(Updated at 2:50 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools staff have named seven elementary schools that could host countywide “option” programs in the coming years, as officials move ahead with their reevaluation of elementary school boundaries scheduled to wrap up this fall.
Yesterday (May 1), APS released an updated draft analysis of potential changes to county elementary schools, with the bulk of the document addressing which schools could someday offer option programs — meaning they are open to student applicants from all over the county. APS currently is eyeing seven possible locations, but aims to keep a total of five schools as option program sites.
Staff indicate that Campbell, Carlin Springs and Patrick Henry Elementary Schools are all likely to earn their recommendation to either become or remain option sites. Barcroft, Claremont and Nottingham Elementary Schools and the Arlington Traditional School are also cited as possibilities to fill the final two available slots, though APS doesn’t plan to offer final recommendations to the board until sometime this fall.
APS currently has five option schools at the elementary level: Arlington Traditional School and Campbell, Claremont, Drew and Key Elementary Schools. The rest are all “neighborhood schools,” meaning only students who live within set boundaries are eligible to attend.
With two new elementary schools set to open over the next three years, the School Board asked APS staff to work up two proposals for policymakers to consider. One would leave all the option and neighborhood school designations the same and adjust attendance boundaries; the other would change both the school designations and the boundaries.
Staff will offer the board a definitive set of recommendations about how the mix of option and neighborhood schools might change. The May 1 analysis explores a host of factors to guide those choices, such as how changing those designations would affect transportation options and the proximity of Spanish-language programs to Spanish-speaking students.
The School Board has already agreed to move the county’s “Montessori” program from Drew Model School to Patrick Henry Elementary School for the 2019-2020 school year, with Drew changing to a neighborhood school, so at least one option site is guaranteed to change. In the May 1 analysis, APS staff suggest that the board could keep the “Expeditionary Learning” program at Campbell Elementary School and establish a new Spanish immersion program at Carlin Springs.
That leaves two spots for option programs empty, and the analysis suggests that the school system could maintain Claremont or Arlington Traditional School as option sites, or convert Barcroft or Nottingham Elementary Schools.
Staff floated the possibility of running option programs at three schools in close proximity — Barcroft, Carlin Springs and Claremont — in order to achieve “greater transportation efficiency” when busing in students from around the county.
“The main concern with Barcroft is placing four option programs in South Arlington,” APS staff noted. “Currently two options programs, Key and [Arlington Traditional School] are located in North Arlington. If North Arlington families continue to access option programs, then it may stress capacity in South Arlington schools.”
Another factor for staff to consider will be public backlash against any attempt to tinker with a school’s designation; parents at Nottingham have started a petition resisting any change to the school’s status as a neighborhood school, over concerns that many students currently walk to Nottingham and an option designation would result in more busing instead.
Yet APS officials wrote in the May 1 analysis that setting up an option program at a Northwest Arlington school like Nottingham would provide a bit more geographic diversity to the school system’s option offerings. Staff also notes that some students currently walking to Nottingham are also eligible to walk to the nearby Tuckahoe and Discovery Elementary Schools instead, reducing the need for some buses.
Staff stressed in the analysis that “all schools remain on the table,” even if they are honing in on the seven aforementioned schools. They plan to further examine the attendance and traffic impacts of these possible changes in the coming weeks and months.
Anyone interested in commenting on these proposals can do so on the APS website. School staff will offer final recommendations to the board later this fall ahead of a slated November vote on the matter.