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The Arlington School Board during the Nov. 16 meeting (via APS)

The Arlington School Board will vote on boundary changes tomorrow (Thursday) targeting two overcapacity schools in South Arlington.

This fall, Superintendent Francisco Durán launched a “limited” fall 2021 boundary process to relieve overcrowding at Abingdon Elementary School, Gunston Middle School and Wakefield High School.

The newest version of the plan postpones changes to Abingdon, where enrollment is currently manageable for next year, according to Durán. Students would have been moved from the school in Fairlington to Charles R. Drew Elementary School in nearby Green Valley, echoing a similar proposal in 2018 that became controversial.

Gunston and Wakefield are still over-capacity, so some planning units will be moved to Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Washington-Liberty High School.

“The proposed changes are manageable among the identified schools that we’ve talked about and we’ve engaged with. The planning units included in this process should not need to be moved again in the next few years, and this limited process provides some additional to understand enrollment fluctuations we’re seeing caused by the pandemic, and any shifts in projects we may see,” he said during the Nov. 16 School Board meeting.

APS also proposes to change which neighborhood schools feed into Arlington’s Spanish-immersion schools, following previous boundary changes and the relocation of one immersion program, Key School.

“We want to make sure access to immersion schools is convenient to families and students nearest the location,” Durán said.

Relief for Gunston and Wakefield

The boundary changes for Gunston and Jefferson will reassign 140 third- to fifth-graders while the Wakefield and W-L changes will reassign 162 students.

The changes will impact the Penrose, Foxcroft Heights, Arlington View and Columbia Heights neighborhoods.

The proposal to move Wakefield students to W-L comes as the latter is about to unveil a new wing of the school — the former Education Center administrative offices — with room for up to 600 students.

APS says the extra space at the Education Center will provide enrollment relief for Wakefield and cut down on W-L’s waitlist for the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

“The number of applicants to the IB Lottery and number on the waitlist has increased each year over the last four years,” according to the 2021 boundary process website.

APS may consider targeted transfers from Wakefield to Yorktown if forthcoming enrollment projections for 2022-23 suggest unmanageable levels at Wakefield — even with the boundary adjustment.

The new high school boundaries would reverse moves made in 2016 to address overcrowding at W-L, but those who were moved away from W-L in 2017 will not be moved back.

In 2017, APS redirected Boulevard Manor kids from W-L to Yorktown High School. Students say when they graduate from Kenmore Middle School and head to Yorktown, they lose many of their middle school friends. To avoid that, they apply for W-L’s IB program or for a neighborhood transfer.

“I can make new friends, but the point is that it’s completely reasonable that I want to go to high school with my friends — just like all the middle schoolers in Arlington,” said Kenmore eighth-grader Xavier Anderson, during the Nov. 16 meeting.

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Morning Notes

A man rides a personal watercraft in Boundary Channel near Columbia Island Marina (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

APS Enrollment Down — “Despite intensive efforts to get them back, Arlington Public Schools has about 4 percent fewer students in class than it did pre-pandemic, according to new figures. Superintendent Francisco Durán on Oct. 14 said the school system’s official count for the 2021-22 school year is 26,911 students, based on enrollment Sept. 30 that will be submitted to state officials as is required by law. That’s down slightly from the 26,932 students reported on hand at the start of classes in August.” [Sun Gazette]

Update on Metro Woes — “While Metro aims to provide service consistent with the announced basic service plan through the rest of the week, customers should anticipate trains every 15-20 minutes on the Red Line and every 30-40 minutes on all other lines to account for any unplanned disruptions. There is currently no capacity to fill unforeseen gaps, which will result in longer wait times. Crews are working as quickly as possible to put more trains into service.” [WMATA]

County: Update Your Bookmarks — “With the launch of our new website, your favorite page or service has a new home! While we have redirect links for our most visited and discussed pages, we couldn’t do it for all 5,000+ pages. But the content you want is still there!” [Arlington County, Twitter]

Birds Banging into Arlington Windows — From the Animal Welfare League of Arlington: “We’re starting to see a lot of migratory birds come into the shelter, likely due to hitting windows as they fly. But we are here to help! This little Golden-Crowned Kinglet stayed with us overnight before heading off to a licensed rehabber this morning!” [Twitter]

