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School Board Signs Off On New South Arlington School Boundaries, Ending Messy Debate Over Maps

Eight South Arlington elementary schools will soon see changes to their attendance boundaries, now that the School Board has signed off on a final map and put an end to a contentious, messy debate over boundaries that roiled several school communities over the last few months.

The Board voted unanimously last night (Thursday) to approve a boundary map drawn up by school officials just a few days ago, a move that could send as many as 413 elementary students to new schools starting next year.

Arlington Public Schools officials designed the boundary process to meet a series of different concerns. Not only is the school system facing rising enrollment numbers across all of its schools, but officials needed to account for the opening of Alice West Fleet Elementary School next year. The school system is also gearing up to convert Drew Model School into a “neighborhood” school, drawing its attendees primarily from the communities surrounding the Nauck building, and move its Montessori program to the building currently serving as Patrick Henry Elementary.

Accordingly, the process involved drawing new boundaries for both Drew and Fleet, while shifting some students primarily from Oakridge and Long Branch to those schools, as well as Hoffman-Boston.

But APS leaders and Board members have come under fire from virtually all sides as they’ve managed this complex series of moves.

Many parents at Henry felt betrayed by proposals that would send roughly a fifth of the community to Drew instead of Fleet, even though they felt school officials had long promised to avoid such a change. Others at Drew fretted that the boundary changes wouldn’t do enough to even out demographics at each South Arlington school, while Abingdon parents were alarmed by a prior proposal to move some students in Fairlington to Drew instead.

Even still, Board members expressed confidence that the map they’ve approved will best serve the needs of the entire school system, despite the acrimony that marred the process.

“It’s a solution we need to have happen at this point because of our rising enrollment,” said Board Chair Reid Goldstein. “This boundary change is not perfect. No boundary change is perfect.”

Yet plenty of parents arrived at Thursday’s meeting to decry the entire process, with many lamenting that the Board has managed to break their trust that future efforts will be managed competently.

“You’re failing Drew and Fleet,” parent Susan Hampton told the Board. “I don’t know why you’d willfully increase economic segregation… I’ve lost my faith in the process.”

Notably, even some Board members expressed regret that they couldn’t do enough to better spread out students eligible for free and reduced price lunch (a key indicator of their family’s economic means) across the eight schools. While the new map will reduce FRL rates at some schools, Barcroft, Drew and Randolph will all still have at least 50 percent of their student bodies eligible for free and reduced lunch.

“I certainly didn’t meet all the goals we laid out for this,” Goldstein said.

But Board member Monique O’Grady argued that the new map still took major steps toward addressing racial inequality in the county, primarily with how it will transform Drew’s future. She noted that the Nauck community has long hoped for a “single-focus neighborhood school,” though students there have been constantly bused away from the area, dating back to the days of the Jim Crow era.

While some parents at Henry proposed transforming Drew into a countywide “option” program as one way to avoid more boundary changes elsewhere, O’Grady stressed that converting Drew into a pure neighborhood school is the best way to meet the community’s needs.

“Now Drew will follow in the footsteps of Oakridge and Abingdon… which now enjoy huge support from the families they serve,” O’Grady said. “I believe Drew will enjoy similar success.”

Other parents were similarly pleased that the Board’s map will keep the entirety of the Fairlington community together at Abingdon, even though it will leave the school a bit overcrowded for now. The Board chose to leave some schools a bit under-capacity — including Fleet and Drew — to allow for growth over the years, and avoid more boundary changes. Then, it hopes to address any remaining issues in the 2020 boundary drawing process.

“[This map] acknowledges that our neighborhoods continue to fill with elementary-aged children who want to take advantage of our excellent schools, and gives our county and our kids room to grow,” said Claire Rosenberger, an Abingdon parent.

But many remain nervous that the 2020 changes will proceed similarly turbulently, and warned parents to be vigilant moving forward.

