The School Board is warning of more tough budget times ahead for the county’s school system.
In a memo to Superintendent Patrick Murphy to be discussed at the group’s meeting tonight (Thursday), the Board urges Murphy to be wary of the fact that the county’s planned revenue transfer to Arlington Public Schools “is not sufficient to meet our critical needs” as “cost pressures” for the system only continue to increase.
The school system only narrowly avoided class-size increases as it set its last budget, thanks to the County Board finding some additional money to keep classes at their current levels. But as APS gears up to start the budget process for fiscal year 2020, the Board expects that, as the school system opens five new schools and programs over the next two years, the change will “increase baseline operating costs significantly.”
“We anticipate that, as budget deliberations continue, additional funding for APS’s critical needs will be a top funding priority,” members wrote.
As Murphy works up his new budget, the Board is also directing him to “if possible” avoid additional class size increases, and find funding for other cuts the school system was prepared to make if the county hadn’t come through with the additional revenue last year.
“No new, major initiatives should be presented,” the Board wrote.
The Board expects that its decision this year to cut back on devices offered to second graders will save some money, and it’s also directing Murphy to “explore longer-term strategies for efficiencies, such as collaboration with the county on swimming pools reimbursement and Transportation Demand Management funding.”
County Board members have frequently spoken about their commitment to finding more money for schools, yet the county’s own tight budget picture, brought about by complications stemming from the Metro funding deal and persistently high office vacancy rates, will likely complicate the debate. County Manager Mark Schwartz has repeatedly warned that more tax hikes will likely be on the table in 2020 and beyond.
According to Arlington Public School (APS) officials, construction is on track for the new secondary school at the Wilson School site in Rosslyn (1601 Wilson Blvd).
In August, much of the steel and concrete work on the site was completed. Throughout September, construction will be occurring on the following, according to APS documents:
- Façade wall framing will begin.
- Curtainwall installation will begin.
- Door Frames and Interior Framing will begin.
- MEP rough-in (ductwork, electrical, plumbing) will continue.
Meanwhile, Washington Gas will continue replacement of a gas main on Wilson Blvd to allow for the construction of a new electrical vault under the road.
The $100 million building is set to open in fall 2019, and will someday be home to both the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs.
Photos via APS
The Arlington Career Center could someday be home to more students than any of the county’s three comprehensive high schools, but a group studying the site is urging school leaders to keep the campus open to all students countywide for the foreseeable future.
Within the next decade, Arlington Public Schools plans to add 800 new high school seats at the site to meet the demands of an ever-growing student population — but there are still endless details to be worked out around how to accomplish that task, and what the center’s long-term future might hold. After nearly a year of deliberations, a working group convened by the School Board is attempting to provide some answers with a final report released last week.
Though the 35-member group can only offer recommendations to the Board, the report repeatedly reiterates the value of the center accepting students from across the county as an “option school,” at least until APS can build enough amenities on the site to match Arlington’s other three high schools.
“All Arlington students, regardless of the type of school they attend, deserve an educational experience that includes quality indoor and outdoor spaces, including access to (un-programmed) green space,” the group wrote.
The Board has yet to make any decision on the very thorny question of whether the Career Center will be open to students countywide or only draw in nearby students from set attendance boundaries. That’s prompted some fierce advocacy from local parents over the past few months, who argue that making the center a “neighborhood school” without a full complement of facilities and athletic fields would be unfair to South Arlington students.
As part of updating its 10-year construction plan in June, the Board did commit to constructing a multi-use gym, a “black box” theater, a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage at the site, all in time for 800 new students arrive in 2025. Yet the “lack of an on-site pool in the near-term” remained a “sticking point” for some members, the group said. The report recommends that APS build a pool on the site at some point, a feature backed by some county officials, but budget constraints make such an amenity unlikely, for now.
Most of all, however, the group expressed “frustration” about a lack of clarity on the option versus neighborhood question, noting that “the distinction in seats would have a direct impact on whether the Career Center site could become a de facto fourth neighborhood high school.”
