Cintia Johnson

Interim Superintendent Cintia Johnson speaks to Arlington School Board members on Sept. 5, 2019.

As the potentially contentious redistricting of elementary-school boundaries begins to take shape, Arlington school leaders may be tiptoeing away just slightly from somewhat radical suggestions they offered just weeks ago.

Those proposals would see several entire student bodies swap school facilities at the start of the 2021-22 school year, part of an effort to keep classmates together.

But the proposals – like any boundary idea that might have been produced for public consumption – already are drawing brickbats from some in the community.

They are not cast in stone, Superintendent Cintia Johnson said on Nov. 7.

“The proposals may change,” she told School Board members, calling them merely “possible approaches” to address unequal degrees of crowding in facilities.

Boundary changes are being necessitated both by ongoing growth of the school system (which is expected to reach 30,000 students around 2021), the uneven rates of growth in various areas of the community, and the planned opening that fall of a new elementary school in Westover. The move-entire-student-bodies approach is an alternative to more piecemeal adjustments, but either way, “nearly all of our schools will be affected” by the ramifications of growth, Johnson told School Board members.

But could moving entire student bodies among school buildings be too radical a change from the way Arlington usually approaches redistricting? “It does seem to be the one way to [hack] off the most people,” one longtime civic activist chuckled after reading about the concept.

Under the proposed timeline – always subject to change – school staff will present a final proposal on Jan. 9, with a public hearing held later in the month and a School Board vote taken in early February. But because the changes would take place two school years into the future, school leaders could always apply the brakes on the process to work through it more.

Through Nov. 24, the school system will be taking comment online at www.apsva.us/engage. “We do want community members to share their views,” Johnson said.

(Johnson was pressed to do additional outreach, including providing the questionnaires in print form, by School Board Chairman Tannia Talento. The superintendent said she would “seriously consider” the paper-questionnaire option.)

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