92°Scattered Clouds

by Andrea Swalec — September 2, 2014 at 12:00 pm 416 0

Elementary school students got moving and learned about pedestrian safety on the first day of school in Arlington Tuesday morning.

With a police escort, families walked from Fort Barnard Park to Drew Model Elementary School in Nauck as part of a joint pedestrian and cyclist safety initiative by Arlington Public Schools and the Arlington County Police Department.

The new program encourages families to create healthy habits and discuss how to stay safe, Arlington Superintendent Dr. Pat Murphy said.

“The message is safety for students both coming from and going to school,” Murphy said before families strolled in the post-Labor Day heat.

Keeping kids safe on streets using “the 3 ‘E’s” of engineering, education and traffic law enforcement are a top priority of the county, added Larry Marcus, Arlington’s transportation, engineering and operations bureau chief.

As she walked her 3-year-old son Kanoa to his first day of Montessori school, lifelong Nauck resident Jaque Tuck, 30, said she wanted to teach her child healthy habits.

“On his very first day, we wanted to let him know everything is okay and to give him some exercise,” the child protective services employee said alongside her husband, real estate agent Karl Tuck.

Julia Stewart, a substitute teacher at the school, said she opted to walk her 11-year-old son Braden and 7-year-old son Tristan to class as a way to build community.

“I wanted to meet people who live in the neighborhood and go to school with us,” Stewart said. “You make it kind of a walking bus.”

Arlington families were notified about a month ago if they lived in a “bus zone” or a “walk zone” — and were encouraged to walk if possible, a department spokeswoman said.

Principal Darryl Evans encouraged Drew Elementary parents to walk their kids to school and supplement the two crossing guards who have posts near the school.

“We have a lot of children who walk in our community. It’s important that the adults help us out,” he said about school with 671 students enrolled this fall.

In a related pedestrian and cyclist safety campaign, some ACPD patrol cars now have rear stickers — with the words “PAL (Predictable, Alert, Lawful)” — that remind drivers, pedestrians and cyclists to share the road.

The release of the decals coincides with enforcement of the state law enacted July 1 requiring that drivers pass “at a reasonable speed” at least three feet from a cyclist they pass, according to a statement issued by the county.

ACPD stepped up high-visibility safety patrols around schools today for the beginning of the school year.

by ARLnow.com — August 27, 2014 at 4:45 pm 6,716 0

Apple Macbook Air laptop displaying the Arlington Public Schools website(Updated at 9:55 a.m.) Arlington Public Schools plans to give a new Macbook Air to every 9th grader in Wakefield, Washington-Lee and Yorktown high schools this school year.

The school system negotiated a deal with Apple that allowed it to purchase the laptops with a portion of the existing $1.2 million APS budget for annual high school computer purchases, Assistant Superintendent for Information Services Raj Adusumilli told ARLnow.com today. Adusumilli declined to reveal the exact cost, citing confidential negotiations.

The plan may come as a bit of a surprise — while APS has had a standing strategic goal of providing one computing device for every student by 2017, earlier this year the School Board shot down Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposed $200,000 in supplemental funding for iPads and Google Chromebooks for 2nd and 6th graders. With less than a week to go before the first day of school, APS has still not publicly touted the laptop purchase. The school system answered questions about it in response to inquiries by ARLnow.com, which was sent a non-public document by an anonymous parent.

Adusumilli said the Macbook purchase wasn’t finalized until early July. The devices will be rolled out to students in phases, as a pilot program, at the discretion of teachers and principals.

“It’s going to be done in phases, so it’s not like on the first week of school all the students will get it,” said Adusumilli. “The devices are going to be handed out to teachers first, who will be trained to use the devices in instruction. That’s happening in the first week of school. Devices started getting sent to teachers yesterday.”

For now, only the three Arlington high schools are getting the computers; APS is still working on a plan for laptops at the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program.

Currently, APS has shared computers in classrooms, with a 1.6:1 student-to-computer ratio throughout the district, according to Adusumilli. APS has been upgrading its network and WiFi capabilities in recent years in anticipation of moving toward a 1:1 ratio, he said.

Instead of computers being shared and remaining in classrooms, each student will have his or her own “personalized” Macbook. Initially the computers will remain at school (in lockers, when students are not in class), but eventually APS plans to allow students to take their laptops home.

