Three major issues confront Arlington Public Schools (APS):
Arlington school enrollment is burgeoning, and new classroom capacity is needed. But residents are paying for Taj Mahal destinations on the one hand and trailers on the other, because School Board can’t say no to extravagant features and unneeded amenities.
$100 million and Up is the cost of the new Wilson High School, which was originally budgeted at $80 million. In most areas of Virginia that would build at least two new high schools not
Students suffer in two ways from the emphasis on high end, single purpose features.
There’s not enough capacity in the new buildings and additions to house the current crop of students. So the excess population is shoved off into trailers.
There’s no capacity for future enrollment growth.
What is needed is more classrooms and common space, not glitzy gyms, pools and custom designed learning spaces.
On average APS has experienced student enrollment growth of over 850 students annually over the past eight years (p.40). Unable to build new classroom capacity on time and on budget, APS has resorted to housing students in trailers, a circumstance that has resulted in a loss of open space on most school campuses and a degraded learning environment for a significant percentage of students.
To its credit, the School Board recently proposed a balanced budget for FY 19 by increasing the student/teacher ratio and drawing down on reserves. These measures will enable APS to provide more classroom capacity at less cost. However the biggest increase in class size will occur at the elementary level, where studies have shown that students need the most attention.
Also the 2017 Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) Guide shows that APS has the lowest secondary student/teacher ratio of any school district in the Washington area (p. 29). Clearly the ratios for elementary and secondary students should be reversed.
Increasing class size enabled the School Board cut almost 58 teaching positions (p. 67) while leaving its top heavy administrative staff in place. Other school districts throughout the region provide a quality education with smaller bureaucracies. APS needs to follow their example.
Minority Student Achievement Gap
While APS has made strides in closing the minority student achievement gap, more needs to be done. Other school districts have relied on busing and charter schools to address this challenge, neither of which are realistic options in Arlington. Busing isn’t feasible due to congestion on County streets, which will be aggravated by using more school buses to ferry kids to schools outside their neighborhood. Charter schools aren’t indicated in a school system that is already rated as one of the highest in the nation.
What is needed is a reevaluation of APS’ instructional model to determine if “teaching to the test” is the culprit. Rote teaching has been implicated in poor academic performance in other school districts, and APS needs to investigate whether another instructional model might improve minority student performance.
If elected, I will scrutinize both the budget and the curriculum to optimize performance.