“Successful civic engagement does not require that everyone agree with end result, but it does require transparency and accountability,” said Joe Everling, a Henry parent who has been fiercely critical of the Board’s process. “To my utter amazement, that has not happened here… there is no oversight for this board, except for the citizen voter.”

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After Uncovering Key Data Error, APS Unveils New, Last-Minute School Boundary Proposal

Arlington school officials recently realized they made a critical error in calculating school enrollment rates as they prepared a final proposal for the redrawing of attendance boundaries in South Arlington, prompting the last-minute introduction of a new map to correct that snafu.

The School Board is gearing up for a final vote this week on boundary changes at eight elementary schools, which will conclude a lengthy, contentious process stretching over the better part of the last six months. Superintendent Patrick Murphy put forward what was meant to be a final proposal last month, but officials then tinkered with that map to better distribute students across the schools involved and reduce overcrowding.

The school system released the result of some of that work last week, with figures initially showing that the new Alice West Fleet Elementary School would open next fall at close to 100 percent of its planned capacity. The school’s opening helped prompt the boundary adjustment process in the first place, and the school system’s methods for determining which communities will head to Fleet have become particularly controversial in recent weeks.

However, staffers soon discovered they’d erred in counting the number of students set to head to the school. The proposal actually would’ve opened Fleet at about 82 percent of its capacity, far below the standard officials hoped to hit.

Accordingly, the Board convened a new work session for last night (Tuesday) to examine a revised map accounting for that mistake. That new proposal would leave Fleet closer to 90 percent capacity instead, largely by redirecting some students currently attending Long Branch Elementary School to Fleet. The Board will ultimately have a chance to vote to approve this newest map, or any of the other six proposals the school system has worked up thus far.

“We’re trying to be as clear as possible here, and we realize there are ongoing confusions about the data and about the process,” said School Board Chair Reid Goldstein. “Unfortunately, there’s not much time for Board members and the community to absorb all this.”

Lisa Stengle, the APS director of planning and evaluation, told the Board that the change won’t pull all that many students away from Long Branch, a process officials hoped to avoid given the last-minute nature of the change.

Instead, the school system discovered that a variety of students attending the Ft. Myer Cody Child Development Center at Joint Base Myer (some of whom are the children of active duty service members) currently attend Long Branch or even Patrick Henry Elementary after receiving a special waiver to do so. Those students would be sent to Fleet instead for the next two years, Stengle said.

“We just need to give Long Branch a little breathing room,” Stengle said. The school will open at about 101 percent of its capacity under the latest plan, down from its current 113 percent.

School officials were optimistic that the change will work out for the best, filling more of Fleet but still allowing for a little bit of wiggle room at the school moving forward. But, given the acrimony that the boundary process has generated everywhere from the Drew Model School to Abingdon Elementary to Henry, Murphy was also quick to acknowledge that this latest error came at an unfortunate time.

“I think we continue to get better at this,” Murphy said. “And I look forward to continuing to refine things in the future.”

Goldstein was similarly conciliatory, particularly after parents at Henry accused him and other school officials of delivering assurances that their community would move as one to Fleet this year. Drew’s Montessori program is set to move to Henry, forcing current students out of the building, and the school system’s latest plans call for about 20 percent of those students to go to schools other than Fleet.

Parents even dug up emails from years ago featuring Goldstein providing such promises, and he expressed plenty of regret for having done so.

“I wish I could go back and keep my mouth shut at the time when it would’ve been a good idea to do so, but I can’t,” Goldstein said. “I apologize for creating an impression two and half years ago that the future would have ironclad certainty… I’ll be much more circumspect about future events as we go forward.”

Board members also addressed a proposal from some Henry parents to convert Drew into a hybrid neighborhood-option school drawing in students from across the county to its STEAM program. Its backers hoped such a change would help keep the Henry community together and build a strong base of support for Drew, but many in Nauck resisted such an effort.

Board member Monique O’Grady pointed out that part of the intent of moving the Montessori program out of Drew was to “give Drew its neighborhood school back,” and she felt the STEAM proposal ran counter to that purpose.

