Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Karla Hagan

The following are the responses school board candidate Karla Hagan (http://karlahagan.org/) gave to the HeraldTrib's survey. --ST

Question 1. Little was changed after last year's process to alleviate overcrowding in a few north Arlington elementary schools. Many parents were angry that county-wide programs at Arlington Traditional School and Drew Model School were removed from the charge that the Elementary Crowding and Capacity Committee considered when looking for solutions to overcrowding. The school board has pledged to continue the process of looking at capacity issues.

Will the school board have to consider admissions priorities or moving/relocating ATS and Drew while looking at overcrowding issues in the coming year or two, why or why not?

The evidence is clear: the number of school-aged children is increasing in Arlington, particularly in the northwest section. I served on the Elementary Crowding and Capacity Committee (ECCC). I share the frustration that all schools were not contributors to the conversation about potential solutions. I am also the only School Board candidate to speak out against the Superintendent's massive cascading boundary change plan.

Having worked through the analysis in the ECCC process, it is my conviction that it will take an assortment of tools to fully address the overcrowding challenge facing our community. Ultimately, several different tools will likely be part of the solution.

However, before choosing the tools to address this challenge, we first must do the analysis. There are several areas where potential solutions might lie. Some solutions might be shorter-term; others longer-term. Some potential solutions are program-focused; some are policy-based. Wholesale boundary changes should not be the first tool we turn to.

We must fully understand the challenge. This includes

  • examining fully -- and realistically -- the current capacity of our school system.
  • being sure that underlying data from which we build projections is solid.
  • ensuring that policies (e.g., transfer policies) are consistently implemented across the school system, and being willing to revisit policies which are not best serving the school system as a whole.

  • North Arlington is at 97% capacity as a whole. There is some capacity in other parts of the County, but that capacity is not near the location of the overcrowding. Moving children to and from among a set of schools already at, or nearing, capacity does not address the issue.

    The fact is that we need to get students to where there is additional capacity. Where, and how, can that be done?

  • Wilson School. There are real possibilities at the Wilson School site in Rosslyn. We must pursue future improvement of that site with a priority to creating educational space, as well as a commitment to creating a facility that maximizes the opportunity for joint school-community use. I support partnering with the County to leverage the combined County-Schools assets at the Wilson site to meet these goals.
  • Leveraging Special Programs. I support the current process in which APS staff is meeting with schools to discuss various options. I believe this is the best way to come to a creative, fair, and community-minded solution. Arlington schools have found a reasonable and good balance between choice programs, neighborhood schools, and some "cluster" schools which offer both some degree of both choice and neighborhood component. The staff examination of potential non-boundary options is an opportunity for school communities, particularly those with additional capacity, to consider how their goals as a school community might align with the needs of the school system as a whole. Examples are Randolph and Campbell, two schools which presently have excess capacity. Both schools offer special programs which are potentially very appealing to out-of-neighborhood students, if not for the associated transportation challenges. During the recent boundary process, the Randolph and Campbell communities brought forth recommendations suggesting county-wide transportation to their schools. I supported these recommendations. I would hope that the current staff analysis revisits the viability of these earlier recommendations from Campbell and Randolph.

  • I do not know whether admissions priorities or the location of ATS or Drew's Montessori programs would ultimately prove to be workable, or reasonable, options for the School Board to consider as they endeavor to address this challenge. However, I believe that, in the best tradition of Arlington, each school community should come to the table to address the complex overcrowding situation we’re experiencing, and identify ways they might contribute to the solution.

    Question 2. What specific initiatives would you develop or enhance to ensure capital projects stay on time and at—or under—budget?

    We are nearing the end of a capital improvement cycle in Arlington. The remaining facilities -- Wakefield High School, Thomas Jefferson Middle School, and the Arlington Career Center -- are in desperate need of attention. In these, and in far too many additional school buildings, major problems with HVAC, fire suppression and other major systems are so woefully inadequate that learning environments are not conducive to education. This is not a drive to create fine facilities in an affluent community: this is remedying current realities which get in the way of learning -- and result in a noticeable disparity between school and neighborhood communities.

    Systemization of Needs Assessment. The County’s bonding capacity to raise funds for these much-needed renovations is limited. I will ensure there are tough, transparent, and realistic decisions made about renovation prioritization -- where all communities have an equal voice and where there are clear steps along the way to working toward the established goals. We must systemize the process for capital improvements. We must plan instead of being reactive.

    Setting Budget Parameters Earlier. Citizen and community input to vet ideas and create a common understanding for facilities design is absolutely essential. But, importantly, citizens and staff must also work within a budget framework. In the past, budgets for new school facilities have not been clear at the outset of design. Instead, education design concerns have driven projects, with budget impacts coming in to play only at the back end. This has been poor planning, and cannot continue into the future.

    We have a good start on processes that get input from all stakeholders in designing a schools facility – the Building Level Planning Committee process. However, the School Board must provide a clear budget framework at the outset of that process so that budget is a factor all the way through, not just after the fact.

    Question 3. Most of you have on your web site, in one form or another, concerns with the "achievement gap" between whites and minorities in the schools. Please consider the achievement gap in terms of a budgeting priority. Of the money that the school board controls (i.e., not "entitlement" monies from the state or federal government that must go toward specific programs), which program would you defend as having the highest priority in a shrinking budget and why?

    In Arlington, we have focused resources on the achievement gap and made significant strides over the years. However in the last three years we have stalled in making gains in closing the gap on multiple measures, among them: overall SOL pass rates, third grade reading scores, and high school graduation rates. We must do better.

    Budget realities necessitate that we prioritize programs that will have the most impact in tackling this tough issue. Especially in today’s challenging budget environment, we must maximize our educational dollars spent. Providing high quality preschool to our most at-risk children is the single most effective way to leverage our investment. We must ensure each child starts kindergarten ready to learn; indeed high-quality early childhood programs are the foundation of success for a lifetime of learning.

    Studies show that investment in preschool pays off, through a child’s school years and beyond. Children who have attended preschool have improved profiles on a staggering array of indicators: higher achievement throughout their school careers, fewer special education placements, higher graduation rates, higher incomes, higher rates of home ownership, and lower utilization of social services later in life.

    We are not yet meeting the need for preschool for all our at-risk children in Arlington. We must continue to provide our high-quality preschool program, and strive to expand this program as the budget allows, to meet the need for each at-risk child, so that all kids have the opportunity to get the right start in school, and in life.

    Question 4. Democrats will endorse only two of you on May 1 and 3. If you are one of the four not endorsed, will you stay in the race? If so, what is your strategy beyond that date, given the strength conferred with the endorsement to the two winners?

    As part of the filing process, each candidate who runs for the Democratic endorsement for School Board must pledge not to run against a Democratic endorsee in the fall general election. Like each of the other five candidates who have filed for the Democratic School Board endorsement, I made this pledge. I will run as hard as I can to receive the Democratic endorsement in the May 1 and May 3 election, but if I do not receive it I will support the endorsees in the general election this fall.

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