Whatever the center’s ultimate status, the group repeatedly stressed that school leaders should see the site’s long-term future as a “high school campus.” While APS doesn’t yet know how many students it will need to educate at the center, the group expects anywhere from 2,200 to 2,800 could someday attend school there — for context, just over 2,200 students were enrolled at the county’s largest high school, Washington-Lee, as of this June.
Accordingly, the group recommended that the school system design any changes to the center in a way that “supports potential growth and maintains maximum adaptability.”
APS isn’t sure whether it will someday demolish the current structure in its entirety or simply renovate it to accommodate the new students, but the group wrote that staff repeatedly assured them that “utilizing the core structure of the Career Center is the most environmentally friendly approach and one which can lower construction costs by up to 20 percent through limiting the amount of demolition required.”
However, the group does suggest that APS knock down some structures currently used for career and technical education classes, in order to free up space for a new, six-to-seven story “multi-level education space” near 9th Street S. and S. Walter Reed Drive. Those classes would then be moved to a new structure built along S. Highland Street.
The report also recommends adding a third floor “on top of the existing Career Center building for classrooms,” which could then connect to the new S. Highland Street structure.
Looking a bit further into the future, the group also urged APS to someday relocate the Columbia Pike Branch Library from its current home within the Career Center.
To do so, it suggests that the county acquire some properties owned by the Ethiopian Community Development Council just behind the center, running along S. Highland Street from its intersection with 9th Street S. to where it meets the pike. The group wrote that the nonprofit has already “signaled an interest in selling to the county,” and the land could help Arlington to build an expanded library on the site that “fronts Columbia Pike” to increase its visibility.
Ultimately, the group envisions that such a change would be transformative for the area, and it reasons that Arlington Economic Development officials could take the lead in pulling in developers, local universities and even art groups to chart a new future for the property. And it helps that all of those entities “could provide financial support necessary to acquire and develop” the properties, which surely won’t come cheap.
Photos via Arlington Public Schools
Tim Cotman received two big pieces of news on Wednesday (Sept. 5).
One was the surprise announcement by Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni that Cotman was chosen as “Teacher of the Year” for the state’s Region 4, covering all of Northern Virginia.
The other was that his daughter was being born.
Cotman is an English teacher at Jefferson Middle School and the school’s minority achievement coordinator, a specialist in working with minority students to close the achievement gap in public schools. Cotman has been working in APS for 22 years, both with students and behind the scenes developing training for staff.
Cotman’s daughter was born at 5:30 a.m. and so was unable to attend the assembly held at the school, but FaceTime’d in to receive congratulations from Qarni and the students and staff of Jefferson Middle School.
Yesterday was an announcement for region 4 Teacher of the Year. We had to SKYPE because his wife just had a baby girl. Yesterday was a special day for Tim and his wife, and winning Teacher of the Year for NoVA region gave them another reason to celebrate. pic.twitter.com/jnja74ZfHz
— Atif Qarni (@VASecofEdu) September 7, 2018
In April, Cotman was chosen as Arlington’s Teacher of the Year. The award particularly noted the effort he put not only into teaching, but into coaching, facilitating, mentoring and parent outreach.
Cotman is one of eight teachers from regions across Virginia under review next week to be selected for Virginia’s Teacher of the Year award. An announcement is expected to come Sept. 14. The winning teacher will then be put forward by Virginia for the National Teacher of the Year program.
Should Cotman win statewide, he’d follow in the footsteps of Wakefield High School’s Michelle Cottrell-Williams, who won in 2017.
Photo Courtesy Arlington Public Schools
Arlington’s School Board has signed off on members of a committee to guide the renaming of Washington-Lee High School, tasking 23 people to suggest new names for the school over the next three months.