Goldstein praised the proposal, noting that “some parts of it are very intriguing and some parts are attractive.” But he also agreed with his colleagues that it would be too difficult to manage such a change on such short notice, particularly without consulting with the Drew community first.

“We just wouldn’t be able to do this in two weeks,” Goldstein said. “We don’t know yet how to define a future option program, how to identify where we need it and where the optimal location is.”

Even still, Goldstein and his fellow Board members praised the community for being engaged enough on the issue to come up with such a proposal in the first place. And, with the Board set to approve a final map tomorrow (Thursday), O’Grady urged concerned parents to channel that energy into a positive outlet going forward.

“The desire to stay at your current school doesn’t necessarily mean you’re against another school, just that you’re passionate about where you are,” O’Grady said. “We hope you’ll bring that passion to your new school.”

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Parents Feel Betrayed By APS Proposal to Send Henry ES Students to Schools Other Than Fleet

(Updated at 9:50 a.m.) Many parents of Patrick Henry Elementary School students have expected, for years, that their community would move as one to Alice West Fleet Elementary when it opens next fall.

They believe Arlington school officials have repeatedly promised them as much over the years, as deliberations have progressed over the best way to build a new South Arlington elementary school, then shift Drew Model School’s Montessori program to Henry’s old building. That’s why so many Henry parents are now furious that Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposal for a redrawing of school boundaries would send more than a fifth of current Henry students to schools other than Fleet.

School leaders, however, argue they’ve never made such promises about keeping the entirety of the Henry community together. The current boundary process is aimed at better spreading out students across eight different South Arlington elementary schools, and officials argue that it’s likely impossible they’ll be able to please every single parent as they look toward the greater good for the whole school system.

But some parents believe there’s a better way to achieve school officials’ stated goals for the boundary process, which simply involves a little bit of creative thinking. They’d much rather see the school system transform Drew into a science and technology-focused program that accepts transfers from across the county, as a way of simultaneously solving overcrowding issues in the area and avoiding a major breach of trust with the community.

“South Arlington has always been on the back end of receiving support for its schools,” Gary Belan, a parent of two current Henry students, told ARLnow. “But this whole process has not only been a disservice to the kids at Henry, but the folks at Drew. It does a minimal amount to set either up for success.”

After releasing a slightly revised version of Murphy’s map and holding a public hearing on the boundary proposals last night (Tuesday), the School Board won’t approve a final map until Dec. 6. Some early proposals would’ve moved all but a small section of the Henry community to Fleet, though some came at the cost of angering parents in Fairlington by moving students from Abingdon to Drew, and Board members stress that all of the draft maps remain on the table for debate.

Yet some parents who’ve spent years working on committees guiding Fleet’s opening have lost faith that the Board will listen to Henry’s concerns. For instance, Joe Everling, who worked on the Building Level Planning Committee for Fleet, believes the Board “wasted my time” and “co-opted me into this flawed process.”

“The ‘Arlington Way’ is often all about asking for feedback and then doing whatever you want anyway, and that’s what’s happening here,” said Everling, the parent of two kids currently at Henry and a third approaching school age. “They’re talking to us like we’re kindergarteners, telling us we didn’t hear what we heard… We’ve been working with them, not fighting with them. But then they reveal something that doesn’t even reflect what they’ve been promising.”

Yet Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia insists that moving Henry to Fleet was merely a “general plan” developed as the school system began planning for a new elementary school in 2013, and never an explicit promise.

“When APS began this boundary process, the School Board listed eight schools to be included in this process and none were to be exempt from possible boundary changes,” Bellavia said.

School Board Chair Reid Goldstein was even more emphatic during an Oct. 24 work session, arguing that parents were mistaken in assuming that Henry’s student body would move together to Fleet. He even conceded that some school officials, himself included, might have given parents the wrong impression about the matter, and should’ve expressed more uncertainty about the future.

