(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.”
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.
(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 swap, which was approved by a 4-1 School Board vote in February, would move Key Elementary students and staff to the current Arlington Traditional School, Arlington Traditional students and staff to the current McKinley Elementary, and McKinley students and staff to a new school being built in Westover.
The suit was filed in March by Louisa Castillo, an Arlington resident and Key Elementary parent, against the School Board. It claims the School Board violated a Virginia law “when it adopted a proposal to relocate thousands of Arlington County elementary school students… rather than engaging in the necessary process to enact a school boundary change.”
Specifically, the suit alleges that the School Board failed to take into account six factors — financial efficiency, student proximity, educational stability, student alignment, school demographics, and and boundary contiguity — when considering the changes.
School Board members who voted for the swap said it was a tough decision but agreed with APS staff that it was the option that would impact the smallest number of APS students, at a time when the school system continues to build and expand schools to keep up with rising enrollment growth.
“This decision won’t solve our capacity issues, and moving forward with this proposal without a proper review of its impacts is intellectually dishonest,” he wrote. “Despite the current pandemic and corresponding budgetary issues, APS is still planning to spend about $3 million to move these three schools.”
“Louisa Castillo, a Key parent, hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit against the School Board. Logistically, her son may not be able to move with the program to ATS and does not know what school she will be zoned for because the school moves decision was separate from the boundary decisions,” Krieger continued. “Many other families at Key, ATS, and McKinley are living with similar levels of uncertainty about where their children will attend school when we return to in-person instruction.”
“Instead of doing the right thing and analyzing the school moves in conjunction with the boundary process, the School Board hired a large law firm to fight Louisa’s lawsuit,” wrote Krieger.
So far the GoFundMe campaign has raised just over $300 of a $20,000 goal.
County Scaling Down Capital Improvement Plan — “As the County continues to experience the economic impacts of COVID-19, County Manager Mark Schwartz intends to present the Arlington County Board with a short-term proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) rather than the traditional 10-year plan.” [Arlington County]
Metro May Require Masks — “Metro riders may not see service fully restored until spring 2021, but the WMATA is now making plans to gradually get trains and buses running more frequently. News4’s Adam Tuss has learned that officials are considering requiring all riders to wear face masks on buses and trains and applying social distancing measures.” [NBC 4]
Real Estate Market Falters — “Home sales across the region took a tumble in April as the first impacts of COVID-19 were felt… The District of Columbia (down 31 percent) and Arlington (down 25 percent) were hardest hit, but all jurisdictions except the small city of Fairfax posted double-digit declines in closed sales.” [InsideNova]
APS Asks for Public Feedback on Data — “Beginning May 12, APS is inviting community members to review the data that will be used in the Fall 2020 Elementary School Boundary Process. This review of data by Planning Unit — the geographic building blocks APS uses to establish school attendance zones — will help ensure that the final data reflects what you know about your neighborhood.” [Arlington Public Schools]
Swim Season Cancelled — “With the logistics to pull off the 2020 Northern Virginia Swimming League season proving too numerous and complicated in a COVID-19 world, officials have pulled the plug on summer competition.” [InsideNova]
Photo courtesy of Peter Golkin
Students and staff at three North Arlington elementary schools will be moving to new buildings, starting in the fall of 2021.
The School Board voted 4-1 Thursday night to approve the controversial school swap, despite vocal opposition from parents, including a petition against it that received more than 2,000 signatures. As with last night’s school calendar vote, Reid Goldstein was again the lone vote against the proposal.
Under the superintendent’s recommended school moves, the following will happen:
- “Majority of McKinley students move with principal and staff to Reed site”
- “All of Arlington Traditional community can move to McKinley site”
- “All of Key Immersion community can move to ATS site”
- “Key site becomes a new neighborhood school”
Those against the moves expressed concerns about longer drives to school, breaking up school communities and making it more difficult for those from disadvantaged backgrounds to stay at their current schools.
“Taking away a Spanish-speaking families’ choice to send their children to [the Key Spanish immersion school] removes a primary life line for support and in many cases for survival,” said one parent. School administrators argued that moving the Key program to ATS actually puts it closer to more Spanish-speaking families.
“The numbers don’t even work,” said another upset parent. “You’re proposing to move 758 students from McKinley schools to 725 seats in the new Reed school. The numbers don’t add up.”
There were also speakers in favor of the moves, including a father whose young kids will soon be entering Arlington Public Schools. He argued that the moves make sense, despite some short-term pain for current parents, and are better than the alternatives presented by APS.
Administrators said about twice as many students would be assigned to new schools under boundary changes alone, compared to the adopted school swaps. That’s in part the result of population growth along the Orange Line corridor, near Key Elementary.
“Approximately 4,000+ or 38% of all neighborhood elementary students would be reassigned to a new school” without the school moves, APS said.
