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by Alex Koma June 18, 2018 at 1:45 pm 0

Someday, the Buck property in Ballston could be home to a new school, or for other county-owned facilities or offices — but for now, it’ll merely be used for parking for some school employees.

The County Board voted unanimously Saturday (June 16) to allow the school system to use 48 parking spaces at the site for at least the next two years. The School Board approved a similar initiative on May 30, clearing the way for Arlington Public Schools to park its “white fleet” at the site (1425 N. Quincy Street) and free up some space at the county’s Trades Center.

Arlington Public Schools struck a similar deal with the county last month to let some school bus drivers park their personal vehicles at the garage near Barcroft Park, as APS continues to buy more school buses and fill up its parking lots. This latest change would involve moving vans, SUVs and pickup trucks normally used by the school system’s maintenance workers over to the former Buck property, located just across from Washington-Lee High School.

“This is not a long-term vision,” said Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “This is our management of a space that was always acquired with the purpose of being a piece of the puzzle in making sure the county can deal with its facility and infrastructure needs… How do we do something in the interim that’s reflective of using that investment wisely?”

The county agreed to shell out $30 million to buy the six-acre parcel back in 2015, and planners have spent months studying potential uses for the site. While officials have long hoped to use it for additional parking, the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission has considered a litany of other options as well, like building new APS office space, an additional 911 call center or even a new school on the property.

Yet County Manager Mark Schwartz revealed in his latest 10-year plan for construction spending that the county won’t have much money to spend on the Buck site. In all, his proposed Capital Improvement Plan calls for just $3 million in spending to make some minor improvements on the property, rather than moving ahead with any major changes.

Accordingly, that means the site will be open for APS parking, in the short term at least. The new lease agreement between the county and the school system will let APS use the site for the next two years, with the potential for six one-year renewals after that.

The move did meet with some community pushback. Some neighbors spoke at the County Board meeting and two different School Board meetings to express concerns about traffic noise at the site, particularly because workers will likely be arriving at the lot quite early — John Chadwick, the school system’s assistant superintendent for facilities and operations, noted Saturday that some employees will be at the parking lot as early as 3:30 a.m.

But Chadwick pledged to work with the community to mitigate any adverse impacts from this new arrangement. Additionally, School Board members stressed at their May 30 meeting that they hope the move is merely temporary, given the property’s potential to house a new school someday.

“Given the pressure on the school system to build new schools, I think there are many people that are hopeful that we’d begin exploring this site… to at least consider for a school,” said Board member Nancy Van Doren.

County staff noted Saturday that they’re currently conducting a technical and engineering analysis of the site, and that includes the property’s potential to someday serve as a home for new classroom space. They plan to wrap up that work this winter.

Photo via Google Maps

by Alex Koma June 14, 2018 at 1:45 pm 0

(Updated at 3:25 p.m.) There may be a way to satisfy parent demands for equitable amenities at a new high school program near Columbia Pike — but it comes at a cost.

The School Board is nearing a vote on a new Capital Improvement Plan, which will guide the next 10 years of school construction, and that means time is running out for officials to tinker with plans for the Arlington Career Center. The site will eventually be home to an additional 1,050 high school students, but the Board has yet to settle on just how it will move forward with building on the property.

Parents in the nearby Arlington Heights neighborhood, in particular, have expressed concerns about how many athletic fields and parking options will be available at the Career Center, particularly when compared to the county’s other high schools.

Under the version of the CIP the Board reviewed at its meeting last Thursday (June 7), the school system would build an underground parking lot at the site with a synthetic field on top — but that will only happen in 2026, two years after space for 800 students is set to open up at the Career Center.

For some parents, such a delay seemed worrisome, particularly as students search for open field space for sports. Accordingly, the Board reviewed a plan at a work session Tuesday (June 12) that would ensure the garage and field get built by 2023, pushing off the 800-seat expansion, and simultaneous construction of a performing arts wing, until 2025.

“The community really needs us to define what wrap-around supports we’re going to provide there to make it an equitable experience for high school students,” said Board member Nancy Van Doren.

The plan would also address some of the Board’s funding concerns. Initially, Arlington Public Schools was set to pay for all this construction using bonds, a process that would’ve piled up more debt than school budget minders are usually comfortable with. This revised proposal calls for APS to shell out $24 million from its capital reserve fund to help pay for the Career Center work, cutting down a bit on the school system’s debt load and shifting the reserve money from future elementary and middle school projects.