Goldstein went on to explain that he’d requested a correction to an ARLnow article which reported on APS officials reassuring Henry parents that all students would move to Fleet, after several parents mentioned such assurances at an October School Board meeting. He argued that the article was “inaccurate” and “further inflamed” tensions over the matter.

“Staff has attempted to quell this rumor but, unfortunately, it still persists in some places,” Goldstein said. “I’m addressing it here to hopefully, finally, put it to bed.”

But Everling points to a number of school documents delivered to various committees over the years dubbing Fleet “a new school for Henry Elementary.” The Board’s April 2016 motion approving plans for Fleet even refers to it as such; a January 2018 presentation on the school’s design similarly notes that the Board “identified Patrick Henry Elementary as the school community that will occupy the new elementary school.”

And, in a May 2016 email to Douglas Park Civic Association leaders obtained by ARLnow, Goldstein himself looks to quell what he dubs “rumors” that the Henry community will be split up in the move to Fleet.

“To fill up the new building, we need to move all of the Henry students there,” Goldstein wrote. “Removing current Henry students from that new boundary zone is counter-productive to accomplishing this goal.”

Megan Haydasz, the chair of the Fleet BLPC and another Henry parent, remembers receiving similar assurances from school officials and Board members alike. She recalls hearing that Fleet would be built large enough to accommodate both the entirety of the Henry community and other South Arlington students, which eased plenty of minds as the Fleet design process advanced.

“We’re taking a school and moving it to place with less acreage, but we made that tradeoff because we thought we could keep the community together,” Haydasz said.

Beyond any promises that the school system did or did not make, Haydasz and her fellow Henry parents are concerned that splitting up students would break up an academically thriving school — Henry received a designation as a “National Blue Ribbon” school for its academic performance in 2015, one of just 11 in the state to earn the recognition.

Additionally, the school has one of the more diverse student bodies in the county — as of 2017, Henry had the 11th highest non-white population of students of Arlington’s 23 elementary schools — and parents fear losing some of that diversity under the proposed boundary changes.

“Schools are very rarely as diverse as Henry; most students go to school with kids who look just like them,” said Jennifer Rawlings, the parent of two Henry students. “But removing families south of Columbia Pike will change that completely.”

Murphy’s proposal would indeed move some kids living south of the Pike to Drew, though APS projections suggest that Fleet’s percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunch — a key indicator of a family’s economic means — wouldn’t look substantially different from Henry’s FRL rate under the boundary changes.

However, the Henry parents think they’ve found a way to simultaneously avoid any breakup of the community and help Drew thrive.

Parents at Drew have been similarly frustrated with the boundary process, with some worrying that the changes will leave the school with too large a concentration of students from low-income families. Murphy’s recommendation would reduce the school’s FRL rate slightly from prior boundary proposals, but leave it among the higher rates in the county.

That’s why Christine Brittle, a parent of two Henry students, crunched the numbers and came up with a proposal to transform Drew into a countywide program aimed at solving all of the aforementioned issues.

Brittle found that the eight South Arlington schools included in the boundary process have an unusually high number of students who transfer elsewhere — Drew, for instance, had the sixth highest transfer rate in the county last year. She suspects that’s driven by wealthier families who go in search of countywide “choice” programs, leaving the South Arlington schools with more lopsided demographic mixes and suggesting there’s clear demand for more option programs in the area.

Brittle proposes building on Drew’s existing program focusing on science, technology, engineering, art and math — known by the acronym “STEAM” — to make such a change. She envisions Drew still having neighborhood boundaries, but accepting students from all over the county to build a different kind of community there.

“There’s clearly a strong demand in Arlington for the type of program they’re already creating… and that will only increase with Amazon coming here,” Brittle said. “This is a solution that has a lighter touch on the boundaries… and creates a larger constituency for that school. And it needs a larger community to advocate for it and fight for it.”

