As the days of summer draw to a close, Arlington families have been enjoying final outings or finishing back-to-school shopping for clothes and school supplies. In the meantime, Arlington public school officials have been hard at work to ready our buildings, classrooms and instructional programs for the start of another year of excellence in learning for approximately 18,900 students.

Last week, 175 teachers new to Arlington (although many are veteran teachers) began two weeks of staff development. I'm very pleased that we will begin the school year with all classrooms fully staffed with dedicated and highly qualified educators.

Over the summer, we received very encouraging results from our recent customer satisfaction survey. Conducted by an outside consulting firm last spring, the survey indicated that Arlingtonians express positive opinions about their schools in general. For example, each year the Gallup Organization asks parents to give a grade to their community's public schools. In 2003 (the most recent year for which results were available), 17 percent of the parent respondents across the nation gave 'A's' to their community's public schools. In Arlington in 2004, 46 percent of parents gave their public schools an 'A,' compared to 40 percent in 2002 and 24 percent in 1999. When asked, "How satisfied are you with the overall level of instruction that your child is receiving?," 96 percent of our parents reported that they are very or somewhat satisfied. When our community members and parents were asked if they felt their tax dollars were being well spent on education, among those who answered "yes" or "no," 80 percent responded "yes." I find these results very encouraging because the rising levels of satisfaction over the past few years suggest that the school system is making progress in meeting the community's expectations for high-quality schools.

This school year, in addition to the excellent teaching staff, we are extremely fortunate to welcome six excellent and talented new principals, along with our former science supervisor, Mark Johnston, in his new position as assistant superintendent of instruction. These exemplary educators will help us work toward meeting our twin goals of raising achievement for all students while eliminating achievement gaps among certain groups of students.

Earlier this month we announced that six of our 13 Title I schools had not yet met Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind Act. Although these schools missed no more than four of the 29 targets required, all of them continue to be high-performing schools that produce excellent results. In fact, a number of these schools have been recognized both statewide and nationally as effective schools. Even according to the fairly narrow definition of student achievement under No Child Left Behind, all six schools demonstrated considerable progress over the past year.

We will continue to work on improving student learning at all of our schools by focusing on teaching for meaning and by supporting best practices in instruction and assessment. We persist in believing that instruction reduced to only that which is tested represents impoverished education and is unacceptable to our parents, community, students and faculty.

These sentiments will be evident in a number of new instructional initiatives, including the expansion of classes for 4-year-olds from 18 to 21 and the addition of one reading teacher for each sixth-grade team.

Excellent instruction requires excellent teaching and learning environments. Thanks to the consistent support of the Arlington community, construction projects at Arlington Traditional, Jamestown Elementary, Swanson Middle and Yorktown High (Phase I) will be ready by the beginning of this school year. Construction at Glebe Elementary will be completed later this fall. The replacement of Kenmore Middle School is well underway, and it's on target to open next year. Nottingham Elementary construction will begin next winter. These new, state-of-the-art facilities ensure that our children will receive a world-class education in a world-class instructional setting. Approval of the Nov. 2 bond referendum will provide $78 million for the replacement of Washington-Lee High School, the completion of Kenmore and design work for the reconstruction of much of Yorktown High (Phase II), Arlington Mill and Reed.

This fall, we will work in partnership with members of the community to develop a six-year strategic plan to guide our work through the 2010-11 school year. Members of our community will also be joining together to make recommendations for changes in school boundaries for many of our elementary schools in the northern portion of the county. This work, coupled with our capital improvement plan, will help us balance school capacities and eliminate crowding in some of our elementary schools.

We welcome the participation of all citizens in both of these important efforts. Please contact the Arlington School Board office or me if you are interested in working with us. Working together, we will continue to make measured and steady gains in student achievement.

All of us in the Arlington public schools are grateful to our parents and citizens and to our business and elected leaders for their continued support of strong public schools. We look forward to another year of progress and achievement for our community's greatest asset -- our children.

For more information about Arlington public schools, visit www.arlington.k12.va.us.

ROBERT G. SMITH