“Down the line, if [parents and students] feel comfortable, and the instructors allow it, it can be done eventually,” said Adusumilli. “The most effective way of the personalized device instruction is if the device is with the kid 24/7, but we know this won’t happen overnight.”

Adusumilli said APS will be closely watching the pilot program to help guide future personalized computer deployments. He said experience with other trial programs has led APS to believe full laptops are appropriate for high school students, while tablet computers like iPads are more effective learning tools for elementary and middle school students.

Earlier this summer, APS vehemently denied a rumored tablet purchase for 9th graders. Some parents have reported that their 2nd and 6th graders have been assigned iPads this year. Asked about tablet purchases for lower grade levels, Adusumilli was vague in his response.

“We are preparing for the transition from shared devices to personalized devices at all levels,” he wrote via email. “As part of this preparation each school is conducting a pilot to learn about the instructional benefits provided by personalization. The devices for all the pilots have been purchased. The purchases were made using existing computer replacement funds.”

One parent who learned about the laptop plan contacted ARLnow.com this week and questioned why APS hasn’t told the community at large about the pilot program.

“Through all of this, nothing on any APS channels, including the ‘welcome to school’ info packets for my 9th grader,” the parent said, without giving his or her name. “Why the cloak and dagger communications of what is actually exciting news?”

by Ethan Rothstein — August 22, 2014 at 10:20 am 891 0

Nancy Van Doren in the 4/22/14 School Board debateNow down to three members following two resignations, the Arlington School Board is planning to appoint an interim member next month.

Nancy Van Doren, who’s running unopposed to replace Noah Simon on the Board, is being considered for the appointment.

The three remaining members of the Board — Chair James Lander, Vice Chair Emma Violand-Sanchez and Abby Raphael — have approved a process by which Van Doren could be appointed at a special meeting on Friday, Sept. 12 at 8:00 a.m.

“The interim appointment will help to ensure fair and responsive leadership to represent the citizens of Arlington County and to make certain that decisions made during this period of transition reflect support by at least three members of the five-member body,” Arlington Public Schools said in a press release.

Simon resigned from the School Board earlier this summer. Sally Baird, who had already decided not to run for re-election, officially resigned from the Board last week, prompting the remaining three members to consider an interim appointment.

Residents will have a chance to voice their opinions on the appointment during a public hearing at the School Board’s regular meeting on Sept. 4 at 7:30 p.m.

“The public hearing will provide an opportunity for citizens to comment on whether Nancy Van Doren… or any other potential candidate(s), should be appointed,” APS said.

Baird’s seat will remain vacant until the Nov. 4 election, which includes two competing School Board candidates: Democrat Barbara Kanninen and Audrey Clement, who’s affiliated with the Green Party. In May, Van Doren finished second to Kanninen in the Democratic endorsement caucus for that race. After Simon announced his resignation, however, Van Doren was the only candidate to step forward.

Van Doren is a mother of four and an Arlington Public Schools volunteer.

File photo

by Ethan Rothstein — August 18, 2014 at 10:30 am 2,064 0

School board member Sally Baird at the Civic Federation candidates forumSchool Board member Sally Baird has resigned, effective Aug. 22, after previously announcing she wouldn’t seek re-election.

Baird is the second School Board member to resign this summer, following Noah Simon’s resignation on Aug. 1. That leaves the School Board with just three members: Chair James Lander, Vice Chair Emma Violand-Sanchez and Abby Raphael.

There will be no special election to replace Baird, since the election to fill her seat is already on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. Barbara Kanninen and Audrey Clement are running to fill her seat, while Nancy Van Doren is running unopposed to fill Simon’s seat.

“Commitments in both my personal and professional life have put increasing pressure on my time since the beginning of 2014,” Baird said in a press release announcing her decision. “I have worked to balance these commitments, trying to ensure that I dedicate the amount of time to my School Board duties which I truly believe a member must commit in order to perform this role effectively. This is the manner which our Arlington voters are fair to expect. But the time has come that I can no longer do that without great cost to my family.”

Baird was originally elected in 2006 and won re-election in 2010. She has two sons, who are students at Drew Model School and Gunston Middle School, according to her Arlington Public Schools bio.

Lander has yet to decide whether an appointment will be made to bring the Board back up to four members. If he does, APS said it’s possible that Van Doren will be chosen as appointee, since she is the only candidate to have filed.