IPO for Local Multinational Company — “Renewable energy storage firm Fluence Energy Inc said on Tuesday it is aiming to fetch a nearly $4 billion valuation in its U.S. initial public offering, as investor interest in such technologies soars alongside growing calls to limit climate change… Arlington, Virginia-based Fluence serves major utilities, developers, as well as commercial and industrial businesses, promising increased efficiency through its digital platform designed for renewables.” [Reuters]

Event to Mark Genocide Anniversary — “November 4, 2021 will mark exactly one year to the day that the Ethiopian & Eritrean regimes waged a devastating and ongoing genocide on the people of Tigray. You are welcome to visit our Arts & Photo Exhibition ‘Call It A Genocide’ which runs from November 5 to 7, 2021 at the ECDC in Arlington.” [Eventbrite]

Halloween Bike Ride for Families — “The Kidical Mass Arlington Halloween ride is BACK! Meet Sun 10/24 4pm at Zitkala’Sa (nee Clay) Park Costumes and decorations encouraged! Enjoy some pizza from our friends @TrekBikes Clarendon after the ride.” [Twitter, Facebook]

It’s Wednesday — ☀️ It’s another sunny day today, with a high near 76. West wind 5 to 7 mph. Sunrise at 7:23 a.m. and sunset at 6:22 p.m. Tomorrow is will be sunny, with a high near 78.

Join the ARLnow Press Club and get the Morning Notes via email, four hours earlier.

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Arlington Public Schools is preparing to redraw boundaries for a half-dozen schools to relieve high enrollment and over-capacity at three of them.

The boundary process, which will go into effect next fall, is “limited in scope” and will target Abingdon Elementary School, Gunston Middle School and Wakefield High School.

“The boundary process will bring enrollment at these three schools to more manageable levels for the 2022-23 school year by re-assigning some planning units to neighboring schools with capacity to accommodate additional students,” APS said in a School Talk update to parents last week.

For each school, staff will focus on planning units where neither school is in walking distance, according to APS’s 2021 boundary process webpage.

APS says it will move some planning units from Abingdon to Drew Elementary School, which is two miles away. As of Sept. 30, Abingdon has 688 students and a projected capacity utilization rate of 119%, compared to the 433 students and use rate of 76% at Drew.

This direct step to balance enrollment comes on the heels of a less successful attempt to alleviate the overcrowding without redrawing boundaries. During the 2020-21 school year, APS set up a program encouraging families zoned for Abingdon to choose to send their children to Drew, with transportation provided.

Only 12 students took the “targeted transfer” option. School Board members said a dozen students would not make a dent in the schools’ enrollment imbalance and predicted the need for a boundary process.

“[The option] did not come out with numbers that were able to solve the problem,” Board Member Monique O’Grady said during an Aug. 26 School Board meeting. “I did want to point out that we have given the community the choice to go to what I think is a phenomenal school. After trying that, I think we’re at a different point in time, where we maybe need to take more intentional action.”

The renewed focus on Abingdon and Drew also comes three years after another boundary process that would have moved students at both Abingdon and Henry elementary schools to Drew proved controversial.

Some Gunston planning units will be moved to to Thomas Jefferson Middle School, but current Gunston students will not be affected. Gunston has 1,109 students and a projected capacity rate of 112%, compared to Jefferson’s 849 students and 101% use rate.

APS intends to move some planning units from Wakefield to Washington-Liberty High School, but the moves will not impact current Wakefield students. Enrollment and capacity rate margins are closer for the schools: 2,241 versus 2,174 students, and 108% versus 102%, respectively.

APS says the move will also make better use of the additional 500 or so seats at the former Arlington Education Center (1426 N. Quincy Street), which is set to open September 2022.

Despite the limited success of targeted transfers at the elementary level, APS plans to offer them so that current Wakefield students can opt to attend W-L next fall.

During the same August meeting, Executive Director of Planning and Evaluation Lisa Stengle said APS is offering the option because she’s “not sure moving ninth graders will be enough” to balance out Wakefield’s rising enrollment.

“With boundaries we want to be cautious, because we may have to come back and make changes in the future, and we don’t want to have to redo things,” Stengle said. “This way, it’s a choice.”

Community engagement sessions on the boundary process will begin with a virtual meeting on Saturday, Oct. 16. Engagement will run through the end of October.

Superintendent Francisco Durán will propose a more detailed plan during a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 16. Two weeks later, on Tuesday, Nov. 30, there will be a public hearing. The School Board is expected to vote on his proposal on Thursday, Dec. 2.

