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by Ethan Rothstein — November 21, 2014 at 2:40 pm 1,903 0

Wakefield football coach Wayne Hogwood talks to his team before the biggest game in school history

In what may be the final practice of the Wakefield High School football team’s greatest season ever, head coach Wayne Hogwood runs a drill for end-of-game situations that culminates in a 30-yard field goal. His team, joking on the sideline in between drills for the previous hour and a half, storms the field as if they just clinched a championship.

Players hoot and holler — one even jumps on Hogwood’s back — before settling down to hear their energetic young coach discuss meeting times before tonight’s game. One would never suspect that, in 26 hours, the Warriors (8-3) would kick off the school’s first second round playoff game against an 11-0 team from Tuscarora High School that has laid waste to nearly every opponent it has played so far.

This is the new reality for Wakefield football. Last week, the Warriors played their first ever home playoff game against Potomac Falls High School and won, 25-18, the first playoff win in school history. Just two years ago, the Warriors had gone 0-10 and played before crowds of dozens.

Last Friday, hundreds of students, alumni and South Arlington residents packed the stands to witness history. Hogwood, who graduated from Wakefield in 2000 and whose mother still lives across the street from the school, knew what the game meant to the community.

“They filled the stands in like 28-30 degree weather, so we’re really appreciative of the community,” Hogwood said. “All of my friends, people I graduated with, everybody was out here, people were supporting the program. People have really started to pick up and get on the bandwagon for Wakefield football … It’s a great feeling to get the win, but we’re not settled on that. We have another game this week.”

It was the culmination of two years of work for Hogwood to turn around his alma mater’s football team. Last year, he was focused on teaching the fundamentals of football while the team finished 3-7, a three-win improvement from the previous year. It wasn’t good enough to satisfy Hogwood, who left an assistant coaching job at Yorktown to take the reins here.

Hogwood started to realize his message of discipline and togetherness had sunk in during the last game of the 2013 season, when the Warriors, who had been 2-7, rallied to come together and beat Mount Vernon. The teamwork carried over to this year.

“This year we finally jelled as a unit and had each other’s back,” he said. “We would go to war for each other. Once I realized we had that coming back and we were able to get a couple of players come out, that really helped.”

Wakefield football practices before their second-round playoff gameJunior running back Leon Young has rushed for more than 1,200 yards this year and scored 12 touchdowns. He said that while Hogwood has laid the groundwork for the team’s new mentality, the attitude shift had to come from the boys in pads lining up next to each other every day.

“It starts with the players themselves, and getting them to want to be here,” Young said. “It’s really about holding each other accountable for what you do. You’ve got to make sure you put forward the effort and believe in what you do.”

One of the first players to experience Hogwood’s new coaching style was junior lineman Anthony Tham. Last year, Tham had had behavioral problems at school and at home, and showed up for training camp two weeks late with no physical. Hogwood wouldn’t let him play.

Tham cried in his office, Hogwood said, and the new head coach leaned in and told him, “if you want to be on this football team, be the first one here next summer with your physical in hand.” This August, when Hogwood showed up on the first day of training camp, Tham was there, physical in hand. (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — November 19, 2014 at 4:30 pm 2,512 0

APS superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy gives his FY 2015 budget briefingThe H-B Woodlawn secondary program should move to the Wilson School site in Rosslyn, Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Murphy told the School Board yesterday.

Murphy recommended moving the H-B and Stratford programs to a new, 900-seat facility at 1601 Wilson Blvd and renovating the Stratford building they currently occupy on Vacation Lane into a 1,000-seat middle school.

If the School Board were to take Murphy’s recommendation, it would mean at least 1,197 additional middle school seats — between H-B, Stratford and the new middle school – by September 2019. APS projects the capital projects could cost as little as $114.5 million, which would free up $11.5 million to build 300 seats in expansions at existing middle schools.

The School Board’s adopted Capital Improvement Program stipulated that the secondary seat plan for 2019 build 1,300 additional seats for no more than $126 million. The “high” estimate for the two projects, according to APS, comes in at $147.2 million — which would be over budget and below the number of seats required, as it would not allow the 300 seat expansion at existing schools.

Murphy recommended what APS referred to as the “SWE3″ option, one of six the School Board and APS are mulling. All of the options still on the table involved some combination of work at either or both of the Stratford and Wilson sites. The SWE3 option is the only option with a “low” cost estimate below $126 million and with a seat expansion of more than 1,100.