“We have received Ms. Baird’s resignation with sincere regret,” Lander said in the release. “All of us on the School Board are thankful and appreciative of Sally’s eight years of leadership and dedication as a Board member. She has worked diligently to ensure that Arlington Public Schools provides high quality educational opportunities for all of our students. On behalf of all of the School Board members, I want to thank her for her dedication and service and we wish her well in all of her future endeavors.”

“To ensure that decisions by the Arlington School Board continue to be representative of the community,” Lander continued, “our goal is to see that those decisions made by the Board during this period of transition reflect support by at least three members of the five-member body.”

by Ethan Rothstein — August 15, 2014 at 2:15 pm 1,158 0

The Yorktown High School football team(Updated at 3:55 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools announced this week that it would be replacing its football helmets with new equipment designed to more effectively prevent concussions.

APS purchased more than 325 Riddell Revolution Speed helmets this summer with carryover superintendent funds from last year’s budget, APS Supervisor for Health, Physical Education and Athletics Debbie DeFranco told ARLnow.com. The helmets all received five-star ratings from a new Virginia Tech Helmet Rating System, which grades helmets on safety from one (lowest) to five (highest) stars.

The helmets will replace current helmets that graded between two- and four-stars, said DeFranco, who added that all helmets APS has used in football practices and games had previously passed the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment tests for safety.

“We were really looking for the best our students could get,” DeFranco said. “Because safety is paramount in everything we do, [Superintendent Patrick Murphy] said when the study came out, ‘let’s see what we can do.’ We realized how many were not five-rated under the system, and replaced those with five-star rated helmets.”

The helmets are also adaptable to future technology, including in-development sensors to detect impact to the head. The sensors, if they are implemented in the future, would be able to measure hits that don’t necessarily result in concussions, but could still have negative impacts on a developing brain.

Head injuries in football have come under scrutiny in recent years after a spate of high-profile suicides among former NFL players and a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the NFL by former players accusing the league of covering up the long-term impacts of brain injuries. High school football players have also suffered, including some who have died on the field, from the impacts of the repeated blows to the head that are commonplace in football.

DeFranco said all athletes undergo “baseline testing” before the season starts to determine their cognitive function. That way, when they suffer an apparent head injury, trainers can measure their brain functionality and compare it to before the injury occurred.

“We have a series of protocols that are aligned with the state law and international standards for returning to play,” DeFranco said. “We make sure they’re seen by someone who’s an expert in brain injuries. Fortunately, because of the media notoriety [concussions have received], a lot of the pediatricians have gone ahead and gotten training in the field.”

“It’s hard because kids want to play, they want to practice, they don’t want to sit out and rest,” DeFranco continued. “We try to educate their peers to tell them they need to rest, because it can have residual effects. There have been unfortunate tragedies where kids can come back too soon where it has ended tragically. We want to avoid them at all costs.”

Former football player Chris Nowinski, a concussion expert and victim of post-concussion syndrome, will be training all APS coaches in a lecture that parents and athletes are encouraged to attend. Nowinski, co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, will speak at Wakefield High School on Monday, Sept. 15, at 7:00 p.m.

File photo

by Ethan Rothstein — August 1, 2014 at 1:00 pm 1,102 0

An Arlington Public Library engineering STEM kit (Photo courtesy Arlington Public Library)(Updated at 1:15 p.m.) Pre-schoolers and elementary school students can do a lot more than read at Arlington libraries this summer.

Early last month, Arlington Public Library rolled out seven STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) kits — one for each branch — to encourage children to get hands-on experience with science in conjunction with its science-themed “Fizz, Boom, Read” summer reading program.

“The kids can come in, they can play with the kits, they can read books that correspond with the themes,” Anne Womack, the library’s youth collections librarian, said. “We saw other libraries doing this, and STEM is really important, so we thought we should do it, too. The kits are something to make kids see that science can be fun and hands on.”

The kits are for engineering (as pictured above), earth science, the human body, insects, plants, a “snap circuit” for basic electronics and weather. Each one is designed so children can play independently.

“The girl who built the bridge in that picture, she did it on her own,” Womack said. “She read the instructions and just did it. It’s just hands-on science activities for the kids, not something that has to be parent or teacher-led.”

Each kit has components for young children and late-elementary schoolers. They were paid for and partly designed by Dan Cross-Cole, a retired engineer. Womack was sitting in her office early this spring when she was told “there is a guy in the lobby looking for you.”