The Board quickly agreed to form the new committee at its meeting last night (Thursday), and the group will soon begin meeting to offer up options ahead of a planned December vote on a new name for the school. The Board decided in June to strip Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s name from the building as part of a broad review of the school system’s naming policies, though a trio of Washington-Lee students are challenging that move in court.
The new committee will be led by a professional facilitator and the school system’s assistant superintendent for school and community relations, Linda Erdos — neither will have a voting role on the committee. The remaining members, selected following an open application process, include the following:
- John Holt — Current Student (Grade 12)
- Chloe Slater — Current Student (Grade 11)
- Ana Regina Santos-Caballero — Current Student (Grade 10)
- Thornton Thomas — Current Student (Grade 9)
- Patrice Kelly — Current Parent
- Allison Chen — Current Parent
- Duane Butcher — Current IB Transfer Parent
- Hiromi Isobe — WLHS Staff
- Jackie Stallworth — WLHS Staff
- Dave Peters — WLHS Staff
- William Moser — WL Alumni Representative (Class of 1952 – 1970)
- Julia Crull — WL Alumni Representative (Class of 1971 – 1985)
- Peter Strack — WL Alumni Representative (Class of 1986 – 2005)
- Dana Raphael — WL Alumni Representative (Class of 2006 – 2018)
- James Rosen — Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association
- Allan Gadjadhar — Cherrydale Civic Association
- Nikki Roy — Lyon Park Civic Association
- George Keating — Waverly Hills Civic Association
- Melissa Perry — Arlington Civic Coalition for Minority Affairs
- George Wysor — Arlington Historical Society
- Gregg Robertson — WLHS Principal
Erdos told the Board during an Aug. 28 work session that applicants looking to serve as student or parent representatives to the committee were selected via “random, double-blind lotteries” conducted by the leaders of the school’s student government association.
She added that the committee will now meet once every two weeks, leading up to the planned December vote on the matter.
However, Board Chair Reid Goldstein questioned Erdos on whether there’s a true “drop-dead date” for the renaming process to wrap up. He’s frequently questioned the timing of the school’s renaming, arguing in the work session that “whether the committee is done in this month or that month, it doesn’t impact anything.”
Erdos did stress, though, that the school system is hoping to have the new name in place in time for the 2019-2020 school year and the school will need to know the new name soon to start purchasing new athletic uniforms.
“They need to have that in place so they can begin planning,” Erdos said.
While Washington-Lee is the only school in the county being renamed, the Board also appointed naming committees for several new schools Thursday: the building on the former Wilson school site in Rosslyn that will one day house the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs, the new middle school on the Stratford site and the school system’s new Montessori program.
Photo via Google Maps
(Updated at 1 p.m.) The Arlington Science Focus School and Key Immersion School will swap buildings sometime in the next few years — school officials just need to hammer out the details on when.
After the School Board decided last year to convert Key into a countywide option school, meaning it would no longer have set neighborhood attendance boundaries, the school system was faced with an unusual dilemma.
Parents in the area could once choose between Key and Arlington Science Focus, should they not want to send their students to the school’s Spanish immersion program. But after making the change, neighborhoods throughout Northeast Arlington were directed into only ASFS by default. That meant that many students newly mandated to attend ASFS actually lived closer to the Key Immersion School at 2300 Key Blvd, as ASFS now sat outside its own attendance boundaries.
With a new round of boundary changes approaching to prepare for the opening of Alice West Fleet Elementary School next year, Arlington Public School planners are taking another look at ASFS’ status to ease some of that confusion. Instead of adjusting its attendances lines this year, however, Superintendent Patrick Murphy is planning a building swap between Key and ASFS, to take place in either 2020 or 2021.
“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 at an Aug. 28 meeting.
He added that he doesn’t see any need for the Board to formally sign off on the plan, which would move the Key program to the ASFS building at 1501 N. Lincoln Street and vice versa, but the Board will get to help APS decide when the move happens.
That prompted a bit of unease among Board members. While no one openly opposed Murphy’s plan, some members did express some reservations about how exactly the process might work.