Board members did express some consternation about drawing down a reserve fund so substantially — Vice Chair Reid Goldstein suggested he had plenty of “heartburn” over the prospect that the Trump administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminum could jack up construction costs in the future, meaning those reserves could come in handy down the line. Yet most expressed a willingness to embrace the proposal, all the same.

“I see the tradeoffs,” Van Doren said. “But we need to fund as many seats as possible out of our own pocket right now.”

That’s because the County Board has its own money troubles to worry about, and likely won’t be able to help APS fund additional school construction.

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by Alex Koma June 8, 2018 at 9:50 am 0

The Arlington School Board has kicked off a process to rename Washington-Lee High School, aiming to settle on a new moniker for the school before the year is out.

The School Board voted unanimously at its meeting last night (June 7) to approve a change to the school system’s approach to naming school buildings. Though the policy will apply to all current and future county schools, it specifically stipulates that the Board should select a new name for Washington-Lee, given Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s legacy fighting for the cause of slavery.

The Board has been considering a name change at the school since last summer, when a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville sparked a national conversation about Confederate symbols and prompted calls in the community to change the name. Yet the Board opted to revise its whole policy around school names, rather than just change Washington-Lee’s moniker specifically.

But with the new policy passed, the Board will now move forward with a three-month long process of finding a new name for W-L, which has borne the same name since it opened in 1925. Board members are set to pick a committee to deliberate on the name in September, and could vote on a change by December.

“Celebrating your school pride should not mean having to wear a shirt like this one that honors a person who may not share your values,” said Board member Monique O’Grady, while holding up a W-L t-shirt. “As we become a more diverse community, we must become more open to the perspectives of many, and how holding onto some elements of our past can have an impact on our future.”

The decision will undoubtedly come as bad news for some W-L alums. A number of graduates from the school have publicly objected to the move, both at Board meetings and in community demonstrations. Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, has even spoken out on the issue, in keeping with his defense of other Confederate symbols around the state over the last year or so.

“This implicitly would vilify virtually every southern family from the Civil War, in perpetuity,” said George Dodge, a W-L alum who spoke at the meeting.

But Board members stressed that they also heard frequently from parents interested in seeing the name change, fearing that Arlington Public Schools is sending the wrong message by so prominently honoring a man like Lee.

“If we continue to honor Lee the symbol, we continue to honor a set of values that has nothing to do with what Arlington is today,” Natalie Roy, a parent of APS students, told the Board.

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by Alex Koma June 7, 2018 at 4:15 pm 0

A group of parents who could someday send their kids to a new high school program at the Arlington Career Center remain frustrated by the school system’s plans for the site, and they’re planning a new effort to make their voices heard.

Concerned parents, largely hailing from the Arlington Heights neighborhood around Columbia Pike, are banding together to form a new nonprofit called “Citizens for Arlington School Equality.” The organization, which will lobby the School Board to include a broader range of amenities at the school site, is planning to kick off its efforts with a march from Patrick Henry Elementary School to the Board’s meeting tonight (June 7) at the Syphax Education Center (2110 Washington Blvd), with a rally to follow.

The Board has yet to finalize just how it will build 1,050 new high school seats at the Career Center, but it is nearing a consensus on a new Capital Improvement Plan that would dictate how the construction proceeds over the next decade. A final vote on the plan is set for June 21, but the Board seems to be nearing agreement on a proposal to build the seats by 2024. Under the proposal, amenities at the site would include a multi-use gym, a “black box” theater, a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage, all to be added by 2026.

Yet that plan has done little to satisfy some Arlington Heights parents, who are concerned that the Career Center site wouldn’t offer the same features as the county’s other comprehensive high schools. They’re particularly concerned that the Board’s proposed design would fundamentally disadvantage students who live near the Career Center in South Arlington and are most likely to attend the new program.

“I want this for my kids, but I want to make sure I live in a county that cares about the education of all kids equally,” Jennifer Milder, the parent of two students attending Henry right now and one of the new group’s organizers, told ARLnow. “And the needle has moved very little on the inequality spectrum so far. There are still not adequate fields, still not adequate parking, or an adequate gym.”

