Location chosen for new high school


The Career Center is one of the two locations used in the APS hybrid plan .(Image courtesy of Flickr)

At a meeting on June 29, the School Board approved a plan that will add 1,300 new high school seats to Arlington Public Schools (APS). The seats will be located at the Career Center and the Education Center and can be found next to the David M. Brown Planetarium behind Washington-Lee High School, both of which are sites that already belong to APS. In order to select the best plan to add these seats, the superintendent’s office conducted a series of meetings to analyze the positive and negative aspects of every possibility. The approved plan was then recommended to and approved by the School Board.

During the initial discussion of where to put the new seats, three primary sites were discussed: land at Kenmore Middle School, the Career Center and the Education Center. The selected plan is a hybrid of the latter two, which means that rather than utilize land from only the Career Center or the Education Center, APS will use some land from both. The new seats will be split between both locations. The superintendent’s office has cited several reasons behind their recommendation of the hybrid plan, including its allowance for the possible future use of the other sites. “Our rationale for considering the hybrid is that we’re using land currently owned by APS,” assistant superintendent of education Dr. Tara Nattrass said during a School Board meeting in June. “It does allow for the opportunity to provide innovative and dynamic instructional programs for our students.”

Approximately 700-800 seats will be added at the Career Center location and about 500-600 will be added at the Education Center. These additional seats will help APS accommodate growing enrollment rates in the county. The School Board’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for the fiscal years 2017 to 2026, which will soon be updated, states that county enrollment will exceed 30,000 students by 2022. “The population of children aged zero to 14 is projected to peak by 2030 with 41,500 resident children,” Dr. Nattrass said.

Decisions regarding the possible instructional programs that could utilize the new seats will be finalized during the upcoming school year. The space at the Career Center location could be used for a new high school that houses Arlington Tech on the premises. Arlington Tech, which opened last school year, is a specialized high school program that connects students’ core classes with their Career and Technical Education classes. According to the Career Center’s website, it “prepares students to succeed in college and in the workplace through collaborative problem solving.”

A possibility at both sites is the establishment of an early college program, which would allow students to earn an associate degree at the same time as their high school diploma. According to Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit which aims to expand educational opportunities for underserved Americans, early college high schools also have a higher graduation rate of 90% than the national average of 78%.

Another possibility at the Education Center location is using the seats to expand the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme at Washington-Lee. The program draws high school students from across Arlington who want to expand their high school education by pursuing IB classes. Expanding the program could allow more students to participate and access the courses. “Receiving an International Baccalaureate Diploma is something that many students want to be able to do,” school principal Dr. Gregg Robertson said. “Since Washington-Lee is the only APS high school where that goal can be met, I am for offering more slots.”

APS hopes to have construction on the new buildings finished by September of 2022. Most likely, it will entail renovation at both sites to prepare them for the students who will occupy the new seats. The school system has not decided on when the construction should 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 in a previous interview.

Although APS has made a decision about where to put the 1,300 new high school seats, they have not ruled out using the other sites, such as land at Kenmore Middle School, to help combat overcrowding. Current enrollment predictions suggest that the county may need to add many additional seats for both elementary and middle schools. “The conversation we have been having with the community is not necessarily based on an ‘either/or’ decision,” stated the superintendent’s office. “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.”