The elementary school at the Key site is close to getting a new name, and it will not be after a person.
A naming committee is proposing Innovation Elementary School, or Gateway Elementary School as an alternate, for the school building 2300 Key Blvd. The Arlington School Board will choose a name on Thursday, March 11 ahead of the school opening to students this fall.
“We really feel like Innovation represents a skill and an ideal that we want our children to get from their elementary school experience,” the new school’s principal Claire Peters said.
The new school at the Key site, which is currently used by a Spanish immersion choice program, will be a neighborhood school, and it was created by a controversial swap involving multiple schools.
The school will be populated with students who live in the fast-growing Rosslyn area, including some who were previously zoned for Arlington Science Focus School.
Absent from the top two was the preferred choice among a group of survey respondents — Grace Hopper Elementary School — named for computer engineer and university teacher Naval Rear Admiral Grace Hopper.
Fresh from renaming what is now Washington-Liberty High School, and in the thick of efforts to remove names of Confederate generals and soldiers and slave-owners from Arlington’s roads and parks, committee members and at least one School Board member said they want to avoid people entirely.
“We had a very significant discussion around naming a school after a person, and it was clear from both the comments we received in the survey and comments that our committee brought back from their community that naming a school after a person is a divisive choice,” the new school’s principal Claire Peters recently told the School Board.
School Board member Reid Goldstein concurred.
“I was cringing a little bit when I saw the name because lately, I’ve been shying away from naming schools after individuals,” he said.
School staff said Gateway would reference the school’s location as the gateway to Arlington from Washington and communicate the idea that an education is a gateway to a bright future.
The other suggested names were Polaris Elementary School and Summa Elementary School of Arlington.
The survey generated nearly 400 responses, as well as 74 comments, including a few in Spanish or Mongolian.
More than half of respondents said they were community members, while the rest said they were parents of students going to the new school, parents of students at other schools, APS staff or business owners.
“This was a very small representation of the community that will be served by this elementary school,” Wilson said.
Arlington Science Focus School students also picked their favorite names: Gateway came in first and Innovation in fourth.
Photos via Arlington Public Schools
(Updated at 11:50 a.m.) About 1,400 elementary students would be reassigned to new school buildings next fall, according to a proposed change in boundaries that Arlington Public Schools released Monday evening.
The boundary proposal follows an elementary school building swap approved by the School Board in February, to account for the new Reed School building in Westover coming online and the former home of the Key Spanish immersion program near Courthouse being converted to a neighborhood school.
The boundary changes are part of the school system’s effort to prepare for an estimated 30,000 students in 2021, including a surge in new students near the Courthouse neighborhood.
APS is looking to redraw the boundaries of most, if not all, of its 24 elementary schools in the near future to address a growing imbalance between where enrollment is increasing and where there is spare school capacity, while taking equity and walkability into consideration.
The School Board is scheduled to vote on the latest boundary proposal on Dec. 3.
The 1,400 students — 13% of K-5 neighborhood school students — would be reassigned from Ashlawn, ASFS, Glebe, Long Branch, McKinley, Taylor and Tuckahoe schools, APS said.
“Our long-term priority is to address capacity needs informed by a plan that puts equity and instruction front and center, and that ensures we consider the overall needs of our students and school division rather than focus on an individual school, department or topic,” Superintendent Francisco Durán said in a statement.
He added that the district must make this change “as we move from being a system of schools to a school system.”
APS had planned to address boundaries for most elementary schools in 2020, but the pandemic disrupted education and strained families to the point that Durán decided to keep students together as much as possible.
The new boundary change approach keeps more students at their current schools and adds 800 students to school walk zones, reducing the need for busing at a time when only 11 students can ride each bus at a time. One downside: there will be an increased need for portable classroom trailers.
APS says it will continue to plan for increased school capacity where enrollment is spiking, particularly at the western end of Columbia Pike, with the upcoming Fiscal Year 2022 Capital Improvement Plan.
Virtual community meetings on the boundary proposal will be held from 7-8:30 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday) and next Wednesday, Oct. 14. Community members can provide input this fall through a community questionnaire, available through Oct. 20.
