Superintendent Patrick Murphy

Arlington Superintendent Patrick Murphy fields questions from School Board members on Sept. 22, 2016.

Parents in a large swath of the central part of Arlington will have to wait and see if their children end up going to Washington-Lee High School as currently is the case, or are sent to Yorktown or Wakefield high schools in an effort to balance enrollment figures countywide.

School-system staff on Sept. 22 identified 46 different small geographic areas – dubbed “planning units” – on the periphery of the current Washington-Lee attendance area as possibilities for boundary changes that would go into effect for incoming high-schoolers only next fall. Students already at Washington-Lee would not be impacted.

The proposal puts about 1,300 future high-schoolers in the mix for a move that school officials say will include about 100 students per year for the next four years. A final School Board decision is set for early December.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy called the upcoming, two-month boundary-adjustment process a “reasonable approach” that he hopes will not pit communities against communities.

“All our schools are good. Students will attend wonderful learning environments” no matter which school they are in, Murphy told School Board members.

But the superintendent and staff also had to weather pushback from several School Board members, who worried that a major community effort for a relatively limited number of affected students could be, in the words of Vice Chairman Barbara Kanninen, “overkill.”

Murphy countered that more public input was preferable to less, and that there are no hidden agendas among his staff.

“We want to engage, come to the table and be transparent,” he said. “I don’t believe staff has any scenarios at this point in time that we either have adopted or feel strongly about.”

If they remain unhappy about the superintendent’s action plan, School Board members will be able to scale back the community-engagement process on Oct. 6, when they vote on setting up its structure.

According to the current timetable, the superintendent will come back on early November with a formal proposal on which areas will move from Washington-Lee to either Yorktown or Wakefield. Following a public hearing in mid-November, the School Board is set to act on boundary adjustments on Dec. 1.

“This is not going to be an unusual occurrence,” said School Board Chairman Nancy Van Doren, who noted that middle-school boundaries and those of elementary schools in South Arlington will need to be addressed next.

School officials plan to put information on boundary changes on the Web site at www.apsva.us/apsboundaries in coming days, and are planning to launch an online boundary tool in mid-October, giving the public an opportunity to toy with various boundary scenarios.

High school boundaries will need to be revisited again after 2020, as Arlington school officials plan to come up with a new facility or facilities to accommodate 1,300 students more.

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