The "SWE3" middle school expansion option, which Superintendent Patrick Murphy is recommending to the School BoardThe other options that would have provided more seats than Murphy’s recommendation were: moving H-B and Stratford to the Wilson school and building a 1,300-seat neighborhood middle school on Vacation Lane (the SW option) and building a 1,300-seat secondary school at Wilson. The Wilson plan is projected to cost more than $126 million and the SW option’s lowest cost estimate is $126 million, leaving no financial flexibility, despite adding 1,497 seats.

Previously, APS was considering moving H-B Woodlawn to the Reed School/Westover Library site, but staunch community opposition and losing the location as a possible future elementary school eliminated it from contention earlier this month.

The School Board will conduct a public hearing on the secondary school capacity on Dec. 3 before voting on its plan Dec. 18.

by Ethan Rothstein — November 12, 2014 at 3:30 pm 5,575 0

College Board logoA senior at Washington-Lee High School will have to retake the SATs after the College Board — the company that administers the college entrance exam — reportedly canceled his score under circumstances his mother is describing as “deeply frustrating.”

Gabriel Crittenden-Toth took the test last month, had finished it and given it to the proctor at W-L when he “instinctively reached for his phone in his pocket,” which was turned off, Melissa Crittenden, Gabriel’s mother, wrote in an email. Despite the fact that the phone was off and his test was over, the proctor reported the incident to the College Board, she said.

Gabriel was allowed to leave and was informed by the counselor that this was just a formality and that his test scores wouldn’t be affected [...] Today we discovered that because the report was filed and it involved a cell phone, his scores were invalidated. I called the College Board to appeal the decision. The fact that my son may potentially be denied the opportunity to apply for early decision college applications, because he instinctively reached for his phone at the wrong time and is being penalized for that by the College Board, is deeply frustrating. They didn’t investigate the circumstances of the ‘irregularity’ and instead choose to simply cancel his scores and jeopardize his college application process.

In subsequent emails, Crittenden said the College Board employee handling her son’s case told her to “get over it,” said “it’s really not that big of a deal,” and “We aren’t interested in talking to anyone. We made our decision. What makes him think he can bring a phone in when it says right on the ticket for him to leave his phone home!”

Retaking the exam costs $52.50, but more important is the $2,500 test prep course Gabriel took, which will be months in the past by the time he can retake the exam. Crittenden said the counselor at W-L was “deeply upset” by the College Board’s decision, but since the test had already been completed and collected, “it would have been sufficient to ask the boys to put their phones away.”

“In many ways I do feel like that was an an abuse of authority while I do understand they thought they were simply doing their jobs,” she said. “Please alert other parents and teens so that they can avoid this unnecessary situation. ”

Requests for comment from College Board have not been returned.

Image via College Board

by Ethan Rothstein — November 7, 2014 at 2:30 pm 2,365 0

Randolph Elementary School (photo via Arlington Public Schools(Updated at 2:45 p.m.) Although a final decision has not been made on where more elementary school seats will go in South Arlington, the options have now been narrowed to two.

First, a plan to build a new elementary school next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School, at 125 S. Old Glebe Road, a project which has come under criticism for its reduction of the green space next to the TJ Community Center.

Second, a plan for building $54 million of expansions onto Barcroft and Randolph elementary schools. The Arlington School Board approved the expansion plan at its meeting last night as the alternative to the TJ plan. Whichever option is built is expected to open by September 2018.

The Board will vote in January on which option it will move forward with. Arlington voters approved $50.25 million toward the new elementary school seat plan on Tuesday as part of the $106 million school bond package.

Arlington Public Schools Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations John Chadwick said last night that there could be measures APS takes to bring the two expansions closer to the $50.25 million budget.

Two parents spoke out last night against the plan to expand Barcroft and Randolph, telling the School Board they should focus expansion efforts on schools that don’t lag far behind the rest of the school system in state testing. School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez echoed those parents’ concerns, and was the lone vote against the alternative plan.

“When we look at adding more seats, we keep on talking about seats. We’re not talking many times about students,” she said. “We’re not talking about instructional programs and options we have before us. The part of the county where Barcroft sits and Randolph sits, we have serious instruction issues when we have low achievement of Latino, African-American, students with disabilities, low-income students not perfomrming as they should. We have a problem.”

The other School Board members countered with the fact that APS capacity issues will affect every building in the school system, and performance issues can be addressed during expansion. School Board member Abby Raphael suggested that concerns about the schools’ performance are being overblown.

