Arlington Superintendent Arthur W. Gosling wants to ease crowded elementary schools by moving the county's 900 sixth graders to middle schools and strengthen educational programs for the growing number of immigrants.
His draft plan, being circulated among School Board members for discussion, would mean major changes for Arlington parents, but ignore some parents' demands to limit the number of immigrants at any school. In addition to moving the sixth graders, the plan would:
Reopen Claremont School, a South Arlington elementary school that was closed in 1983, and use it as a second campus for the present 617-student Abingdon School. The combined school would have an enrollment of about 900 by 1992.
Redraw some elementary boundaries in South Arlington.
Increase spending and staffing on language programs for children not proficient in English and extend those programs to kindergartners. Arlington's English as a Second Language program now begins in the first grade.
Allow districtwide enrollment in the much praised Spanish-English immersion program at predominantly Hispanic Key Elementary School in an attempt to attract Anglo children.
Prince William, Howard and Loudoun counties and the City of Falls Church are the only local school jurisdictions where all sixth graders attend school with seventh- and eighth-grade students. Under Gosling's proposal, the switch would not occur until September 1989 to give educators time to work out a transitional curriculum. This year's fourth graders would be the ones affected.
Gosling has kept his proposal secret and would not discuss it yesterday. He is scheduled to present the plan to the board Feb. 18, with a public hearing scheduled March 10. A board vote has not been set.
The plan deals with two separate but intertwined subjects: crowding in South Arlington schools, where enrollment in the primary grades has increased sharply, and the impact of large numbers of immigrants on those schools.
Gosling's draft may not satisfy some Anglo parents who have sought limits on the number of immigrants at any one school, in effect a call for substantial cross-county busing or for segregating those students until they master English. Instead, Gosling seeks to accommodate those students' special needs while leaving them in their neighborhood schools.
Dissatisfaction over Arlington's earlier racial desegregation efforts has influenced the current, behind-the-scenes debate, according to school officials and parent activists. In 1971 Arlington began busing only black children to achieve integration. The plan was modified at least three times, largely at the urging of black parents, to allow black children to attend schools closer to home.
"I'd like to think we're trying to do it better then we did it in the 1960s, that we're keeping that history in mind and learning from that experience," said School Board member Gail Nuckols. " . . . It has to do with social engineering and how much you do."
Gosling has studied the crowding and immigrant issues for more than six months with the help of a 33-member citizens committee, a principals' group and a full-time staff assistant. He has twice visited Massachusetts to observe school districts that recently undertook large-scale ethnic desegregation.
He has also been lobbied by a group of active Anglo parents in South Arlington, who have said that an important part of any solution is to limit the number of immigrants at any school. Some of these activists live in the Key school area. About 80 percent of Key's students have learned English as a second language and 40 percent of those are still taking special English courses.
Gosling's proposal, although still unannounced, has been met with disappointment by some of those parents. "I'm not comfortable with it, with anything he said," said Judy Buchholz, a member of the citizens committee and a Lyon Village parent who heard Gosling's report to the committee.
The centerpiece of Gosling's attack on crowding is to move all sixth graders from the elementary schools to Arlington's intermediate seventh- and eighth-grade schools and to H-B Woodlawn, a seventh- through 12th-grade school. Nationwide about 12 percent of the all sixth graders attend intermediate schools, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Residents and school officials who have studied Gosling's boundary change recommendations said it is not clear how they would affect the concentrations of immigrant students. The fact that the superintendent lists the changes under the crowding section of the draft, however, suggests that easing crowding is one of his primary purposes.
Under the section dealing with non-English-speaking students, Gosling proposes increasing money and staffing for three elementary schools, Barrett, Glencarlyn and Key.