“I know some people will be excited about the prospect, because for some it means they can walk to school more easily,” said Board member Monique O’Grady. “For others, the walkability is tougher… and when there’s uncertainty about the future, it creates a lot of angst and people will feel unsettled.”
For instance, Board Chair Reid Goldstein pointed out that both schools are currently over capacity — as of 2017, ASFS had 128 more students enrolled than it was designed to hold, while Key is 86 students over its designed capacity. ASFS and Key required six and four trailers last year, respectively, and the division is projecting that both buildings will be even more overcrowded this year.
“It’s a tough nut to crack,” Goldstein said. “That’s going to create problems if and when boundaries are drawn.”
Additionally, Key’s building is designed to hold about 100 more students than ASFS, and 58 more students attended Key than ASFS last year, another area of concern for Board members.
“If the Arlington Science Focus building is smaller and the immersion program is bigger, we’re not going to be able to grow immersion program,” said Vice Chair Tannia Talento. “So we need to think about: what’re our goals for the long term with the immersion program?”
But APS officials argue that the current ASFS site has room for additional trailers to accommodate the larger number of students coming over from Key. The school system also hopes to control enrollment there moving forward, because the immersion program is based on student applications, rather than neighborhood populations.
Lisa Stengle, APS director of planning and evaluation, added that the new Reed school will add additional capacity when it opens in Westover in 2021 and ease some of the strain. She also noted that the school system’s initial plans suggest that “students and staff at both schools could largely remain intact,” though that will depend on when APS executes the swap.
If the school system switches the buildings in time for fall 2020, Stengle points out that ASFS would see its boundaries adjusted immediately afterward, as staffers draw attendance lines to cope with the opening of the Reed school. But if APS waits until 2021, she said officials “might not be able to move everybody together,” scrambling each school’s enrollment a bit more.
By January, the school system plans to publish a “community engagement timeline” to collect feedback on when, exactly, to make the swap.
In the meantime, the Board is set to approve new boundaries for eight other elementary schools later this winter.
(Updated at 10 a.m.) Arlington Public Schools is indefinitely suspending its incentive program to push employees out of their cars, after the effort proved to be a bit too successful — and expensive.
The school system’s Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Commuter Program provides stipends to employees for turning to public transit, walking, bicycling, carpooling and other options to limit the number of cars going to and from schools.
It was budgeted for $222,600 last year, but School Board spokeswoman Linda Erdos said actual expenses were over $389,000. While the difference was covered in last year’s budget, Erdos said the budget for the program remained the same for FY 2019 without the same flexibility.
“No one wanted to make any changes, but we also had to find a way to reduce the growing deficit,” said Erdos in an email. “Carpoolers and transit users also receive stipends, and staff believed that maintaining those programs was important because it immediately reduces an employee’s direct costs for commuting (fares, toll fees and fuel) and keeps the number of cars in school parking lots lower.”
Erdos said the school system looked at reducing the stipend for walkers and bicyclists, but were still left with a $50,000 deficit.
At last Thursday’s School Board meeting (Aug. 30), Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Operations John Chadwick stated that part of the reason the bicyclists’ and pedestrians’ incentives were targeted was because the data showed they’d be more likely to continue using those methods to get to school.
“Looking at numbers and usage, those members of staff who used to bike and walk would be most likely to continue using walking and biking to school,” said Chadwick. “If we applied the benefit to users of the carpool, we would likely get more people returning to single use cars and have more cars around our schools, more congestion, which causes safety concerns and issues of air quality. Faced with a difficult decision, we determined it would be most useful to suspend bike [and] walk benefits.”
Teachers at the Aug. 30 meeting said they dismayed by the decision.
“Two years ago, the incentive program helped me change my habits,” said Aaron Schuetz, a physics teacher at Yorktown High School. “Now, biking to work is my primary mode of transportation… [it was] disappointing to get email that it was cancelled.”