It was Cross-Cole, who told her he “wanted to design some science projects for kids,” Womack said. Library staff had already been discussing building the kits because they had seen them at other library systems, so Womack instantly agreed. Cross-Cole arranged to have the project paid for by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

“[Cross-Cole] was a miracle,” Womack said. “He just came to us out of the blue… [IEEE] paid for everything, and they’ve been really helpful in this process.”

The kits will rotate throughout the library system for the rest of the summer. After the summer reading program is finished, Womack said they plan to circulate them among the different branches of the library.

Photo (top) courtesy Arlington Public Library. Bottom photo courtesy Anne Womack

by Morgan Fecto — July 30, 2014 at 11:15 am 880 0

Joan Le during a bio-diversity study of the Chesapeake Bay.A Washington-Lee High School teacher will embark on a 12-day-long National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study that will enhance her science curriculum.

Earth science teacher Joan Le will accompany NOAA scientists in conducting “an on-going population survey of deep-water coral habitat in the Atlantic Ocean.” according to the agency. As one of NOAA’s “Teacher at Sea” cruises, the trip will give Le an opportunity to observe, research and interact with professional scientists.

“I want to bring real data back into the classrooms and find opportunities for citizen science [for the students],” Le said. “I’m hoping that through this process I can find ways for the students to actually contribute.”

For the first time in her four years at Washington-Lee, Le will teach an environmental studies course in addition to her earth sciences course in the fall. Le said she plans to create projects for both classes with the data she gathers on the trip.

Le said her teaching method is to try and make science a hands-on experience, like a science fair.

“My grades in science weren’t really that good,” the James Madison University alumna said. “I had great teachers, but something about science in the classroom doesn’t always translate how exciting science can actually be. It’s not always easy because there are lots of things to cover.”

Along with writing a blog to chronicle the trip, Le will submit an original lesson plan to NOAA that incorporates what she learned. Her plan will be available online for any science teacher to use in a classroom, Le said. 

“You can kind of look through what other teachers have done, and it’s great because it’s better than [having] matching worksheets,” said Le, who used a similar NOAA lesson plan in her first year of teaching.

NOAA has sponsored Teacher at Sea trips every year for the past 24 years. Out of 200 teachers who applied, Le was one of 25 chosen for research cruises. Le and the NOAA scientists will travel on the ship Henry B. Bigelow, and will set sail Aug. 5 from Newport, R.I.

Studying coral is a significant way to understand past climates, Le said. Although she is excited for the cruise, Le said she is unsure exactly what the trip will entail.

“In the manual, one of the important traits they list is flexibility,” Le said. “So I’m ready for anything.”

Photo Courtesy Joan Le

by Ethan Rothstein — July 25, 2014 at 11:00 am 1,144 0

Friends of Thomas Jefferson Park at Arlington County Board's meeting 07/1914(Updated at 1:05 p.m.) The Arlington County Board approved the next step in building a new elementary school in South Arlington by commissioning a working group to study land around Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

The working group, the members of which have not yet been announced, will first meet in September and take five months to study the feasibility of building an elementary school adjacent to the middle school at 125 S. Old Glebe Road.

The site is the preferred choice of Arlington’s School Board, which will ask county taxpayers for upwards of $50 million for the school as part of its $106 million referendum package on the Nov. 4 ballot.

“Our County is desirable and growing, and more students are entering our school system,” Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette said in a press release. “We need to work together to find creative ways to meet this challenge. This working group will bring together community members, Schools, and County staff for a robust consideration of whether to use a portion of the Thomas Jefferson site for a new elementary school.”

The working group — to be comprised of members from surrounding civic associations and members of schools and county staff, advisory boards and commissions — is charged with returning to the County Board with a recommendation in January 2015. Its goals from the County Board include:

  • Retaining the current wooded eastern end of “TJ Park” as is (area along the western portion of S. Irving Street and stretching west along Arlington Blvd.); maintain a cohesive park; ensure no significant loss of green space and no net loss of recreational programming.
  • Considering the neighborhood impacts of traffic and parking and ensure safety of existing pedestrian walkways and bikeways.
  • Ensuring that the community center would remain available for use.
  • Ensuring the building massing is compatible with adjacent neighborhood.

The plan has given rise to a new group opposing building the school on parkland, the Friends of Thomas Jefferson Park. The group dressed in green and showed up a few dozen strong at the County Board’s Saturday meeting. The Board approved the working group in its meeting yesterday, but on Saturday, the group’s leader, Jim Presswood, spoke during the public comment period.