Board members have spent plenty of time wrestling with how they can beef up amenities at the site, and examined several plans that would’ve added more amenities to the program and sped up their construction so they were available as the facility opened its doors.

But all of those proposals would have put a serious strain on the school system’s finances and were ultimately cast aside. Even the Board’s current plans will strain Arlington Public Schools’ borrowing capacity, and the county’s similarly challenging financial picture means the County Board may not be able to help, either.

Yet Milder and some her fellow parents believe both boards should view fully funding amenities at the Career Center site as a priority important enough to force a re-ordering of the county’s long-term construction plans.

“The county is doing all these things to attract businesses and people to Arlington, then not backing it up by supporting students they’re bringing here,” said Megan Haydasz, another Arlington Heights parent involved with the new group.

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by Alex Koma June 1, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

(Updated at 4:40 p.m.) Arlington school leaders believe they’ll need plenty of help from the County Board to build enough schools to keep pace with a rapidly growing student body over the next decade — but the county’s own financial pressures will likely limit just how much it can lend a hand.

The School Board and County Board convened for a joint meeting on Tuesday (May 29) as officials pull together their respective capital improvement plans, documents outlining construction spending over the next 10 years, in order to better coordinate the process.

Though neither board has finalized its CIP, the School Board is a bit farther along in the process and is currently eyeing a roughly $631 million plan for approval. But to make that proposal more viable, the Board told their county counterparts that they’ll need help in a few key areas: finding off-site parking and athletic fields for high schoolers, taking on debt to build new schools and securing more land for school buildings.

“Given the constraints we have, we have to be very creative,” said School Board member Nancy Van Doren. “And we need help.”

While County Board members expressed a willingness to work on those issues, they’re facing their own problems. County Manager Mark Schwartz’s $2.7 billion proposal comes with hefty cuts to some transportation improvements and neighborhood infrastructure projects, as the county grapples with increased funding demands from Metro and a shrinking commercial tax base.

In all, Schwartz is envisioning sending $396 million to Arlington Public Schools for construction projects through 2028, but even that amount might not help the school system meet its planned building needs.

“The amount of money we have in there for schools does not match the amount of money the schools are asking for,” Schwartz said during a Wednesday (May 30) town hall on the CIP. “They’re asking for more.”

In part, that’s because the School Board has been working to find a way to add more space for high school students a bit sooner than they originally anticipated, and add more amenities for those students in the process.

Members have spent the last few weeks wrestling with how to implement a “hybrid” plan the Board approved last summer, avoiding the need for a fourth comprehensive high school by adding seats to the Arlington Career Center (816 S. Walter Reed Drive) and the “Education Center” site adjacent to Washington-Lee High School (1426 N. Quincy Street). They’ve been especially concerned with how to most efficiently add features like athletic fields and performing arts space to the Career Center site, over concerns from parents that building space for high schoolers without those amenities would present an equity issue.

As of now, the Board is nearing agreement on a plan to build out space for a total of 1,050 high schoolers at the Career Center by 2024, complete with a multi-use gym and “black box” theater. APS would add a synthetic field on top of an underground parking garage at the site two years later.

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by Alex Koma June 1, 2018 at 10:45 am 0

(Updated at 3:25 p.m.) Washington-Lee High School could see its name changed by the end of the year under the terms of a policy change reviewed by the Arlington School Board Thursday night (May 31).

The Board has been mulling the possibility of stripping Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s name from the school ever since last summer’s violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville sparked a national conversation about Confederate symbols, but members asked school system staff to develop a more detailed policy framework to guide the naming of all buildings first.

Arlington Public Schools officials delivered that proposed change to the Board last night, and members are now set to take action on it by this coming Thursday (June 7).

“We said we’d seek to adopt naming criteria that reflect our values and allow us to judge every potential school name with objectivity,” said School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen. “We have kept these promises… and we’re in a good place. I really like what you’ve brought us. I think it’s going to be a model as other school communities grapple with this issue.”

The new policy, drafted over the course of the last nine months or so, is principally designed to guide Board members as they select new names for the bevy of new school facilities set to open in the coming the years.

It would recommend putting an emphasis on selecting geographical names with “historic or geographic significance to the Arlington community’s history. But if the Board is to name a school after an individual, that person’s “‘principal legacy’ (i.e. the key activity, advocacy or accomplishment for which the individual is most known)” needs to align with “the APS mission, vision, and core values and beliefs,” according to the proposal.