“Barcroft is a wonderful school. Students are achieving, there’s a wonderful staff. Of course we can do more,” she said. “Because of our growing enrollment, our elementary schools are going to reach 725 students, and we’re running out of land. Ideally, we’d love to have a number of very small elementary schools, but we just simply don’t have the land and the money to achieve that.”

The School Board’s “preferred plan” remains building a new elementary school next to TJ, but that plan is opposed by community group Friends of TJ Park. The group says the new school would reduce crucial parkland, including the community garden. TJ Middle School students spoke up at a School Board meeting last month to advocate for keeping the garden.

Friends of Thomas Jefferson Park at Arlington County Board's meeting 07/1914“I am so proud to work in the TJ Garden and seeing it every morning reminds me of how important it is to our community and school in Arlington,” seventh-grader Lucy Robinson said. “If the TJ garden were separated from the school, fewer people would go there and be involved. The TJ community would be hurt by this. Please leave our garden in its current location.”

The TJ plan would add 725 seats with the new school, while the two expansions would add a total of about 500 seats, according to APS estimates. The disparity may make the decision clearer after APS released its new set of student growth projections last night.

APS Director of Facilities Planning Lionel White told the School Board that APS figures to grow by 19 percent, or 4,957 students, in the next five years. According to the district’s projection model, APS will hit 30,000 students in 2020. Because of this growth, APS is considering refining elementary school boundaries for next fall.

“This year we had our highest kindergarten class on record, 2,196,” White told the Board. “Next year we’re anticipating [more than] 2,200.”

Many of the students affected by the school district’s boundary changes will be attending the new elementary school next to Williamsburg Middle School. Last night the School Board approved the school’s name: Discovery Elementary School.

“When you go into successful schools, they use language like ‘discovery’ and ‘creativity’ to spark inspiration in the children,” School Board Chair James Lander said. “The fact that Discovery is the recommended name really pleases me.”

Photo (top) via Arlington Public Schools

by Ethan Rothstein — November 6, 2014 at 1:00 pm 2,716 0

Reed/Westover building (photo via Google Maps)(Updated at 1:10 p.m.) One of the proposals on the table for Arlington Public Schools’ middle school seat expansion plan is moving the H-B Woodlawn program to the Reed School/Westover Library site, a proposal that has caught the ire of many Westover residents.

The Reed/Westover building currently houses the Children’s School — the early education program for young children of APS employees — and the Integration Station, which serves pre-K students with disabilities. The building underwent a $22.5 million renovation in 2009, by far the most recent project of any of the sites APS is considering for expansion.

A group called “Concerned Citizens of Westover” has launched a Change.org petition asking the Arlington School Board to not move the H-B Woodlawn program to the Reed/Westover building. The petition has amassed 973 supporters as of publication.

The proposed new HB Woodlawn renovation, would build over the recent costly renovation, displacing The Children’s School, the Integration Station, impacting the current Westover Library and farmers market and would reduce/change the green space and fields in Westover,” the petition states.

Two of the options currently on the table would see H-B Woodlawn move to the building with more construction: one would see the Stratford building on Vacation Lane expanded into a 1,300-seat neighborhood middle school, and another would expand the Stratford building to 1,000 seats and build a 300-seat addition somewhere else.

Other options on the table include moving H-B Woodlawn to the Wilson School site and expanding the Stratford site, or building a 1,300-seat neighborhood middle school at the Wilson School site, an option members of the School Board are leaning against.

A recent APS staff presentation suggests that Reed is “underutilized” and may be a suitable location for H-B Woodlawn because it would allow the school to maintain its current size and provide more green space than the Wilson School site.

According to APS staff, the 2009 Reed/Westover renovations were done to allow the building to structurally support future expansion, but expansion was originally planned for an elementary school, considering that Swanson Middle School is about a third of a mile away. Concern about too many students in a two block area of Westover is listed as a “challenge.”

In addition to the petition, Westover residents created a video explaining why they oppose moving the H-B Woodlawn program to the building in their neighborhood. They have also created a video talking about how to “use Reed the right way” (below) — by using it as an elementary school instead of as a secondary school.

The School Board plans to vote on Dec. 18 on which middle school expansion plan to move forward with. The total budget for the 1,300-seat expansion is $126 million, and the Capital Improvement Plan the School Board passed this summer requires those seats to open by September 2019.