The suspension of the motor-free benefits was effective Sept. 1, which some teachers noted was an abrupt change.
“I was surprised to see benefits eliminated with three days notice,” said Jeffrey Bunting, an english teacher at Yorktown High School. “I found the process maybe a little cynical how it was eliminated… I fully agree there are probably improvements that can be done, but I encourage the Board and Mr. Chadwick not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Erdos said the Office of Multimodal Transportation Planning in the Department of Facilities & Operations will continue to work on reorganizing the program and will release more information later this year about the changes.
Photo via Arlington Public Schools
Pass rates for standardized tests held steady or dipped slightly among Arlington students last year, though the county still boasts success rates well above state averages across all subjects.
According to test results released yesterday (Wednesday), county students exceeded state pass rates on 25 of the 29 subjects included on the Standards of Learning tests for the 2017-18 school year. Arlington Public Schools expects the results will mean all of its schools earn state accreditation for the fourth straight year.
In all, county students recorded slight dips in pass rates in four of the five broad subject areas covering the SOL tests. Reading pass rates dipped from 87 percent a year ago to 84 percent; history and social sciences declined from 88 percent to 86 percent; math went from 86 percent to 83 percent; and science moved from 86 percent to 84 percent. Writing pass rates held steady at 86 percent.
APS recorded steeper declines among English learners and economically disadvantaged students, though most rates also held steady. The reading pass rate for low-income students dipped from 70 percent to 63 percent, for instance, while it fell from 69 percent to 61 percent for English learners.
The year came with some notable successes for APS students as well. A full 100 percent of county eighth graders passed their history test, matching a feat the county last managed in the 2015-16 school year.
“These results reflect the continued dedication of our teachers and staff who focus on ensuring that the individual needs of all students and families are being met,” Superintendent Patrick Murphy wrote in a statement. “I recognize that partnerships with families and community organizations will further strengthen our efforts to ensure success for all students; a core focus of our 2018-24 Strategic Plan.”
Statewide, students also recorded slightly lower pass rates than they did a year ago. Scores in all five subject matter areas dipped from last year, though state officials note that pass rates have increased overall since the state introduced more difficult tests five years ago.
The school system opened up applications last night (Thursday) for anyone looking to serve on the committee charged with finding a new name for the high school. The School Board voted two months ago to effectively strip Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s name from the building, after calls for a change intensified in the wake of last summer’s violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
The Board will ultimately have the final say on a new name, with a vote planned for sometime in December, but the committee will be tasked with developing recommendations on a new moniker. In addition to Principal Gregg Robertson, APS wants the committee to include:
- Three parent/family representatives
- Three teacher/staff representative
- One student for each grade level
- One representative from each of the four civic associations closest to the school
- Four alumni, each representing a different decade for the school’s graduating classes, and who are current residents of Arlington County
- One representative from the Arlington Historical Society who is not an alumni or parent of a current student
- A staff liaison and facilitator (both non-voting)
APS noted in the announcement of the new committee that “all applications will be considered and applicants will be selected to provide a balance of diverse members on the committee.”
But even the most well-constructed renaming committee is unlikely to satisfy opponents of the change. Some school alumni have fiercely opposed the renaming proposal ever since it was first introduced, culminating in a lawsuit filed in Arlington County Circuit Court on July 9 asking a judge to reverse the Board’s decision.
The students argue in the suit that the Board “violated its own procedures” during the June 7 meeting when it voted on the change — the Board first voted to change its naming policies for all schools, then immediately proceeded to a vote on the W-L renaming.
The suit singles out then-Chair Barbara Kanninen as the Board member who “led the process of changing the name” of the school, and for tinkering with the agenda to allow for the immediate vote, a move they argue constitutes a “denial of the procedural opportunity to participate in the promised, and required, community involvement.”
The students also claim that the name change will damage their future prospects for college admission or future employment, as “Washington-Lee has an excellent reputation for academic quality, but… some will not recognize the new name.”
