Alexandria School Superintendent Herbert Berg has proposed a redistricting plan for the fall of 2000 that limits nearly every elementary school to 600 children and appears to have the support of a School Board majority.

The plan submitted to the board for a June 23 vote would move several hundred children from their current schools and create two additional elementary magnet schools. Some parents have complained about treatment of special education students, but the plan appears to have reduced crowding and maintained racial balance enough to win support.

"My sense is we are very close to a final plan," board Chairman Stephen J. Kenealy said.

Parents of students needing special education services said they were concerned about Berg's decision to move three small programs for children with disabilities to Jefferson-Houston Elementary in his latest in a series of plans. Berg's new proposal is called Scenario No. 15-R-1 to distinguish it from Scenario No. 15-R, which was the subject of a public hearing in May.

Concentrating disabled students at one school makes it more difficult to move them into regular classes, particularly because plans call for Jefferson-Houston to become a magnet school, adopting a special focus on the visual and performing arts, special education experts said. "I was overwhelmed by these recommendations to move so many of the programs to one school," said Nancy McCormick, a parent who is chairman of the school district's Special Education Advisory Committee.

Berg suggested moving the East-Side Developmentally Delayed program from Maury Elementary and a program for physically disabled students from Patrick Henry Elementary to Jefferson-Houston. The Central Primary Language program, which also serves younger students developing slowly, would move from MacArthur Elementary to Jefferson-Houston.

"I am concerned about those changes," board member Dan D. Goldhaber said. "That is what gives me pause about this plan."

Berg increased the number of students expected to attend Mount Vernon, Ramsay, Polk and Henry elementary schools. The School Board has shown particular concern for the situation at Mount Vernon, which has the highest proportion of Hispanic students (42 percent) and the lowest test scores in the city.

The latest plan would reduce the number of students expected to attend MacArthur and George Mason elementary schools. The Mason reduction appears to leave room for students from the Charles Houston neighborhood, who are being bused to the school, to remain there until they graduate. Earlier plans had suggested moving the Charles Houston students to a nearer school, but many parents said they wanted to stick with Mason's well-regarded principal, Lois Berlin.

Board member Sally Ann Baynard said she thought the way the board dealt with MacArthur was unfair. "The board has gone through endless contortions to do what the MacArthur parents demanded," she said. "Not one child is being moved out of MacArthur."

Under Berg's plan, MacArthur would have the highest percentage of non-Hispanic white students (47.5 percent) in the city and would be one of only three elementary schools with a non-Hispanic white enrollment above 31 percent. Baynard said the board was responding to parental threats to pull children out of the system if they are moved to other schools.

However, board member Henry S. Brooks called that "a phony issue." The real problem, he said, was that the MacArthur building is too small and should be expanded.

Cora Kelly, a popular magnet elementary school with a strong science program, would have 606 students under the plan, the only school in the city to exceed the 600 pupil limit. Berg noted that the capacity of the Cora Kelly building is 560 and said that some controls will have to be imposed on enrollment in the school.

The new plan turns Maury and Lyles-Crouch, which had been paired, into separate elementary schools. The board is considering a plan to lure students to under-capacity Lyles-Crouch by making it a magnet with a focus on phonics and basic math skills in a more traditional curriculum. A new elementary school, yet unnamed, will open at Cameron Station in 2000. Kenealy said the board would meet June 17 to decide if it needs to call a public hearing on the latest plan before its scheduled June 23 vote.


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