APS staff will present the superintendent’s final proposal to the School Board on Nov. 5, and will hold a public hearing on Dec. 1, before adoption on Dec. 3.
More from an APS press release, below.
The group opposes an Arlington Public Schools plan, endorsed by the interim superintendent, to move Key elementary students and staff to the Arlington Traditional School building, while moving Arlington Traditional students and staff to McKinley and McKinley students and staff to a new elementary school building in Westover. That would free up the Key school building near Courthouse, currently used by a Spanish immersion choice program, to become a neighborhood school as the elementary-aged population in that area continues to grow.
People who signed the petition, however, are not buying the APS rationale for the moves, which would reportedly result in more than 2,400 students moving to a new building.
“Moving schools is not creating more seats,” said one. “It’s a temporary bandaid and there is no data to support these moves.”
“These changes can have profound effects on students who get moved to new schools, and the current process is so flawed,” said another. “It could easily lead to even more rounds of redistricting in the near future.”
In addition to objections to the process, an alleged lack of supporting data, and inadequate communication from school staff, opponents say the moves would make diversity in the schools “more difficult to maintain.”
Per the petition:
The school move proposal exacerbates the county’s broader struggle with diversity. As in other communities, Arlington’s historic housing patterns have effectively segregated low-income and minority families, and its schools reflect those same patterns of segregation. Yet despite repeated requests from PTAs and parents across the county — and in the immediate aftermath of a recent settlement between Arlington Public Schools (APS) and the Justice Department over English language learners — APS staff has not performed any detailed analysis of how proposed school moves would affect the demographics of those school populations.
In a recent survey, more than 60% of Spanish-speaking families currently part of the Key Immersion school community have said they won’t be able to move with the program to its proposed new location. APS argues that Key Immersion would draw more native Spanish speakers if it were in a more central location — but their evidence for this is entirely anecdotal.
What’s more, moving the Arlington Traditional School and its VPI preschool program to the McKinley building would adversely affect low-income families who rely on public transit. Families trying to reach the school on a Metrobus could double their commute time. This would discourage enrollment for families without cars, negatively impacting the diversity of a school that has demonstrated results in closing the achievement gap for high-needs students.
Arlington Public Schools is planning to hold a public hearing on the plan on Thursday, Jan. 30, at the Syphax Education Center (2110 Washington Blvd) at 7 p.m., ahead of the scheduled Feb. 6 School Board vote.
Both proposals have received considerable pushback from parents, but in a presentation to the Arlington School Board last night administrators said it’s the best option for dealing with projected increased in enrollment in certain parts of the county.
“As we look at our projections and we look at the growth that’s coming along,” a school staffer said, “the area where we see the biggest growth is on the eastern side of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.”
The recommended proposal would make the following changes, starting with the 2021-22 school year:
- Move most McKinley Elementary students, plus most faculty and the principal, to the new school under construction at the Reed site in Westover.
- Move students, faculty and the principal of Arlington Traditional School (ATS) — a “choice” school — to the larger McKinley building.
- Move students, faculty and the principal of Key Elementary, a bilingual English/Spanish immersion program, to the current ATS building.
- Make the current Key building a new neighborhood elementary school, to support growth in the area.
Administrators say moving Key to the ATS building would put it closer to more Spanish speakers and “allow for long-term growth in the program.”
A number of parents from each of the potentially affected school spoke out against the swap at the School Board meeting, for a variety of reasons, following the presentation.
The presentation also included discussion of an “alternate scenario,” that would change elementary school boundaries rather than swap schools. The decidedly unpalatable alternative called for about 4,000 students — 38% of the elementary population — to be assigned to a new school. On top of that, it would require more busing.
“To fill schools to manageable capacity, boundaries would require more students to be assigned to schools farther away instead schools closer to where they live,” the superintendent’s presentation said.
Next up in the process, the School Board is expected to hold a public hearing before taking action on the proposal in February.
During a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, school officials proposed moving the majority of McKinley Elementary School students to the new Reed Elementary School, among other switches.
