Wednesday, September 27, 2006
They live in Whitefield Commons, a low- to moderate-income apartment complex in the Buckingham neighborhood, two blocks from my house. Ms. Shrader often worked early shifts at the Harris Teeter on North Harrison Street, and when she did, babysitters brought her kids to the stop. By the end of the school year, she couldn’t get anyone to help her consistently, so I took over for her sitters, swinging by her place to pick up her kids.
But not this year.
Just five days before the start of this school year, Ms. Shrader learned that her son would not be bussed to Patrick Henry Elementary. The notice came on the telephone answering machine and in the mail. It sent her looking for another second grade class to take her son, and the news sent her son, Matthew Marcenaro, into his bedroom to cry.
Think of it as the price of success.
For the past two school years, Barrett Elementary has made “adequate yearly progress” on Virginia’s Standards of Learning exams. This means that families who live in the Buckingham and Arlington Forest neighborhoods no longer can have free transportation to other county schools. The federal “Title 1” money that paid for that transportation is no longer available.
“He was pretty upset about it,” Ms. Shrader said, adding, “And Matthew was really looking forward to going back there.”
Her daughter Emilia Corea, a sixth-grader who started this year at Swanson Middle School, catches a bus at about a quarter after 7, but Patricia walks Matthew to Barrett for 8:20.
“With Emilia it’s not such a big deal…but with Matthew, I can’t go into work until after 9:00,” she said, adding that it’s been hard to make the schedule work.
“Rather than going in early mornings…I have to do a later work schedule and get home a little later which is not really good for the kids,” she said. “They have to go to the babysitter more often than not. You know, just things like that.”
The notice about the test scores and the good news about Barrett Elementary came so late because the state did not report test scores until late August, said Linda Erdos, director of school and community relations for Arlington Public Schools.
“We are completely captive on when the state returns the test scores to us,” Ms. Erdos said.
Schools officials also said that notices were sent out to Buckingham and Arlington Forest residents at the end of the 2004-2005 school year telling those parents that Barrett Elementary had made adequate yearly progress for one year and that a second year of that would mean special transportation would dry up. Ms. Shrader said she doesn’t remember having received it.
Ms. Erdos said the county had no plans to allow students who start at one school to continue with that school with county-paid transportation. The county provides special transportation to other schools when the federal government says the school is failing.
“We have to give parents the option” of going to another school, she said. The “Title 1” money to pay for that transportation is “over and above” Arlington Public School’s normal budget. To continue to offer transportation when the school has improved would undermine the good work of the school that’s making progress, she said.
Still, parents can send their children to other schools, but parents must pay for the transportation by walking or driving the student themselves.
“If I had a car…he’d probably continue with Patrick Henry,” Ms. Shrader said.
As well, the county pays for transportation to schools with special programs, such as Key Elementary where my daughter goes; at Key Elementary the students are immersed in Spanish classrooms for half the day.
Matthew’s school year is getting better, though.
“It’s been difficult getting to know the teacher and getting to know the kids,” Ms. Shrader said. “He’s doing better. He looks forward to going to school.”
Still, she said she’d have liked to have gotten the notice earlier.
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