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With one month to go before school starts, parents are being urged to enroll their kids in some Arlington public schools amid a continued drop in enrollment.

Screenshots and emails provided to ARLnow indicate some elementary schools, including Discovery and Jamestown, need just a few more kindergarteners before they can officially get one more kindergarten class. The correspondences say the extra class would reduce class sizes and keep teachers at the school they were teaching at last year.

“If you have a rising Kindergartener, please register your child ASAP!” one woman wrote on Nextdoor. “I heard through the grapevine that [Discovery is] 3 kids shy of a third class… which means they may have to let an amazing teacher and assistant go! Help spread the word to any new families in the neighborhood!”

An email to Jamestown families pleaded with families to “pretty, pretty please” register their children as soon as possible, as the elementary only needs 10 more students to add a fourth class.

School starts on Monday, Aug. 30 for most students. The vast majority will be in-person five days a week, though APS is offering a full-distance model this year for families still unsure about returning to school amid the pandemic, as cases rise and as the state recommends all students wear masks at the elementary level.

The encouragement to enroll comes on the heels of new enrollment numbers APS released earlier this month, showing a continued drop in APS students since the start of the pandemic. The new data indicates so far, there are 26,052 students registered for the fall. Of those, 891 will be full-time distance learning, and 25,161 students will be in-person full-time. In June of this year, there were 26,502 students enrolled, and in June 2020, 28,142 students were enrolled.

APS attributed the drop last year due to the pandemic, when many families decided to wait a year, homeschool their kids or switch to private and parochial schools. Since then, officials have said the schools should prepare for enrollment to bounce back.

Enrollment numbers will be made official in October. Lower summer numbers and encouragement to register are both annual phenomena, APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said.

“Every year at this time, we encourage families to register as there are always families new to the area, rising kindergarten students, military and embassy families,” he said. “We typically see a large bump in registrations in August and even September.”

Two years ago, Ashlawn Elementary School was slightly below projections and then saw 49 students register on the Friday before school started, he said.

As for the emphasis on class sizes, that’s because APS had to increase class sizes at all levels due to budgetary decisions made earlier this year.

Enrollment is also fluid within APS’s two programs, in-person and fully virtual.

“The total enrollment in the Virtual Learning Program has decreased by more than 300 students since June, when we announced that virtual families can transition to in-person school at any time,” spokeswoman Catherine Ashby said.

Bellavia said teachers at schools that lose classes due to lower enrollment won’t lose jobs, but will instead be transferred to where they’re needed.

“We are committed to retaining the excellent teachers that we have, and look for opportunities in their current school or to re-assign teachers to school where enrollment requires additional teachers,” he said.

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(Updated 4:50 p.m.) The School Board approved a $700 million budget for the 2021-22 school year during its meeting on Thursday evening.

These funds will support both full-time in-person instruction and a distance education option for Arlington Public Schools students this coming fall and next spring. More than 24,000 students are projected to be in-person this August, according to APS.

The budget was pieced together with an ongoing county transfer of $527 million, a one-time transfer of $2.8 million, $3.5 million in carry-over funds from the 2020-21 school year, state and federal funding, and the use of $19.5 million in reserves. It is enough to keep APS in the black in the short term, according to Board Vice Chair Barbara Kanninen.

“This budget is going to be balanced, but going forward, we are carrying a deficit into next year,” she said.

It also takes into account lower enrollment than initially expected for the next school year, which was revealed just two days before the meeting.

When news dropped on Tuesday that about 2,000 students who left APS over the last year will not be returning, School Board members asked the school system to adjust the budget for reduced enrollment, expressing hope that it would help resolve a looming $11 million budget deficit.

After consulting with an enrollment expert, APS administrators offered an alternative budget that estimated 525 fewer students. The School Board voted 4-1 — with board member Reid Goldstein dissenting — to account for the more conservative projected reduction in enrollment. (Goldstein said he believed APS could make deeper reductions.)

“To provide any larger of a reduction would give a much greater weight to the 2020 enrollment than [the expert] felt would be practicable because this year is an anomaly,” said Leslie Peterson, Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Management Services.

This change to the budget saved the school system nearly $3.5 million, or nearly 37 full-time employees that APS would otherwise need to hire. APS is setting aside $500,000 of that savings to hire more staff if real enrollment is higher this fall.

