Expanding Arlington


Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Dr. Tara Nattrass discusses one of Arlington Public School’s expansion plans with a parent.

This month, the School Board will vote on a plan to add 1,300 new high school seats in order to lower overcrowding in the Arlington Public School (APS) system. Enrollment in APS is expected to continue to grow, which is why the school system has begun to take measures to add elementary and middle school seats.

One project proposed to build additions on two elementary schools, McKinley and Abingdon Elementary. According the School Board’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for the fiscal years of 2017 to 2026, the additions to these two schools alone will provide 337 new seats. Projections used in the CIP, which accounts for seats in the school system, also state that enrollment in APS will have surpassed 30,000 students by fiscal year 2022, although the CIP will be revised next year to reflect the most recent information.

The plan to add 1,300 new high school seats includes three primary options for a location. The first option is to expand Washington-Lee and the IB Programme, either by adding space for the 9th Grade Academy, or Annex, which would be a specialized learning environment for 9th grade students, or adding immersion and additional world languages classes. The second option is to build a new neighborhood high school next to Kenmore Middle School, although the middle school would still exist on the property. The third and final option is to expand the Career Center and keep Arlington Tech while building a new neighborhood high school. A new specialized high school program that was debuted this year, Arlington Tech, connects academic material with content from career technical education courses. Although APS is focused on land that they own when it comes to the new high school, the superintendent’s office said that they are “reviewing other possibilities as we continue to grow as a system and a community.”

APS is planning to have the new 1,300 seats ready for students by September of 2022. However, once an option is chosen, the school system is unsure of when construction would begin. “Working backwards from a timeline for completion by 2022, we do not yet have a start date for construction,” the superintendent’s office said. “This will be determined and refined next year when we work with the School Board and the community to develop our new APS [fiscal year] 2019-2028 Capital Improvement Plan.”

Only one option will be chosen for completion by the 2022 date. However, continual growth in the county and increasing enrollment may necessitate using all three. “School Board members have stated that as APS continues to grow, eventually all of the options currently being discussed will most likely need to be used and no single option will address all of our future needs,” the superintendent’s office said.

If the School Board decides to expand Washington-Lee’s capacity, impact on students would likely be minimal, as the expansion would primarily occur on the Education Center property, located next to the David M. Brown Planetarium. The 9th Grade Annex or World Language Center would be a building located on the current site of the Education Center. While the building would be a part of the school’s property, it would mostly house a specialized program, such as 9th grade or world language courses. “There are lots of options, such as a 9th grade annex, World Language Center and others, all of which would not alter the typical student’s day very much — if at all,” Principal Dr. Gregg Robertson said.

APS is also looking at other methods of reducing overcrowding, such as the use of available but nontraditional spaces, like office buildings and are considering programs that have been successful in other school systems, such as year-round school. The superintendent’s office said, “We are looking at all options to help address our need for space.”