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Crossed Sabres

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Letter from APS School Board

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Dear Crossed Sabres Editors,  

I am writing on behalf of the Arlington School Board in response to Matthew Herrity’s Opinion piece in the December 7, 2016 edition of Crossed Sabres.  

Mr. Herrity’s piece is well-written and passionate and we thank him for his letter.  We welcome and encourage all students’ input. As APS moves forward with our many plans to address enrollment growth, we anticipate engaging with Mr. Herrity, our Student Advisory Board, other interested students, as well as the full Arlington community to have a conversation about the changing demographics of Arlington County and its schools.

Mr. Herrity’s letter addresses a wide array of concerns regarding our schools. The recent boundary refinement was, however, a narrow, focused process with a very specific objective.   In this response, we are limiting our comments to an explanation of this boundary change.  To this end, we provide the following background:

  1. The goal of the School Board’s Dec. 1 boundary refinement was to balance the capacity of our three comprehensive high schools.  Washington-Lee was projected to have close to 2,700 students in fall 2018, while Wakefield and Yorktown would each have had approximately 2,100 students if no boundary changes were made.  With our decision, we are moving approximately 86 students each year over the next four-year period, balancing enrollment at the three schools and providing much-needed relief to Washington-Lee.  This also makes maximum use of our existing facilities and accommodates the projected high school population for the next four years.
  2. APS’s Boundary Policy 30-2.2 has six criteria that we considered in our decision-making.  These criteria are efficiency, proximity, stability, alignment, demographics, and contiguity.   We also conducted a community engagement process that included extensive outreach, communication, meetings, updates at Board meetings, and a public hearing.  As part of this process, we received approximately 550 e-mails, heard from 44 speakers, had 30 Open Office Hour visitors, and received 1,355 responses to our boundary tool.  We very much appreciated all the public input.
  3. In making our decision, we looked at the Boundary Policy criteria and analyses provided by staff.  Related to proximity and efficiency, the vast majority of those students who walk to school remain walkers.  Related to contiguity, we limited planning units under consideration to those contiguous to current high school boundaries.  On stability, high school boundary changes have not been made in over a decade and the refinement will affect fewer than 5% of the high school student population over the next four years.  APS used free and reduced lunch (F&RL) statistics as its measure of the demographics criterion. This criterion was used by APS staff in the preliminary stages of development to discard options that would have worsened economic diversity, as measured by F&RL. The four final options we considered were substantially similar in terms of their effects on F&RL at each high school.   

Going forward, there are many ways for you and the community to continue providing input to inform our decision-making.  By 2022, as part of our Capital Improvement Plan, APS plans to add 1,300 new high school seats.  We will soon determine where to build this new high school and decide its instructional focus, with the community’s help.  We plan to have those results by the Fall of 2017, so we can then begin construction design and planning of the new high school.   In addition, we are working to expand Arlington Tech, located at the Career Center, to 800 students.  During the 2017-2018 school year, we will undertake a community process to consider middle school and elementary school boundary changes that will go into effect for the 2019-2020 school year when we open a new middle and a new elementary school.  Please refer to our 3-5 Year Plan at www.apsva.us/plans to see how all these efforts come together to build a strong, thriving 30,000 student school system by 2022.

Arlington Public Schools is a great school system, with excellent high schools.  We are consistently rated as one of the best school systems in the country, with student outcomes that far exceed national or Virginia averages.  All of our schools have been fully accredited by the Commonwealth of Virginia for the past two years. We have exceptional teachers and administrators.  Our School Board’s primary responsibility and concern is for every student to benefit fully from this school system.  We recognize the success of our system and realize that we must continue to improve so that ALL students benefit and achieve.  

Student voices in this boundary process have been thoughtful and extremely helpful to the School Board.  Boundary deliberations are a community conversation, and we’d like all community members, including students, to help us prepare for our upcoming boundary discussions.  In preparation, we are starting to focus now on the following:     

  • Identify community priorities early.  Ensure that all of our community is represented.  
  • Help families understand that each of our high schools provides excellent educational opportunities to all its students.  
  • Make sure that community members have the information they need and opportunities to be engaged in our planning efforts.

We welcome your thoughts and opinions at all times.  Thank you.

Sincerely,

Nancy Van Doren, Chair

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Letter from APS School Board