Yet, under those criteria, APS staff also suggested that the Board would need to rename Washington-Lee, given Lee’s legacy fighting for the Confederacy, which championed slavery.

“A lot of people don’t like change and we know that it’s difficult in all aspects,” said Linda Erdos, APS assistant superintendent for school and community relations and the facilitator of discussions around the naming policy. “But everybody kept saying, ‘Diversity should be on the minds of people, the diversity of the people served.'”

Such a change would certainly not be without controversy — some Washington-Lee alumni have been vocally protesting any change to the school’s name, over concerns that such move would tarnish a fixture of Arlington County. Washington-Lee has used that moniker since it opened in 1925, and some alums urged the Board to put the matter to a public referendum.

“The Arlington voters should make the decision, not five persons,” said Betsy Lockman, a W-L alum.

Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, echoed that call in a press conference ahead of the meeting. Stewart made his opposition to the removal of statues of Confederate generals in Charlottesville a hallmark of his failed bid for governor last year, and he dubbed any consideration of renaming Washington-Lee as an example of “political correctness gone rampant.”

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by Alex Koma May 25, 2018 at 10:45 am 0

(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) The Arlington School Board is nearing consensus on a plan to build 1,050 new seats for high schoolers at the county’s Career Center by 2024, with some, but not all, of the features community members want to see at the site.

At a May 22 work session, the Board expressed broad agreement on changes to Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposed 10-year construction plan, known as the capital improvement plan. School leaders have yet to finalize these decisions, but Board members signaled an increased willingness to embrace a plan that costs roughly $64 million more than the one Murphy proposed.

The Board has spent the last few weeks grappling with how, exactly, they’d execute a plan members agreed to last summer calling for Arlington Public Schools to add more capacity yet avoid building a fourth comprehensive high school, by adding seats to the Career Center (816 S. Walter Reed Drive) and the “Education Center” site adjacent to Washington-Lee High School (1426 N. Quincy Street).

Murphy originally suggested that APS add space for 600 high school students at the Education Center site and 250 at the Career Center by 2021, then tack on 800 more seats at the Career Center in 2026. That construction would also involve the addition of a multi-use gym and “black box” performing arts theater at the Career Center, but would not include the addition of other amenities parents in the area have been demanding.

The Board was previously considering more ambitious plans to outfit the Career Center site with a full complement of athletic fields and performing arts space. But the increased cost of those options, when combined with how the spending would strain APS’ capacity for taking on debt, seems to be scaring off Board members.

“I wanted to know how we could fast track seats and get all the amenities,” said Board member Monique O’Grady. “I think it’s clear that would put us in a situation where it wasn’t affordable.”

The Board is moving closer to embracing a plan that would bump up the construction of 800 additional seats at the Career Center to 2024, but also calls for the addition of a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage to the site.

“It’s very important that we add seats, but also that our seats be high quality,” said Board Chair Barbara Kanninen. “This would be what almost all of our high school students want to see in their school day.”

The Career Center would still not include every possible amenity the community might want to see, like a swimming pool or additional athletic fields, a point the Board repeatedly acknowledged. But Kanninen stressed that students at other county high schools have to travel elsewhere to participate in some sports or specialty classes, and she does not feel that building the Career Center school without those amenities would be inequitable for South Arlington residents.

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by Alex Koma May 18, 2018 at 1:45 pm 0

Arlington Public Schools is set to add seats for 850 high schoolers by 2021, but the key question for school leaders now is how, exactly, that construction might proceed.

The School Board is gearing up to award a $2.4 million contract for design work at the “Education Center” site adjacent to Washington-Lee High School (1426 N. Quincy Street), where the school system has planned to add space for up to 600 high school students three years from now. Rather than building a fourth comprehensive high school, the Board agreed last summer on a plan to split new seats between the Education Center and the Arlington Career Center just off Columbia Pike (816 S. Walter Reed Drive).

But the Board is also weighing a plan to use the Education Center site for elementary school use instead, while accelerating the construction of new high school seats at the Career Center. Another option would leave high schoolers at the Education Center, but still accelerate the Career Center seats.

Both plans would let APS build additional amenities at the Career Center site, a notable change as parents in the area raise concerns that students there wouldn’t have the same opportunities — a full complement of athletic fields, for instance — as other high schoolers under APS’s current plans.

