to ARLnow. “As of October 2019, 8,083 students (29% of the APS student body) qualified for free or reduced meals (FARM). Of those, 6,376 qualified for free meals, which means that their family is living on less than $36,000 a year.”
Vincent’s full statement is below.
Eight South Arlington elementary schools will soon see changes to their attendance boundaries, now that the School Board has signed off on a final map and put an end to a contentious, messy debate over boundaries that roiled several school communities over the last few months.
The Board voted unanimously last night (Thursday) to approve a boundary map drawn up by school officials just a few days ago, a move that could send as many as 413 elementary students to new schools starting next year.
Arlington Public Schools officials designed the boundary process to meet a series of different concerns. Not only is the school system facing rising enrollment numbers across all of its schools, but officials needed to account for the opening of Alice West Fleet Elementary School next year. The school system is also gearing up to convert Drew Model School into a “neighborhood” school, drawing its attendees primarily from the communities surrounding the Nauck building, and move its Montessori program to the building currently serving as Patrick Henry Elementary.
Accordingly, the process involved drawing new boundaries for both Drew and Fleet, while shifting some students primarily from Oakridge and Long Branch to those schools, as well as Hoffman-Boston.
But APS leaders and Board members have come under fire from virtually all sides as they’ve managed this complex series of moves.
Many parents at Henry felt betrayed by proposals that would send roughly a fifth of the community to Drew instead of Fleet, even though they felt school officials had long promised to avoid such a change. Others at Drew fretted that the boundary changes wouldn’t do enough to even out demographics at each South Arlington school, while Abingdon parents were alarmed by a prior proposal to move some students in Fairlington to Drew instead.
Even still, Board members expressed confidence that the map they’ve approved will best serve the needs of the entire school system, despite the acrimony that marred the process.
“It’s a solution we need to have happen at this point because of our rising enrollment,” said Board Chair Reid Goldstein. “This boundary change is not perfect. No boundary change is perfect.”
Yet plenty of parents arrived at Thursday’s meeting to decry the entire process, with many lamenting that the Board has managed to break their trust that future efforts will be managed competently.
“You’re failing Drew and Fleet,” parent Susan Hampton told the Board. “I don’t know why you’d willfully increase economic segregation… I’ve lost my faith in the process.”
Notably, even some Board members expressed regret that they couldn’t do enough to better spread out students eligible for free and reduced price lunch (a key indicator of their family’s economic means) across the eight schools. While the new map will reduce FRL rates at some schools, Barcroft, Drew and Randolph will all still have at least 50 percent of their student bodies eligible for free and reduced lunch.
“I certainly didn’t meet all the goals we laid out for this,” Goldstein said.
But Board member Monique O’Grady argued that the new map still took major steps toward addressing racial inequality in the county, primarily with how it will transform Drew’s future. She noted that the Nauck community has long hoped for a “single-focus neighborhood school,” though students there have been constantly bused away from the area, dating back to the days of the Jim Crow era.
While some parents at Henry proposed transforming Drew into a countywide “option” program as one way to avoid more boundary changes elsewhere, O’Grady stressed that converting Drew into a pure neighborhood school is the best way to meet the community’s needs.
“Now Drew will follow in the footsteps of Oakridge and Abingdon… which now enjoy huge support from the families they serve,” O’Grady said. “I believe Drew will enjoy similar success.”
Other parents were similarly pleased that the Board’s map will keep the entirety of the Fairlington community together at Abingdon, even though it will leave the school a bit overcrowded for now. The Board chose to leave some schools a bit under-capacity — including Fleet and Drew — to allow for growth over the years, and avoid more boundary changes. Then, it hopes to address any remaining issues in the 2020 boundary drawing process.
“[This map] acknowledges that our neighborhoods continue to fill with elementary-aged children who want to take advantage of our excellent schools, and gives our county and our kids room to grow,” said Claire Rosenberger, an Abingdon parent.
But many remain nervous that the 2020 changes will proceed similarly turbulently, and warned parents to be vigilant moving forward.
“Successful civic engagement does not require that everyone agree with end result, but it does require transparency and accountability,” said Joe Everling, a Henry parent who has been fiercely critical of the Board’s process. “To my utter amazement, that has not happened here… there is no oversight for this board, except for the citizen voter.”
Superintendent Patrick Murphy has revealed his final proposal for new elementary school boundaries to forward along to the School Board, with a new map designed to simultaneously the answer the concerns of some Fairlington parents and reduce overcrowding at Barcroft Elementary.
