A few hundred North Arlington parents filled the Williamsburg Middle School gym Wednesday night, many of them frustrated with proposed boundary changes that will be made to accommodate a new elementary school.
That school, which will be on the Williamsburg campus, is just one part of a larger plan Arlington Public Schools is trying to implement to deal with soaring student enrollment and, in some cases, severe overcrowding issues.
The new school will draw from areas currently within the boundaries of Jamestown, Nottingham and Taylor elementary schools. But much of Arlington north of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor will see elementary school boundaries change to make way for the new school — and to alleviate some of the overcrowding.
While some parents and neighborhood groups supported the working recommendation — or a slight variation of it — many in the Donaldson Run community and the neighborhoods on the edges of the current Glebe Elementary School attendance zone were not happy.
"This is a numbers game, but it's not thoughtful about the neighborhoods," said Russ Williams, whose child goes to Glebe. "And a lot of what's being talked about is ripping up neighborhoods."
Several residents complained that they felt the school system was pitting neighbor versus neighbor. Patch interviewed a number of residents who declined to give their name precisely because they didn't want to upset their neighbors — or, in some cases, the school board.
One man said he uprooted his family to move to Arlington so his children could attend Glebe Elementary, a half-mile from their home. He said the people in the auditorium Wednesday night had made long-term plans for their lives and that they were troubled the school system was unable to make such plans.
"I thought I was pretty safe moving a half-mile from the school," he said.
John Chadwick, director of design and construction for Arlington Public Schools, said part of the problem is that Arlington apparently woke up in the 1950s and realized it needed to build more elementary schools — and did so all along the edges of the county. Such a configuration means that boundaries would have to turn inward.
"We don't have (schools) where we would have them if we were going to do this logically," he said.
Residents said they were angry because the school system wasn't taking a holistic approach, and that too many students who can walk to school currently would be forced to ride a bus two or three miles under the potential changes. They said they wanted their children to be able to go to school with the neighborhood kids they are friends with, play sports with, are in Boy Scouts with or have backyard barbecues with.
Some parents were upset that Arlington's so-called choice schools — in this case, Arlington Traditional and Arlington Science Focus — weren't a part of the equation. School officials said they may enter into the conversation in upcoming years.
Lionel White, the school system's director of facilities planning, said he would pore over the comments made Wednesday and try to have a second variation online by the week's end.
"If we can make tweaks, and they make sense, and they make people happy, then we'll do it," he said.
Superintendent Pat Murphy will then hold a town hall with the three recommended plans — the original one and two variants — in mid-March, and he'll likely take the matter before the school board on March 21.