She expects the change would mean the county could fill Drew without diverting as many students away from Henry, satisfying her fellow parents, and she says she’s already heard broad support from parents at all manner of schools for the idea. Brittle even brought it to both Drew’s principal and the head of its parent-teacher association and she says both were open to the idea — PTA president Melissa Thierry did not respond to a request for comment.

Brittle says she also presented the idea to all five Board members, though none of them responded to questions about the proposal posed to a Board spokeswoman.

Instead, Bellavia confirmed that both Murphy and the Board have reviewed the proposal and decided it was “not feasible to implement at this time.”

“There was an extensive visioning process in late 2016 and early 2017 that involved the Drew community as well as surrounding communities,” Bellavia said. “Out of that process came a shared vision for the future of Drew as a neighborhood school with a STEAM focus, but did not include option school elements. Last year, Drew staff began implementing that focus, and will continue, as it transitions into a neighborhood school beginning next fall.”

It’s that sort of response that Everling says has caused him to lose most of his faith in the school system before the process is even officially over. After his experience working on the issue over the last few years, he hopes that parents at the 14 schools set to have their boundaries redrawn in 2020 sit up and take notice.

“Listen up, because these people will lay out a process and then change it at the last minute,” Everling said.

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Superintendent Sends New Boundary Proposal to School Board, Leaving Abingdon Unchanged

Superintendent Patrick Murphy has revealed his final proposal for new elementary school boundaries to forward along to the School Board, with a new map designed to simultaneously the answer the concerns of some Fairlington parents and reduce overcrowding at Barcroft Elementary.

Arlington Public Schools officials have spent months drawing up map after map to guide attendance boundaries at eight South Arlington elementary schools set to go into effect next fall. Each one has prompted fresh rounds of concern among parents nervous about seeing their kids moved to different schools, as the school system prepares to open up the new Alice West Fleet Elementary next year.

Murphy’s new proposal, released yesterday (Monday), incorporates changes made to several prior maps worked up by APS staffers.

Perhaps most notably, the proposal keeps the entirety of the Fairlington community within Abingdon’s attendance boundaries, rather than sending some students in South Fairlington neighborhoods to Drew Model School. Parents from across Fairlington vigorously protested previous proposals to do so, arguing that it would unnecessarily split up the community and require plenty of busing to help students reach Drew.

School officials worked up a map last week to leave Abingdon’s boundaries unchanged, but that proposal would’ve left both Drew and Fleet with far fewer students than the buildings are designed to hold. Meanwhile, Barcroft, in particular, would’ve remained substantially over its capacity.

Murphy’s new map would move 100 students out of the school, reducing it from being at 149 percent of its capacity next year to 120 percent. Randolph would also see a slight decrease of about 40 students, and Drew and Fleet would absorb most of the students from those schools.

Neighborhoods just off Columbia Pike would be primarily impacted by the change, with a cluster of streets behind the Walter Reed Community Center and others around Alcova Heights Park all moving to Fleet.

The superintendent’s proposal would mean that Fleet will open at about 88 percent of its planned capacity, while Drew will move to about 92 percent of its capacity. Abingdon remains relatively unchanged, and is scheduled to be at about 120 percent of its capacity, but school officials hope to address that in a new round of boundary adjustments in 2020.

Next year, Drew will see hundreds of students leave the building, as the Montessori program moves to Patrick Henry Elementary. Yet parents there worried the school system’s initial plans would involve unfairly packing the school with students from low-income families, as measured by the percent of the student body eligible for free and reduced price lunch.

Murphy’s proposal would mean that about 56 percent of the school’s population would be FRL-eligible, down slightly from the 60 percent figure that officials initially proposed. Of the eight schools included in the process, only three will have more than 50 percent of the student bodies eligible for free and reduced price lunch, the school system’s target benchmark throughout the boundary process.

The School Board will get its first look at the superintendent’s boundary proposal at its meeting Thursday (Nov. 8), with a public hearing set for Nov. 27. The Board plans to pass a final map by Dec. 6, and could make plenty of changes to Murphy’s proposal between now and then.

