Thursday, January 17, 2008

Superintendent Can't Laugh Off Criticism

Fendley calls Dr. Smith's proposal "terrible."

The mood started light for Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Robert Smith last night. He knew most of the 200-some people in the room wanted to complain about his proposal to change the boundaries of 18 elementary schools when he said, “Greetings,” brightly into the podium’s microphone.

The audience murmured back a half-hearted answer.

He feigned surprise at the lackluster reception, and the group laughed, allowing the mood to lighten for the first order of business, to honor 19 Arlington teachers who received national certification honors and a standing ovation from the crowd.

After that, he didn’t laugh much, or more precisely, he didn’t laugh at all.

And who could blame him? With 38 speakers on the agenda, and only two vaguely praising the work of Dr. Smith and his staff, he did not have much to smile about.

Although school board members at the end of the night said they thought the discourse of the evening was civil, parent after parent had stood at the microphone to tell the superintendent off.

The Barrett contingent: Melanie Wilhelm and Peter Constantine sitting in front of Kevin Curtin, center, at last night's school board meeting. Click to enlarge the image.

None of the attacks was particularly personal, but people did not pull punches, using phrases such as, “substandard product,” “travesty of a plan,” “the nuclear option,” “not what’s best for the children of Arlington,” and “Dr. Smith’s proposal deserves a failing grade.”

One speaker said he expected better from Arlington’s best paid staffer. Another man cried.

“I’ve seen enough to come to some conclusions,” said School Board Chair Ed Fendley at the end of the evening. “One is the superintendent’s proposal is a terrible proposal.”

Dr. Smith's proposal would move about 600 students in 18 Arlington elementary schools. K.W. Barrett Elementary School's population size would remain about the same as it would lose about 40 students and gain 40. The gain would come as two of Ashlawn Elementary's "planning units" (sections of neighborhoods) would join Barrett, and some of the loss would come from losing the students who come to Barrett from within the Barcroft Elementary School boundary.

Barrett PTA's position paper, page 1. Click to enlarge the image.

Before the meeting K.W. Barrett Elementary School PTA President Melanie Wilhelm said, “Our main concern is that we keep those Barcroft [Elementary School] families who have chosen us.” Three speakers from Barrett reflected that in their remarks to the board.

Under the superintendent’s proposal, only rising fourth and fifth graders (students who are third and fourth graders this year) and their siblings who are in the school currently would be “grandfathered” into a school. This could mean that parents who have rising fourth graders and a child in his or her last year of preschool this year might be sending their kids to separate schools this fall. Many people said the county should honor the decisions parents have already made.

Position paper, page 2. Click to enlarge the image.

Fifteen families at Barrett who live within Barcroft’s boundary would not be able to attend Barrett next year under Dr. Smith’s proposal.

“If he’s about choice,” Ms. Wilhelm said, pointing at Dr. Smith’s chair, “he’s got to respect that choice.”

A position paper circulated by the PTA stressed three main areas of concern. They asked that the school board respect historic school boundaries and walk zones as much as possible; encourage school choice as a way to alleviate crowding and increase diversity without disruption; and honor the choices that families have already made.

Speakers had three minutes to address the school board last night. In the video below, I chose two 30-second sections as a representation of what each person said. It is not intended to be a complete rendering of their statements. Peter Constantine is reading from the Barrett PTA position paper.--ST


The School Board is expected to make a decision on the recommendations at either the Jan. 31 or Feb. 14 meeting.

Citizens may also comment by email to boundary@arlington.k12.va.us,. Copies of all emails will be shared with all School Board members.


This list is updated regularly.
Related Sites from the Public Schools…


  • School Board will hear more public comment Wed. Jan. 23
  • Superintendent to Present Recommendations for Elementary Boundary Changes on Jan. 17 (The APS press release.)
  • APS’s Enrollment and Capacity of Schools page
  • ECCC’s Recommendations and Proposals (a 74-page MSWord Document)
    Related stories from the HeraldTrib…
  • Smith's Plan: Barrett Loses Programs Gains from Ashlawn
  • Letter: County, Support Our Choices
  • APS Chair Ed Fendley Speaks to Barrett PTA
  • Barrett Parents to Bring Concerns to School Board

    Related stories from other papers…

  • Parents Up In Arms, Out In Force (Connection Jan. 22, 2008)
  • Arlington parents criticize plan to shift school boundaries (Examiner Jan. 19, 2008)
  • School Boundary Proposal Provokes an Outcry (Washington Post Jan. 19, 2008)
  • Superintendent's Boundary Plan Panned at Hearing (Sun Gazette Jan. 18, 2008)
  • Arlington County School Board to Hear Massive Redistricting Plan (Examiner Jan. 17, 2008)
  • Superintendent Proposes Shifting 600-Plus Elementary Students (Sun Gazette, Jan. 15, 2008).
  • Crowding Committee Makes Recommendations (Arlington Connection, Jan. 8, 2008)
  • Date Set for Public Hearing on School Boundaries (Sun Gazette, Jan. 6, 2008)
  • 2008 Could Bring Elementary-School Boundary Battles (Sun Gazette Dec. 27, 2007)
  • Boundary Clash (Arlington Connection, Nov. 6, 2007)

    The dark lines on the map show current boundaries. The colors show which planning units (portions of neighborhoods) go to which school under Superintendent Robert Smith's proposal. (Click to enlarge the image).

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