Arlington should consolidate programs at some of its elementary schools because of declining enrollments, a special study panel has concluded in a report being prepared for Superintendent Charles E. Nunley.
Despite its conclusion that the school system must reduce the number of elementary schools it now operates, the panel sets no timetable for the consolidations nor does it suggest specific schools for closings.
Instead, the panel is presenting Nunley with a report indicating elementary schools with enrollment problems.
"But that is not at all to suggest that those schools are candidates for closure because you get into the question of facility quality and other factors," said Frank Erwin, a panel member. "That's going to be an issue. . . . You may say, 'Here's a school that has an enrollment problem,' but as far as the quality of the facility is concerned, it may be the best in the county. It would be crazy to close it. The school board will have to go through the process of 'marrying' them up."
Although Erwin refused to name the schools listed by the panel, sources close to the group said the list includes Barrett, Reed and Tuckahoe, followed by Abingdon, Barcroft, Glebe and Nottingham. Among those, however, Glebe and Tuckahoe are considered to have excellent, modern facilities.
Enrollment in kindergarten through sixth grade in Arlington dropped from a high of 13,775 in 1968 to 7,508 by the end of April.
The final decision on consolidations will be made by the school board, which recently heard recommendations from another panel that the county's three high school programs be consolidated. No closings of secondary or elementary schools are expected before the fall of 1983, however, school officials have said.
The grade school panel, consisting of four citizens and the schools' director of planning and assessment, Allen Norris, was appointed by Nunley in January. Nunley is expected to summarize the panel's findings in a report to the school board Thursday night.
The consolidation issue was one of several the board asked Nunley to study this year, and grew out of a controversial school board decision last fall to close Woodmont Elementary School. At the time, some parents complained that there should not be "piecemeal" consolidations. Woodmont will close this month, with students and faculty being transferred to Taylor Elementary in the fall.
With Woodmont closed, the school system will have 18 regular grade schools, in addition to two "alternative" schools (Page and Drew), the Hoffman-Boston kindergarten-Montessori program and the special education program at Jackson.
The commission studying secondary schools has recommended closing the seventh grade at the popular, "back-to-basics" Page program, but Erwin, who also was a member of that commission, said the grade school panel is not making any recommendations on the two alternative grade school programs.
"It's an issue that has to be thoroughly evaluated," he said. "You've got a number of kids who are not in their home schools because they're in alternative programs. And when you talk about closing home schools, you also ought to be looking at alternative programs or anything that draws enrollment away from the schools you're talking about closing."
Erwin seems to be convinced, however, that some closings are inevitable.
"You don't have to close schools if you have the money," he said. "But when you get down to a certain enrollment, you start talking about having half a skills teacher or half a librarian instead of whole ones."
Arlington's current standard calls for at least l.5 classes per grade level. If class enrollments slip below that, classes can be merged or students assigned to classes that combine different grade levels in order to maintain the proper student-teacher ratio. In kindergarten this year, that ratio is a maximum of 22.5 students per teacher; for grades one through six, it is 24 pupils per teacher.
Among the factors the panel studied in its deliberations was the effect housing and immigration trends will have on enrollment.
For instance, the most severe enrollment problems are in North Arlington, where the population is older and younger families generally cannot afford the expensive houses.
In its study of immigration trends, Erwin said, the panel was concerned with the increasing number of children whose native language is not English. Six grade schools now have enrollments where Asians and Hispanics combined now compose at least one-third of the student body. At Key Elementary, the two groups together make up 54 percent of the enrollment, while at Glencarlyn, the figure is 60 percent. Other schools with a high percentage of Hispanic and Asian students are Claremont (47 percent), Barrett (41 percent), Patrick Henry (40 percent) and Barcroft (30 percent).
The increase in immigrant population means a greater need for programs designed to help non-English-speaking students, Erwin said, and the study panel suggested several ways to meet that goal.
One possibility would be to expand the the HILT (High Intensity Language Training) program into lower grades. The program, in which pupils spend half of each school day in intensive instruction in English and regular subjects, is taught mainly in the upper three grades at elementary schools.
The schools also could consider establishing a "newcomer's school," specifically designed for children who need English instruction. Another possibility, Erwin said, would be to assign those children equally among all the schools, a proposal that would entail increased busing.
In any event, Erwin said, "Redistricting has got to be a factor in the consolidation process because ethnic diversity and language-readiness need to be factors."
As with past school closing studies, Erwin expects the latest to generate controversy:
"It's like budget cutting. Everyone's for it until you cut theirs. I would expect that if you describe the problems of the decline in the county and the budget considerations and constraints we've got to live with that are going to get worse, people will all agree consolidation is necessary. But what happens when you say, 'Okay, Charlie, bye-bye to your school,' that's a different matter."