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.
As ARLnow.com reported again last week, Arlington Public Schools (APS) is pursuing a highly controversial plan to swap the building currently providing the Spanish immersion program at Key Elementary with the building currently providing the science-focused program at Arlington Science Focus (ASFS) Elementary.
According to APS Spokesman Frank Bellavia:
- It remains unclear just how the process of swapping the buildings actually will work
- APS has yet to work up a cost estimate for the process
- Questions about the building swap will be addressed as part of the community engagement plan that will be developed and shared with the community in January 2019
The School Board must own or disown this proposed swap
The proposed decision to swap these two school buildings was publicized in these comments by APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy at an August 28 School Board meeting:
” ‘This decision is a wise decision because we’re a growing school division, we’re adding capacity, and we really have come to this point,’ Murphy told the Board….He added that he doesn’t see any need for the Board to formally sign off on the plan…but the Board will get to help APS decide when the move happens.”
Large segments of the community are, and should be, upset by this casual description of a decision of this magnitude. The community now has witnessed elected School Board members being told by the APS Superintendent that the School Board only will “get to help APS decide when the move happens.”
This shouldn’t work this way.
School Board members themselves were taken aback on August 28:
Board Chair Reid Goldstein pointed out, “That’s going to create problems if and when boundaries are drawn.”
“If the Arlington Science Focus building is smaller and the immersion program is bigger, we’re not going to be able to grow [the] immersion program,” said Vice Chair Tannia Talento.
This is an unacceptable process.
The School Board itself should decide IF the move should happen at all. The School Board’s decision should be based upon transparent long-term strategic planning for all of APS’s programming and facilities’ needs. The School Board owes the community an extensive discussion regarding how all these plans fit together:
- what is APS’s 15-year school facilities plan?
- what is Arlington County’s 15-year county facilities plan?
- what is APS’s 15-year instructional plan?
- where do the programs now offered at Key and ASFS fit into these 15-year plans?
- what other options besides the current proposed building swap were considered?
- why is the proposed building swap the best available option?
The School Board must engage the community on whether this proposed swap makes sense
According to Frank Bellavia, “questions about the building swap will be addressed as part of the community engagement plan that will be developed and shared with the community in January 2019.”
Yet again APS is proposing to engage the community on the wrong question. The right question is whether the swap makes sense in the first place. Only after that question is posed to, and thoroughly discussed with the community, should the discussion proceed to the mechanics of how any swap should occur.
In one of the most famous scenes in Alice in Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts, over Alice’s protests, proclaims: “Sentence First, Verdict Afterword.”
With this proposed school swap, APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy threatens to displace the Queen of Hearts.