“We feel like we’re being told we’re asking for too much by simply asking for equality,” Kristi Sawert, president of the Arlington Heights Civic Association, told ARLnow.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy is proposing a 10-year construction plan that broadly follows the outline of the deal the Board hammered out last summer — he’s suggesting that APS add space for 600 high school students at the Education Center site and 250 at the Career Center by 2021, then tack on 800 more seats at the Career Center in 2026.

That construction would also involve the addition of a multi-use gym and “black box” performing arts theater at the Career Center, with plans to build a new elementary school all the way out in 2029.

Yet, at a May 15 work session, county staff presented the Board with two alternatives.

One calls for moving the 800-seat expansion at the Career Center up to 2024, while simultaneously constructing an addition for performing arts programs. Then, a few years later, APS would add a synthetic athletic field on top of an underground parking garage at the site.

That option would reduce the school system’s reliance on trailers at the high school level a bit sooner, but force APS to delay plans to add more middle and elementary school seats, APS planner Robert Ruiz told the Board.

The other option APS staff developed calls for moving the Montessori program at Patrick Henry Elementary School to the Education Center instead, then sending 500 high schoolers to Henry by 2021.

By 2024, APS would add 800 seats at the Career Center, which would help replace the Henry seats. That option would also guarantee a full range of amenities at the Career Center by 2026, including two synthetic fields, an underground parking garage, a performing arts addition, a gym and a black box theater. Murphy’s current plan only calls for the gym and theater to be built.

However, it would also be about $10 million more expensive than Murphy’s plan, an unpleasant prospect for Board members after APS narrowly avoided class size increases in its last budget.

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by Bridget Reed Morawski May 7, 2018 at 9:45 am 0

Arlington Public Schools will not offer high school students beginner’s level Japanese and German classes this fall, and some parents and students are speaking out about it.

Much of the loudest advocacy has been geared toward supporting up the Japanese classes. Public comments after a world languages presentation at last week’s School Board meeting (May 3) focused on the ways that the Japanese classes have made an impact on students.

“It’s not just a language, it’s not just something people take because they want to get the advanced diploma,” said one student, Juliana Logan. “It’s not an easy language, we take it because we care and we want to learn more about it.”

Another student, Liam Mason, started a Change.org petition that, as of May 4 (Friday), had garnered more than 1,800 signatures over the past week. The petition isn’t clear as to how many of the signers are Arlington residents.

Mason spoke of his strong desire to learn the language, calling the news of the phase out “devastating.”

The demand for Japanese and German courses has shrunk in recent years, according to Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia.

In 2015-2016, 65 students signed up for German and 54 signed up for Japanese. By the next school year, 2016-2017, those numbers dropped to 42 and 37 students respectively.

Though the numbers rose by two students per language in 2017-2018, Bellavia said that the numbers for 2018-2019 German and Japanese enrollment were low. There were 33 requests for German, or six less than in 2017-2018, and 41 requests for Japanese.

Bellavia added in an email to ARLnow that the school system “often [has] attrition from level one to level two… that means that there are even smaller levels at the advanced language level.”

“Therefore, we have decided to use our resources for courses that have a greater level of interest throughout APS,” he said.

Supporters have noted that the reason for the relatively low requests, compared to much more popular languages like Spanish or French (with a respective 2,326 and 673 enrolled students in the last school year), is due to school counselors advising students to switch to Chinese and the lack of a Japanese and German option at the middle school level.

Mason described how many students tend to stick with their middle school language as they advance grade levels, and that German and Japanese are thus dealt an unfair hand during enrollment.

“Counselors have told children to disenroll and it’s not offered in middle school, [yet] numbers are increasing by a surprising margin,” said Mason. His comments continued, stating that he believed that the anticipated larger class sizes would add more students to the program.

According to Bellavia, the advice from counselors came after it was determined that there would be insufficient enrollment for the 2018-2019 school year:

APS counselors do not advocate for one world language course over another. Students were given the same opportunity to select Japanese and German as they were all world languages within APS.  Each year, students select those courses they are interested in taking. Once all of the course requests are approved, school staff review the requests and then determine the number of sections needed for each course.  Each year, there may be some courses for which there is not enough student interest to run the course. Once it was determined there was not enough interest to run Japanese and German for the 2018-19 school year with the current model, counselors advised students that another option would need to be selected.

