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.
In a column last month, I recommended that everyone ought to keep an open mind regarding the instructional focus of an APS high school at the Career Center.
The premise of that column was that fiscal and physical constraints might combine to make it infeasible to locate a high school at the Career Center with all the onsite amenities that Wakefield, W-L and Yorktown have.
Developments over the past month make it clear what the costs and tradeoffs would be to replicate at the Career Center site all the onsite amenities available at the other three existing comprehensive high schools. In a May 7 APS CIP Work Session, it was shown that a “Full Build Out” for a high school at the Career Center site would cost $247.60 million in 2019 dollars.
This high cost, more than double what APS has ever spent on a school, would also mean that there would be far too little room available in our bonding capacity for other APS seat needs and other County priorities. A full Career Center build out could result in over 1,000 fewer seats for elementary and middle schools. Those students would need to be accommodated indefinitely in relocatable classrooms.
Montgomery County offers an attractive alternative
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) offers high school choice within the Northeast and Downcounty Consortia, two clusters of roughly five high schools each, that offer unique programs. Each cluster also has provided students with specialized and attractive programs typically not found in traditional neighborhood high schools.
The lottery system used for admissions helps the district ensure that school enrollment among the high schools remains balanced, and that no school is over or undersubscribed. Rising ninth grade students rank the high schools in the consortia based on interest, and are guaranteed a spot at the school geographically closest to their place of residence only if they choose that school.
Academy and application-only programs include communication arts, the science, math and computer science magnet, International Baccalaureate and visual and performing arts, to name a few.
One high school campus in the Consortia houses both a comprehensive high school with various specialized programs (Wheaton) and a career/technology school (Edison). Wheaton partners with academic institutions like the University of Maryland, utilizes the latest design software technology and includes professional internships.
Edison, not unlike the current instructional focus at our Career Center, offers career and technology education programs and is open to upperclassmen at all MCPS schools.
For Arlington’s Career Center site, the current instructional focus could be enhanced to create a STEAM high school that fully integrates with the Career Center. As other districts have demonstrated, the demand for such a technologically enhanced career and college prep program would quickly grow.
Arlington, with its denser housing patterns, smaller geography, better public transportation and the participation of all its high schools, is in a better position to implement this or a similar model at a lower transportation cost than Montgomery County.
As in Montgomery, Arlington should consider participation in the Free and Reduced Meals (FARM) program as one of many factors that guide the student assignment process. This will enable Arlington to provide greater possibilities for socio-economic integration at the high school level than exist today.
Arlington should adopt the Montgomery County model.