“I believe this puts us in the situation of, I hope, almost similar to a freeze so that we are able to keep the current staff as much as we can in the building,” Board Chair Monique O’Grady said. “This will have an impact on hiring additional staff, but hopefully, we can keep current staff in place while saving us dollars in the middle of a tight budget scenario.”

Superintendent Francisco Durán, the outside enrollment expert and administrators did not support the lower enrollment projection, which they said does not account for high birth rates in Arlington in 2016 — children that are coming of elementary school age — or an increase in housing, among other factors included in enrollment projections.

With the new budget, the school system will be be increasing classroom sizes by one student for grades K-5, saving APS $1.8 million and the equivalent of hiring nearly 21 full-time employees.

In response to concerns from a handful of parents, the School Board used reserve funds to restore $85,000 in the budget, nixing a proposal to remove one copier from each school. The parents, Kanninen said, were concerned that fewer copiers would mean less pencil-and-paper work and more screen time.

“Even before the pandemic, we were making transitions to digital learning materials and other manipulatives to help students grasp concepts,” said Bridget Loft, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning. “While there would be some impact, the expectation is it would not be catastrophic or a game-changer, particularly since we’ve been engaged in moving in a different direction away from paper-based materials.”

Only Goldstein voted against the amendment, saying that he believes staff when they say it will not impact instruction.

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An attempt by Arlington Public Schools to balance enrollment without resorting to a boundary change did not go as planned.

This year, the school system encouraged families to apply to transfer from Abingdon Elementary School in Fairlington, which is projected to be at 119% capacity this fall, to Drew Elementary School in Green Valley, which is projected to be at 76% capacity. The schools are about two miles apart.

The application window closed two weeks ago, and so far, only 12 students are taking the “targeted transfer” option, which includes transportation to the new school, APS project planner Sarah Johnson said during last week’s School Board meeting.

Families can still apply and the school will admit families on a case-by-case basis, administrators said. If the option does not yield more transfers, APS will likely begin discussions this fall to modify the two schools’ boundaries, said Gladis Bourdouane, another project planner with APS.

These changes would come on the heels of the smaller-scale boundary process the board approved in December and ahead of a projected, larger-scale boundary process planned for as early as 2022.

In 2018, another boundary process proved controversial after parents at Abingdon and Henry elementary schools objected to proposed boundaries that would have sent some students at both schools to Drew.

Responding to the lack of interest in transferring this time around, School Board members urged administrators to review the voluntary transfer effort. They were divided, however, over whether this option could work in the future.

“I find this targeted transfer thing wholly inadequate,” Board Member Reid Goldstein said, adding that as far as he is concerned, it has “fallen on its face.”

Goldstein said he was “extremely distressed” when the boundary process last fall did not include Abingdon, despite being overcrowded for years. Instead, he said, the boundary changes last fall mostly adjusted neighborhood schools in the northern half of the county and did not take into account overcrowded schools in South Arlington.

“Twelve students are not going to go a long way toward balancing the huge overcapacity at Abingdon and the under-capacity at Drew,” he said. “I’m going to ask you, [Superintendent Francisco] Durán, to try and put some more aggressive measures in place to try and beef up only 12 students who are going from our most overcrowded school to our least crowded school, and not wait another two years before they get relief.”

As of now, administrators have no plans to keep advertising the transfer option, said Lisa Stengle, the executive director of planning and evaluation for APS.

The school system’s marketing efforts included setting up a website and releasing School Talk messages, while the two schools published information on their websites and mentioned the option during back-to-school events, Johnson said.

“We did make significant outreaches to the Abingdon families,” she said.

Despite the closed application window, APS is still encouraging families to apply. Whether students are accepted will depend on school capacity, staffing and finances, and not every family who applied thus far was eligible, she said.

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(Updated at 9:45 p.m.) New elementary school boundary changes released last week would relocate more than thousand students and increase the number who can walk to school, according to Arlington Public Schools.

The changes are part of the third boundary proposal that APS released before Thanksgiving. Community members responded to the proposal with mixed reviews in a hearing on Tuesday night, ahead of a planned School Board vote on Thursday.

Incorporating adjustments from the School Board, the new plan reassigns a projected 1,040 students to other neighborhood schools — mostly in the northern half of the county — and adds a projected 650 more walkers, school officials said during the public hearing.

Some students will be eligible to stay at their current school. Tuckahoe students in one planning unit who are reassigned to McKinley can stay until the next boundary process, and all rising fifth-graders at McKinley, Ashlawn, Arlington Science Focus School (ASFS) and Taylor can finish elementary school where they are today, school officials said.

