When the Arlington County School Board reappointed Larry Cuban as school superintendent March 2, it prompted a flurry of angry letters disputing his appointment. Some of the protests suggested that the post be made elective rather than appointive.
The board responded by scheduling a public hearing to hear comments on the policies of the Arlington schools. The board members decreed that no "personal attacks" on Cuban would be permitted, put agreed to enterain all opinions on the present condition and future of the schools.
When the hearing took place last week, it was not quite what the board had expected. For one thing, the Cuban issue had apparently cooled; no one spoke on the appointive nature of te superintendent's postion, nor on the appointive status of the school board, which also has been disputed by some Arlington residents. But what did emerge at the hearing was a smorgasbord of opinions on a varitey of issues.
"Stock to the academics," "make art courses required subjects," "require competency testing," "offer classes to pre-schoolers" were but a few of the ideas enunciates when more than 130 Arlington residents gathered to speak their minds. The opinions ranged from the amusing to the caustic - and all drew loud applause.
Several speakers focused on the question of whether the formal goals of the school system should include a written statement calling for the improvement of human relations. Such a statement has long been part of the document that sets forth school goals in a number of areas. However, a proposed list of goals for the school would omit the specific reference to human relations. This propopsal has drawn fire from several members of Cuban's council on human relations, which probably would be disbanded if the human relations goal were dropped.
Eugene James of Williamsburg Junior High School, who sits on the superintendent's council and introduced himself as "Jimmy the Great," performed a magic trick for the school board to illustrate "the necessity of human relations as a school goal."
He blew up a balloon inside an empty coffee can, then lanced two pencils through holes cut in the sides of the can. He but the balloon didn't break.
"It's the same thing with human relations." James told the normally sedate school board audience now convulsed with laughter."You can't see it, hear it or smell it, but it's the same kind of intangible element that makes magic happen."
Addressing himself to the human relations issue, Associate Superintendent Harold Wilson commented. "Human relations does not necessarily have to be eliminated as a goal. Discussion such as this may lead to keeping it as a goal."
David Fleming, a Yorktown High School student, said an awareness of human relations gives "Arlington schools a soul."
Even if a student masters all the skills and academics required of him through school, "At best you've got a very good robot," Fleming said. "Haman relations gives him life."
Marjorie Mayer of the Arlington County League of Women Voters voiced the group's support of he school system, saying that the league is opposed to any cuts in the proposed $45.3 million school budget.
"We support programs offered by the schools, including special education, programs for the gifted and talented, programs in music, art and human relations."
Helena Morrison of the schools' English advisory committee voiced dismay over students' "lack of ability" in writing and requested the board to focus on the area.
"The entire English program could be improved," she said. "We are very good in some areas and completely lacking in others. We need strong leadership in the English department."
She added that in the face of budget constraints, the board should investigate a means of exchanging textbooks county wide.
"Students in some schools are needing books that may be collecting dust in other schools." Morrison said. "We should try to get some kind of exchange going."
Ira Goldreyer parent of a handicapped Arlington student, urged the board to "invest in self-sufficientcy for the handicapped" while they are attending school. He said handicapped pupils too often become a burden to the county when not taught to be selfsufficient during school years.
Mary Dewald, an Arlingon resident whose children already have graduated from school, told the board that courses in the humanities should be required of pupils at the intermediate level.
"When you have as wide a freedom of choice for these students an is offered now, many times they miss the courses that might prove important to them later." Dewald said. "How many kids never form an appreciation for art or music only because they were never exposed to those worlds in school?"
She added that school should not be "easy" for youngsters.
"Life is not easy. If we do not teach our students good work habitis and the concentration needed for future jobs we are cheating them."
Herman E. Shipley, who has children at Taylor Elementary and Eilliamsburg Junior High School, called the school board's method of meeting problems "band-aid management" that patches individual problems independent of the whole system.
"People in Arlington don't know what school programs of facilities are going to be cut next," Shipley said. "The board should identify priorities and define for Arlington parents what the school system should be for the forseeable future."
Michael Koleda, another Taylor parent, told the board "to resist seeing parents as adversaries to the things you want to carry through. It is unlikely we would kill an idea. We might shape it, change it, delay it, but most likely all of us would have a better idea when we're through."
Linda Richmond of the Woodmont Elmentary PTA said the major priorities for Arlington parents are "academic excellence and neighborhood schools."
"We don't want a lot of course electives with little substance and fancy titles," she said. "If you can't judge student performance by academic test scores, then I'd like to see what you can judge by."
Other parents called for more creativity and innovation on the part f hte school board in dealing with shrinking school enrollments and decreasing funds, asked the board to make more efficient us of school resources and facilities rather than close schools or eliminate programs, and requested more openness from school administrators concerning their actions.
"We've got to be careful that no money" does not become an excuse for lassitude," another parent noted.