Photo via Google Maps

by Ethan Rothstein — November 5, 2014 at 1:00 pm 4,221 0

APS Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy's proposed boundary changes(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) Just 18 months after Arlington’s School Board approved a new elementary school boundary plan for North Arlington, an influx of more new students is prompting the Board to reconsider those plans.

Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia says 652 additional Pre-K and elementary students came to the district this year, outpacing APS’s growth projections by 52. That, along with variances on a school-by-school basis, has caused APS to explore “possible refinements to the boundaries.”

Following a series of three community meetings, the School Board is scheduled to fast-track a vote on a new boundary map for the 2015-2016 school year in January.

The process for determining the new school boundaries will begin with a community meeting at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 17, at Williamsburg Middle School. There, APS staff will present data showing the need for the boundary change, demonstrate the online tool that parents can use to recommend their boundary maps and “begin work with the community to refine boundary options,” according to an APS press release.

The schools whose boundaries will come under review are the under-construction elementary school next to Williamsburg Middle School, Glebe Elementary, Tuckahoe, Ashlawn, Nottingham, Taylor, Jamestown and McKinley.

The approved boundary change from May of last year reassigned 900 students and resulted in five schools — Taylor, Glebe, Tuckahoe, McKinley and Nottingham — sitting at more than 100 percent capacity, but no school above 105.1 percent capacity. The decision was reached after an eight-month community process, and previous boundary realignments have resulted in tension among parents.

The boundary revision process, from the first School Board information session to its scheduled adoption, will take two and a half months.

“After we received updated enrollment projections based on Sept. 30 enrollment numbers, the Superintendent directed staff to begin looking at refinement of the 2015-16 boundaries,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia told ARLnow.com in an email. “The projections confirmed that we will have enrollment imbalances within the those schools and there is a need to do boundary refinements for a relatively small number of families.”

At tomorrow night’s School Board meeting, APS staff will present their newest school population projections and outline the need to revising the boundaries. From Nov. 18 to Dec. 5, parents and community members will be able to go online and submit their boundary recommendations for staff to consider. Staff will review those recommendations at another community meeting Tuesday, Dec. 9, in the Williamsburg auditorium.

The community meetings will provide an opportunity for the families that may potentially be impacted to work with staff to develop recommended adjustments using the Online Boundary Tool originally introduced in the boundary process two years ago,” APS said in a press release. “Individuals will be able to see the possible moves that can help to further balance enrollment for these schools. Information shared at all community meetings will help shape the discussion and prepare individuals to use the Online Boundary Tool.”

In January, the School Board will take up the issue. First, with a work session on Jan. 5, then with an information item on Jan. 8, when Superintendent Patrick Murphy presents his recommendation. On Jan. 15, the Board will hold a public meeting on the issue before voting on a new boundary alignment on Jan. 22. All of the School Board meetings will be at 7:30 p.m. at 1426 N. Quincy Street.

File photo via APS

by Ethan Rothstein — October 28, 2014 at 5:00 pm 6,485 0

A sixth-grader was attacked by two seventh-graders outside Kenmore Middle School last Thursday after school hours, and the incident has raised concerns among parents about how the school handles cases of bullying and violence.

According to Kenmore Principal John Word, a seventh-grader said the sixth-grade victim had called him “a racial slur” over the summer, and the seventh-grader and his friend waited until about 4:30 p.m. on Thursday to retaliate.

In the field between Kenmore and Carlin Springs Elementary School along S. Carlin Springs Road, the two seventh-graders hit the younger boy in the face at least twice, while a crowd of other students watched, school officials confirmed. The victim reportedly received bruises on his face but didn’t need to receive medical treatment.

An administrator quickly broke up the fight, the school said, but police were called and filed a report. The boy’s mother, who will not be named to protect the identity of the minor, said she did not receive any communication from the school until she went herself the following day.

The incident sparked concern among parents of Kenmore students, to the point where the school held a community meeting yesterday afternoon to address the attack.

“This was not random, it was targeted and wrong,” Word told a group of more than a dozen parents in the school’s library yesterday. “After interviewing those culprits, the victims and some witnesses, I was convinced that this incident should result in the most severe consequence I could administer.”

The seventh-graders initially were given two-day suspensions, Word said, but he decided to increase their punishments after the school completed its investigation. Word could not reveal the seventh-graders’ final punishment due to student confidentiality laws, but according to the APS Handbook, the most severe punishment allowed for incidents like “physical altercations, fighting and bullying” is “a maximum of ten (10) consecutive days out-of-school suspension, request for disciplinary hearing for additional suspension time and/or a recommendation for expulsion.”