“TJ Park is Arlington’s central park and a wonderful resource that needs to be conserved,” he said. “We’re committed to enhancing our park and we’re hoping to be around for a while.”

by Ethan Rothstein — July 15, 2014 at 4:35 pm 1,698 0

School buses in the Shirlington yard. (File photo)Arlington is looking into installing traffic cameras on the stop arms of its public school buses.

The Arlington County Board will consider advertising a public hearing on the issue at its meeting this Saturday. The proposal follows about six months of work from Arlington Public Schools Security Coordinator Kevin Reardon to develop a plan to install the cameras on 10-20 percent of APS buses with no additional expense to the county.

Virginia passed a law in 2011 that allows municipalities to install cameras on school buses and issue drivers tickets for $250 if they are recorded passing a bus when its stop arm is out. Last fall, Falls Church installed cameras on eight of its 12 school buses, Reardon said. Fairfax County is considering installing the cameras and they are also in use in Montgomery County, Md., where 300 tickets were issued in three months earlier this year.

If the County Board approves the request to advertise, it likely won’t be able to approve the cameras until September, since there is no meeting in August. If it’s approved, APS is expected to seek an outside vendor to install, maintain and operate the cameras. The vendor would receive a substantial percentage of the revenue from the citations as payment, Reardon said.

“In Falls Church, in their first year, the vendor got between 60 and 70 percent of the fine,” Reardon told ARLnow.com today. Another chunk of the revenue will pay the police, who will review the footage and issue the citations.

“I’m sure someone will look at this and say, ‘It’s just the school system trying to make a lot of money,’ and that is not the case. By the time you pay the police and vendor, most of the revenue is gone.”

Reardon said he proposed to earmark the remaining revenue to pay for school safety expenses. The cameras would reduce police expenses, he said, because police will occasionally follow school buses on their routes to ensure drivers aren’t going around the stop-arms.

Falls Church has averaged about one ticket per bus each day, Reardon said, but the citation rate fell essentially every month. Once a motorist is ticketed, a repeat offense is far less likely. He also suggested a 30-day grace period once the cameras are installed — there’s no estimate for when that will happen until the full item goes before the County Board — which would send citations to drivers but not charge them with a fine.

Despite some people’s reluctance to put traffic cameras on the road, Reardon said in his research, reactions to the cameras have been generally positive.

“Most places are very happy with it,” he said. “If you’re passing a school bus on Lee Highway and a child pops out, the child will be hurt severely. Previous to this, the only way we could enforce it is to have the school bus driver jot down the tag and go to court, or the police department is used to follow school buses. Now we’re automating that part of school safety, and we’re going to free the police up to do something else.”

File photo

by Morgan Fecto — July 14, 2014 at 2:30 pm 1,393 0

The “Space of Her Own” art-based mentoring program will partner with two Arlington elementary schools for the 2014-2015 school year to give fifth grade girls an open ear and a creative outlet.

SOHO will provide Hoffman-Boston Elementary and Randolph Elementary students from low-income homes with mentors, who will guide them through art projects like creating a mosaic mirror and refurbishing a desk, Mentoring Coordinator Ashley Snyder told ARLnow.com today. The mentors will then team up with the girls and their families to personalize their at-home study areas with the finished projects during a “renovation weekend” at the end of the yearlong program.

“That’s a very powerful tool we think, giving each girl a space where she can feel confident and comfortable,” Snyder said. “And we’ve empowered her to create that space for herself.”

SOHO’s Arlington program will operate like its predecessors in Alexandria, Snyder said. Twelve girls, selected from Hoffman-Boston Elementary and Randolph Elementary, will have a “life-skills session” at the beginning of each meeting to discuss problems they encounter in school or at home. Afterward, they will journal about the session with their mentor before eating dinner and beginning an art project.

During some meetings, girls may also engage in community service with projects like clearing litter from the Potomac River or making no-sew blankets for the homeless.

During SOHO’s past years in Alexandria, mentors tasked the girls with creating a “dream board” collage of their future aspirations. The dream board is important for the students because it forces them to “map out their future in a way they haven’t before,” Snyder said.

The goal of the program, which started in Alexandria in 2003 and gained 501(c)3 status in 2010, is not only to foster girls’ creativity and confidence, but also to pair them with someone that they can build a lasting bond with, Snyder said.

“This program gives them the opportunity to have a mentor to help them with their goals,” Snyder said. “It’s building a really strong foundation for these girls and their mentors.”