Arlington Public Schools officials have spent months drawing up map after map to guide attendance boundaries at eight South Arlington elementary schools set to go into effect next fall. Each one has prompted fresh rounds of concern among parents nervous about seeing their kids moved to different schools, as the school system prepares to open up the new Alice West Fleet Elementary next year.
Murphy’s new proposal, released yesterday (Monday), incorporates changes made to several prior maps worked up by APS staffers.
Perhaps most notably, the proposal keeps the entirety of the Fairlington community within Abingdon’s attendance boundaries, rather than sending some students in South Fairlington neighborhoods to Drew Model School. Parents from across Fairlington vigorously protested previous proposals to do so, arguing that it would unnecessarily split up the community and require plenty of busing to help students reach Drew.
School officials worked up a map last week to leave Abingdon’s boundaries unchanged, but that proposal would’ve left both Drew and Fleet with far fewer students than the buildings are designed to hold. Meanwhile, Barcroft, in particular, would’ve remained substantially over its capacity.
Murphy’s new map would move 100 students out of the school, reducing it from being at 149 percent of its capacity next year to 120 percent. Randolph would also see a slight decrease of about 40 students, and Drew and Fleet would absorb most of the students from those schools.
Neighborhoods just off Columbia Pike would be primarily impacted by the change, with a cluster of streets behind the Walter Reed Community Center and others around Alcova Heights Park all moving to Fleet.
The superintendent’s proposal would mean that Fleet will open at about 88 percent of its planned capacity, while Drew will move to about 92 percent of its capacity. Abingdon remains relatively unchanged, and is scheduled to be at about 120 percent of its capacity, but school officials hope to address that in a new round of boundary adjustments in 2020.
Next year, Drew will see hundreds of students leave the building, as the Montessori program moves to Patrick Henry Elementary. Yet parents there worried the school system’s initial plans would involve unfairly packing the school with students from low-income families, as measured by the percent of the student body eligible for free and reduced price lunch.
Murphy’s proposal would mean that about 56 percent of the school’s population would be FRL-eligible, down slightly from the 60 percent figure that officials initially proposed. Of the eight schools included in the process, only three will have more than 50 percent of the student bodies eligible for free and reduced price lunch, the school system’s target benchmark throughout the boundary process.
The School Board will get its first look at the superintendent’s boundary proposal at its meeting Thursday (Nov. 8), with a public hearing set for Nov. 27. The Board plans to pass a final map by Dec. 6, and could make plenty of changes to Murphy’s proposal between now and then.
Photo via Arlington Public Schools
Arlington school officials are proposing a new boundary map that would keep South Fairlington students at Abingdon Elementary, answering the concerns of parents there who worried the school system’s process of drawing new attendance lines would break up the community.
The school system has wrestled for months now with the thorny question of how to best tinker with the boundaries for eight South Arlington elementary schools, in order to address overcrowding concerns and prepare for the opening of Alice West Fleet Elementary next fall. Previous proposals for new maps initially irked parents at the Drew Model School, prompting Arlington Public Schools officials to propose an option moving some students in Fairlington neighborhoods from Abingdon to Drew to help address those worries.
But that proposal has touched off a fierce backlash of its own, with some in the community arguing it would force the unnecessary of busing of Fairlington students and damage the community’s strong ties. Now, APS leaders are offering up yet another new option, leaving all of Fairlington at Abingdon and moving some Columbia Heights and Alcova Heights neighborhoods to Drew instead.
Such a change would leave Abingdon substantially overcapacity, with Drew and Fleet still with plenty of space. Yet, in a work session last Wednesday (Oct. 24), school officials indicated it could end up being a workable solution for the county’s boundary conundrums.
“We can’t maintain everyone’s status quo, because we’re in a growth environment, so something has to give,” School Board Chair Reid Goldstein said at the meeting. “In our economic environment, we also need to ensure we fill school buildings, but the results aren’t going to be perfect.”
School system figures show that Abingdon will likely sit at 124 percent of its designed capacity by next year, and the latest proposal would bring that down to just 120 percent, a reduction of about 20 students. By contrast, the boundary map involving the disputed Fairlington changes would’ve dropped Abingdon to 98 percent.
Still, some Board members expressed uncertainty about the value of such a trade off, wondering if it could create problems at Abingdon down the line — APS projections show Abingdon reaching 131 percent of its capacity by 2021, under the latest boundary proposal. Meanwhile, Drew will be at just 74 percent capacity under that plan, and Fleet will open at 90 percent of its capacity.
