Arlington School Board: Barbara Kanninen

Arlington School Board member Barbara Kanninen.

There’s both positive and negative news as Arlington Public Schools has pivoted to distance-learning in an effort to squeeze in some education during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The good news? At least things have not gone as badly as in neighboring Fairfax County, where that school system’s attempt to re-start instruction collapsed in a technical debacle and ensuing recriminations last week.

The bad news? Arlington school officials acknowledge that their efforts are not going to be able to replicate what could be accomplished during more normal times.

“We don’t have an expectation that this will be perfect or that it will match the experience our students had in the classroom – it really can’t do that,” said Bridget Loft, the Arlington school system’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

The school system’s online-learning effort has a more modest focus.

“It is designed to engage our students, keep the learning going,” Loft said during an April 16 School Board meeting, held “virtually” with board members and staff checking in from their homes.

The school system has taken some flak for its plans, which include a limitation on introducing new concepts to students during the fourth quarter of the year.

There also is the challenge of reaching students who may not have the technological infrastructure at home that others do, leading to concern the school system is taking a least-common-denominator approach so no students will be left behind.

School Board member Barbara Kanninen is among those who gives the school system good grades – albeit with room to do better – for its efforts so far.

“There’s a lot that is going very well,” Kanninen said. “To the extent that we can continue to improve, that will be our goal. There’s still a lot of learning time left.”

Students will not be graded for their work during the fourth quarter, with their final grades being a composite of those in the first, second and third quarters of the school year.

Secondary-level students who find themselves with grades of “D” or “E” (Arlington Public Schools does not assign “F” grades) in specific classes will have the chance to improve their final marks through additional work between now and the end of the school year.

Having been closed a month, the school system “reopened” with online-education efforts earlier in April, with teachers and students working from their homes. School Board Chairman Tannia Talento said it was an evolving process that will benefit from input from the community.

“We are listening,” she said.

(Comments can be phoned in to 703-228-6015 or e-mailed to and will be shared with all School Board members.)

Unlike some states, which are mulling the re-start of classroom instruction before the end of the 2019-20 school year, Virginia schools have been ordered shut for the year by order of Gov. Northam. Where things go from there remains an open question.

“We are probably going to be in this longer than we want to be,” acknowledged School Board member Nancy Van Doren.

Van Doren, who has spent much of her tenure attempting to calm roiled waters when controversies ranging from boundaries to budgets throw some in the community into a tizzy, again asked residents to be constructive parts of the conversation.

“Patience is greatly appreciated,” she said.

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