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Limited Redistricting Is Approved In Arlington

School Plan Includes Few Boundary Changes

By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 27, 2005; Page VA03

A contentious debate over redistricting North Arlington elementary schools was quelled last week after the School Board voted unanimously in favor of a boundary adjustment plan that hardly changes any boundaries.

Parents who had bitterly opposed scenarios that would have required their children to switch elementary schools praised the plan, which was proposed by a 45-member committee that spent several months studying the issue. One board member, however, called the plan toothless and said it does little to address the problems of uneven enrollment in schools.

Board member Elaine S. Furlow said that although she voted for the plan, she wished the board had given clearer instructions to the committee that might have resulted in more useful changes.

Last fall, irate parents lined up at School Board meetings to blast a set of sample boundary change scenarios that the district had posted on its Web site. Changing the boundaries would break up friendships and disrupt the lives of students who were happy at their current schools, parents said.

The new plan bears little resemblance to those scenarios. It proposes fewer boundary adjustments, more moving around of individual programs and adjustments to transfer rules, in the hopes of alleviating crowding in some schools.

One reason the plan differs so much from the earlier scenarios is that in late fall, the committee received more up-to-date enrollment numbers that showed the crowding was not as bad as the district originally had anticipated.

The committee also honored a promise it made to itself and the public to consider all other options before turning to boundary changes.

"There was a lot of heated discussion; there was a lot of emotion," Linda Henderson, co-chairman of the committee, said of last fall's events. "But this committee came together and did a marvelous job."

The plan, which the committee submitted to Superintendent Robert G. Smith last month, includes a few small boundary adjustments, but they will affect far fewer students than the earlier recommendations.

Under the approved plan, up to 13 Taylor Elementary students will move to Jamestown Elementary, and up to 31 Taylor students will move to Ashlawn Elementary.

Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders and their siblings who are currently enrolled at Taylor will have the option of staying there, which means the number of students who actually move will be closer to 11 or 12, Furlow said.

Furlow said the committee's priority of avoiding boundary changes ended up limiting its options. "We wind up with two schools that are still full of trailers and three schools that still have plenty of space," she said, referring to Tuckahoe and McKinley, which are overcrowded, and Glebe, Barrett and Ashlawn, which have room for more students. "It's a pretty anemic response to a problem that's probably not going to get better."

The plan will move one Montessori class from McKinley Elementary to Ashlawn. It will also make Barrett Elementary, which currently has 200 open slots, a "cluster school" with a focus on math, science and the arts, similar to the popular Arlington Science Focus program. North Arlington students from other schools will be allowed to opt into the program, with priority given to those from Nottingham, McKinley and Tuckahoe.

The board also changed the school system's transfer policy to restrict non-sibling transfers to schools that are at 95 percent of capacity.

The board will review the plan in two years, and the committee, which is made up of parents, teachers and principals from 11 schools, will continue to meet.

In a separate 3 to 2 vote, the board approved a committee recommendation to redistrict an area where condominiums are being developed. No students live in the area now, but the community, which is currently in the Key School/Arlington Science Focus attendance zone, will move into the Long Branch Elementary zone.

The day after the vote, Kathy Kavalec, who worried last fall that her sons would have to move away from Long Branch, said she was pleased. "At the bus stop this morning, everybody was saying it was good news," she said.

Troy Schneider, who bought his house in part so his son could attend Tuckahoe, agreed.

"I think it's a good experiment," he said. "I wish it were something that's not going to be looked at again in two years, but we can live with that."

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