“In the long run, we don’t want to have to build a new school because we’re not using these facilities well,” said Board member Barbara Kanninen.
Yet APS planning director Lisa Stengle pointed out that Abingdon, Barcroft and Long Branch will all be included in both this year’s boundary process and the redrawing of boundaries set for 2020, giving school officials a chance to address overcrowding at Abingdon in the coming years. She added that process will include more school’s in the county’s northern half as well, allowing for more possibilities in shifting around students.
Stengle also noted that the newest proposal would bring down the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced price lunch in Drew’s attendance boundaries compared to previous maps. Parents at Drew expressed concerns that previous efforts would’ve unfairly concentrated low-income students at the school, as the FRL rate is a proxy for the economic diversity of each community.
The newest proposal would mean that 57 percent of students eligible to attend Drew would qualify for free and reduced price lunch, down slightly from the 60 percent figure that initially concerned parents. As of now, about 52 percent of the school’s attendees are FRL-eligible.
“We still haven’t found that sweet spot yet where all the considerations are exactly where we want them to be,” Stengle said.
Board members indeed sought to stress that they were well aware that any boundary proposal is bound to make at least some people unhappy, and Goldstein was careful to note that all of the maps offered up by APS officials over the course of the process “are all still possibilities at this time.”
But Kanninen, in particular, called for a cooling of tempers among parents worried about their children changing schools, urging anyone anxious about a move to a new school to simply call up their prospective principal and learn more about the curriculum before worrying too much.
“We are creating new communities when we do this,” Kanninen said. “Please keep an open mind and get excited about the possibilities.”
Superintendent Patrick Murphy will offer up a final boundary map recommendation next Monday (Nov. 5), ahead of a planned Board vote on the matter in December.
The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Mike Rosenberger, a parent of a second grader at Abingdon Elementary who has deep concerns about a proposal by Arlington Public Schools officials that would send some students in South Fairlington neighborhoods to Drew Model School instead of Abingdon.
The School Board has spent the last few months considering a redrawing of boundaries for eight South Arlington elementary schools, precipitated by the opening of the new Alice West Fleet Elementary next year, and tempers have frequently flared over how the changes will impact Drew, in particular. But one APS proposal designed to alleviate those concerns has prompted new worries among Abingdon parents.
The Board is still considering a variety of proposed maps, and will approve final boundaries in December.
I am writing regarding the proposed elementary school boundary map released at APS’s “What We Heard” meeting on Oct. 17. APS’s proposal to bus the students of southern Fairlington from the walkable Abingdon school zone to Drew Model School is not in the best interests of the children and does not reflect the values or the limited transportation resources of the county. The failure of the “What We Heard Proposal” to address in a fair and appropriate way several of the county’s guiding principles in the redistricting process means that this map should be withdrawn from serious consideration.
One of APS’s objectives in establishing new elementary school boundaries is to ensure that most students can attend the school closest to their home. Under the current proposal the students of southern Fairlington, all of whom live within one mile of Abingdon, would be bussed up to two miles to Drew Model School. This proposal would effectively eliminate the popular options of walking and biking to school for all southern Fairlington students, despite the know health benefits of walking or biking to school. Virginia’s Safe Routes to School initiative recognizes that children who walk or bike to school are more active, more physically fit, and more ready to learn when they arrive at school than students who are driven or bussed to school.
Increasing the school transportation needs of Fairlington also has important consequences for APS’s future capital and operating costs. The fiscal year 2019 school budget already allocates $18.3 million for transportation and was only balanced by extending the useful life of buses by three years. Arlington County is already being forced to make difficult financial decisions about existing tax rates and services. The School Board must look for opportunities to stabilize or reduce transportation costs and concentrate its budget on children’s educational needs.
The walk from southern Fairlington to Abingdon is through a safe neighborhood that features contiguous sidewalks, crosses no major roads, has no traffic lights, and, for some children, would be as short as .3 miles. Expanding the Abingdon walk zone would be a common-sense decision that supports APS’s dedication to the welfare of the whole child and would seize a valuable opportunity to reduce transportation needs from the current levels.
I ask the School Board to consider the significant benefits of leaving the southern portion of Fairlington within the borders of Abingdon Elementary School. I understand that redrawing school boundaries is a difficult process. Finding a better alternative to the current proposal would not only be in line with Arlington County’s efforts to promote walkable communities, but would also serve the health interests of the children of southern Fairlington and APS’s limited transportation resources and budget.
