This is in response to the letter written by William C. Pfister, Jr., president of the Douglas MacArthur Elementary School PTA in the March 28 Gazette Packet. His letter expresses support for the use of the old Patrick Henry school as swing space as the Douglas MacArthur school undergoes reconstruction. This is also in response to communications I have received from ACPS regarding the proposed swing space. Even though I live in the Patrick Henry neighborhood, as a retiree without children I really don’t have a major stake in this. But I’d like to recommend a slight change of perspective that might promote community rather than divide community as unfortunately I see happening all too frequently in Alexandria.
First, in his initial letter to the Patrick Henry community, Superintendent Hutchings emphasized that compromises are necessary. Compromise is the process of give and take. I have not heard of one thing that Patrick Henry "takes" for what it is expected to “give.” Among those “gifts” is the loss of access to playing fields for several more years beyond what it has already lost for construction. Similarly, the neighborhood is expected to “give” more years of disruption and congestion but “takes” nothing. I’m not seeing where there is “compromise” in this. (The cost savings are not a take away for Patrick Henry; all of Alexandria will “take” those savings but only the Patrick Henry community will “give” to gain them.)
Then, in his letter to the Gazette Packet, Mr. Pfister recounts the reasonable arguments in support of the swing space proposal. But he writes off the concerns of its opponents as only short-term impacts and calls all to serve the greater good. Sounds noble, doesn’t it? This sounds so similar to the treatment of the Woods neighborhood impacted by the decision to install permanent lighting at T.C.Williams’ stadium; they too were told they must “give” for the greater good.
I don’t think these approaches are helpful when we are asking a community to make a “sacrifice” in service to the greater good. Rather than couch it as “compromise” or discounting its “impact,” call what you want to impose upon Patrick Henry what it is: a “sacrifice.” Why not acknowledge it? Why not show appreciation for it? What about a tangible show of appreciation? Mr. Pfister says the entire MacArthur PTA stands behind this solution; what then are they willing to do for the Patrick Henry school community in appreciation for the sacrifice they will be making? What does ACPS intend to do to show appreciation for the sacrifice they want Patrick Henry to make? I don’t know what form that might take but I suggest that become part of the discussion.
Doesn’t the “greater good” also entail teaching our children through our own words and actions to be good citizens and good neighbors? That’s not where I currently see this going, The “greater good” is being used once again to discount the legitimate interests of a part of Alexandria and to justify imposing a sacrifice upon it. Acknowledgement and appreciation of that sacrifice can help build ties within our city not create divisions.
I hope there is willingness to reconsider how we will proceed through this transition and to show greater respect and appreciation for the Patrick Henry school community and neighborhood. Maybe this can be a model for future ACPS and city initiatives.