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Peter’s Take: Deferring an Instructional Focus for Ed Center Site

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

At the November 2 School Board meeting, Arlington Public Schools staff “pumped the brakes” on an instructional focus for the Ed Center site.

Staff recommended to defer until the summer of 2018 after APS develops its new Strategic Plan.

Discussion

APS expects 500-600 high school students to enroll at the Ed Center site by September 2022.

Approximately twenty different instructional focus options already have been discussed for this site. Those twenty were narrowed to 10, and then again to the top four.

The top four (Slide 11) are:

  • STEAM High School*
  • Creative and Performing Arts High School*
  • Early College*
  • Expansion of Washington-Lee (W-L) to include additional International Baccalaureate (IB) seats**

* Stand-alone, new county-wide program requiring self-selecting demand and common spaces in the facility. Expected to limit the number of available seats to 500.

** Such an expansion of W-L can leverage already existing common spaces, thereby providing 600 available seats.

The first two options will require much more extensive internal building conversion changes than the second two.

The viability of the first three options depends critically on the willingness of students voluntarily to enroll in a new APS specialized program. Because of the capacity crunch, the School Board should select an option that will fully utilize all available seats as soon as the building is open to relieve anticipated high school overcrowding elsewhere.

STEAM High School

STEAM is an educational approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics as access points for guiding student critical thinking (Slide 12).

Would this new program cannibalize Arlington Tech? Would the best site for a STEAM high school be at the Career Center?

Creative and Performing Arts High School

A Creative and Performing Arts High school specializes in teaching performing and visual arts, combined with academics, preparing students for a career in the arts or conservatory study as well as a pursuit of higher education (Slide 13).

How would implementing such a new program affect the performing and visual arts departments at the current comprehensive high schools?

Early College

Early College High School provides an opportunity for students to earn both a high school degree and a two-year associate’s degree (or up to two years of college credits) in four years (Slide 14).

Arlington Tech already offers students Early College Credit. Would there be sufficient demand to maintain full enrollment capacity at both programs?

Expansion of W-L to include additional IB seats

Increase the number of seats available for the International Baccalaureate full IB Diploma program (Slide 15). This program already is offered at W-L.

This is the only one of the four options that doesn’t rely 100 percent on students self-selecting a new specialized program. By leveraging common-area spaces in the main W-L building, the Ed Center space could be designed to accommodate 600 seats as opposed to only the 500 seats anticipated with the other three options.

Conclusion

The November 2 meeting concluded without persuasive answers to these questions:

  • Why the decision to wait until after the completion of the Strategic Plan wasn’t made in the summer of 2017
  • How much worthwhile building conversion planning can be done before the final instructional focus decision is made

The School Board should provide a more complete explanation why deferral is the best way to proceed.

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