Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

School officials tasked with the perpetual jigsaw puzzle of reassigning school zones have stirred new tensions.

The latest trial balloon offered by Arlington Public Schools staff to their board last month confronts continuing growth (projected soon to reach 30,000 students) and the opening in Fall 2021 of the new elementary in the Walter Reed building in Westover. There’s a need to more evenly distribute students to maximize resources before a separate phase of redrawing boundaries next year.

The affected K-5 campuses include McKinley, Key, Tuckahoe, Campbell, Carlin Springs and the lottery option school Arlington Traditional.

Once again, affected neighborhoods are mobilizing before a Feb. 6 vote — and complaining of being “shocked” by insufficient notice and debate on two alternative proposals. Yard signs with anguished messages have sprung up.

“These proposals aim to use schools to maximum capacity, keep together as many students in each school community as possible, and maximize opportunities for students to walk or bike to school,” I was told by schools spokesman Frank Bellavia. “The proposals were based on data analysis and discussions with instructional leaders and cross-departmental staff, and were introduced to school communities at the end of October.”

In news not welcome in the Madison Manor neighborhood, the McKinley name could die.

The new Reed school will draw most of its students from McKinley — currently about 40 percent of McKinley students live within the Reed walk zone, Bellavia said. Given that the majority of students slated for the new Reed are now in the McKinley zone, the proposals are designed to keep more students from the McKinley community together. The proposals also include moving Arlington Traditional to McKinley, which helps by adding seats to this option school. “The proposal aims to make the demand on the bus system manageable by avoiding long-narrow neighborhood boundaries during a boundary process, which would not all include the full walk zones.”

If you drive McKinley Rd., you can’t miss the printed signs “SAVE MCKINLEY: Our Neighborhood School Since 1951.” The Madison Manor Civic Association has revved up with nearby PTAs and community groups to assemble contrary arguments.

“We were completely blindsided,” Stacy Noblet, a McKinley parent and secretary to the civic association, told me. The two proposals “were not floated with the community in any way we were aware of.” McKinley “is the heart and soul of the community, where we see each other as we walk to the school and out and about.” Even people without children share that sentiment, Noblet added. Despite the attractiveness of the new Reed, the moves would “split up the Madison Manor community” and create an uncertain future. The association wrote to APS planners asking for a better process and warning that the likely “increased bus and vehicle traffic…presents real safety concerns.”

No locals “envy the schools staff and their team, whose task is complicated,” Noblet acknowledged. “But we need a long-term solution so we don’t have to go through this every three years.”

George Varoutsos, Chief Judge at the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, received the Arlington County Bar Association’s William L. Winston public service award at a Nov. 26 luncheon.

His links to Falls Church go beyond our shared judicial system. Varoutsos’s daughter Christine is married to Ted Yiannarakis, of the Anthony’s Restaurant family.

In her tribute to her father — a sports nut who has attended the last 29 Superbowls — she said the judge relies on spectator sports to stay “even-keeled” in a high-stress job.

On Thanksgiving morn, I attended the seven-decade-old Hall’s Hill Turkey Bowl tackle football game.

Before the team competition (young vs. old, without pads), organizers used the P.A. brought to High View Park to announce a community service plaque for longtime school board member and civil rights activist Frank Wilson.

It was doubly fitting because Wilson was himself a college football star.

CLARIFICATION: This column has been clarified to reflect that the McKinley name could still be retained for students in the new Reed building if the community so chooses.