SOHO hopes to recruit 12 female volunteer mentors, and will also recruit male and female volunteers to give art demonstrations and help set up before the meetings, Snyder said. Meetings will be at Hoffman-Boston Elementary every Thursday, from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m.

Informational sessions for potential volunteers will be held Thursday, July 24 and Thursday, August 14 at 5:30 p.m. at Hoffman-Boston Elementary. SOHO asks that attendees register in advance.

Photos courtesy Ashley Snyder

by Ethan Rothstein — July 9, 2014 at 3:30 pm 4,259 0

APS Walk and Bike to School DayAcross the country, the boom in unaccompanied minors emigrating from Central America has caused federal authorities to devote more resources to border protection and enforce stricter deportation policies.

While one Arlington official is calling the growth in this population a “crisis,” most say we’re not there yet. Nonetheless, the county is monitoring the situation and making preparations before such immigrants start to have an impact.

Last week, the Sun Gazette reported that School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez and County Board member Walter Tejada met with representatives from the Guatemalan Consulate to discuss the trend of unaccompanied minor immigrants, and, after the meeting, Violand-Sanchez told the School Board it was a “crisis situation.”

Tejada told ARLnow.com this morning that, while he wouldn’t characterize Arlington’s current population of unaccompanied minors as a crisis, the county is taking steps to prepare in case the population grows substantially.

“We’re organizing right now and saying, ‘how do we deal with this, what issues are we confronting?’” Tejada said. “The most important question is the welfare of the kids. How do we protect the children from being taken advantage of and falling into the wrong world? It’s a very complicated situation.”

According to Arlington Public Schools spokeswoman Linda Erdos, there were only 10 students identified as “homeless/unaccompanied youth” in the last school year. There were also 83 students in APS’ “Accelerated Literacy Support” program as of June, for older students new to the country who need additional literary support. That number increased from 22 students in June 2012.

“Because we are currently on summer break, we may not know the full impact on APS of the immigration of youth from Central America until the end of August and/or later in the 2014-15 school year,” Erdos said in an email. “We know that we need to be prepared to address this, given the reports in the media, and the response from the President and the federal government. We are also watching the situation closely because we know this may have a major impact on our operating budget.”

Arlington’s Department of Human Services hasn’t seen an increase in unaccompanied minors, according to department spokesman Kurt Larrick. There are always a few who come to the county every year, Larrick said, and those “tend to be older, they tend to have had a rough life at home.”

“I don’t think we’re at a crisis now by any means,” Larrick said. “We’re a long way from the Central American border so I don’t think it’s as acute locally as in other parts of the country.”

Both Larrick and Erdos said Arlington is an appealing destination for many of these immigrants because of its reputation for being welcoming, which dates back to accepting Vietnamese refugees during and after the Vietnam War in the 1970s.

Tejada said it’s impossible to know if the immigrants will eventually come to Arlington in large numbers, but instead of “being reactionary” as the county has been in the past to similar issues, this time the county is being proactive. Tejada said the county plans to organize “mobile Consulates” from different countries with populations in Arlington, such as El Salvador and Guatemala, in August.

“We’re alerting our partners to stand by,” Tejada said. “There will be a call to action at some point, but we have to be careful not to put out a false call when there is no need.”

Morgan Fecto contributed to this report

by Ethan Rothstein — July 1, 2014 at 3:45 pm 1,454 0

Arlington County school buses(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools has begun exploring whether to expand school bus service to additional students throughout the county in the coming years.

In a presentation to the School Board this morning, APS Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Operations John Chadwick outlined a plan for shrinking the “walk zones” around schools — areas where children are ineligible for bus service because of their proximity to the school — to a half-mile around elementary school, three-quarters of a mile around middle schools and a mile around high schools.

(Currently, the walk zone is within a mile of elementary schools and 1.5 miles of middle and high schools.)

The proposal was suggested by APS’ Multimodal Transportation and Student Safety Special Committee (MMTSSSC), but is not being recommended for approval by the School Board yet. Instead, Chadwick laid out what the zones would change from the current setup: 3,694 students currently ineligible for bus service would become eligible, a 25 percent increase over current walk zones.

Middle schools would see the biggest increase in eligible ridership, with 50 percent more students able to ride the bus, including a 78 percent increase at Kenmore Middle School. Elementary schools would see a 16 percent increase in eligible riders, and high schools a 30 percent increase.