Linda Erdos, an APS spokeswoman, declined to comment on the suit, other than to say that the Board and school system believe the renaming decision was “appropriate.”
“Arlington Public Schools will respond in greater detail in the future and in accordance with the court processes,” Erdos told ARLnow.
The Board is hoping to have a new name ready for the school in time for the opening of the 2019-2020 school year next September.
Arlington has the top public school system in the state and ranks within the top 100 in the entire country, according to a new study.
The education research firm Niche awarded Arlington Public Schools an “A+” in its new ranking of school systems released today (Thursday), and named the county the 86th best public school system in the country.
Niche ranks schools based not only data like test scores, but also takes parent, teacher and student reviews into consideration in calculating its grades. The firm gave APS “A+” marks in all of its categories but one, from “academics” to “health and safety.” The lone category where Arlington merely received an “A” was “diversity.”
The school system also ranked tops in the state for the firm’s “best places to teach” ranking, owing to the county’s 12:1 student to teacher ratio and its average staffer salary of just over $89,000.
Loudoun County schools placed second overall in Niche’s rankings, followed by Albemarle County, just outside Charlottesville in third. Falls Church City and Fairfax County rounded out the top five.
Arlington’s high schools also did well in Niche’s ranking of the top public schools in the D.C. region. Washington-Lee High School came in at 13th overall, Yorktown at 21st and Wakefield at 44th.
Planning work to guide the transformation of the old Arlington Education Center into space for hundreds of high schoolers now seems set to kick off this fall.
The School Board will get its first look tomorrow night (Thursday) at a proposed “building-level planning committee” for the project, a group of parents, school staffers and civic association members who will help chart out designs for the effort over the next few months.
Arlington Public Schools is set to add at least 600 high school seats at the space, located at 1426 N. Quincy Street, as part of a plan sketched out by the Board last fall to ramp up the capacity of nearby Washington-Lee High School in the coming years. The Education Center was once the school system’s headquarters, but APS staff wrapped up a full move to new office space in Penrose earlier this year.
The school system expects to fully renovate the site, with a projected price tag of about $37 million, which is set to be drawn from a combination of school reserves and a future school bond.
The exact design of the building, however, is still up in the air and will largely be determined by the BLPC and the county’s Public Facilities Review Committee.
The Board will have the final say on the make-up of the BLPC, which is set to include 28 members in all. Board member Nancy Van Doren will serve as the Board’s liaison to the committee.
The planning process for the Education Center is set to wrap up in time for a Board vote on a school design this winter, with approval from the County Board expected sometime in spring 2019. If all goes as planned, construction will start in the summer of 2020 and the building will be ready for students in time for the 2021-2022 school year.
The Board is set to review the BLPC’s membership Thursday, then take a final vote on the matter on Aug. 30.
Arlington’s School Board is laying out more details as it prepares to redraw elementary school boundary lines this fall, identifying 11 schools set to see boundary changes ahead of the 2019 school year.
With the new Alice West Fleet Elementary School set to open in Arlington Heights next year, Arlington Public Schools needs to tweak boundaries for a variety of schools as ripple effects of the change spread throughout the county. The Board’s already been busy working with staff to sort out which schools should be “option” programs, accessible to students around the county, and plans to spend the next few months sorting out remaining boundary details leading up to a final vote this December.
While school leaders have discussed a variety of programs over the course of the year, today (Friday) Arlington Public Schools released the final list of elementary schools set to have their boundaries changed as part of this process. Those schools are:
- Arlington Science Focus (ASFS)
- Henry (Fleet)
- Long Branch
Notably, that list does not include Carlin Springs or Nottingham Elementary Schools, even though APS staff previously suggested that the schools would be good candidates to be converted to option schools. However, APS says the schools’ boundaries will be reviewed as part of a fall 2020 boundary process, which will involve 14 schools in all.
Barcroft, however, is on the list after being recommended for a conversion to an option school.
