Arlington County School Superintendent Larry Cuban is expected to recommend tonight that the school board close two junior high schools in 1978. The recommendation, if accepted by the board, would reverse an earlier decision to close only one junior high school.
Cuban probably will suggest that the decision on which schools are to be closed be made by Dec. 15. In earlier deliberations about the closing of only one school, Cuban recommended shutting down Stratford Junior High School.
Supporters of Stratford Junior High received the news with mixed emotions. They were delighted with the delay, but dismayed that an additional junior high school will be considered for closing.
"Starting over from scratch is basically what we're doing," said Harold Wilson, Arlington schools associate superintendent. "When the assumptions you work on are wrong, that's what you have to do."
The decision to close two junior highs resulted from a discovery by Stratford supporters of errors in enrollment projections the board was using to determine which school to close. The board examined their figures, found the error, and ordered a new computer run on the data.
Stratford supporters did not expect the new results, which estimated junior high school enrollment in 1930 to be even lower than the original projections. Although the new data added a few more pupils to Stratford's future enrollment, the overall effect appears to require the elimination of yet another junior high.
The new enrollment projections are so much lower, Cuban said, that most of the county's six junior high schools would be operating below the school board's minimum enrollment requirements of 500 pupils by 1980.
"With the old projections, to keep five intermediate schools (junior highs including only seventh and eighth grades) operating at from 500 to 700 students each for the next five years or so was a risky proposition," Cuban said. "However, the new projections make the previous marginal situation untenable."
The school board had first pinpointed Kenmore, Swanson and Stratford junior high schools for further closing studies. Last month, Cuban specifically recommended closing Stratford at 4100 N. Vacation Lane. Now Gunston, Thomas Jefferson and Williamsburg junior high schools are likely to be brought back into the closing picture.
Stratford still stands a strong chance of being closed, despite the sigh of relief that went up from Stratford parents and supporters last week at a school board work session when Cuban said a delay on the closing decision would be in order.
"I'm very happy about the delay," said Janice Webb, who has two children at Taylor Elementary school, one of whom will attend Stratford in the fall. "We (Stratford supporters) have been saying all along we are not very impressed with the superintendent's criteria and reasoning for recommending Stratford. We think more time has to be given to assessing many more factors."
Meanwhile, Stratford parents have been arming themselves with essays, statistics, educational research, charts and arguments to convince the school board it sould not close Stratford.
A coalition of parents and residents from the older, central section of Arlington County where Stratford is located, presented a position paper to the school board that criticized Cuban's criteria for choosing Stratford as the school to close.
The paper contested Cuban's priority considerations for closing a school, saying what Cuban considers less important considerations are the most important considerations to Stratford area residents.
Among those consideration are minimizing the number of pupils transported when a school closes, maintaining the continuity or improvement of educational programs and services (Cuban had said other schools would benefit by gaining more course offering if one school closed) and the impact of a school's closing on one area.
The paper asserted that Stratford provides quality intermediate education, that its closing would have an unusually severe negative impact on the surrounding community, and that financial savings gained by closing Stratford "would not be as great as closing a more costly and less efficient plant."
The Stratford group said "closing Stratford would be the crowning blow in a series of shocks in recent years," including the threat of construction of the proposed I-66 highway, which would run directly through the Stratford area, high rise development and increased commuter parking.
"And we are outraged at Dr. Cuban's assertion that educational quality of any of the schools' programs should not be considered in a closing decision," Webb said.
Cuban last month said the board rejected test scores and "other narrow measures of program quality" as a consideration. "Each school's advocates believe that their school offers an excellent program," he said.
"If we assume we're talking about a product, educational quality, Cuban's statement on disregarding educational quality as a consieration makes no sense," said Ingrid Planert, a Stratford parent. "The president of a corporation doesn't tell stockholders he's closing a couple of manufacturing plants regardless of whether they have high production rates."
"Startford has an excellent academic program whether you judge it by test scores or any other criteria," she added.
"We think that with the delay, the school board should make the effort to get parents and the communities more formally involved in the closing process," said Michael Koleda, a Taylor parent. "That would be the fairest manner in which to approach the school closing process."