Some School Board members were apologetic in voting yes on the proposal.
“I’m so sad that as we all come together to figure out how to handle our boundary issues we wound up having so much hurt over trying to figure out how to fill our new schools,” said Monique O’Grady.
“I am making the difficult decision that I believe is right for the whole county,” School Board Chair Tannia Talento said. “This is the best decision we can make at this time… ensuring that there is minimal impact on all schools.”
“I know this is hard and I’m sorry it’s not turning out as many of you would like,” Talento said.
There’s more hard work ahead for the School Board. Next up, the Board will tweak elementary school boundaries to balance enrollment at other schools, and will create new neighborhood attendance zones for some of the schools involved in the swap.
The full Arlington Public Schools press release about the decision is below, after the jump.
The following Letter to the Editor was written by Jennifer Myers, a parent of two children at McKinley who’s active in the McKinley PTA and serves as a SEPTA parent liaison.
Parents, stymied by APS’s reliance on data that they’re later told should be considered “back of the envelope” work at best, and by APS’s refusal to release alternate proposals despite its requests for community engagement and feedback, are frustrated and angry. PTAs are expressing concerns about the quality of data and impacts on diversity.
Community meetings are breaking down into yelling, and neighbors are trying not to feel pitted against one another. A former Arlington School Board member has weighed in, questioning APS’s stated decision not to factor demographics into the school moves.
Given the size and scope of the current elementary school moves proposal, and given that APS staff have signaled that they expect to redraw boundaries every year for the foreseeable future, we need to improve this process for the health of our school system and our County.
APS should hire an outside consultant to improve what is a broken school boundary process.
As an example of how an outside consultant can help, I would point to a Nov. 2019 report released by Public Consulting Group (PCG). Hired by APS to evaluate the “effectiveness and efficacy of APS policies, procedures and practices” when it comes to special education, PCG spent the past school year surveying and speaking with parents and staff, analyzing data and documents, and benchmarking APS against local, state and national standards. They asked how well APS was doing in its evaluation practices, resource allocation, access and equity, use of high-quality staff to service needs, and parent and family engagement. From there, 54 action items to improve special education in APS were recommended.
We need the same for school planning.
We all want to make sure the process and data for school moves and boundary changes are optimized in a way that will produce successful schools. Bringing in an outside consultant would allow us to make sure that APS employees in the Planning & Evaluation office have the right staffing structure and resources to do their work — particularly at a time when there are unfilled staff positions in the Planning & Evaluation office — and that they have a clear framework for how to partner productively with parents and other community members during each boundary process. An outside consultant would be a smart investment in our system and County.
ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity, at our discretion.
While many believe that Arlington Public Schools (APS) currently is engaged in an elementary school boundary process, it is not. Instead, APS proposes moving entire school populations from one school to another. It then will consider boundary changes in the fall of 2020, offering no details on what those might look like.
Making adjustments to school assignments is necessary to create an attendance zone to fill seats at the new elementary school at the Reed building opening in 2021. In addition, APS intends to redraw the attendance zone for Arlington Science Focus School to address significant crowding in that part of the County.
APS has a detailed policy for boundary changes, which includes consideration of the following factors: efficiency, proximity, stability, alignment, promoting demographic diversity, and contiguity. However, there is no policy governing the current “school move” process and APS has been explicit that it is not considering demographics.
Research is clear that students — all students — do better in diverse learning environments.
Yet many of our schools are not diverse. The socio-economic differences are stark: the average eligibility for free/reduced price meals for neighborhood elementary schools in south Arlington is more than three times that of neighborhood schools in north Arlington – 52.58% compared with 15.58%.
We also know that there are significant gaps in academic achievement between poorer and wealthier schools. For example, the Standards of Learning math pass rate last year at Carlin Springs Elementary was 62% (free/reduced price lunch eligibility — 81.15%) and for Tuckahoe Elementary it was 98% (free/reduced price lunch eligibility — 1.51%).
The School Board’s boundary policy appropriately considers promoting demographic diversity, recognizing that this has an impact on student achievement. Students in diverse schools also have the benefit of learning about and from others with different backgrounds, languages, and life experiences.
Among the APS core values is equity, which is defined this way: “Eliminate opportunity gaps and achieve excellence by providing access to schools, resources, and learning opportunities according to each student’s unique needs.”
APS should consider lack of diversity in schools as an opportunity gap.
As APS staff, community members, and the School Board engage in the current process, I suggest that the four equity questions I referenced in my November 1 column be asked:
- Who benefits?
- Who is burdened?
- Who is missing?
- How do you know?
Since APS is not considering demographics in its school move process, these questions cannot be fully answered. We do know that the burden of one of the proposals may fall disproportionately on low-income students, since it would move nearly all students at Campbell, Carlin Springs, and Key elementary schools. And given what appears to be the lack of any community support for the proposals, who benefits?