Photo via Arlington Public Schools

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APS Proposes New Boundary Map to Keep Fairlington Students at Abingdon, Though Concerns Linger

Arlington school officials are proposing a new boundary map that would keep South Fairlington students at Abingdon Elementary, answering the concerns of parents there who worried the school system’s process of drawing new attendance lines would break up the community.

The school system has wrestled for months now with the thorny question of how to best tinker with the boundaries for eight South Arlington elementary schools, in order to address overcrowding concerns and prepare for the opening of Alice West Fleet Elementary next fall. Previous proposals for new maps initially irked parents at the Drew Model School, prompting Arlington Public Schools officials to propose an option moving some students in Fairlington neighborhoods from Abingdon to Drew to help address those worries.

But that proposal has touched off a fierce backlash of its own, with some in the community arguing it would force the unnecessary of busing of Fairlington students and damage the community’s strong ties. Now, APS leaders are offering up yet another new option, leaving all of Fairlington at Abingdon and moving some Columbia Heights and Alcova Heights neighborhoods to Drew instead.

Such a change would leave Abingdon substantially overcapacity, with Drew and Fleet still with plenty of space. Yet, in a work session last Wednesday (Oct. 24), school officials indicated it could end up being a workable solution for the county’s boundary conundrums.

“We can’t maintain everyone’s status quo, because we’re in a growth environment, so something has to give,” School Board Chair Reid Goldstein said at the meeting. “In our economic environment, we also need to ensure we fill school buildings, but the results aren’t going to be perfect.”

School system figures show that Abingdon will likely sit at 124 percent of its designed capacity by next year, and the latest proposal would bring that down to just 120 percent, a reduction of about 20 students. By contrast, the boundary map involving the disputed Fairlington changes would’ve dropped Abingdon to 98 percent.

Still, some Board members expressed uncertainty about the value of such a trade off, wondering if it could create problems at Abingdon down the line — APS projections show Abingdon reaching 131 percent of its capacity by 2021, under the latest boundary proposal. Meanwhile, Drew will be at just 74 percent capacity under that plan, and Fleet will open at 90 percent of its capacity.

“In the long run, we don’t want to have to build a new school because we’re not using these facilities well,” said Board member Barbara Kanninen.

Yet APS planning director Lisa Stengle pointed out that Abingdon, Barcroft and Long Branch will all be included in both this year’s boundary process and the redrawing of boundaries set for 2020, giving school officials a chance to address overcrowding at Abingdon in the coming years. She added that process will include more school’s in the county’s northern half as well, allowing for more possibilities in shifting around students.

Stengle also noted that the newest proposal would bring down the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced price lunch in Drew’s attendance boundaries compared to previous maps. Parents at Drew expressed concerns that previous efforts would’ve unfairly concentrated low-income students at the school, as the FRL rate is a proxy for the economic diversity of each community.

The newest proposal would mean that 57 percent of students eligible to attend Drew would qualify for free and reduced price lunch, down slightly from the 60 percent figure that initially concerned parents. As of now, about 52 percent of the school’s attendees are FRL-eligible.

“We still haven’t found that sweet spot yet where all the considerations are exactly where we want them to be,” Stengle said.

Board members indeed sought to stress that they were well aware that any boundary proposal is bound to make at least some people unhappy, and Goldstein was careful to note that all of the maps offered up by APS officials over the course of the process “are all still possibilities at this time.”

But Kanninen, in particular, called for a cooling of tempers among parents worried about their children changing schools, urging anyone anxious about a move to a new school to simply call up their prospective principal and learn more about the curriculum before worrying too much.

“We are creating new communities when we do this,” Kanninen said. “Please keep an open mind and get excited about the possibilities.”

Superintendent Patrick Murphy will offer up a final boundary map recommendation next Monday (Nov. 5), ahead of a planned Board vote on the matter in December.

