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Progressive Voice: Schools Solutions for South Arlington

Joseph-Leitmann-Santa-Cruz

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or ARLnow.com.

This column is written by Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz.

My wife and I are proud to raise our family in and be part of a community that recognizes the importance of investing in our public education system. Arlingtonians have built a world-class education system and we need to celebrate that; however, not everyone throughout the County — especially our kids and families in South Arlington — has benefited equally.

South Arlington has been growing rapidly in the past few years. This rapid growth has been placing a burden on how effectively our elementary schools in South Arlington are able to address the needs of the current and projected school population.

Nine out of 10 elementary schools in South Arlington have significant projected seat deficits for the upcoming 2015-2016 school year. Two of those schools, Barcroft and Claremont, have reached overcapacity by 24% and 20%, respectively. Fast forward five years and the projected overcapacity figures increase to 35% and 23%. This is unacceptable. We can do better.

Our kids and families in South Arlington can and should have access to more and better programs, services and facilities.

Because Arlington cares, we seem to be moving in that direction.

On June 25, at the invitation and request from the Arlington School Board, I had the privilege of joining representatives from over 40 civic association, parent teacher associations, and other community organizations from South Arlington as we launched the first meeting of the South Arlington Working Group to Site a New Elementary School. I know, it’s quite a long name!

To achieve the School Board’s goal of opening a new, 725-seat neighborhood elementary school in South Arlington, preferably by the fall of 2019, the Working Group is charged with analyzing site options and providing input on related program moves with two key goals –addressing crowding and enhancing instructional opportunities — in South Arlington elementary schools.

Some might view this as redoing what the Thomas Jefferson Working Group already did. Hopefully, most will view our Working Group’s approach as focusing on having a broad, extensive, and transparent decision-making process.

There is a lot to learn from what worked and didn’t work from the TJ Working Group. Furthermore, our goal is a broader one of having all options “on the table” for community consideration.

The challenges are many but so are the opportunities to truly make available a world-class education system to every child in Arlington regardless of which neighborhood her or his family lives in.

From the very first meeting, the Working Group rolled up its sleeves and got to work. There is no issue too big or too small to be considered: site location, diversity matters, cost effectiveness, open/green space, traffic management, etc.

The focus and resources that the School Board is devoting to seeking solutions for school crowding and enhancing instructional opportunities is commendable, as is the spirit of cooperation and collaboration that the County Board and School Board have adopted this year to help ensure that we maintain a superior school system.

The Working Group will meet every two weeks. Our meetings are open to the public, so please join us and be part of the process. Furthermore, we invite and encourage the community to keep track of our Working Group’s progress by accessing our meeting minutes and discussed materials at http://www.apsva.us/moreseats.

This Working Group and other similar fora we have in our community are what helps make Arlington a special place where different voices can be heard. I look forward to being part of our collaborative approach to benefit all in the community.

Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz is the Director of External Relations for Capital Area Asset Builders (CAAB) and a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington-based non-profit organization Dream Project.

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