Arlington, VA

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.

Arlington Public Schools’ recent proposal to swap a number of elementary schools has gone no better than past boundary changes.

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.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

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.

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Morning Notes

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]

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(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.

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Morning Notes

VHC to Take More Trauma Patients — “Virginia Hospital Center is preparing to become a trauma center. The Arlington hospital, now amid a major campus expansion, is taking steps to secure Level 2 trauma designation — meaning it could handle more serious cases like head injuries and complex fractures with a devoted response team, led by an in-house general surgeon.” [Washington Business Journal]

APS May Be Rethinking School Swap — “As the potentially contentious redistricting of elementary-school boundaries begins to take shape, Arlington school leaders may be tiptoeing away just slightly from somewhat radical suggestions they offered just weeks ago.” [InsideNova]

AWLA Rescues Kitten Near Pentagon –“We received a call about a car parked near the Pentagon, with a note under the windshield stating that there was a kitten up inside the engine. Using a mix of patience and really yummy cat food, our officers were able to safely remove the kitten and bring her back to the shelter.” [Facebook]

Arlington-Made App Highlighted by Apple — “In honor of Veterans Day, Arlington, Virginia-based Sandboxx, creator of a platform that keeps military families connected, is being featured in Apple’s app store as its App of the Day.” [Technically DC]

Arlington Co. Makes Best-for-Vets List — Ballston-based contractor CACI is on a new list of the Best Companies for Veterans. [Tysons Reporter, Monster]

Sullivan Selected as Caucus Chair — “Virginia Democrats on Saturday chose Eileen Filler-Corn to become speaker of the House of Delegates, a pick that managed to be both historic and conventional for a party that flipped both chambers of the General Assembly in elections Tuesday… Del. Charniele L. Herring (Alexandria) will be the new majority leader, becoming the first woman and the first African American to serve in that post. Del. Richard C. ‘Rip’ Sullivan Jr… will be caucus chairman.” [Washington Post, Blue Virginia]

First Flakes Today? — Some light “conversational” snow may fall today as a cold front passes through. Meanwhile, NBC 4’s Doug Kammerer expects this winter to be colder and snowier than usual. [Capital Weather Gang, NBC 4]

New Korean Chicken Eatery Near Fairlington — “Korean chicken restaurant Choong Man Chicken is coming to… Shoppes at Summit Centre (4700 King Street).” [ALXnow]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Morning Notes

School Shuffle Blowback Starts — “Alicia Rich, president of Key’s PTA, said she has been fielding texts and messages over WhatsApp from parents and staff members worried about the prospect of moving. ‘This issue is so huge for us,’ Rich said.
School system officials said they ‘urgently need’ the Key building as a neighborhood school because of the lack of space for students.” [Washington Post]

Arlington Office Market Improving — Arlington County landing Amazon HQ2, a selection announced one year ago this month, has helped move its office market in the right direction after years of struggles. The office vacancy rate in National Landing, the newly branded area comprising the Crystal City and Pentagon City neighborhoods, dropped from 19.6% in Q3 2018 to 16% as of Sept. 30, the lowest level since 2012, according to JLL.” [Bisnow]

Chamber Supports Keeping Dillon Rule — “Facing a possible Democratic majority in the General Assembly, @ArlVAChamber is standing firm in its support of the Dillon Rule. Why? A Dem majority could allow localities like Arlington to raise the minimum wage.” [Twitter, InsideNova]

Storms Don’t Deter Trick or Treaters — From a family that tracks the number of trick or treaters visiting their Arlington home: “Despite threatening weather and a tornado watch issued by the National Weather Service… 2019 was our second best year ever with 161 visitors, 13 goblins behind the all-time high of 174 visitors in 2016.” [Facebook]

ACPD Helps With Snakes, Too — “Sgt. Morrison proves he’s a jack of all trades! Yesterday he responded to a citizen assist call and helped safely relocate this snake.” [Twitter]

Opera Fans Plan Outreach Effort — “Reports of the demise of a certain musical genre are not just premature. They are just plain wrong, supporters say. ‘Clearly, opera is not a dying art – the music is still transcendent,’ said Paul Dolinsky, a board member of Opera Nova, which on Oct. 27 held its annual fund-raising brunch at Washington Golf & Country Club.” [InsideNova]

Local Teen Is Runner Up in Entrepreneurship Competition — “Ela Gokcigdem has good news to share about her ePearl noise-cancelling wireless earbuds. They were a big hit in the Big Apple… The 17-year-old senior at Wakefield High School in Arlington participated in the NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. More than two dozen competitors from around the country pitched their products to a panel of judges.” [WJLA]

Nearby: Road Closure Planned in Seven Corners — “The Wilson Boulevard (Route 613) bridge over Route 50 (Arlington Boulevard) will be closed from 9 p.m. Monday night, Nov. 4 to 5 a.m. Tuesday morning, Nov. 5 for bridge deck work, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation. Eastbound Wilson Boulevard traffic will be detoured via Route 7, Patrick Henry Drive, Route 50 and the westbound Route 50 service road back to Wilson Boulevard.” [VDOT]

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(Updated at 10:45 a.m.) Arlington Public Schools may shuffle nearly a quarter of its elementary school students around to combat the county’s persistent overcrowding problems.