I encourage APS to withdraw the “What We Heard Proposal,” to explore other options, and to think more creatively about possible solutions to the challenges we face as we work to ensure our schools meet the needs of our communities.
(Updated Wednesday at 4:10 p.m.) As the heated process of setting new boundaries for eight South Arlington elementary schools lurches forward, parents at Patrick Henry Elementary are trying to deliver a single message to school officials: don’t break up the community in the move to Alice West Fleet Elementary.
Fleet’s planned opening next fall precipitated this process of drawing new boundary lines for the schools in the first place, with most Henry students set to move to the new school and the Montessori program currently housed at Drew Model School will move to Henry’s building.
Parents at Henry have long sought reassurances from Arlington Public Schools officials that the community would move as one to Fleet, without any neighborhoods being redirected elsewhere. The school system has released two different maps for public scrutiny over the last few months, and both have so far stuck firm to that request.
That fact was not lost on roughly a dozen parents who testified at the School Board’s meeting last Thursday (Oct. 18). Though the new boundary proposals have stoked outrage among families at Drew and Abingdon alike, they’ve largely satisfied parents with kids set to make the move from Henry, who are urging school leaders to stay the course throughout the remainder of the boundary process.
“We are a community that lives on Columbia Pike,” Melanie Devoe told the Board. “This will keep our students together, as we’ll have students who are learning together in elementary school all stay on the same campus through middle school.”
Erin Wasiak, co-president of the Henry Parent-Teacher Association, similarly praised the Board for keeping families along the Pike together, noting that the road acts as “our ‘Main Street’ and our town square.” Even still, she would note that the school system’s latest proposal would divert a few neighborhoods on the east side of S. Courthouse Road to Hoffman-Boston instead, a change that would only affect a relatively small number of students, but still struck Wasiak as a bit concerning.
“We’re as close or closer to Fleet as we are to the school you want to put us in,” Nicole Hallahan, a parent of a current Henry student set to move to Hoffman-Boston, told the Board.
APS spokesman Frank Bellavia stressed that officials are working to focus on contiguity as part of the process, though he noted that the school system “cannot guarantee that any individual school community will stay together.” As Lisa Stengle, the APS director of planning and evaluation, put it at an Oct. 17 community meeting, “We don’t want islands in places.”
“Boundary proposals align with the policy considerations, reflect what serves all students, and explore how changes to one school affect other schools,” Bellavia wrote in an email. “Change will be continual within APS due to ongoing enrollment growth, and APS is responsible for ensuring equity for all students across schools and programs.”
Nevertheless, between the changes with the Henry boundaries and the proposal to send some South Fairlington students to Drew instead of Abingdon, parents say the county hasn’t always managed to meet that particular goal.
“You just have to look at the map to see it’s oddly gerrymandered,” Claire Kenny, a parent of an Abingdon student, told the Board. “Please don’t punish our children to fix past redistricting efforts, or to fulfill promises to other communities.”
APS planners only proposed those Fairlington changes in the first place to create a more even spread of students eligible for free and reduced price lunch, a measure of their families’ economic means, at schools across South Arlington. Some parents worried too many economically disadvantaged students were being lumped in at Drew, and Henry parents also urged the Board to keep the issue as a prime focus throughout the rest of the boundary-setting process.
“It’s important to have racially and culturally diverse schools that prepare our students to effectively relate with others,” said Megan Haydasz, a parent of a Henry student who’s been active on other school equity issues in South Arlington in the past. “Yet high concentrations of poverty limit a school community’s resources and may unconsciously limit student outcomes compared to other schools.”
Arlington school officials have hit a bit of a snag in the complex, contentious process of setting new boundaries for the county’s southern elementary schools — changes they’ve proposed to address concerns from Drew Model School parents have generated a new backlash from the Abingdon Elementary community.
Some parents living in the Nauck neighborhood initially raised concerns that proposed boundary tweaks at Drew would drastically change the school’s socioeconomic make-up, leading to a substantial boost in the number of students receiving “free and reduced lunch,” a measure of each family’s economic means, at the school. They feared such a shift would amount to packing poorer students into a single building, rather than maintaining a more balanced percentage at each South Arlington school.