How much the substantial increase in eligible riders would cost, if the plan were implemented, is more complicated. Currently, only 54 percent of eligible elementary school students, 70 percent of middle schoolers and 56 percent of high schoolers actually take the bus, APS says.

“[The] actual cost of walk zone reduction,” the presentation reads, “is contingent on how many additional students actually ride the bus, which is impossible to determine without actual experience.”

APS estimates that if the changes result in 70 percent ridership, it will cost APS $3.76 million for 26 new buses, plus drivers and attendants, but that doesn’t account for gas, insurance, maintenance and other costs. If ridership hits 80 percent, that would mean 30 new buses and an estimated $4.35 million in additional costs.

With a $16.1 million transportation budget, bussing currently costs APS $1,100 per eligible student. However, because of the current low ridership rate, APS says “bus utilization may be increased without incurring substantial additional costs.”

To acquire better data, Superintendent Patrick Murphy has recommended instituting several smaller changes during the 2014-2015 school year, but because the School Board approved new Director of Transportation David McRae this morning, APS staff doesn’t anticipate any changes taking effect before students return for classes in September.

The Arlington School Board adopts its FY 2015 budget 5/22/14Among the proposed changes is distributing new ID cards to all students, installing GPS on every bus, upgrading APS’ routing software and providing “School Pool” carpooling software for parents. ID cards, while proposed as part of the transportation plan, wouldn’t just be used for buses.

“It will be used by the Transportation Department to know who is on the buses,” Assistant Superintendent of School and Community Relations Linda Erdos told ARLnow.com, “and at some point in the future it could be expanded to be used for lunch, library use, and we’ve even discussed with the county the possibility of students being able to use their ID card for access to other county services, although that is a very preliminary discussion and no firm decisions for expanded use have been made.”

The larger walk zone discussion, under the current plan, wouldn’t come before the Board for approval until the FY 2017 budget process. Before then, Murphy recommends selectively increasing “ridership on buses within current walk zones before considering walk zone reductions.” Murphy hopes the data gathered from his proposed changes will allow APS to plan for growth in current eligible ridership.

Erdos said the recommendations may go before the School Board “later in the year” to allow McRae, who starts Sept. 1, to “participate in the final decision and process.”

by ARLnow.com — July 1, 2014 at 1:30 pm 2,722 0

Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy presenting his proposed FY 2013 budget in February 2012(Updated at 2:00 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy is set to spend the next four years at the helm of the growing school system.

The Arlington School Board, in a surprise move not included in the board’s scheduled agenda, approved a new four year contract for Murphy this morning by a vote of 4-1.

All five School Board members praised Murphy’s job performance, in spite of criticism of his tenure from some parents who view his efforts to keep the APS budget in line — while dealing with an expanding student population — as arbitrary and poorly-communicated. There were no public speakers to weigh in on the contract renewal at the morning meeting.

“The trajectory is very much in the direction it should be going,” retiring Board member Sally Baird said of Murphy’s impact on the school system.  She called Murphy and his leadership team the “core of the success of the system.”

Baird and other Board members said stability in leadership is a key component to the success of school systems.

Newly-elected School Board Chair James Lander cast the dissenting vote. He said the off-cycle contract renewal (Murphy’s current contract is not up until 2016) could set a bad precedent.

“My objection on this isn’t based on merit or performance, it’s based on process,” he said. “I would gladly consider a contract extension in the future. We are stewards of the taxpayer dollar… the expectation is that this would be done a year from now. I believe that granting an extension in an off year, without prior discussion… doesn’t align to our commitment to transparency.”

Board member Abby Raphael, however, argued that the Board typically does not hear public comment on personnel decisions.

“This is the most important obligation of the School Board,” she said. “This is a decision that the School Board is elected to make. It’s the right thing to do.”

Murphy’s previous contract was approved in 2012. His annual salary for the 2013-2014 school year was $218,375.

The new contract will expire at the end of the 2018 school year. It provides Murphy an annual salary of $223,242.50.

by ARLnow.com — July 1, 2014 at 10:45 am 4,381 0

School Board member Noah Simon is sworn in in 2013 (photo via Facebook)(Updated at 3:20 p.m.) Noah Simon is resigning from the Arlington School Board.

Simon announced his resignation, effective Aug. 1, at this morning’s school board meeting. He said he was resigning to spend more time with his two children, following the death of his wife, Kedron, on Dec. 30.

