The Arlington Public School Board met Thursday evening to, among other business, receive a briefing from APS staff, Dr. Alison Denton, on the process underway to revise the Board’s policy for setting school boundaries and framing the process to decide which students will attend the new elementary school to be built on the Williamsburg MS campus, and how Jamestown and six other schools will be affected by the boundary shifts and potential changes in programs. The session was a briefing, no decisions on the boundary-related issues were scheduled or made.
The documents and slide deck used by Dr. Denton to brief the Board are posted on the More Seats webpage. Dr. Denton highlighted the advice gathered from the September 27th APS public meeting held at Williamsburg and the focus group session held October 1st (attended by Jill Curran and Tom Jensen on behalf of JES PTA). Her characterization of the focus group meeting was thorough and fair, as was her description of the Williamsburg public meeting. Several board members commented favorably on the quality of the public engagement process underway for the boundary change process and drew attention to the contrast between this ongoing process and the circumstances tied to the recent APS decision on changes in transportation policy.
The revised draft of the boundary change policy presented to the board last night will be revised further to reflect the focus group’s advice, and to capture recommendations from the board that staff restore to the new document language from the text of the current policy that emphasizes community engagement. The language, which had been moved to a different location in the new draft and consolidated with essentially duplicate language, had generated considerable discussion in the community during the day Thursday, and both board and staff explicitly assured each other and the audience that nobody had intended to diminish the role of community engagement in the new policy and they regretted the confusion and dismay that the change had triggered among some community members.
The decision-making framework draft for choosing which students will attend the new school has evolved to reflect the public input gathered at the September 27th meeting (posted in four documents here and here and here and here), via the online APS survey (results are summarized here), and through the PTA meetings held October 2nd.
Board and staff comments last night strongly suggest that the policy and the decision framework each are changing in ways that capture feedback provided by Jamestown PTA representatives and others who have participated in the process over the past month. The potential use of the new school as a 4th and 5th grade “academy” apparently will be evaluated among other alternatives. The alternatives will be framed around the seven (or so) planning criteria used in the policy, with clear distinctions drawn among the alternatives so the public can see and comment on the trade-offs among the choices.
Board and staff each noted that, while the current schedule anticipates a Board decision October 18th on the new policy and the decision framework, the schedule will be extended if needed to accommodate further community engagement.
If you have comments or questions, please direct them to boundary-liaison@jamestownpta.