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Parents Urge APS to Keep the Henry Community Together As Part of Move to Fleet

(Updated Wednesday at 4:10 p.m.) As the heated process of setting new boundaries for eight South Arlington elementary schools lurches forward, parents at Patrick Henry Elementary are trying to deliver a single message to school officials: don’t break up the community in the move to Alice West Fleet Elementary.

Fleet’s planned opening next fall precipitated this process of drawing new boundary lines for the schools in the first place, with most Henry students set to move to the new school and the Montessori program currently housed at Drew Model School will move to Henry’s building.

Parents at Henry have long sought reassurances from Arlington Public Schools officials that the community would move as one to Fleet, without any neighborhoods being redirected elsewhere. The school system has released two different maps for public scrutiny over the last few months, and both have so far stuck firm to that request.

That fact was not lost on roughly a dozen parents who testified at the School Board’s meeting last Thursday (Oct. 18). Though the new boundary proposals have stoked outrage among families at Drew and Abingdon alike, they’ve largely satisfied parents with kids set to make the move from Henry, who are urging school leaders to stay the course throughout the remainder of the boundary process.

“We are a community that lives on Columbia Pike,” Melanie Devoe told the Board. “This will keep our students together, as we’ll have students who are learning together in elementary school all stay on the same campus through middle school.”

Erin Wasiak, co-president of the Henry Parent-Teacher Association, similarly praised the Board for keeping families along the Pike together, noting that the road acts as “our ‘Main Street’ and our town square.” Even still, she would note that the school system’s latest proposal would divert a few neighborhoods on the east side of S. Courthouse Road to Hoffman-Boston instead, a change that would only affect a relatively small number of students, but still struck Wasiak as a bit concerning.

“We’re as close or closer to Fleet as we are to the school you want to put us in,” Nicole Hallahan, a parent of a current Henry student set to move to Hoffman-Boston, told the Board.

APS spokesman Frank Bellavia stressed that officials are working to focus on contiguity as part of the process, though he noted that the school system “cannot guarantee that any individual school community will stay together.” As Lisa Stengle, the APS director of planning and evaluation, put it at an Oct. 17 community meeting, “We don’t want islands in places.”

“Boundary proposals align with the policy considerations, reflect what serves all students, and explore how changes to one school affect other schools,” Bellavia wrote in an email. “Change will be continual within APS due to ongoing enrollment growth, and APS is responsible for ensuring equity for all students across schools and programs.”

Nevertheless, between the changes with the Henry boundaries and the proposal to send some South Fairlington students to Drew instead of Abingdon, parents say the county hasn’t always managed to meet that particular goal.

“You just have to look at the map to see it’s oddly gerrymandered,” Claire Kenny, a parent of an Abingdon student, told the Board. “Please don’t punish our children to fix past redistricting efforts, or to fulfill promises to other communities.”

APS planners only proposed those Fairlington changes in the first place to create a more even spread of students eligible for free and reduced price lunch, a measure of their families’ economic means, at schools across South Arlington. Some parents worried too many economically disadvantaged students were being lumped in at Drew, and Henry parents also urged the Board to keep the issue as a prime focus throughout the rest of the boundary-setting process.

“It’s important to have racially and culturally diverse schools that prepare our students to effectively relate with others,” said Megan Haydasz, a parent of a Henry student who’s been active on other school equity issues in South Arlington in the past. “Yet high concentrations of poverty limit a school community’s resources and may unconsciously limit student outcomes compared to other schools.”

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APS Reveals 11 Elementary Schools Set for Boundary Changes This Winter

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:

  • Abingdon
  • Arlington Science Focus (ASFS)
  • Ashlawn
  • Barcroft
  • Drew
  • Henry (Fleet)
  • Hoffman-Boston
  • Long Branch
  • Oakridge
  • Randolph
  • Taylor

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:

  • Abingdon
  • Ashlawn
  • Barcroft
  • Barrett
  • Carlin Springs
  • Discovery
  • Glebe
  • Jamestown
  • McKinley
  • Long Branch
  • Nottingham
  • Reed
  • Taylor
  • Tuckahoe

“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.