Accordingly, Arlington Public Schools planners offered a change to the new boundary map, which is being crafted as the school system prepares to open Alice West Fleet Elementary School ahead of the 2019-2020 school year. The zoning change would send a few neighborhoods in the southernmost reaches of Fairlington, an area roughly bounded by N. Quaker Lane and King Street, to Drew instead of Abingdon in order to better balance out the “free and reduced lunch” population at each school.
However, that suggestion was immediately met with fierce criticism from the Fairlington community. A petition protesting the change launched on Friday (Oct. 12) has already garnered more than 1,000 signatures, and the Fairlington Citizens’ Association fired off a pointed letter to the School Board on Sunday (Oct. 14).
“Shifting South Fairlington students to another school will weaken the fabric of the community, diminish the cohesiveness of the community, and disrupt social and educational connections that currently exist,” Citizens’ Association President Guy Land wrote. “It runs counter to the community-centric focus Arlington has for years promoted.”
Beyond even that broad criticism, Land and the petition’s authors argue that the change would be an inefficient one from a transportation perspective, charging that it would increase the number of students forced to ride the bus to school instead of walk.
“Bus rides from Fairlington to Drew would significantly lengthen the ride for kids,” the petition reads. “This would put a greater strain on APS transportation, which is not a luxury APS has.”
Yet APS staff pointed out in a presentation to the Board last Wednesday (Oct. 10) that such a boundary change would have substantial benefits in balancing out the free and reduced lunch divide between Drew and Abingdon.
They noted that Abingdon had 41 percent of students living in its attendance boundary eligible for free and reduced lunch, as of last October. Meanwhile, Drew stands at 66 percent, a number that is a bit deceiving, as it reflects the move of the Montessori program to Patrick Henry Elementary next year, and the program generally includes kids from wealthier families. With Montessori students included, Drew’s free and reduced lunch percentage is closer to 52 percent.
The first boundary proposal would’ve dropped Abingdon’s free and reduced lunch percentage down to 34 percent, while moving Drew to 60 percent. The newly revised proposal would bump Abingdon up to 45 percent, compared to 49 percent for Drew. And, in a bid to ease some worries over the boundary change, APS could allow rising fifth grade students and their siblings to be exempt from the switch, with APS transportation provided.
The newest boundary map would also address the concerns of parents at Drew that students could be zoned to matriculate to one of three middle schools, instead of just one, under the first APS proposal. The new map would have Drew students eligible for two middle schools instead.
Parents and community members now have until Oct. 29 to offer comments on the latest boundary proposal. APS plans to release a final map on Nov. 5, with the School Board expected to take a final vote on the matter on Dec. 6.
The Washington Nationals’ fourth inning Presidents Race looked a little different on Saturday (June 9) — as Teddy, Abe and Tom rushed to catch up with George, they hit an obstacle in the form of six smaller presidents.
Arms outstretched, the little presidents — boys from Abingdon Elementary School — blocked the racers from passing, while a seventh student, dressed as Nats mascot Screech, waited to greet a victorious George at the finish line.
“The boys were just freaking out,” parent Catherine Ladd said. “They were like, ‘This is epic, this is amazing.'”
Their path to Nationals Park began last Halloween, when all seven boys attended a parade at their elementary school wearing paper mache George, Tom, Bill, Herbie, Teddy and Screech heads to go with Nationals jerseys and baseball gear.
Ladd spent five weeks crafting the costumes, and things escalated quickly from there. Parents at the parade tweeted pictures to the Nationals, a team representative called the next day and the racing presidents themselves were at Abingdon Elementary the following Monday (Nov. 6) to invite the boys to a race, Ladd said.
“I never thought that we’d ever get the invitation to go down to Nats [Park]… I was just hoping [the costumes] looked okay at the end,” Ladd said.
Given that it has been 13 years since their inaugural season, the Nationals are older than the “Little Presidents” themselves, making them part of “the first generation that’s die-hard Nats fans as kids,” Ladd said.
“Seeing the Nationals do this for them was such a special experience and such a treat and so kind of them,” she said.
Several of the boys participated in Arlington Little League playoff games Saturday morning before heading to the stadium.
“It was kind of cool to see [them] live out their major league dreams in a way,” Ladd said.
Before racing, the Little Presidents also got to spend some time with their bigger counterparts and collect autographs.
“The presidents and Screech [signed] a ball for each of the kids,” Ladd said. “For them, that’s just as cool as a major league baseball player.”
As for next Halloween, Ladd has a feeling the Little Presidents might make another appearance.
“I think this is going to be the gift that keeps on giving,” she said.