We are in the process of determining other potential options for offering these languages to those students who are interested.

A committee, Save Japanese in Arlington Public Schools, has been formed by the parents and students, seeking a one year deferment of the decision to allow for community input.

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by Alex Koma May 4, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

The Arlington School Board managed to avoid class size increases in its new budget, but the county’s worsening financial outlook has school leaders warning that future spending plans could include additional painful cuts.

The School Board voted unanimously Thursday to approve a roughly $637 million budget for fiscal year 2019, though board members expressed plenty of trepidation about the document.

“This was a very difficult year, and I think we’re going to have a few more difficult years,” said board member Tannia Talento. “The things we were able to save this year, we may not be able to save next year. We just need to be aware of that reality.”

Just as the County Board has been wrestling with challenges associated with a shrinking commercial tax base and ballooning Metro expenses, Arlington Public Schools officials have been forced to start doing some belt tightening as well. Superintendent Patrick Murphy proposed about $10 million in spending cuts in the budget he sent to the board, targeting areas like employee benefits and planned hires, and he warned that the rapid pace of student enrollment is likely to only make budget pressures more acute in the coming years.

However, the School Board was able to push off the impact of this year’s budget squeeze in some select areas, thanks to an extra $3.2 million in one-time funding the County Board opted to send to the school system as it finalized its budget on April 22.

The School Board decided Thursday to use the bulk of that money — roughly $2.6 million — to delay a bump in class sizes across every grade level for one year, saving 28 jobs from the chopping block in the process. Murphy had originally proposed upping average elementary school class sizes by one student each, with average increases of .75 pupils in each middle school class and .5 students in high school classes.

But using that money to avoid class size increases was not without controversy; it passed on a 3-2 vote, with Vice Chair Reid Goldstein and board member Monique O’Grady dissenting. While neither board member expressed any great satisfaction with those votes, both stressed that they’d rather see the school system save up now to prepare for choppy financial waters ahead.

“I don’t like taking cuts, but the reality is we must do so,” Goldstein said. “Tightening the belt means things are not going to be perfect all the way around.”

Yet board members like Chair Barbara Kanninen argued that keeping class sizes small is “a hallmark of our school system,” justifying the extra spending. Furthermore, she reasoned that the board could use the county’s one-time funding to support such a change because APS wouldn’t be adding any new positions with the money, merely supporting existing employees.

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by Alex Koma May 3, 2018 at 10:45 am 0

(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.

by Alex Koma May 2, 2018 at 9:45 am 0

(Updated at 2:50 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools staff have named seven elementary schools that could host countywide “option” programs in the coming years, as officials move ahead with their reevaluation of elementary school boundaries scheduled to wrap up this fall.

Yesterday (May 1), APS released an updated draft analysis of potential changes to county elementary schools, with the bulk of the document addressing which schools could someday offer option programs — meaning they are open to student applicants from all over the county. APS currently is eyeing seven possible locations, but aims to keep a total of five schools as option program sites.

Staff indicate that Campbell, Carlin Springs and Patrick Henry Elementary Schools are all likely to earn their recommendation to either become or remain option sites. Barcroft, Claremont and Nottingham Elementary Schools and the Arlington Traditional School are also cited as possibilities to fill the final two available slots, though APS doesn’t plan to offer final recommendations to the board until sometime this fall.

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,” meaning only students who live within set boundaries are eligible to attend.

With two new elementary schools set to open over the next three years, the School Board asked APS staff to work up two proposals for policymakers to consider. One would leave all the option and neighborhood school designations the same and adjust attendance boundaries; the other would change both the school designations and the boundaries.

Staff will offer the board a definitive set of recommendations about how the mix of option and neighborhood schools might change. The May 1 analysis explores a host of factors to guide those choices, such as how changing those designations would affect transportation options and the proximity of Spanish-language programs to Spanish-speaking students.

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. In the May 1 analysis, APS staff suggest that the board could keep the “Expeditionary Learning” program at Campbell Elementary School and establish a new Spanish immersion program at Carlin Springs.

That leaves two spots for option programs empty, and the analysis suggests that the school system could maintain Claremont or Arlington Traditional School as option sites, or convert Barcroft or Nottingham Elementary Schools.

