Lisa Stengle, Arlington Public Schools

Lisa Stengle, is executive director of planning and evaluation for Arlington Public Schools.

Arlington school officials on Jan. 9 formalized their recommendation to move around school programs, a plan aimed at addressing both ongoing increases in enrollment and the opening of a new elementary school.

But at the same time, staff offered (if decidedly tepidly) an alternative that would see widespread redistricting across elementary schools in the county in place of the school-building switcheroos.

That sets up a showdown in several weeks, in which School Board members will have to decide which constituents to placate – and which to leave fuming.

The latest round of redistricting is needed due to enrollment that is rising, somewhat unevenly, across the county, and to the planned September 2021 opening of a new elementary school in Westover, a building that currently is in its nascent construction stage.

And like redistricting efforts since the beginning of time, the process has not been a smooth one.

“It is a difficult, difficult task. There’s no perfect answer; we cannot make everyone happy,” School Board member Nancy Van Doren acknowledged.

The main proposal detailed by Superintendent Cintia Johnson and her staff Jan. 9 is in line with what had been expected. Under the plan:

• The Key Immersion Elementary School program would move to the building now occupied by Arlington Traditional School.

• Arlington Traditional students and staff would move to the current McKinley Elementary School.

• Most of the current McKinley students and staff would move to the new elementary in Westover.

• Key would become a neighborhood school.

The plan “keeps more of our school communities together,” said Lisa Stengle, the school system’s executive director of planning and evaluation and the public face of the proposal.

Stengle said the plan proposed to School Board members, though hardly without its detractors, is the best option at hand.

“We’re not trying to shuffle the seats on the deck, but really sort of think strategically about how we make some moves to allow for enrollment to be closer to where the needs are,” she said.

But under some community pressure, staff offered a Plan B for the School Board to consider, one that would push a redistricting decision until fall and would be a more traditional rejiggering of boundaries among neighborhood schools.

Under that proposal, several thousand elementary-schoolers would find themselves moved, but would leave untouched the countywide “choice” programs like Key and Arlington Traditional.

Despite that option’s formally being on the table, some parents of students are convinced that the fix already is in. Parents from Arlington Traditional and Key have been particularly vocal in not having their school facilities shuffled to new locations.

School Board Chairman Tannia Talento said she was keeping an open mind, but acknowledged there is no answer that will soothe all parents.

“This is difficult for our community,” she said.

(“It’s been a long week,” sighed Talento, who late last year announced she would not seek a second term in the November general election. Van Doren, whose seat also is up in November, also will not seek re-election to the post she has held for six years.)

School Board members praised planning staff for keeping their poise. Stengle said every department in the school system has played a role in crafting the recommendations.

“This has been a true team effort,” she said.

School Board members are slated to decide between the two options presented in early February. Any changes would take effect at the start of the 2021-22 school year.

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