While Word said he waited to reach out to the community until he had all the facts, that explanation did not ease the concerns of the parents at yesterday’s meeting.

“I’m concerned about my children’s safety at this school,” said a parent, who requested her name not be used due to potential “repercussions upon our children.” “There was no message given to our kids… The bylaws show that you have 48 hours to respond. Now we have all these kids hearing these things [about the attack], and they wonder why no one has talked to them about it in school.”

When the victim’s mother began to introduce herself at the meeting, she couldn’t finish her sentence before she began crying. She clutched a tissue for the majority of the hourlong gathering, while listening to the meeting’s translation by a Spanish interpreter sitting next to her.

The assault — which is how the school classified the incident — took place exactly one week after a separate altercation at Gunston Middle School. ARLnow.com received a tip about a seventh-grader at Gunston who, his parents say, was “sucker-punched” in the hallway during school hours. The victim had received “verbal bullying” during class and “a substitute teacher did not intervene on his behalf,” the parent wrote. (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — October 23, 2014 at 5:45 pm 1,306 0

Wilson School (photo courtesy Preservation Arlington)(Updated on Oct. 24 at 10:15 a.m.) The option to make the Wilson School site in Rosslyn a new, 1,300-seat middle school does not appear to have support on the Arlington County School Board.

Although no final decision will be made until December on Arlington’s plan to construct school facilities for 1,300 middle school seats by 2019, School Board Chair James Lander and School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez both said last night they are not in favor of an urban middle school location.

“I still look at middle school kids, 1,300 middle school kids needing more green space, more fields,” Violand-Sanchez. She also said that, despite the strong support for keeping the H-B Woodlawn program in its current home at the Stratford building, “alternative programs have been moved. I know that H-B Woodlawn is a very, very valuable program. It’s an outstanding school. However, sometimes we may have to be open to see if there’s options for movement.”

Lander echoed Violand-Sanchez’s comments, saying “It is still my preference that the [Wilson School] site is not one that would be my first option.”

School Board member Abby Raphael, however, said she believes “the Wilson School site is a viable option.” New School Board member Nancy Van Doren did not express an opinion on the issue at the School Board’s meeting last night.

The School Board will vote on Dec. 18 to determine which middle school plan they would move forward with:

  • Building a 1,000-1,300-seat neighborhood school at the Wilson site
  • Building an 800-seat secondary school at the Wilson site and expanding the Stratford building to 1,300 seats
  • Building 1,300 seats in additions onto the Reed/Westover Library site and Stratford
  • Building 1,000 seats in additions onto the Reed/Westover or Wilson sites and 300 seats onto an additional middle school

The vote will be cast before either Barbara Kanninen or Audrey Clement — running against each other for the vacant School Board seat — are sworn in in January.

One option that appears to no longer be on the table is constructing additions onto four existing middle schools. The plan, which was the least-preferred by Arlington Public Schools staff, was determined to be too expensive and complicated relative to the others.

Thirty-six speakers from the public spoke before the Board, many of whom were advocating for keeping H-B Woodlawn in its current location. One of those speakers was Elmer Lowe, the president of the Arlington chapter of the NAACP, who said if the School Board decided to make Stratford a neighborhood school site, it would be turning its back on the country’s racial history.

Making Stratford a neighborhood school “was added on very late in the process in response to intense pressure and lobbying from parents in the surrounding neighborhood,” Lowe said. “It should be noted that these neighborhoods are made up almost entirely of white, affluent families… Choosing the neighborhood school option, which means that the current diverse and high-achieving student body would be moved out and the new students coming in from the neighborhood. It would therefore approximate the segregated student body that existed before the former Stratford Junior high School (integrated) in 1959.”

Lowe, who received applause for his speech, was not directly addressed by School Board members, but Lander and Violand-Sanchez both mentioned preserving diversity in their comments.

“The diversity issue often comes up, and folks manipulate the conversation to strategically make a point, and sometimes I take offense to that because, Arlington, I sometimes say, is a great party with a huge cover charge,” Lander said. “The population in Arlington is what it is. The Board and the county does not control, nor should they penalize for, where people live. I want a diverse school system. There’s people who prioritize what’s most important for their child. And we all have that right.”

