Arlington County parents last week voiced vigorous opposition to the proposed closing of Stratford and Gunston junior high schools. A public hearing on the controversial plan Thursday night was attended by approximately 200 people.
The Arlington County school board is considering these two schools and Swanson junior high school for closing in the fall of 1978. Few Swanson parents turned out at the hearing however, since School Supt. Larry Cuban specifically recommended Stratford and Gunston for closing.
The board's decision to close two schools, which would leave four junior high schools open in the county, is based on declining school enrollments and the transfer of the 9th grade into the county's high schools in 1978. This would further decrease junior high school enrollments. After the transfer, junior high schools will be converted into 7th and 8th grade intermediate schools.
The school board is expected to vote on the superintendent's recommendations June 28 and set tentative school boundaries.
Supporters of Stratford Junior High School, located in the central section of the county at 4100 North Vacation Lane, argued that Stratford has a better educational program than those offered by other county junior high schools.
Supporters of Gunston, located at the southern end of the county at 2700 South Lang St. near the Alexandria boundary, claimed that closing the school would greatly damage surrounding communities, already battered by recent development.
They also expressed anger that Gunston was not publicly announced as a candidate for closing until three weeks ago, while Stratford area residents have been aware since February that their school was being studied for possible closing.
Meanwhile, the Arlington County Board held a special meeting with the school board Friday to review the school closing issue. The county board announced it was concerned about the future of a recently built and well-used community center attached to Gunston if the junior high is closed. The community center, which opened in May, 1975, cost the county about $325,000.
At the public hearing, 20 speakers criticized many of the criteria adopted by the school board for considering a school to close, among them the requirements of an enrollment level of 500 pupils for an intermediate school. They charged the board with "disregard" for neighborhood cohesiveness, questioned the board's enrollment projections and claimed that the board is operating on a "bigger is best" philosophy by studying the county's smaller junior highs for closings.
Cuban said that given unpredictable future enrollments, it would be better to retain the county's larger junior highs, Thomas Jefferson, Williamsburg and Kenmore, to accommodate additional students resulting from major redistricting and leave enough reserve capacity for possible future growth.
"The school board's decision to close Gunston is an unjust and irrational decision," said Gunston parent John H. Quinn. "It sounds the death knell for a community."
Jack Turner, another Gunston resident, listed "undesirable facilities" centered in the southern end of the county that "lessen the quality of life" there, among them the county's solid waste transfer system, an advance waste treatment plant, county vehicle storage, school bus parking facilities, Crystal City, the Metro bus parking lot, the Pentagon heating plant and I-95.
Joseph Scott, also a Gunston parent, noted that Gunston is "an integral part of the community." Gunston parents may be willing to accept fewer choices in courses for their children, he said "since in the ultimate scheme of things it may be better for them to attend school close to home and exist in the total community."
Several junior high school principals earlier said that intermediate schools operating with fewer than 500 pupils could lose course alternatives like band, drama and foreign languages.
Another Gunston parents presented the board a petition with 1,600 names supporting keeping Gunston open. The petition had been circulated within one week.
Donn Marston, a Stratford parent, summed up a report he submitted to the school board that said Gunston and Williamsburg junior highs should be closed based on "equal consideration of neighborhoods, ethnic diversity, impact of past school board decision, operation costs, location, facilities, future enrollments trends and current size."
A coalition of Stratford area parents also have advertised in a local Northern Virginia newspaper against the school board's consideration of closing Stratford. In an "open letter to all citizens of Arlington County," the parents charge that the school board "is unwilling to consider the educational needs of our children in a comprehensive fashion that is responsive to the expressed desires of parents and other concerned citizens."
The school board is considering two new factors in its decision to close two schools. One is possible future redistricting should school enrollments not follow projections and increase more than expected. Board Chairman Diane Henderson said leaving Gunston open may force major redistricting of students living in the north end of the county, and these students may have to be redistricted again if school enrollments increase unexpectedly.
Another consideration is new federal regulations that require public facilities receiving federal funds to be accessible to the handicapped. The school board has determined that Jefferson, Kenmore, Williamsburg and Swanson best accommodate handicapped students.
School staff also feels that leaving these four junior high schools open would distribute junior high schools in the northern and southern ends of the county. However, many parents contend that Jefferson and Kenmore junior high schools, located just on the southern side of Arlington Blvd., are not located far enough south "to really serve students living in south Arlington."