The boundary process, which was initiated to mitigate enrollment increases projected in 2018, was revised twice this fall to lessen the stress on families burdened by the pandemic. The first version would have relocated 1,400 students. In response to parents’ concerns, ranging from further academic disruption to a loss of community, the second version slashed the number moving to 800.

This third version adds some planning units to the new Key school and places all schools within their attendance zones, school officials said.

One big change included moving to Key some units in eastern Lyon Village currently at ASFS, and moving to ASFS some units in western Lyon Village scheduled for Taylor. One parent, Claire Kelly, told the School Board she appreciated the hard work APS put in, and supported the decision to rezone these families for ASFS.

“We can see ASFS from our front door,” she said. “Like many working families, we rely on extended day before- and after-school care, which means we are on the hook for transportation and we don’t benefit from buses. Asking parents, some of whom don’t have a car, to Uber or take a bus with their children twice a day, when we live across the street from ASFS, was really unthinkable.”

APS predicts that ASFS will be at be at 121% capacity, including Pre-K classes, and will need portable classrooms to accommodate the students, which worries other parents. Key could be at 103% capacity in 2023, and might need portables as well.

“This plan puts ASFS significantly overcapacity, when others are significantly under-capacity,” Dima Hakura said. “It is imperative that you reduce the number eligible to attend ASFS and that it operates at capacity.”

To make room for new students at Key, some current students have been rezoned for Taylor.

Anjy Cramer said during the hearing that APS listens to the loudest, most empowered, voices.

“APS led the desegregation of public schools in Virginia, and yet today, our schools are functionally segregated — again,” she said. “These limited changes will only benefit families in Courthouse and Rosslyn.”

Critics of the changes also said the new plan creates overcrowding while APS is seeing a 4% drop in enrollment during the pandemic.

Gillian Burgess said a vote for the changes would put Key, McKinley and Reed at overcapacity. When another, more comprehensive boundary process begins in two years, these schools will either not be included — making it harder to redraw the boundaries — or kids will be forced to move twice.

“Both are bad choices,” she said. “Alternatively, you can just stop. Next fall, one school will be overcapacity, but taking into account some children will remain remote, and ASFS saw a 14% drop in enrollment this year, those projections are unlikely to be accurate.”

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The latest Arlington Public Schools elementary boundary process earned some public plaudits, a relative rarity, after the number of students who would have been assigned to new schools was cut nearly in half.

The superintendent’s recommended plan makes enough changes to accommodate the new Reed and Key elementary schools, which open in the fall of 2021. Twenty-two planning units, or about 800 students, will be reassigned among Arlington Science Focus School, the Key school site, and Ashlawn, McKinley, Taylor and Tuckahoe schools. The move increases the number of students who can walk to school by 600.

Originally, some 1,400 students were to have been reassigned.

The larger set of boundary changes was first proposed in early October. A public hearing on the superintendent’s new proposal will be held on Dec. 1, before the board considers adopting it on Dec. 3.

A separate countywide boundary process is slated for as soon as 2022.

The new plan presented on Thursday night was drafted after APS staff received numerous messages from parents who requested that the process avoid impacting children’s friendships and relationships with teachers, which have been harder to develop and maintain during distance learning.

Staff told the School Board that Superintendent Francisco Durán’s new boundary recommendations make minimal adjustments and preserve flexibility for a broader process to come.

Many parents who spoke at the meeting commended the school system for the changes.

“It’s clear stakeholders listened to community feedback, took it on board and made real effort to try to align boundaries to minimize disruption and better utilize space in available schools,” said Katie Geder

For another parent, Mike Flood, the recommendations checked all the boxes: limited disruptions, balanced enrollment, stability and proximity to neighborhood schools.

June Locker said parents in her planning unit were surveyed and a majority believe that APS has addressed their concerns, she said.

School Board members were divided on how to alleviate the crowding not addressed in the new plan, and with enrollment declining, questioned how severe overcrowding will be next fall.

Board member Reid Goldstein said the plan leaves too many planning units alone.

“While we’re doing virtual [learning] is the perfect time to make the necessary capacity changes,” he said.

Both Goldstein and board vice-chair Barbara Kanninen said they were nervous the countywide boundary process would not happen in 2022 as planned, and asked Durán for a commitment to one.