The Arlington School Board is expected to take action on one of two final proposals during its meeting on February 6, 2020. If approved, it would take effect for the 2021-22 school year, per APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.
“Some of our schools can’t manage the student’s lunch time, we have students who eat lunch as early as 10 a.m. and as late as 2 p.m.,” said Lisa Stengle, executive director for the APS Department of Planning and Evaluation.
“We like to keep kids together. The more we can keep groups of kids together, the better,” she said.
The first proposal idea APS shared with parents would mean:
- The majority of current McKinley students would move to Reed.
- The Arlington Traditional School (ATS) program would move to the McKinley building.
- Key Immersion School would move to the Arlington Traditional School building.
- The Key building would become a neighborhood school.
According to officials, 40% of McKinley students live in the Reed School walk zone, meaning more students who are currently riding the bus would have the option to walk to school. In addition, it would provide 100 additional seats for new ATS students.
The second proposal calls for the same McKinley, Reed, and ATS switches, plus:
- Campbell Elementary School moving to the ATS building
- Key, along with its immersion program, would move to the Carlin Springs Elementary School building
- The majority of students at Carlin Springs would move to the Campbell Elementary School building
- Campbell building becomes a neighborhood school
- The Key building becomes a neighborhood school
Both plans are expected to affect some 20-30% of Arlington elementary school students.
“[Moving schools allows] APS to use all schools to maximum capacity, keep together as many students in each school community as possible, and keep as many students as possible walking to their neighborhood schools,” officials said in a press release.
The proposals are a larger part of the APS Elementary School Planning Project, which calls for the planning of capacity solutions as Arlington’s elementary student population is expected to exceed 30,000 by 2023 — with significant growth in the Rosslyn, Ballston, and Columbia Pike areas.
The fiscal impact of either proposal remains to be determined, according to APS Transportation Planning Director Kristen Haldeman.
Alternatively, per the planning website, if APS chooses to only redraw elementary school zoning districts without moving schools, it would affect up to 41 percent of Arlington’s elementary school population and incur additional transportation costs.
In addition, Spengle noted the county will need to build up to three new elementary schools by 2029 in order to accommodate growth, including in and around Pentagon City.
The school system will spend the next several months collecting community feedback before the School Board makes a final decision, with public meetings on:
- November 5: An online information session on APS Engage in English and Spanish
- November 5-24: An online community questionnaire at APS Engage
- November 15 and 22: “Friday Facebook Live” sessions with new FAQs answered.
Several community forums are also scheduled for December, plus a School Board public hearing on January 30 at 7 p.m. in the Syphax Education Center.
New Hotel for DCA? — “A hotel might be in the works for Reagan National Airport, according to Jack Potter, CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority… A spokeswoman for MWAA said they are still in the ideas phase and nothing is concrete.” [Washington Business Journal]
Parents Fight Proposed Key Changes — “Parents are battling for the school’s future after Arlington Public Schools surprised them with a plan to relocate Key [Elementary], an announcement that animated larger questions about race, class and the purpose of bilingual education.” [Washington Post]
APS Friday Closure Questioned — “Most schools in the DC region decided to stay open despite the wintry mix Friday morning, but Arlington County Public Schools decided to close leaving parents in disbelief.” [WJLA]
Kindergarteners Learn About Transgender — “Dozens of kindergarten students sat cross-legged in his classroom at Ashlawn Elementary School in Arlington, listening as an advocate for transgender rights paged through a children’s picture book about a transgender girl,” as part of an event with the National Education Association and the Human Rights Campaign. [Washington Post]
Chamber Partners with APS — “The Arlington Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce a partnership with Arlington Public Schools Career Center for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) program. The Chamber is in its fifth year of offering the YEA! Program, but this is its first class of students for the program as part of their Arlington Public Schools learning.” [Arlington Chamber of Commerce]
Dog With Dementia Falls into Storm Drain — “A small dog with dementia is missing after falling into a storm drain in Arlington, Virginia. The Animal Welfare League of Arlington tweeted out an alert Thursday and said the cute pup disappeared after falling into the sewer about 8 p.m.” [NBC Washington, Twitter]
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.”