Staff floated the possibility of running option programs at three schools in close proximity — Barcroft, Carlin Springs and Claremont — in order to achieve “greater transportation efficiency” when busing in students from around the county.

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by Bridget Reed Morawski April 27, 2018 at 9:45 am 0

The possibility of including a swimming pool in Career Center site planning arose at a joint Arlington County Board/Arlington Public Schools work session last week.

Kristi Sawert, who presented Career Center site considerations for programming and amenities during the work session, said that the pool possibility was “one of the more lively discussions” that the working group has had. Sawert listed several reasons for being pro-pool, including what she called a long-standing APS and School Board policy that aquatics education is essential.

“The main reason I hear that we don’t need a pool at the Career Center site is that those students could be bused to Long Bridge Pool when it opens,” said Sawert.

Sawert said that after having consulted with county staff, she believes that busing students isn’t feasible at the high school level because of the lack of free elective periods that students would need for off-campus travel. Busing, Sawert said, would only be a realistic option if students chose to give up core instructional time.

“Those lost hours would really add up,” she said, adding that this was a matter of equality between wealthy students who could afford private swim lessons and those who couldn’t.

High schoolers take at least eight swimming lessons per year in 80-minute blocks. Elementary and middle schoolers are required to take far fewer lessons, at just five swimming instructional hours annually.

Though County Board member John Vihstadt said that he thought a pool is appropriate and necessary, other board members had questions. County Board member Libby Garvey questioned why changes couldn’t be made to students’ schedules to accommodate activities like swimming.

“I appreciate the discussion of swimming and why we need swimming and pools, I totally believe that,” Garvey said. “But listening to the concerns and the difficulties, they all sit around schedules, and the same old block schedules, and the same old constrained day.”

Garvey suggested, as an example, a school schedule of 6 a.m.-11 p.m. for students, which she said would provide flexibility for students to go to Long Bridge to swim. Her intent with the example, she explained, was to highlight the importance of flexibility for students who need to take jobs, go to internships or do other activities that don’t conform well to the traditional school schedules.

“I totally agree with the need for swimming. I’m not sure we have to preserve the same schedule that we’ve had for a hundred years,” Garvey said.

Board member Erik Gutshall questioned how realistic it would be to have another pool in light of county-wide funding concerns.

“I’d want to know that if we’re going to build a pool, and if we agree it’s a great idea, that that pool is going to get absolute, full use and that all of our other pools that we have get full use,” he said. “Money is an object, and it’s going to be highly constrained in every decision [so] every recommendation has to be fully justified.”

Screenshot via Arlington County

by Bridget Reed Morawski April 25, 2018 at 9:45 am 0

Some members of the Washington-Lee High School Parent-Teacher Association are concerned that the Arlington School Board may re-purpose the adjacent Arlington Education Center into an elementary school instead of adding high school seats, as was previously decided.

The concern stems from a working session on April 12 centered on the Arlington Public Schools Capital Improvement Plan, in which School Board members briefly discussed the costs of potentially converting the Education Center into elementary school space rather than up to 800 high school seats.

John Chadwick, Arlington Public Schools assistant superintendent of facilities and operations, said that the cost determination was done in anticipation of the possible need for swing space in the future, to make sure the numbers are correct from the get-go.

The Washington-Lee PTA circulated an email last week noting that changing the Arlington Education Center plans would make it “extremely likely that boundaries will be redrawn.” If a boundary re-working were to occur, it could knock some Washington-Lee families out of the school’s district, the PTA stated.

At the April 12 working session, School Board members Nancy Van Doren and Tannia Talento both voiced concern about confusion within the community about actions that the School Board may take.

“I’m very concerned that we have two months to make this decision,” said Van Doren at the working session. “This is a compacted time frame and a very complex set of decisions… I’m worried that we need to take the community along as we make that set of decisions.”

Talento added that the Board “cannot be vague” about its future plans, and that the community should be kept apprised of the entire process, even just casual discussions about future facility repurposing. She noted that many families might have already tuned out of school planning discussions because they assumed that nothing would change dramatically, which could cause confusion for those just hearing about a possible Education Center plan change. In fact, Talento said that she herself is unclear on where the Board stands on the matter at this point, and she asked for direction.