Photo courtesy Preservation Arlington

by Ethan Rothstein — October 8, 2014 at 1:30 pm 1,426 0

The average SAT score for students in Arlington Public Schools increased last year, as did participation in SAT and ACT college preparedness testing.

According to data from Arlington Public Schools and SAT and ACT’s test administrators, 77.9 percent of APS grads took at least one of the two tests this year, up from 66.9 percent five years ago. The improvement was even more dramatic among black and Hispanic students, with participation increases of 17.1 and 12.9 percent respectively.

Students with disabilities saw the biggest jump in participation: In 2009, just 30.4 percent of students with disabilities took the tests; last year, 69.9 percent took one or both tests.

Arlington students averaged a combined 1,652 points on the three SAT sections — reading, math and writing — which is a 30-point increase since 2009 and 123 points higher than the statewide average. All racial groups saw increases in their scores, but the achievement gap  has not been closed: white students had an average SAT score of 1,813 in 2014, while black students’ average score was 1,373 and the score for Hispanics was 1,469.

“As we continue to focus on academic planning through our Aspire2Excellence efforts, it is rewarding to see more and more of our students stretching themselves with their academic goals and moving toward future college and career pursuits,” Superintendent Patrick Murphy said in a press release. “I applaud and recognize the commitment of our instructional staff to ensure that students are well-prepared for these important steps, and I appreciate the critical support that is provided by our families and administrators to ensure that all students excel and realize their full potential.”

Thirty percent of on-time APS graduates took the ACT test, with a composite score of 25.2 out of 36, above the state average of 22.3 and the national average of 21.

by Ethan Rothstein — October 3, 2014 at 11:25 am 4,747 0

Arlington Public Schools’ capacity crisis is only getting worse, and members of the community are clamoring for good solutions fast.

APS Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations John Chadwick said the school system grew by 1,200 students in the 2014-2015 school year, 400 more than APS had projected. That’s the equivalent of two full elementary schools, Chadwick said.

The growth means that initial APS projections of seat deficits will need to be revised. With last year’s numbers, APS projected having 960 more middle school students than seats in the 2018-2019 school year; once projections with this year’s numbers are calculated, that figure is likely to reach over 1,000.

“We are experiencing an unprecedented rate of enrollment growth,” Chadwick told a crowd of more than 100 parents and residents at Williamsburg Middle School last night. “Determining the location of those seats is a really challenging process, but we have to make decisions. If enrollment continues to grow as projected, we’re going to look at many more sites for new schools and renovations before we’re through.”

At the heart of the discussion during last night’s community meeting is the School Board’s impending decision to try to add 1,300 middle school seats in North Arlington by some combination of building additions and renovations to existing APS properties, or constructing a new school at the Wilson School site in Rosslyn.

Other options on the table include:

  • Building additions onto the Stratford school site on Vacation Lane, which currently houses the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs, to form a new neighborhood middle school. Stratford and H-B Woodlawn would be moved the Reed-Westover site with additions and renovations.
  • Expanding both the Stratford and Reed-Westover buildings and constructing an addition onto an existing middle school.
  • Moving H-B Woodlawn and Stratford to the Wilson School site and constructing a new neighborhood middle school at the Stratford building.

“Our goal is try to get secondary seats as soon as possible to alleviate what we see as imminent future crowding in our schools,” Lionel White, APS director of facilities planning, said.

Many residents and parents have complained that APS has faltered in both informing and seeking input from the community, but last night’s meeting was viewed by some as a significant step toward alleviating the crisis.

“I think for the first time, everyone’s realizing we’re wasting too much time and we’ve got to get more seats,” said Emma Baker, a parent of two Jamestown Elementary School students. “We need to start building now.”

Baker had attended previous meetings between staff and parents, and she said last night was the first time she felt everyone was actively trying to reach the best decision, instead of hemming and hawing. “It’s a very different tone,” she said.

Jamestown teacher and mother of two Megan Kalchbrenner said the option of building additions onto four existing middle schools is “not an option” — staff generally agreed, saying it would cost $16.5 million over budget and wouldn’t be an optimal long-term solution.

“What I want to know is what are they going to do for kids in the next two years?” Kalchbrenner asked. “We have capacity issues today.”

Last year, there were eight “relocatable classrooms” — classrooms in trailers adjacent to schools — at Williamsburg, four at Swanson and one at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. Chadwick said the interim plan before major construction is still being developed, and he couldn’t reveal any concrete solutions.

