The search for a new superintendent


Savannah Thompson and Tanaquil Eltsov discuss what they are looking for in their new superintendent

In the past few months, the Arlington Public Schools (APS) School Board has been conducting a search for a new superintendent. The search began after the past APS superintendent, Dr. Patrick Murphy, retired in September 2019. Ms. Cintia Johnson was elected as the APS Interim Superintendent and will remain so throughout the 2019-20 school year.

The School Board’s search is being conducted in phases. In December 2019, they partnered with BWP & Associates, a leadership search firm, for assistance in the process. The School Board’s search emphasizes gathering feedback from the community, as well as finding someone who will continue to promote high standards of learning and student achievement. To gather input from the community, the School Board set up meeting times for those who wished to voice their opinions. APS hopes to hire their new superintendent in spring 2020. Many students emphasized wanting their superintendent to be accepting of Arlington’s diversity.

“I think it’s very important that [our superintendent has an understanding of] the Black Lives Matter movement and [knows about] the struggles that trans students [face] on a day-to-day basis, because if we cannot have at least an understanding of one another, people will continue to feel unrepresented,” sophomore Tanaquil Eltsov said.

Students who are part of the LGBTQ community say that having a superintendent who is sympathetic to those issues would be a huge plus. Since APS established policies for transgender students, such as allowing them to use the facilities that align with their gender, those students are determined to have those policies remain in place. Many students who belong to the LGBTQ community would be interested if the superintendent implemented ways for teachers to learn more about LGBTQ topics.

“[Distributing] something written by LGBTQ adults or even queer students throughout the country to all of the teachers [might work],” junior Otter Kammer said. “At the middle school and high school level, I think there should be some communication about terms to know, general respectfulness, and what to do if a student comes out to a teacher and if a teacher messes up [a student’s pronouns].”

Accepting diversity in Arlington also includes allowing students to express their political views. In Fairfax County, students in grades seven through 12 are allowed to participate in political events or “civic engagement activities” for part of a school day. Students will need to fill out a form with their parents and have proof that they attended the event. Even though they are not in school, students will get an excused absence if they participate in one of these events.

“[The level of political engagement we have here is] really, really high,” junior Luella Wallander said. “I think that instigating a policy similar to that, giving students an excused absence each year to go and be active in their community and to spark change in their government would be a really important thing that our superintendent should at least consider.”

Students also mentioned that the competitive nature of Arlington has made them wish for increased mental health support. Mental health has been a struggle for students in middle and high schools across the country, and there can be a lot of stigma surrounding mental health issues. Students have also admitted to having trouble sleeping or going to sleep at reasonable times due to stress and their rigorous class schedules. Some students suggested that having a testing policy like the one at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) would be very helpful. TJHSST’s policy involves allowing students to ask any one of their teachers in advance to reschedule an assignment or exam, in the case that the student has more than two major tests or assignments due on a single day.

“It would have to be done through teachers, and [could include something] like, please give your students one mental health day, every quarter,” sophomore Savannah Thompson said. “You know, so you just have one class, [where] you’re just not going to do anything, or you only work for half the class and then you have 45 minutes as a break.”

APS has pledged that they will try to find a superintendent who will focus on benefiting the needs of the community, and its students especially. Many students noted that they wanted their new superintendent to be truly interested in activities that are going on within the schools, and focused on listening to and valuing students’ opinions.

“I think that to really become a good leader for students is to show them, and to get on their side and really make it clear to them, ‘I want you to succeed,’” Eltsov said. “And so as long as you make that clear, and as long as you form connections with your students, they will reciprocate.”