Student Growth Less Than Expected, But Still on Upward Streak


The official enrollment in Arlington’s public schools this year came in slightly below what school officials had expected, but they say growth is continuing and total enrollment could still hit 100 percent of available capacity within two years.

The school system recorded 21,845 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade on Sept. 30, the date the Virginia Department of Education sets for local school districts to report in with official numbers.

That figure represents 98.2 percent of what school officials had projected, but still showed a growth of 604 students (2.8 percent) over the previous year.

APS officials will present the details to School Board members on Nov. 3, along with an update on the planning process to address the increasing student body.

Growth has been concentrated at the elementary-school level, where 12 of the 22 Arlington schools saw student enrollment increase by 5 percent or more over the past year. Ten of the 22 elementary schools now are at 95 percent of capacity or more, as are two of the six middle schools and two of the four high schools.

All told, 91 percent of available spaces across the system are now taken up with live bodies. And more are on the way: There were more than 2,900 births to Arlington parents recorded in 2008 and 2009, the highest totals in years, school officials say.

A growth rate of 4 percent per year would push past 100-percent capacity by 2013, school officials say, with a total enrollment of more than 24,000 and, barring boundary changes or other steps, some schools at more than 130 percent of capacity.

Enrollment remains below the Baby Boom peak of the early 1960s, when the school system had more than 26,000 students enrolled. But the school system also had much more capacity then; enrollment began falling in the early 1970s, leveling out at about 15,000 through much of the 1980s.

A number of school buildings were closed, sold off or converted to other uses during the “Baby Bust” demographic era.

Even though long-term student-enrollment projections can be tricky to get right, school officials have known the growth was coming and have taken steps to address it. Since 2005, the school system found room for more than 2,500 seats in its schools, and has added “relocatable” trailers where needed.

The school system also has picked 16 schools for further study, to determine what could be done to increase “reasonable” maximum capacity – and what that would cost.

Sites that have been under consideration include Abingdon, Arlington Traditional, Ashlawn, Carlin Springs, Drew, Glebe, Hoffman-Boston, Jamestown, McKinley, Nottingham, Oakridge and Taylor elementary schools; Thomas Jefferson, Kenmore and Williamsburg middle schools; and the Reed School.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy early next year will unveil a new capital-improvement plan designed to address capacity issues. Funding for added facilities – including what could be a proposal for a new elementary school – likely would be sent to voters as part of a bond package in November 2012.


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