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Letter to the Editor: APS Should Hire Outside Consultant for School Boundary Process

The following Letter to the Editor was written by Jennifer Myers, a parent of two children at McKinley who’s active in the McKinley PTA and serves as a SEPTA parent liaison.

Arlington Public Schools’ recent proposal to swap a number of elementary schools has gone no better than past boundary changes.

Parents, stymied by APS’s reliance on data that they’re later told should be considered “back of the envelope” work at best, and by APS’s refusal to release alternate proposals despite its requests for community engagement and feedback, are frustrated and angry. PTAs are expressing concerns about the quality of data and impacts on diversity.

Community meetings are breaking down into yelling, and neighbors are trying not to feel pitted against one another. A former Arlington School Board member has weighed in, questioning APS’s stated decision not to factor demographics into the school moves.

Given the size and scope of the current elementary school moves proposal, and given that APS staff have signaled that they expect to redraw boundaries every year for the foreseeable future, we need to improve this process for the health of our school system and our County.

APS should hire an outside consultant to improve what is a broken school boundary process.

As an example of how an outside consultant can help, I would point to a Nov. 2019 report released by Public Consulting Group (PCG). Hired by APS to evaluate the “effectiveness and efficacy of APS policies, procedures and practices” when it comes to special education, PCG spent the past school year surveying and speaking with parents and staff, analyzing data and documents, and benchmarking APS against local, state and national standards. They asked how well APS was doing in its evaluation practices, resource allocation, access and equity, use of high-quality staff to service needs, and parent and family engagement. From there, 54 action items to improve special education in APS were recommended.

We need the same for school planning.

We all want to make sure the process and data for school moves and boundary changes are optimized in a way that will produce successful schools. Bringing in an outside consultant would allow us to make sure that APS employees in the Planning & Evaluation office have the right staffing structure and resources to do their work — particularly at a time when there are unfilled staff positions in the Planning & Evaluation office — and that they have a clear framework for how to partner productively with parents and other community members during each boundary process. An outside consultant would be a smart investment in our system and County.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity, at our discretion.

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