Durán said the goal in providing additional flexibility is to have a broader, countywide boundary process.

“There is that commitment to do that,” he said.

Board member Tannia Talento disagreed with the calls for bolder boundary changes, saying the system needs flexibility in the event that capacity needs are lower than projected in the next few years.

Board member Nancy Van Doren predicted that enrollment will bounce back because most of those who opted out this year are in prekindergarten and kindergarten, ages when it is easier to keep kids home.

“We may have more of a pop back, quickly, than we might be concerned about,” she said.

In February, the School Board approved an elementary school building swap to account for the new Reed School building in Westover, as well as the former home of the Key Spanish immersion program near Courthouse being converted to a neighborhood school to account for population growth in the area.

That process, and past school boundary change processes, have frequently been met by criticism from parents, in contrast to the encouragement from most speakers at Thursday’s meeting.

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(Updated at 4:50 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools is seeing a sharp decline in enrollment this year as families cope with remote learning during the pandemic.

From September 2019 to September 2020, PreK-12 enrollment fell from 28,020 to 26,895 — a 4% drop — according to APS’ official Sept. 30 count. That’s an even bigger drop than the preliminary numbers at the beginning of September, which showed enrollment of 27,109.

The drop comes after years of enrollment growth. As of earlier this year, enrollment fall enrollment was projected to be 29,142, a 4% increase over 2019.

The change is sharpest in the elementary schools, and levels off in the secondary schools. Elementary schools in more affluent North Arlington neighborhoods — including Ashlawn, McKinley and Jamestown — have some of the biggest drops.

PreK enrollment alone is down 270 kids versus last year, the APS numbers show, while K-5 enrollment at elementary schools is down by 843 students.

“The elementary is where you see the story,” said Lisa Stengle, Executive Director of Planning and Evaluation for APS, adding that kindergarten alone has seen a drop of about 300 students.

Anecdotally, officials in public and private education say families are opting for parochial and private schools that are offering more in-person instruction. Currently, APS is fully remote, though moving towards “hybrid” in-person learning in the coming months.

Stengle said staff have told her that families are deciding to wait a year, homeschool their kids or switch to private and parochial schools.

About 74 new students enrolled at Our Savior Lutheran School in Barcroft, which Principal Joshua Klug described as a “huge increase.” His school offers daily in-person sessions in the morning or afternoon, with have no more than 10 children per class.

Normally, the largest increases are in kindergarten, with 15 to 20 new students. This year’s surge crossed grade levels, he said. Enrollment is now 126 students, up from 113 last year.

“We get new families every year, but it’s a greater percentage this year than in past years,” he said. “We lost more than we would normally lose because of the pandemic, but we definitely gained more than we normally do.”

Klug said he’s not sure whether all of the new students will stay when public schools reopen their buildings for all students. But there might also be an influx of students when conditions feel safer.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said.

Stengle said the fluctuation is not a sustained pattern, but “the effect of the pandemic.” Still, that decline is not as sharp as it may appear, she said.

“We’re lower than projected, but we’re not a lot lower than our actual enrollment,” she said. “Next year, I expect to see growth when we return to a normal school setup.”

Some schools saw increases, including Wakefield High School, which is located in one of Arlington’s fastest-growing areas for student enrollment.

Among nearby school systems, Fairfax County Public Schools also saw a decrease in enrollment, by about 8,000 students. In his opening of schools report on Sept. 18, Superintendent Scott Brabrand said 181,477 students enrolled in this year, compared to the 189,837 students projected in the budget.

Alexandria City Public Schools also recently had a high-profile instance showing the draw of private schools. Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. recently confirmed that one of his two children has enrolled at the private Bishop Ireton High School since the start of the pandemic. Hutchings confirmed the decision to Theogony, the T.C. Williams High School paper.

“I can confirm that our family made a decision to change my daughter’s school this school year,” Hutchings told Theogony. “Decisions like these are very personal family decisions and are not taken lightly. This in no way impacts my absolute lifelong, commitment to public education, to which I remain as personally dedicated as ever.”

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Arlington schools officials are pumping the brakes on a controversial plan to swap the Arlington Science Focus School and Key Immersion School buildings, after new projections revealed an unexpected increase in the county’s elementary school students in the coming years.

The school system had previously planned to move Key’s Spanish immersion program to the ASFS building, and vice versa, sometime in the next two years. The move was designed to solve some complex boundary issues in North Arlington neighborhoods, as some students currently zoned to attend ASFS actually live closer to Key.

