We start with the good news, such as it is: One has to credit the leadership of Arlington Public Schools with not trying to hide the fact that its VLP (Virtual Learning Program) has had a really, really, really rocky first three months.
As late as Oct. 14, when Superintendent Francisco Durán provided School Board members with an update – or, more accurately, had staff provide the update while he sat largely mute – the kinks had not been ironed out, and the 630 students (about 2.4% of the student body) whose families had chosen this method of instruction for the 2021-22 school year were still falling further behind.
It’s somewhat unfathomable that school leaders couldn’t have sorted through, if not all, at least more of the challenges that they must have known were going to crop up.
First of all, it’s not like it’s a huge number of students; 630 is a number that should be manageable. And it’s not as if the school district was starting from scratch; it kept ALL students in a “virtual” environment for roughly a year starting in March 2020.
And still, they blew it. Staff and leadership for the program either couldn’t be recruited or gave up; technology seemed a complete challenge; and communication within the school system and between the school system and families appears to have been ineffectual.
And while the numbers in the program are relatively small, these are students who in many cases need all the TLC they can get from the school system:
• Sixty percent come from low-income families.
• Forty percent are learning English.
• Twenty-five percent are in special-education programs.
These are some of the students who lost the most, education-wise, in the year and a half from March 2020 to August 2021, and deserve better than they have received since then.
(Where were School Board members while all this played out? One presumes spending time with topics they considered more pressing: renaming buildings, transgenderizing bathrooms and kicking cops off campus.)
We’re going to give credit to School Board member Cristina Diaz-Torres, who has been pushing Durán hard to take more concrete steps at ensuring students in the online program receive remedial support to make up for what has been lost. “Do whatever it takes to make this happen,” she told the superintendent in a tone that might come off as imperious, but of which we approve.
At least somebody’s dander is up about this. Too many in leadership posts seem to be wringing their hands, afraid to act boldly to fix the mess they’ve created.