Short-term space crunch at AHS next year, new logos
UPDATED Sept. 12: With an uneventful first week of classes, an uptick in enrollment, a grant, a successful new program, more interest in athletics and smooth orientation of new staffers, Arlington Public Schools officials are taking up decisions for the future. These include choosing new logos for the high school and for the district as a whole -- and finding a palatable way to cope with a temporary space crunch at Arlington High School anticipated a year from now.
“It was a very successful first day of school,” said Superintendent Elizabeth C. Homan of the 2022-2023 school year that began Sept. 6. “There were no real challenges that we heard about.” She spoke at the Sept. 8 regular School Committee meeting – the first such meeting since June 23.
She said that the current projection is for at least 150 more students this school year; the official count for any given school year is historically done Oct. 1. In other welcome news, the district received a grant for $212,500 to enhance social-emotional learning and mental health. In addition, the before-school-care pilot program is underway at two campuses, as planned, with five children participating at Thompson School in East Arlington and 15 at Peirce School in Arlington Heights; scholarships are available to eligible families, and a drop-in option has been added.
Quiet on Covid
In sharp contrast to all meetings held in the previous school year, the superintendent did not mention Covid-19 other than to note that she was not going to lead off her customary monthly report by showing the incidence-rate chart, nor did any committee member mention the pandemic in any way.
The matter was brought up only briefly, in the public-comment portion early in the meeting, by Eliza Perez, a longtime local resident with children in district schools and a founding member of local activist group Safer Air = Safer Schools. Perez focused on long Covid, which she said is real, can affect children and "is exhausting on a cellular level." She said she sought to "prevent ableism" and to achieve equity for the vulnerable. "You are the adults with the decision-making power," she told the audience. By longstanding practice, committee members rarely respond to anything said during public comment.
Over the weekend, responding to a request from YourArlington, Homan provided this link that describes pandemic policies and protocols in public schools currently. The information is in the form of a letter from the district Director of Nursing Doreen Crowe.
It reads, in part, "Our focus this year will be on symptomatic individuals. The Commonwealth is not recommending universal mask requirements, surveillance testing of asymptomatic individuals, contact tracing or test-to-stay testing in schools." The letter continues, in part, as follows: Symptomatic onsite testing will be performed by qualified trained Health Office staff for students that become ill during the school day. Symptomatic individuals can remain at school if they have mild symptoms and test negative. Individuals will wear a mask, if possible, until symptoms are fully resolved."
ACMi News reports on opening day of public schools and Covid:
More than 500 try out for sports
Already, more than 540 students have tried out for competitive fall sports, which is at least 80 more than in the recent past, Homan said. Two committee members were concerned about those not accepted onto teams. Jane Morgan asked how many kids are being cut from sports: “That’s one thing I worry about a lot,” she said. Kirsi Allison-Ampe wondered about alternatives. “Can we expand our offerings so that they have some place to play?” she said.
Some 70 new employees underwent new-staff orientation and training in late August. Topics covered were curriculum, evaluation/observation systems, special education, diversity, equity and inclusion, introduction to the unions, and interaction with mentors. “They hit the ground running,” said Assistant Superintendent Roderick MacNeal Jr.
Human Resources Director Robert Spiegel added that “It was a busy week. It’s a lot [of material] in a short amount of time.”
Read the documents for this agenda item >>
Logos, slogans considered
A new logo for Arlington High School has passed scrutiny at the building subcommittee, Homan said, adding that choice of a mascot is considered an entirely separate matter and therefore is being deferred at this time. The recommended AHS logo is circular, with a large capital letter A and the name “Arlington Spy Ponders,” and rendered in gray, white and crimson.
The only place it will not be used right away is on the yet-to-be-renovated Peirce Field at AHS; this change may not occur for five years, Principal Matthew Janger said. He added that the extant “Menotomy Hunter” image there will be retired. This is a two-dimensional rendition of perhaps the most famous sculpture by late local artist Cyrus Dallin, depicting a pensive man in Native American traditional dress.
As for the district’s own logo, the superintendent displayed several sample graphics created at no charge by the district’s website vendor, Edlio, which has a marketing arm. These, she said, were done keeping in mind the district’s vision and mission statements as well as the concept of sustainability, the popular recreation spot Spy Pond and the Minuteman Bikeway.