(more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — September 30, 2014 at 11:45 am 3,725 0

APS superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy gives his FY 2015 budget briefingArlington Public Schools teachers and staff are largely unhappy with the job Superintendent Patrick Murphy is doing, with two-thirds of those polled in an APS survey giving him a “C” grade or lower.

The results were tallied in APS’ biennial community survey, released this month. The survey, conducted by a District-based polling company, randomly selected respondents and polled 1,680 staff, 1,160 students, 602 parents and 600 Arlington County residents without a direct connection to the school system.

The company says its results had a “95 percent confidence score.”

While 12 percent of teachers and staff gave Murphy a failing grade and 20 percent graded him at a “D,”  teachers were generally satisfied with other aspects of their positions. Seventy-two percent gave their school administrators or department’s assistant superintendent an “A” or “B” grade, 85 percent gave high marks for their school and 91 percent gave high marks for their colleagues. Two-thirds of teachers also said they were satisfied with the compensation they receive.

Students also gave the school system generally high marks — 78 percent gave their school either an “A” or “B,” with 70 percent of teachers earning those high marks from students — but 18 percent of students agreed with the statement that they felt bullied in school. Eighteen percent of students also responded that they disagree that “School staff stops bullying in school whenever they see it.”

Parents were even more positive about their school experience, with 94 percent giving high marks to their child’s school and 90 percent giving high marks to APS as a whole. What’s more, 81 percent of parents are satisfied with their involvement in the School Board’s decision-making process — APS teachers and staff are, by contrast, 55 percent satisfied with their inclusion in the School Board’s process.

Other items of note from the survey results:

  • 8 percent of students report that they spend too little of their after school time on homework.
  • 64 percent of students said they don’t like “to wake up early for school,” the top response in the survey asking about local students dislike. Fifty percent said they dislike doing homework, and 42 percent said they are “bored at school” (students were allowed multiple answers).
  • 55 percent of parents gave Murphy an “A” or “B” grade, but 37 percent said they “don’t know” how they feel about Murphy’s job performance
  • 93 percent of parents agreed that “my child likes to go to school.” The top response in the “I like to go to school because” question for students was “I like to see my friends,” with 83 percent, followed by “it will help me in the future” at 75 percent.

File photo

by Ethan Rothstein — September 25, 2014 at 11:30 am 4,122 0

Bishop O'Connell High School (Photo via Facebook)(Updated at 4:20 p.m.) A potential scandal is brewing at Arlington’s private Bishop O’Connell High School.

An alumni group is asking the Vatican to look into a slew of incidents they say has tarnished the private Catholic school’s reputation.

The group, led by former basketball player Brian Culhane, has sent a “fat package of allegations and grievances” to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees issues of morality in the Roman Catholic Church, according to an investigative report by the sports gossip website Deadspin.

The allegations surround the varsity basketball team and its head coach, Joe Wootten.

According to Deadspin, Wootten allowed since-convicted heroin and cocaine trafficker Curtis Malone, the founder of the amateur hoops powerhouse D.C. Assault, to practice and visit the school.

Deadspin reports that Wootten sought the transfer of Congolese basketball player Junior Etou, who was the key figure on the team’s 2013 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship. The site found that Etou was very likely 21 years old when he played for O’Connell, two years too old to be eligible for high school play.

Etou, who was living with Malone at the time, produced a passport and visa that said he was born in 1994. While he was living in the Congo, however, he had earlier provided a birth certificate to basketball’s governing body stating he was born in 1992.

The report also alleges a cover-up by school officials after two basketball players allegedly filmed a sex act with a female student at the school. The players transferred before the last school year. Via Deadspin:

The talk was that Wootten’s latest exiles had left under an ugly cloud — that one of the players had shot a video in which a female student performed oral sex on the other player inside the school, then, according to an O’Connell employee, “posted his work on Instagram.” All of those alleged to be involved were juveniles and underclassmen.

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Students found to have committed what is described in memos from O’Connell alumni to school and local Catholic officials as “a sexually immoral act” on campus are generally expelled, Culhane says; however, according to the rumors, the two boys were allowed to leave without any formal finding, while the girl alleged to have been involved remained enrolled at O’Connell. Culhane says alums who inquired about the incident were told by school administrators that she faced no punishment because “the [sex] act was not consensual.” Yet no charges were ever filed.

The Arlington County Police Department investigated the video, but spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said no charges were filed and the identity of the subjects could not be revealed because they were minors.