“Simply put, I’m doing this because the board work has made me a part-time father,” a visibly sad Simon said in a statement at the end of the meeting. “The last 6 months have been particularly difficult. I’m a broken man emotionally and physically.”

Simon said he hopes the timing of his resignation will allow the special election to replace him to take place on the same day as the general election this fall, thus saving taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. Simon was elected to the school board in 2012 as a Democrat-endorsed candidate, and is serving a term that was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2016.

“I feel badly that I cannot fulfill my entire commitment to those voters,” he said. “I want to thank the Arlington parents and the Arlington community at large for teaching me as much as I can learn about Arlington. This is not a decision I wanted to make. It’s a decision I needed to make.”

A former Capitol Hill staffer, Simon has a son and daughter who attend Arlington Science Focus School, according to his official APS bio.

In May, Simon decried the state of civil discourse on school issues in Arlington, after parents upset at a budget proposal said that school board members “don’t care about children with special needs.”

The Jamestown Elementary School PTA issued the following statement about Simon’s resignation:

Noah Simon has been an exceptional public servant. He has listened and he has led. He has learned and taught, We have been very fortunate to have his time and ideas and tremendous devotion to all our children while he served on the School Board. He has helped make Arlington schools better today, and set good things in motion for the future. We will miss him greatly.

Nancy Van Doren, who was unsuccessful in her attempt to win the Democratic endorsement this spring to replace retiring school board member Sally Baird, hailed Simon’s service and announced that she will seek his seat.

“Noah is a well-respected, well-loved member of the School Board and Arlington community. He has set a very high mark for effective, thoughtful, and compassionate service on behalf of Arlington’s children, families, and educators,” Van Doren said in a press release.

“It is a critical time in our community as we work to manage our growing school system,” she continued. “I am prepared to meet the challenges facing our schools and therefore am announcing today that I will seek election to the seat that Noah is leaving.”

Greg Greeley, who ran against Van Doren this spring and also lost to now-Democratic endorsee Barbara Kanninen, released a statement Tuesday afternoon thanking Simon for his service and supporting Van Doren’s bid to replace him.

“Nancy has my wholehearted support and endorsement,” Greeley said.

Earlier in this morning’s meeting, James Lander was elected chair of the school board from 2014-2015 and Dr. Emma Violand-Sanchez was elected vice chair.

“On behalf of the entire School Board, we want to thank Noah for his tireless and exceptional commitment to the school community, especially in the midst of the grief he and his family have experienced during the past few months,” Lander said following Simon’s announcement. “We understand and support his difficult decision to resign, and were fortunate to have such a passionate and committed colleague on this Board during the time he served.”

Also at the meeting, Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s contract was renewed for four years, in a 4-1 vote. The contract renewal was not on the board’s published agenda.

Photo via Facebook

by ARLnow.com — June 25, 2014 at 11:15 am 2,525 0

Arlington County school busesSome north Arlington elementary school parents are asking the County Board to spur the Arlington School Board to action on a new middle school.

The Jamestown Elementary PTA wrote to County Board Chair Jay Fisette on Monday, asking him to work with the School Board on a middle school construction plan as part of the County Board’s 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Plan.

The PTA is peeved that APS waffled in its recently-passed CIP, punting a decision on the location for a new middle school to December and only including planning funds instead of construction funds. It comes at a time when the county’s student population — especially on the elementary level — is burgeoning, thanks to more young families moving to or staying in Arlington to raise their kids.

If a new middle school is not built soon, current kindergarteners could enter middle school in 2020 at a time when Arlington middle schools are over capacity by more than 1,000 students, with most of the overcrowding focused in north Arlington, the PTA said.

“The proposed CIP can only be regarded as an APS plan knowingly to overcrowd Williamsburg and other middle schools in north Arlington and degrade the learning environment for thousands of the county’s middle school students,” Jamestown PTA president Thomas Jensen wrote.

The School Board has eyed both the Wilson School site in Rosslyn and the building that currently houses the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program as possible locations for a new 1,300 seat middle school. Both proposals have met community criticism.

The Wilson School and H-B Woodlawn options are still on the table, according to a school spokesman, and the School Board says it will make a decision no later than Dec. 31. But the PTA wants more decisive action and planning.

“Lack of unanimity about use of the Wilson site is not an adequate reason to allow Williamsburg and other middle schools to become even more overcrowded,” Jensen wrote.

The full letter, after the jump.

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