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APS Eyes Accessibility Upgrades for Thomas Jefferson Middle School

(Updated at noon) The price tag for a new elementary school could soon get a bit larger, in an effort to make the Thomas Jefferson Middle School more accessible for people with disabilities.

Arlington Public Schools officials are asking the School Board to approve an extra $250,000 in spending at Alice West Fleet Elementary School, which is scheduled to open in September 2019, for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) changes at the adjacent middle school.

The board will get its first presentation on that request at its meeting tonight, as staff seek the green light to bump up the “guaranteed maximum price” for the nearly $47 million project. The changes at the middle school are being incorporated into the Fleet project so that they can be “more effectively coordinated and can be completed prior to the 2018-19 School Year.”

APS officials plan to make accessibility adjustments at two of the middle school’s three entrances.

Though accessibility upgrades are already in the larger APS budget, the size of the change to the Fleet budget means APS will need the board’s approval first. Voting on the matter is expected within a few weeks.

The board is set to approve its fiscal year 2019 budget tonight. The nearly $637 million spending plan is set to fund pay raises for most school employees, but does call for slightly larger class sizes at both the elementary and middle school levels.

Editor’s note: a previous version of this article mistakenly reported that the changes were planned for the elementary school. Photo courtesy Arlington Public Schools.

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APS Looking to Add Solar Panels to Five Schools

Arlington Public Schools plans to add solar panels to five school buildings, including the soon-to-be-built Alice West Fleet Elementary School.

APS issued a Request for Proposals on December 1, calling for companies to bid to install solar panels at Kenmore and Thomas Jefferson Middle Schools, Tuckahoe and Fleet Elementary Schools and Washington-Lee High School.

Fleet Elementary School will be built on the site of Thomas Jefferson, and is projected to be open in September 2019.

In the call for proposals, APS said it is seeking to be increasingly environmentally friendly in construction projects and its existing buildings, and hopes the panels will help it keep up with its schools’ energy demands.

“APS stresses energy efficiency and environmental sustainability in the design of all construction and maintenance projects,” it reads. “APS is aware of the energy and environmental advantages of solar power and has multiple buildings used as schools for all age groups and administrative offices which appear to have design characteristics which make them appropriate for the installation of [solar panels] which will produce electric power to meet, or contribute to meeting, the power needs of APS.”

The successful bidder would install the solar panels, and operate and maintain them under a lease agreement with APS for a minimum of 15 years. APS said the winning company would also be responsible for all installation and maintenance costs, but would pay rent of $1 a year for the panels.

Proposals are due on March 19, 2018. The RFP comes months after Kenmore was one of six sites in Virginia selected to have a solar panel installed on its roof as part of the Solar for Students program, which encourages hands-on learning about clean energy.

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Morning Notes

Badaro’s Big Plans — As we reported yesterday, a fast-casual Lebanese restaurant called Badaro is opening in the former NKD Pizza space in Virginia Square. According to Eater, restaurateur Jay Zein hopes to open the Badaro by December 1. “From there,” reports the website, “he says he’ll install a second location around Arlington, Virginia, by summer 2018 and ‘then expand beyond that.'” [Eater]

Fleet Elementary Time Capsule — Students, school administrators and county officials were on hand yesterday to fill a time capsule at the under-construction Alice West Fleet Elementary School, next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School. [Twitter]

Roads Next in Line for Changes at DCA — With a $1 billion expansion project underway at Reagan National Airport, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is now looking at DCA’s network of roadways as the next thing in line for upgrades. [InsideNova]

Arlington Resident Climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro — Arlington resident Janene Corrado has climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Corrado’s fundraising quest started when her father was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2011. [Arlington Catholic Herald]

Amazon Key Coming to D.C. Area — Amazon is planning to launch a service called Amazon Key that would electronically grant delivery drivers access to your home to securely deliver packages. The service “is exclusively for Prime members in select cities and surrounding areas,” including the D.C. area. [PoPville]

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