The question of which schools will become, or remain, countywide option programs is sure to be one of the most contentious issues the Board wrestles with during the boundary process.
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,” which only accept nearby students who live within set boundaries.
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.
County staff have yet to offer any final recommendations on option schools, but in a preliminary analysis in May, they told the Board that Campbell, Carlin Springs and Henry Elementary Schools were all likely to earn their recommendation to either become or remain option sites.
Barcroft, Claremont and Nottingham Elementary Schools and the Arlington Traditional School were also cited as possibilities to fill the final two available slots for option schools, leaving Barcroft as the only school recommended for conversion on the list for the 2018 process.
But staff don’t plan to offer any final recommendations until sometime this fall, and will only do so after holding a series of public meetings on the process.
Staff will hold an open office hours session on the issue from 7-8:30 p.m. on Aug. 7 and the first community meeting on the topic on Sept. 26, both at Kenmore Middle School (200 S. Carlin Springs Rd.).
The Board plans to take a final vote on boundaries Dec. 6.
Officials also released the full list of schools set to be impacted by the 2020 boundary process, precipitated in part by the opening of the new building on the Reed school site in 2021:
- Carlin Springs
- Long Branch
“A school may be involved in both boundary processes, but a specific planning unit will only be impacted once to minimize the number of times that individual students who have continued to reside in a particular attendance area are impacted by the boundary change,” APS wrote in a release.
Plans for a new elementary school on the Reed School property in Westover are coming into focus.
The School Board got its first look at new design renderings for the building Tuesday (July 17), which is set to open in time for the 2021 school year and serve at least 725 students in all.
The $55 million project will involve the construction of a four-story structure alongside the existing Reed building, located at 1644 N. McKinley Road, and the renovation of the rest of the old building. Ultimately, the school will have 32 classrooms, 133 parking spaces and several new athletic fields and playgrounds for students.
Wyck Knox, a principal with the design firm VMDO Architects, told the Board that his team is also working to working to make classrooms in the building “adaptable.” Should school leaders ultimately want to open up more common space for group lessons, he says designers are “working really hard to keep columns and pipes out of the walls, so you can take those walls down” if need be.
Knox added that designers envision a fully accessible walkway stretching around the perimeter of the school, and he even plans to include space for an “outdoor classroom” alongside the building’s new fields and playgrounds.
But throughout all of the planning process, Knox stressed that the school’s designers have examined “cost control measures,” considering that the project’s price tag has been a subject of some controversy in the past, and the cost of all school construction in the county is a frequent sore spot for Arlington officials.
Cost estimates for the Reed project remain about $5.5 million higher than the $49.5 million in bond funding the school system secured for the effort. The county and Arlington Public Schools are planning to split the burden for that remaining amount, though designers are still hoping to bring the cost down to the original figure, as the School Board asked this spring.
Ben Burgin, the school system’s assistant director of design and construction, assured the Board that the remaining design work would involve the additional study of costs of things like emergency electrical systems, roofing or site amenities. He ultimately hopes to “deliver a new cost estimate by the fall.
The school system will ultimately need a use permit from the County Board before proceeding with construction, which they’re aiming to request in time for the Board’s Nov. 17 meeting.
But first, the School Board will need to sign off on the updated designs for the school, and will likely do so at its Aug. 2 meeting. The Board was broadly pleased with the newest sketches laid out, though Chair Reid Goldstein did reiterate his interest in seeing costs come down, considering the school system’s construction funding squeeze.
Audrey Clement, a frequent independent candidate for public office who is challenging Board member Barbara Kanninen this fall, wasn’t so optimistic.
“It will force 9- and 10-year-olds to march up three flights of stairs several times a day,” Clement told the Board. “While this scheme furthers APS’ commitment to a more-car diet, it will impose physical hardship on students and drive up costs.”
In related news, The Children’s School, a co-op daycare for the kids of APS employees displaced by the Reed school redevelopment, earned county approval Tuesday to build a new facility at the site of the old Alpine Restaurant on Lee Highway.