But the school system’s plans have attracted some fierce community pushback since Superintendent Patrick Murphy rolled them out in September, with parents criticizing the logistics of the move and Murphy’s decision to press ahead with the decision without putting the matter to the School Board for a vote.

Yet Arlington Public Schools officials say the decision to “pause” the swap was driven instead by the newest data about school enrollment growth in the county, which staff presented to the Board last week.

APS planners previously believed that the county’s student population growth was finally beginning to level off after years of large jumps, but they’re now expecting a 24 percent jump in the student population between now and 2028.

Notably, elementary schoolers account for most of that change. Officials are forecasting a 21 percent increase in the elementary school population alone, which translates to about 2,778 more students over the next decade — that’s about 1,000 more kids than they expected the school system would add just a year ago.

“Given this projections update and the strong commitment APS has to the dual-language immersion program, the location for elementary immersion will be reevaluated to best meet the needs of our students,” APS staff wrote in an announcement on the school system’s website. “APS will reevaluate where the immersion program can grow, either at ASFS or other locations, while providing equitable access for all students in the immersion option.”

Both schools are currently overcapacity, and each one requires several trailers to educate those students. Some parents were already concerned that the swap would pose space problems even before these projection updates, as Key is both larger and currently holds more students than ASFS. A petition urging the Board to stop the swap has already garnered more than 800 signatures.

But with this new information in hand, the school system says it plans to keep studying the issue, with the goal of maintaining the “50/50 student balance of native Spanish speakers with speakers of English” for the immersion program wherever it might land.

“It’s important to consider the best locations for the immersion program at the elementary level to ensure equitable access for all students, and encourage participation by English learners along with native English speakers,” APS staff wrote. “This is critical to the integrity of the dual-language model and helps ensure that the academic benefits of the program are fairly distributed within a community.”

School officials hope to deliver a recommendation on a path forward to the Board by December, in order to include any adjustments as part of the next round of elementary school boundary adjustments. That is set to impact 14 schools in all, coming on the heels of the Board’s boundary changes for eight South Arlington schools at the end of last year.

More broadly, the new elementary school projections are igniting some big questions for the Board.

Planners reassured school leaders at their meeting last Thursday (Jan. 24) that this sort of surprise jump in student population is “not unprecedented,” and largely driven by the relentless pace of development in the county. But it’s concerning nonetheless for Board members, who only just signed off on a biannual update of the school system’s construction plans for the next 10 years.

“Our growth is continuing long-term,” said Board member Barbara Kanninen. “Until this update, the county and our data were kind of projecting we were going to level off at some point, probably around 32,000 students. You’re going beyond that… It really shows we have continual growth.”

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Arvaye Robinson, the mother of two elementary school girls she had hoped to enroll in the Arlington Public Schools extended day program, stood in front of the Syphax Education Center this morning during the system’s technical problems that ultimately suspended sign-up indefinitely.

“I’m so disappointed,” Robinson said, exasperated, with her phone in her hand waiting to hear from a school staffer. “I wanted some confirmation.”

After setting an alarm for exactly 7:59 a.m. so she could hop online and enroll her children, Robinson realized that the site was down and that she would have to drive to the center to enroll her children in person. She was told that she would receive a call about placement, but she didn’t feel confident about that.

“They have the means to take payment, but no concrete confirmation,” said Robinson.

A father who overheard ARLnow interviewing Robinson cut into the conversation, calling the situation absurd and saying that it had thrown his work schedule out the window for the second year in a row.

Indeed, this is the second consecutive year that extended day registration has flopped. There are varying reports of exactly how many parents waited in line to secure a spot for their children, but one parent told ARLnow she saw at least 100 people in the Syphax Education Center’s lobby this morning.

The extended day program allows parents “who can’t juggle everything” to leave children in their school’s care before and after classes, according to the program’ director, Bobby Kaplow.

According to Kaplow, after last year’s technical failure with the same vendor, APS spent the year troubleshooting with the contractor, trying to find a solution.

“All year we worked with him, we told him what we needed, we told him what the problem was, can he see it on his end,” Kaplow said, adding that he had demanded that the contractor fly in from Michigan to be on-site for the enrollment rollout today in case any issues cropped up.

“I talked to him 20 minutes before it started today, and said, ‘Are we good?'” Kaplow said. The contractor told the director that there wouldn’t be any problems.

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