“I’m happy to consider, if we’re reconsidering the use, I just need to know and we need the community know that we’re reconsidering,” Talento said.

The email from the WLHS-PTA added that if a re-worked Education Center plan were to come to fruition, the future of and use guidelines for certain facilities — like sports fields and the planetarium — is an open question.

More from the PTA’s email:

In June 2017, the School Board voted to create 500-600 high school seats at the site of the Ed Center building, next to W-L by the planetarium and to create 700-800 high school seats at the Career Center. While the program details for the Ed Center site was not decided at that time, there was a strong possibility that they would have been added as an expansion of WL. If this occurs, W-L would likely get additional benefits such as a black box theater (which YHS and WHS have today, but we don’t) and the capacity to expand our IB program to offer it to any Arlington student who wants it. (Note: For the freshman class entering W-L in 2018, we could accept less than half the students who applied.)

During the April 12 School Board work session, it was revealed that APS staff has been working to determine costs for using the Ed Center site as a Middle School or an Elementary School and to move ALL the new high school seats to a comprehensive neighborhood school at the Career Center school. If this actually happens, it is extremely likely that boundaries will be redrawn such that some W-L families will no longer be in the W-L district. Furthermore, it is not known whether W-L students who can currently take advantage of classes offered at the Career Center would still be allowed to do so. There are questions about facilities such as fields – will we have to give up some of our sports fields to be used by a Middle or Elementary School? What other ramifications are there if a MS or ES is built at this site? Will the planetarium remain or will that be destroyed to make room for parking, a playground, or something else?

It is urgent that W-L’s community be aware of this possible change in plans because the timeline for finalizing decisions is extremely short, and the board is bypassing the typical community engagement process to which we are accustomed. The school board vote to finalize its decision is June 21.

File photo

by Alex Koma April 24, 2018 at 1:45 pm 0

(Updated at 3:25 p.m.) The Arlington School Board could soon change which students are allowed to attend Nottingham Elementary School, and some parents are pushing back on the proposal.

Arlington Public Schools staffers see Nottingham as a candidate to become an “option school,” meaning that students from around the county would be able to attend the Northwest Arlington school, and it would offer specialized programs. APS also is considering converting three other schools to option schools as it re-examines attendance boundaries ahead of opening two new elementary schools over the next three years.

Right now, only students living in a set area near Nottingham can attend the school, and some in the community hope to keep it that way. An online petition created by a user known as “Nottingham Community” on April 19 is urging the board to spurn a recommendation from school staffers and maintain Nottingham’s status as a “neighborhood school.”

The petition, which currently boasts more than 500 signatures, notes that roughly 82 percent of Nottingham’s student body is eligible to walk to school, but converting the school to an option facility would require expanding the bus program to bring in students from other parts of the county.

“Nottingham is tucked away in an upper corner of the county and inside a neighborhood making traveling to and from other parts of the county cumbersome, with potentially very long bus rides,” the petition reads. “Option schools should be centrally located to allow equal access from all parts of the county.”

APS officials stressed at an April 12 School Board work session that other factors are at play in their analysis of Nottingham. For example, they noted that if students are bused to Nottingham from other parts of the county, many existing Nottingham students could be redistributed and walk to other nearby schools — Tuckahoe and Discovery Elementary Schools — instead.

Lisa Stengle, the APS director of planning and evaluation, pointed out that APS may run into trouble drawing new school boundaries in the area once a new elementary school opens at the Reed School site in Westover. APS is currently planning to open that building in 2021, and Stengle believes converting Nottingham to an option school could ease the process of divvying up students in the region.

“Otherwise, we may be developing these boundaries that go long and narrow down the county, which requires lots of buses,” Stengle told the board.

Stengle added that APS is projecting that northwest Arlington’s student population will continue growing rapidly in the coming years, which could put even more of a strain on Nottingham if it remains a neighborhood school.

She added that no final determination has been made about which other schools will be recommended to the School Board for conversion to option schools, although Claremont, Carlin Springs and Arlington Science Focus are strongly being considered. County staff plan to release a full draft list of recommendations for neighborhood and option school designations next week, on April 30, then collect community feedback through May 10. APS staff plan to release final recommendations this fall.

“This is really saying that every neighborhood school is at play, but every option school is as well,” said School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen. “It’s really equalizing the stress we’re feeling across the community.”

Photo via Google Maps

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