Committee members appeared underwhelmed at the options presented: pedestrians near a tree and a body of water, concentric circles, a swoosh-like line and a combination of lower-case letters and a mortarboard giving the vague impression of an owl.
“I don’t love any of them,” said Allison-Ampe, saying that none provide “a strong sense of place,” that they seemed “very generic” and that it might be wiser to “go back to the drawing board.”
Given an initial choice of two slogans, “Creating Leaders of Tomorrow” and “Education that Empowers,” the clear consensus was for the latter; committee member Len Kardon observed that the former statement did not reflect anything in the vision or mission statements.
No decisions were made, and so the matter will be brought back at a later date.
See the logos under discussion here >>
Space solution sought for September 2023
The committee discussed options for instruction at AHS a year from now during a three-week period – estimated to run Sept. 5 through Sept. 25 – when there will not be room for all 1,500 students to be taught for full days at the extant campus because of ongoing reconstruction.
There is no simple, pleasant or inexpensive solution, committee members learned.
The construction schedule cannot safely be sped up, Homan said. Establishing a temporary “tent city” for classes on already beleaguered Peirce Field is untenable because of insufficient space and weather concerns, according to Janger. And delaying the start of classes for AHS alone, perhaps by shortening or eliminating the February break, April break or both, presumably would be seen as “heresy,” committee member Bill Hayner said.
Two alternatives were described: one requiring shortened school days and costing a lot of money, and another allowing for normal school days but costing even more money.
“It’s a very complicated challenge,” Homan said.
The money, per se, is not the major obstacle, according to committee member Jeff Thielman, who heads both the facilities and AHS Building subcommittees. He said that the contingency fund has about $7.7 million and that, therefore, with either option, the district would not be “spending money we don’t have,” he said.
2 options discussed
The administration presented options 1 and 2. The first option would cost a minimum of $125,000 to build a “connector” structure between habitable portions of the school, plus some other structures, and this would still mean that AHS students would have only three classes per day for the first 11 school days of the 2023-2024 school year.
The second option would allow for all AHS students to have full school days on campus but would cost at least $1.2 million, because it would shift the construction timeline later and possibly risk further supply-chain problems, which have been experienced nationwide since the beginning of the pandemic 2 1/2 years ago.
“We’re basically weighing two not-good options,” Allison-Ampe said.
Committee members appeared to lean toward option 2 as being more “in the interest of the students,” as Thielman said. Morgan agreed, saying, “Kids need to be in full days of school. We’ll never know what the [emotional and educational] cost might be with a disruption at the beginning of the school year.”
A similar view was expressed by the only other person besides Perez to make public comment, at the meeting's beginning -- local parent Kate Leary. She said the community would "need real price tags attached to Option 1" and that Option 2 would be "really the right decision for Arlington students."
As with the logo issue, no vote was taken, but the matter will be revisited.
In other business:
- The memorandum of agreement with Unit C of the Arlington Education Association, representing administrative assistants and running from July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2025, was approved unanimously. Spiegel called it “a good, fair contract” and praised outgoing Chief Financial Officer Michael Mason for “thinking creatively.” Mason, who was not at the meeting, is set to become deputy town manager of Arlington effective in November. See the memo here >>
- A contract renewing MacNeal’s position as assistant superintendent was approved, 7-0. Homan called him “a tireless advocate for improvement in our district,” spoke of his “significant and foundational” changes to reading education, coaching models and professional development in diversity, equity and inclusion, and his “thoughtful, reflective, humble” approach. See the contract >>
- Also winning approval with no opposition: a revised resolution expressing opinions about gun safety; codifying the district’s new vision statement, mission statement and strategic priorities into policy manuals; and the procedures for naming special spaces at AHS. Read the agenda documents >>
- Hayner abstained for the otherwise affirmative vote to have the School Committee not meet June 8, 2023, but instead meet June 15, 2023.
- A new subcommittee – superintendent evaluation – has been established and will be led by Kardon.
- The committee adjourned to closed session at 8:38 p.m., with no immediate report expected to be made after it was over.
Watch the entire meeting an ACMi:
This summary by YourArlington freelance writer Judith Pfeffer was published Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. It was updated Sept. 10 to add ACMi News video of the Sept. 8 meeting, and updated again Sept. 12 to include a link to online information on the district's current approach to the pandemic provided Sep. 11 by the superintendent after a request by YourArlington.
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