In my years of service to Arlington, I am proud of my work on the School Board. During that time, we made enormous progress for Arlington students, especially in closing the achievement gap. This progress also included renovating or rebuilding 15 elementary schools, five middle schools, and two high schools, as well as building the new Carlin Springs Elementary School and obtaining bond funding for the new Wakefield High School. All of this construction had a high price tag, and I always worked to make sure that we could justify our budgets and programs to Arlington’s taxpayers. I am committed to ensuring the best possible educational environment for all of our students.
Unfortunately, my opponent in this election recently sent a mailer claiming that I disregarded a 2011 report from the School Board’s Facilities Advisory Council (FAC) about rising enrollments, and that I now want to force children to attend school at all hours of the day. Both of these claims are false.
Meeting the needs of our rising school enrollment is a huge challenge that I’ve been working hard to meet for many years. Not only did I heed the FAC’s warnings, I worked with my School Board colleagues to ensure that the 2012 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP)–the first one after the FAC report–would place maximum emphasis on increasing capacity. The 2012 CIP included two new elementary schools and additions at three elementary schools. It also included more than $250 million in additional funding through 2022 to add capacity at our schools. Both the author of that 2011 FAC report and another former chair of the FAC are supporting my candidacy.
I continue this work now as Chair of the County Board. The County Board and School Board recently held a very productive work session on the current CIP, which I expect will come very close to meeting all of the schools’ increased capacity needs over the next decade.
With current and planned additions to our elementary and middle schools, our biggest current challenge involves the large projected increase in our high school enrollment. The CIP that the School Board shared with us includes significant funding for new high school capacity, but the School Board still has major work ahead of it in deciding how to use those funds. I will support our School Board as they work through making these decisions.
Let me be clear: I have never advocated forcing students to attend school in the wee hours or late into the night. But I do believe that we should look for new and creative ways to forge the best possible learning opportunities for all of our students. Creating flexibility for high school students and their families who want to choose a different sort of high school experience could be one of those opportunities.
Many of us know students who can benefit enormously from experiential learning. Especially as students move through their teen years, many of the most enriching experiences can occur outside the walls of a high school building. Arlington is uniquely situated to provide these hands-on learning opportunities for students who desire them. To achieve this, APS would need to forge new and exciting partnerships with institutions of higher education, non-profits, and businesses; in a community as talented and well positioned as ours, the opportunities could be extraordinary. While the goal of such programs, of course, would be the educational outcomes for the students who participate in them, they could also have an indirect effect of removing some of the pressure from our high school capacity, which benefits our students for whom the more traditional high school program is best, too.
Of course, this approach is just one of many that we could consider. We must continue to pursue not only more seats for our students, but also more opportunities for a meaningful education that will best prepare students for college and the workforce. We must continue to ask if we are providing the very best opportunities for Arlington’s children, not just the right number of classrooms.