County school officials are reassuring nervous parents at Arlington Science Focus School that a state-of-the-art science lab, built thanks to nearly $200,000 in private funding, will be included as part of a controversial building swap with the Key Immersion School in the next few years.
Arlington Public Schools is still sorting out the logistics of the move, which is designed to ease overcrowding at both buildings and address the fact that ASFS is the only neighborhood school in the county to sit outside its own attendance boundaries. The school system has yet to even nail down an exact timetable for the swap, with the change on tap for either 2020 or 2021.
But the building swap is already prompting criticism from parents, including several who have spoken at recent School Board meetings to register their frustration with the process. Superintendent Patrick Murphy has said he does not intend to seek the Board’s approval for the change, arguing it’s within his power to authorize the change on his own.
Among the issues raised by parents is what will become of the ASFS “Investigation Station,” a science lab the school added in 2015. The school’s Parent-Teacher Association successfully raised more than $177,000 to fund the lab over the course of a year, and was described by the school system at the time as a tool for students to “explore the natural world with the aid of hands-on learning tools and cutting-edge technology.”
While there are plenty of details left to be worked out about the swap, APS spokesman Frank Bellavia told ARLnow that “Board members and administrators have assured ASFS staff and families that we recognize that moving equipment and other teaching materials will be inherent in any building move for both schools.”
It remains unclear, however, just how the process of swapping the buildings will actually work. APS has yet to work up a cost estimate for the process, and Bellavia said that “it’s still too far out” to know how much work on each building will be required to retrofit each school’s equipment to its new home.
“Questions about the building swap will be addressed as part of the community engagement plan that will be developed and shared with the community in January 2019,” Bellavia said.
In a memo from APS staff in response to School Board questions on the swap, staffers suggested that the school system could “refresh” each building ahead of the change, rather than shelling out for a full renovation.
Notably, Key’s current building has room for about 100 more students than ASFS, and school officials plan to add additional trailers at the Science Focus site to make up for the difference. The staff memo also notes that ASFS’ “two science classrooms will be converted back for regular classroom use” ahead of the swap.
Superintendent Patrick Murphy reassured parents at the Board’s meeting last Thursday (Oct. 4) that APS would continue to engage with the community about the issue. But the school system is also hoping to sort through its contentious elementary school boundary process first, meaning that more detailed discussions of the Key-ASFS swap will have to wait until next year.
“There still needs to be a lot more information and perhaps background around the rationale for the recommendation and I know staff will be doing that from late winter into the spring,” Murphy said.
(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.
But there was only one experience that I was never able to put into simple words, and that was the 11 years that I spent in immersion classes.
Arlington County is home to four Spanish immersion programs, at Claremont and Francis Scott Key elementary schools, Gunston Middle School and Wakefield High School.
Arlington Public Schools says the goal of the programs is to develop “high levels” of proficiency and literacy in two languages, promote high academic achievement and cross cultural competence.
I started second grade at Claremont Immersion School in 2003. It was the first year the school opened and students came from the immersion programs at Abingdon Elementary and my former school, Oakridge. I spent half my first day reciting the multiplication tables in Spanish, the other half in English.
It was not always easy, I struggled with both science and math as I got older and the content got more complicated. I stuck with it, although it was common for classmates to leave the school so they could thrive in a traditional setting.
Language skills improve even more in middle school, when there are 11 hours of Spanish instruction a week. Because subjects switch throughout the day, there’s a possibility to go back and forth from English to Spanish. It’s a brain workout to go back and forth between the two every 45 minutes. Unlike the elective Spanish classes offered in middle school, the Spanish Language Arts class that immersion students take is structured much like an English class.
High school is the true test. Some students struggle with AP level Spanish, as you don’t practice the language the way you do in middle school. With block scheduling, you may only get one day of Spanish instruction.
Continuing to practice Spanish every day is a valuable commitment. Many of my friends are double majoring or minoring in the language. They have traveled to Spain, Cuba and Costa Rica to practice the language.
“I’ve gotten to travel the world with confidence in my ability to speak the language,” said Peyton Johnson, a senior at James Madison University double majoring in Communications and Spanish.