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.

The discussions come after APS redrew the boundaries of eight elementary schools last year in order to accommodate the opening of Alice West Fleet Elementary School.

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Morning Notes

Another School Boundary Process Coming — “It might go well, or it might be the civic-engagement equivalent of a bloodbath. But either way, Arlington school leaders are about to embark on a new round of rejiggering elementary-school boundaries.” [InsideNova]

Fire Station 8 Contract Approved — “The Arlington County Board today approved a $16.1 million construction contract and a concept design for a new, energy-efficient, four-bay station to replace the obsolete Fire Station No. 8 at 4845 Lee Highway. The new fire station will better serve the community while honoring Fire Station No. 8’s long history.” [Arlington County]

Local Man Pleads Guilty to Campaign Finance Violations — “An Arlington political consultant who served as the treasurer of multiple Political Action Committees (PACs) pleaded guilty today to lying to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) about approximately $32,500 in payments of PAC money that he directed to himself and a close friend.” [Press Release]

Run With a Running Legend FridayUpdated at 2:45 p.m. — “Kathrine Switzer, who in 1967 became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon – wearing bib number 261 – and is the founder of the global non-profit 261 Fearless, will be in Arlington this Friday to run with the 261 Fearless Club DC Metro/VA. The short, easy run will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington. It is free and open to the public; all are invited.” [Press Release]

ACPD Celebrates Accreditation — “The Arlington County Police Department has received its Initial Accreditation from the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission (VLEPSC). The announcement comes following an intensive on-site assessment, which took place in April 2019.” [Arlington County]

Notable Local Candidate Endorsements — The website Greater Greater Washington has endorsed a number of Arlington candidates, including Del. Alfonso Lopez for the 49th House of Delegates district, Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol for County Board, and Parisa Dehghani-Tafti for Commonwealth’s Attorney. Additionally, Cristol has endorsed Dehghani-Tafti. [Greater Greater Washington, Twitter]

Photos by Verónica Colón/Twitter, Sandra P., Bill Colton, Arlington County Fire Department/Twitter, and Susan C.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Amelia Black, a Nauck resident living within Drew Model School’s attendance boundaries and the mother of two young children.

She penned this note to the Arlington School Board as it weighs a redrawing of South Arlington school boundaries. Parents at Henry Elementary School have proposed converting Drew into a neighborhood school accepting countywide transfers for a “STEAM” program in order to address some of their boundary concerns. The Board has dismissed the possibility of such a proposal, and is set to vote on a final boundary map next month.

My name is Amelia Black, and I am a parent of two children under the age of 5, and I live in the Drew neighborhood walk-zone. The views expressed here are my own.

I am writing because I have been frustrated to learn of the recent proposal by some community members to scrap this whole boundary process and make the new Drew neighborhood school a ‘hybrid option school.’ I thought it was ridiculous on its face, but learned it has been shopped around with all School Board members and even has a full PR campaign complete with ARLnow article and attempts to convince neutral stakeholders like Drew’s principal and PTA president.

I am not sure what you all think about this proposal, but I am hoping it is non-idea for you like it is for me. The school has been an option school for decades and has not had the benefit of a single community rallying around its success like other schools have had. You all know the history of the school, how we all got this point, and I hope that going back now is not considered an option.

I personally support map 6 with some reservation, in particular about filling the school and students not opting out, ultimately delaying Drew congealing into a strong community school. Changes that I hope would be considered 1) all Pre-school seats, including leftover non-VPI seats, should be given to Drew families living in this boundaries so as to encourage families to come into the school 2) Large numbers of students should not be allowed to stay at their former neighborhood school just because it has some extra capacity.

However, I am also formally requesting that you do what you feel is the best long-term solution for all students. The inherent problem with having all us parents constantly engaged in any process like this is that we all would do ANYTHING to prevent real or perceived threats to our children’s’ optimal development.

Parents can pull out charts, spreadsheets, and videos but none of us are objective, and we all want what we feel is the best solution RIGHT THIS MINUTE for our precious children. But often, what is best for those being the loudest right now is not necessarily the best solution for the long-term. We elected you all to gather our input and then make an objective decision that is best for all students, not just the ones who have time and resources to make our voices heard.  I’ve shared my opinion, and I am telling myself I’m objective, but I’m biased like every other parent, and I hope you will each do what you feel is most fair to all involved.

As a final thought, please though there have been many flaws in this process that I hope you will seriously reflect on in making improvements for the future, please do not delay this decision. Please make efforts to pull the band aid off now and make a decision on December 6.  Delaying the decision will only give people more time to creatively combat the inevitably painful acceptance of changes coming next year.

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. 

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