The Board should not move thousands of elementary school students in a process that is separate from a boundary process and that does not consider demographic diversity. To do so misses the chance to reduce opportunity gaps by increasing diversity at our elementary schools.
Instead, school moves and boundary changes should be considered together, with data about the free/reduced price lunch population and racial/ethnic composition of each elementary school that would result. And consideration should be given to other tools that have been used in the past to address crowding, diversity, and achievement, such as option and team schools.
Achieving more diversity across our elementary schools, most of which are neighborhood schools, is challenging. But we cannot make any progress if promoting demographic diversity is not even a factor in the process of assigning students to different schools.
Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Project Peace Prevention Committee and Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with the Community Progress Network and Second Chance.
Parents Protest APS Proposal — “School officials tasked with the perpetual jigsaw puzzle of reassigning school zones have stirred new tensions… If you drive McKinley Rd., you can’t miss the printed signs ‘SAVE MCKINLEY: Our Neighborhood School Since 1951.’ The Madison Manor Civic Association has revved up with nearby PTAs and community groups to assemble contrary arguments.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Tafti Pushes Back on AG Comments — From Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney-elect Parisa Dehghani-Tafti: “We are neither righteous warriors nor avenging angels. We are public servants. So a little humility in how we do our job and how we accept public critique of our work would go a long way toward building a system that is both safe and just.” [Twitter]
Free Holiday Grief Support Service — “For those who’ve suffered loss-whether recently, or even years prior-the holiday stress can make the season more difficult. To help those grieving in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia during the holidays, Capital Caring Health, a local non-profit, offers a wide range of free counseling and support services.” [Press Release, Arlington Public Library]
Special Burial at Arlington National — “Private Edwin Francis Benson was killed in action at Tarawa during World War II. In 2017, his remains were located. Earlier this year, his remains were identified and a couple weeks ago he was laid to rest in Section 60. We honor his service.” [Twitter]
APS Students Learn About the Census — “The U.S. Census Bureau kicked off its Statistics in Schools program, offering Arlington teachers and others a wide array of resources that teach students not only about data but also about the importance of being counted in the upcoming 2020 Census. Arlington Public Schools shared the free program with its teachers, who can integrate it into their lesson plans.” [Arlington County]
Road Closures for Race in Pentagon City — “The Jingle Bell Run/Walk 5K for Arthritis will take place on Saturday, December 7. Police will conduct road closures in the area of South Joyce Street and Army Navy Drive to accommodate this event.” [Arlington County, Twitter]
New Additions to Story Map — A number of properties have been added to the Arlington Historical Society’s Story Map, per organizer Charlie Clark, including: 817 N. Irving St. (Lyon Park), built circa 1904; Hendry House, 2411 N 24th St. (Woodmont), built circa 1900; 3405 N. Glebe Rd. (Country Club Hills), built circa 1907. [Arlington Historical Society]
(Updated at 9:15 a.m.) Leaders from Arlington’s Parent Teacher Associations are speaking out against Arlington Public Schools’ plans for a major elementary school boundary swap.
In a joint letter to the School Board, PTA presidents from seven Arlington elementary schools requested that members “not vote on any elementary school moves.” Rather, the PTA members presented a “holistic, twelve-month process” that incorporates more analyses and data review.
“We appreciate the complex nature of the task and the hard work of APS staff and believe adjustments to the process will result in more meaningful community engagement,” the group wrote in the letter.
In October, APS proposed a pair of options for shuffling up to a quarter of the county’s elementary school students, including 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.
During a Q&A session Monday night between area PTA presidents and APS staff, PTA leaders alleged that the plans fair to address issues of diversity or equity.
“While demographics and economic diversity might not be considered by everyone an element of equity, it is a pivotal factor,” said County Council of PTAs president Maura McMahon. “To leave it out is a major concern for many people.”
APS officials repeatedly defended their choice to leave out demographics in the proposals, and emphasized that because entire school communities will be moving, they are not defining this as a boundary change.
“When we say we’re going to move a school community, we assume the entire community will move,”said APS Integrated Project Planner Gladis Bourdouane. “When we do boundary changes, we will of course consider changes that include demographics, but if the school moves, the communities will move together.”
The first proposal — which APS said would require boundary changes that would affect around 2,400 students — would make the following changes.
- 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.
In the second — which APS says would require fewer boundary changes and thus affect around 2,100 students — involves the following.
- 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
If neither plan is put into place, APS says, more extensive elementary boundary changes will be required.
APS has several community events planned in December to discuss elementary school planning, including a “What We Heard” meeting on December 9 at 7 p.m. at Swanson Middle School , and another in Spanish on December 16 at 7 p.m. at Kenmore Middle School.