To the editor:
As a parent with three children and as a planner, I think Alexandria can and should do much better for our students.
The school board has unfortunately voted for a continued massive, centralized high school that goes against the environmental, transportation, community, health, student and pedestrian friendly idea of having smaller high schools in different walkable neighborhoods. Such schools increase connections between neighborhoods where people live and the high schools.
Instead, Alexandria’s high schools should be located in different parts of the city that are transit-, pedestrian- and bike-oriented, mixed use and mixed income.
“With the two high school model, I see a fragmented future,” School Board Member Chris Suarez said at the meeting at which the one high school vote was passed. Just like elementary schools, smaller high schools in different neighborhoods create better community and transportation ties, which are more environmentally, community and pedestrian friendly than many students going to a central location.
The location of the current T.C. Williams High School is not in a walkable and transit oriented, mixed use and mixed income area thus creating community and environmentally unfriendly car and bus trips that use large amounts of energy and produce large amounts of pollution. It is environmentally and community unfriendly planning, not to mention the socially non-negotiable, overwhelming school created by putting that many students in one place. I believe Alexandria gets federal and state money for walkable and bikeable schools, and this vote betrays that commitment to the environment, community and student welfare.
Part of this school crisis is because Alexandria’s city councils have not held developers accountable for the students they generate through housing. Some housing units with one- and two-bedroom units are claiming zero kids for school-building purposes, but city council does not track or follow up on this. They don’t make the developers pay their share for the burdens put on the community: schools, transportation, including bike paths and transit, play-grounds, land for schools and mixed-income affordable housing.
Further, the city continues to produce segregated-income affordable housing which per studies – including Harvard and the University of Virginia “moved to opportunity” research – shows kids fare worse in health, future income, education and community than integrated-income affordable housing.
Suarez expressed concern that the two high school model could bring back Alexandria’s segregated past – and exacerbate America’s segregated present. He should look at the segregated-income affordable housing right under his nose first. Don’t blame the schools for this.
-J. Chris Hubbard AIA, CNU-A, LEED-AP, CAM, Alexandria