Interview With Assistant Superintendent Linda Erdos
October 12, 2016
Linda Erdos is the Assistant Superintendent and head of school and community relations for Arlington Public Schools. She is more or less the spokesperson for the high school boundary refinements.
Q: Is there a certain percentage of proposed planning units that are going to be changed or is it all of them?
A: The ones that have the white dots are the ones that have the option to change, Their a total of 51 of them and they total 1,800 students over the next four years. So it’s 1,800 students and we only need to move 400 of them. What we’ve said is we need to figure out which units that would get us balanced in four years. As people look at the tool, we don’t want to move all 1,800 students and we don’t need to, in fact if we did move everybody Yorktown and Wakefield would have a big problems. So our goal is to move 100 students each year so that in four years you’ve moved about 400 students and that puts balance. Each school would be about the same size.
Q: Would it be fair to say roughly 22% of these proposed boundaries are going to be changed?
A: Well possibly, but some of the units as you go into the boundary tool and look at it each planning unit has a different number of students and it will literally tell you as you hover over it how many. Some units might have thirty students in the planning unit, others might have 100. I can’t say 20 percent of the planning units will move. About 22% of everybody in those units will go to a different school.
Q: What is the framework and decision making that will go around which planning units are moved?
A: Well, the board has a policy and the policy says that there are certain things we have to consider are Efficiency, Stability, Alignment, Demographics, Contiguity and Proximity in other words is it a closer or further commute for that family. Proximity is again a big piece of this. Stability so you don’t huge amounts of change, if we suddenly said we’re going to change everybody at once in all three schools that would cause a lot of instability, so much change would be a real disruption to the community. Alignment means does it make sense. Demographics is another thing we’ll want to look at, they’ll be on the website. We’re not looking to balance [demographics], But we don’t want to suddenly change the makeup drastically of one school or another school. Contiguity, in other words all planning units of one school district should be connected. No one factor is more important than the other, the board says all of them should be considered.
Q: What options does the community have to get involved in this process.
A: Well we’re going to have four community meetings starting with the first one tonight. But people don’t have to show up for a meeting to participate. The boundary tool is live right now online. There’s a video online that shows you how to use it. We’re going to live stream the meeting tonight so if people can’t go to it they can watch it at home and tomorrow the video will be linked on the boundaries page. So if people say oh I couldn’t watch it last night because I had to put the kids to bed they can view it whenever. We’re inviting everybody to try their hand, go in, try the boundary tool. If you get the bars balanced you can submit it as an option. What we’re asking is to play with it and submit it. We’re hoping to take all of them and study it to come down with two or three options for the board to consider. We’ll say “these are the things that we heard from the community most frequently.”
Q: So what you’re describing is like voting, not in the sense that the most submissions of one design wins but its giving your input the the board to consider.
A: Right! We’re going to look for patterns and then we’re going to try to pull those patterns out and then based on the board criteria say “Does this meet the criteria?” Then look at how many people could live with this. We understand that not everyone’s going to be happy. That’s given, that’s what happens whenever we vote.
Q: When will these boundaries be changed again?
A: That is going to be in four more years, this will take us through 2020 and beyond. But by 2020 the board is going to be making decisions. All of the APS offices are going to move out of their headquarters. Then the board is going to make some decisions about here or elsewhere where they’re going to build more space. They have budgeted in their plan to build space for 1,300 more high school seats. Once we know what the boards plan is then we’ll sit back and say “ok how do we fill and use those spaces and one of those plans might be how do we shift and move the boundaries.” What we don’t want to do is have it sit empty. So we’ll start another process in 2022 which will go in effect two years from then. When all of these construction projects are finished so that we’ll know then how we need to shift for six years out. It’s too hard to look from 2016 and to really know everything to put it into place for six years from now so we’re only looking four years out. In 2020 we’ll start looking for the next four years and beyond.
Q: What are the rules for if you have a sibling that currently goes to Washington-Lee?
A: Sometimes that’s called grandfathering and where asking the community what they think about that. For example if you’re a junior and you have a sibling that’s in second grade. How far back should I go and continue to offer grandfathering for the siblings so they can continue to go. But the more siblings we put in then the more people we have to move out. There’s a finite amount of space. If the community says let all siblings in those unis stay forever, then that means we need to move more kids out to keep the balance because we only have a certain number of seats. We’ll look at all of that, it’s realistic to say unless you are in the same school at the same time we wouldn’t consider that probably. Because, we understand that if we split families into two different school that they’re probably going to two different football games or parent conferences or basketball games and we know that causes a hardship for families. It’s going to be a fine line at what point we stop.
Q: What options would be made for students that want to attend a school outside their district?
A: We will continue to have a transfer option, but that is also always determined by space availability. Right now you could transfer to Washington-Lee but it’s limited to IB because we don’t have enough space. Our goal is to get it balanced so as people want to transfer we have the space to let them do it. We can’t accept people to come in if we don’t have seats for them.
Q: How were the planning units decided and how would they be changed?
A: The planning units as I understand it are blocks of units that are tied to census data for the most part. Some of them have been split but for the most part they tie to census data. They may be adjusted in some way in the future but we’re not going to make huge breakups of them because that information is through GIS mapping software that the county does and the census bureau uses so that we’re not going to change those much. We want our blocks to match census blocks so we have the capability to analyze them. Things that we need to address their needs, services and transportation options.
Q: What is the timeline for this decision making to take place?
A: We’re doing the community meetings and the boundary tool in October. On October the 27th we’re going to have one more community meeting and we’re going to come back to the community and say based on what we’ve heard from the boundary tool and conversations this is what we’ve come up with and where we’re leaning towards. This will provide an opportunity for people to respond and give some final feedback. Then the Superintendent will make his final recommendation to the school board and his recommendation might be you have two options that seem to work. I’m not sure how many it will be. He’ll make this recommendation to the school board November third. On November the ninth the board is going to have a work session that is open to the public. They cannot participate but they can watch. On the 15th they will have another meeting with a public hearing that allows people to comment on the plans. Their final decision will be made December 1st. That will include what units change, what we’re going to do about siblings. All of that will be decided. Then we’ll have high school information night on the twelfth where eighth graders families come and can learn about the finalized plans including their sibling option.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to say?
A: I really want everyone to participate as much as possible and stay tuned and to know no decisions have been made and everyone’s waiting to hear for what the community has to say. From there our goal is to work with the ideas we get and to try to craft a solution that works for as many people as possible.