Those who had believed the fix was in from the start on Arlington’s latest elementary-school-boundary adjustments likely left the process Feb. 6 confirmed in their suspicions.
School Board members voted 4-1 to ratify a staff proposal that will shuffle school communities beginning with the 2021-22 school year. The majority on the board supporting the proposal, who sat as stonily as Soviet-era Politburo members while enduring boos and taunts from the audience, said it was the best option available to them.
“This is a necessary step for us to move forward,” said board member Monique O’Grady, who like other board members was facing a seething crowd angered by the plan.
O’Grady acknowledged that the process had left scars.
“It has caused so much angst and anxiety in our community, and I’m so sad that . . . we wound up having so much hurt,” she said. “I know and I feel that anxiety.”
In a nutshell, the proposal calls for:
• Moving the majority of students currently housed at McKinley Elementary to the new elementary being constructed in Westover and set to open in the fall of 2021.
• Moving Arlington Traditional School (ATS) to the current McKinley building, allowing for ATS’s expansion.
• Moving the Key Immersion Elementary School program to the existing Arlington Traditional School building.
• Turning the Key building into a neighborhood school to accommodate student growth in the Rosslyn and Courthouse areas of the county.
The proposal by Superintendent Cintia Johnson and her staff outraged parents at some of the affected schools, but in the end, a board majority came away supportive.
“The goal is to minimize the impact – I believe this is the best decision we can make at this time,” said School Board Chairman Tannia Talento, who had faced a barrage of lobbying from parents of the Key Immersion program (and other schools) unhappy with the proposed shuffle.
“I know this is hard, and I am sorry this is not turning out the way many of you would have liked,” said Talento, who announced earlier she would be departing the board at the end of the year after serving a single four-year term.
The lone vote against the proposal came from Reid Goldstein, who earlier in the night had sought to have a final decision deferred in order to evaluate more recent enrollment projections showing that the pace of growth of the school system may be trailing off far sooner than expected.
“We now have a new, current set of projections – new and different,” Goldstein said.
But others countered that the new projections dealt with growth patterns down the road, and there were enrollment problems that had to be addressed in the near term.
“We’re still continuing to see growth – we see a lot of new housing coming on line,” said Lisa Stengle, the top staffer involved in the redistricting process.
Goldstein’s proposal to defer action was killed 4-1. His ultimate vote against the main proposal garnered audience applause.
The board’s Feb. 6 vote is just another step in ongoing efforts to address rising elementary-school enrollment and balance students among schools systemwide. This fall, School Board members likely will have to start consideration of additional refinements to elementary-school boundaries, as well as address high-school boundaries.
Meanwhile, construction work continues on the new elementary school to be located adjacent to Westover Library. School officials plan to hire a new principal by July 1, giving him or her 16 months to get ready for the opening.