Tuesday, 11 Dec 2018
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As Arlington goes back to schools, communities struggle to stay together


In Grade 3, Natalia Otel Belan's daughter was attending a class at Patrick Henry Elementary School, which encouraged students to bond with each other and to work with classmates of different races and ethnicities. [Arlington’s Patrick Henry Elementary named a National Blue Ribbon School] It is this recognition of the diversity and success of the school with students from different backgrounds who, according to Otel Belan and other parents, helped to catapult the Northern Virginia school to national recognition. . And that's what they say would be lost if the Arlington School Board proceeded on Thursday with a zoning change plan that would separate Henry's students between two schools when Henry closed. "This school has been successful in being inclusive and achieving great results," Belan said, noting that the plan approved by Superintendent Patrick K. Murphy "fundamentally reduces diversity" that helped Henry gain recognition. from the National Blue Ribbon School three years ago. Henry's students are not the only ones who can be uprooted. The zoning change process involves eight elementary schools and is expected to reach nearly 700 students. The process, which lasted several months and was motivated by the clutter and opening of a new school, woke up well-known complaints about the separation of young children from their friends and increased travel time to get to school. Neighborhoods clashed at public meetings and circulated competing petitions as parents pressured their communities to remain united. Among the Henry parents, the process has sparked claims of racial and economic segregation, highlighting the complex dynamics that often helps to redefine the boundaries of schools across the country. Murphy acknowledged the allegiances that schools favor. But he stood behind the rezoning process and said the school district had "tried to be as transparent as possible," despite accusations from parents. "Everyone has a lot of compassion for the borders," he said, adding that the zoning change was "part of the functioning of school systems". Most of Henry's students are expected to attend Alice West Fleet Elementary School when it opens next year. About 29% of students in the new school would be eligible for free or discounted meals, an indicator of financial need. But about 150 Henry's students would be transferred to another school: Drew Model Elementary. According to school system estimates, about 55% of students would be entitled to free or discounted meals. It is this movement – moving some students to Drew – that highlights concerns about race and the economy. The students who would be reassigned to Drew live south of Columbia Pike, an artery running from west to east across Arlington. Gissele Gajate, the parent of a kindergarten student at Henry Elementary School, said the artery would be a line of demarcation between students because families living south of Columbia Pike have tend to have lower incomes than residents located north of it. "They are basically trying to separate the poorest children from the richest kids," said Gajate. "It does not serve absolutely any educational policy [but to] make sure our kids grow up divided by income and race. Instead, many Henry parents supported an earlier proposal that would have kept all of Henry's students together. But the response to this plan by parents whose children are still attending another school further demonstrates the complexity of school zoning – and the passions it engenders. This plan, which was not approved by the Superintendent, would have reassigned students attending Abingdon Elementary School. Abingdon's parents argued that student travel times would increase and families would be separated from the community they had helped build. Jennifer Davies, former president of the parent-teacher group, said the children of almost every APTA leader and family member who had advocated for the school's expansion of Abingdon would have been changed. Tannia Talento, a school council member, seemed to understand the concerns of Abingdon's parents about transportation during a Tuesday meeting. "I'm not a strong supporter of taking the kids, putting them on a bus and driving them to a school to go to another school," Talento said. Brittany Knutson, whose daughter will likely attend Drew, said having a mix of students from different business backgrounds would better ensure success at school. That, she said, should count for more than just briefly extending the bus ride of some students. "The interest in having a balanced and demographic school body should weigh more than what students see through the bus window," she said. In developing the rezoning plans, school officials took into account criteria such as the proximity of students to schools and demographic diversity. Another rezoning involving 15 schools is expected in 2020. School Board Chair Reid Goldstein said Tuesday that the school system of 27,000 students must move forward with boundaries that "create the best possible educational opportunities for the greatest number of students." d & # 39; students ". and existing school communities argue, understandably, for their own benefit, board members face multiple concerns, "he said. .

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