Additional security measures, new curriculum resources and a division-wide dress code are among the changes students in Arlington, Virginia, will see when they return to class Monday.
Superintendent Francisco Duran said the school system invested over $5 million in its last budget for projects such as replacing all locks on classroom doors. That process is already underway, he told WTOP, and security vestibules at school entrances are also receiving upgrades.
Additional security staff will be in elementary, middle and high school buildings, and schools will be equipped with new public announcement systems and lockdown buttons to will enable principals to lock schools down quickly.
Arlington schools don’t have school resource officers in school buildings, but Duran said the county has a close partnership with law enforcement and that police respond to all incidents in a timely matter.
The security enhancements come as security is top-of-mind for parents and students across the D.C. region, in the aftermath of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in May. Montgomery County, Maryland, school officials said last week they’re finalizing plans for law enforcement officials to receive a key fob to school buildings so that they can enter quickly.
“I’m really happy about the fact that we have that kind of relationship (with law enforcement) to make sure our students are safe,” Duran said. “So when there is a need for them to come to the building for a safety matter, they will be there.”
Duran detailed another new initiative to ensure every child in the 27,000-student system is able to succeed. Part of that, he said, involves introducing new curriculum resources.
Arlington teachers will change the way they approach teaching literacy, with a new investment in resources and materials for third through fifth grade students, as well as secondary middle and high school students, Duran said. County data revealed some fourth and fifth graders in the county fell behind in literacy during the last school year.
” … We’re seeing that those (students) that have not been successful and have gone on to high school and aren’t reading at grade level,” Duran said.
Some of the county’s new materials will emphasize phonics and grammar, he said.
“If you walked into some of our early literacy classes, you’re going to actually see teachers and students sounding out syllables, how two letters come together, what kind of a sound does that make,” Duran said.
Arlington schools also invested in math materials for the first time in a decade, Duran said.
Middle and high schoolers this year will have access to a 24/7 online tutoring program to receive hands-on help. Duran said school officials will review how many students use the program, and what specific questions students ask, throughout the year.
“It’s not just for struggling students,” Duran said. “Certainly it is for that, but it’s also hopefully for students that want extra help to accelerate even more.”
Arlington schools will start the year with masks optional, Duran said, but if the community transmission level as determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reaches “high,” masks will be required for students and staff. Students will have the option to opt out of that requirement. Families and staff can also opt in to weekly coronavirus testing, he said.
As the new school year begins, Duran said safety and health are top priorities, but he’s also pondered the question of, “what can I do to make sure teachers feel safe and welcomed?”
“I do believe that a lot of why teachers left the profession nationally — they weren’t respected and treated well by a lot of different areas … What can I do in APS to make them feel safe, welcome and warm?”