A new capital spending plan for Arlington’s burgeoning public school system calls for adding more than 4,200 seats through 2027.
The $631 million construction plan includes a new elementary school at the Reed School site and 1,650 new seats for high schoolers split between the Education Center site and the Arlington Career Center.
The Board has spent weeks working to strike a balance between the school system’s increasingly tight finances and its ever-rising enrollment figures, resulting in a new Capital Improvement Plan that left Board members optimistic, yet unsatisfied.
Debate over the plans at Career Center, in particular, dominated the Board’s discussions about the CIP. Parents living near the center, which is located just off Columbia Pike and will someday be home to another 1,050 high school students, raised frequent concerns that APS might not build the same amenities at the site as it has at its three comprehensive high schools.
“With all the pressures on the school system right now, some may say the plan is not perfect today,” said Board member Monique O’Grady. “But I believe it’s evolving in the right direction.”
The Board’s tight financial picture meant that it couldn’t quite meet all the parent requests, but members did work to speed up the construction of some features at the site by re-allocating some of the school system’s capital reserve money.
Under the version of the plan approved Thursday, the Career Center will now include a multi-use gym, a “black box” theater, a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage.
The field and parking garage will be constructed in 2o23 to make those features available to students as more high schoolers move to the site. APS will then simultaneously add an 800-seat expansion and the performing arts section in 2025.
That will address some of the concerns raised by local parents, including some who formed an advocacy group focused on the issue. But they remain wary of how the Board will ultimately decide which students attend the Career Center site high school — members have yet to decide if it will be a “neighborhood” school only for students who live nearby, or a countywide “option” school.
“No child should be zoned to this school described in this proposal,” said Christine Brittle, an organizer with Citizens for Arlington School Equality. “Arlington has never had a choice school of this size.”
Board members stress that such a decision is a long way off, and the county’s financial picture could someday improve and allow APS to add more amenities to the site. There’s broad hope among officials that tax revenues will rebound when it comes time for the next CIP update in 2020.
“When the inputs change, the plan will change,” said Vice Chair Reid Goldstein. “The CIP is a plan, not a promise.”
In the near term, the County Board still needs to sign off on the school system’s CIP as part of its own capital spending process.
County Manager Mark Schwartz has previously warned that the School Board was a bit too ambitious in its ask from the county, though at a work session Tuesday (June 19), he suggested the version of the CIP the Board passed “can work… with a few minor adjustments.”
The County Board is set to pass its CIP by July 14.
The penultimate day of class for Kenmore Middle School students ended early due to air conditioning problems.
Kenmore was dismissed early after the A/C went out, a school spokesman confirmed to ARLnow.com. A parent said the HVAC issue, which happened on the hottest day of the year so far, forced “parents, students, teachers, staff and superintendent Murphy [to] swelter through 8th grade promotion ceremony” this morning.
The heat did not appear to dampen the spirits of those participating in the ceremony, however.
This morning I had the honor of being the 8th Grade Promotion speaker. Congratulations Kenmore Cougars! Now, go and be great! Kenmore Forever❤️@KMSEurith @APSKenmore @SuptPKM @APSVirginia @APSTeachLearn @APS_SpecEduc pic.twitter.com/JtcYL9UhqE
— KMSLifeSkills (@KMSEurith) June 18, 2018
The school sent the following email to parents about the early dismissal.
As many of you experienced this morning during eighth grade promotion, our HVAC system is not working. We are currently working on fixing the system, but in the meantime, the temperature in the building has continued to rise. Given the extreme heat expected this afternoon, we have decided to cancel school for the remainder of the day.
Students will be dismissed from school at 11:45 AM. Transportation will be provided buses to students. Students will also have lunch prior to leaving for the day.
The check-in program will still be open.
Thank you for your patience with this issue.
Photo (top) via Arlington Public Schools