The confluence of events – without a satisfactory response from O’Connell administration of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington – prompted Culhane and his alumni to request Pope Francis step in. If the CDF and the Vatican decide it’s worth pursuing, according to Deadspin, it will compel Bishop Paul Loverde to investigate the school and the program.

O’Connell administration has not responded to a request for comment.

Update at 4:20 p.m. – The Catholic Diocese of Arlington has provided ARLnow.com with the following statement: 

The Diocese of Arlington regrets that concerns about the basketball program at Bishop O’Connell remain a source of frustration for some members of the school community.

As stated previously in 2013, Bishop O’Connell received official documentation regarding the age of former student Junior Etou, confirming his eligibility to participate in athletics during the 2012-13 academic year.

With regard to any allegations involving other students, the Diocese of Arlington cannot comment on individual disciplinary matters. As a matter of policy and practice if a school has reason to believe a student’s actions have violated the law, the proper law enforcement agency is contacted.

Photo via Facebook

by Ethan Rothstein — September 22, 2014 at 3:40 pm 1,300 0

McKinley Elementary School (photo via Arlington Public Schools)McKinley Elementary School will grow by about 241 seats thanks to a $20.5 million expansion approved by the Arlington County Board at its meeting on Saturday.

The expansion will add a 33,040-square-foot addition in the northeast corner of the school, at 1030 N. McKinley Road, and smaller additions in the southwest corner and at the main entrance to the school. The project is expected to be complete by the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.

An expansion of this size would, according to the county’s Zoning Ordinance, necessitate that Arlington Public Schools add 108 parking spaces. But because open space and a number of mature trees surround McKinley, the County Board approved plans to add just 20 spaces to the existing 36 spaces. Even those 20 spaces were the source of controversy; the county’s Planning Commission and Transportation Commission recommended adding no spaces and instead using street parking to accommodate the additional staff and parent vehicles.

Advocates from the school and community who were a part of the planning process, including McKinley Principal Colin Brown, spoke in favor of adding the 20 spaces.

“I’ve said from the start that we enjoy a fantastic day-to-day relationship with the neighbors and the community,” Brown told the Board. “At this point, the neighborhood is able to handle the volume of staff and parents parking on the street given the current capacity of the parking lot. We’re at a tipping point. We need to maintain a fine and delicate balance.”

Ultimately, County Manager Barbara Donnellan recommended keeping the 20 spaces in the plan, and the County Board approved it unanimously. Only three members of the general public spoke, two of whom, School Board candidate Audrey Clement and Jim Hurysz, decried APS’ inability to expand schools “up, not out,” which would save green space. Despite that opposition, County Board Chair Jay Fisette marveled at the lack of animosity toward the plan, which marked the expansion of Ashlawn Elementary School.

“I think it is quite a testament to this process that we had three speakers,” he said. “This is one of the easiest things I’ve seen to come before the Board.”

To make way for the school expansion, 78 trees will be removed – 12 of which are gingko trees that will be transplanted elsewhere in the county. Nearly 150 trees will be planted once construction is complete, according to APS Director of Design and Construction Scott Prisco.

“We feel strongly this is a sensitive approach to the neighbors, and it will meet our needs as a school system,” Prisco said.

In total, the expansion will mean a net increase of 32,250 square feet and include 10 new classrooms, two art rooms, two music rooms and expand the gymnasium to have enough space for the entire, expanded school. The expansion will also add a stage. Construction will include pedestrian improvements on N. McKinley Road and 11th Street N.

Photo via APS

by Andrea Swalec — September 19, 2014 at 2:00 pm 2,494 0

APS Walk and Bike to School Day(Updated at 3:35 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools are serving more young, unaccompanied immigrants.

The estimated number of unaccompanied, juvenile immigrants in APS jumped from 10 children last school year to “approximately” 80 children this school year so far, the district said Friday.

The release of the APS data on youth age 18 and under who travelled without a parent or guardian follows a national report on unaccompanied minors issued this week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That report stated that through July 31, 133 unaccompanied minors were transferred to the care of family members or other sponsors in Arlington County.

The 133 count potentially includes youth below school age, in private schools, home schooled or not enrolled in school, APS pointed out.

APS served enough young, recent immigrants in the 2013-2014 school year to be eligible for an additional $43,000 in state funding, the APS statement said. The school system saw an increase of 141 immigrant students from the ’12-’13 to ’13-’14 school year, the statement said. These youth range in age from 3 to 21, were born outside the U.S. and had not attended school in the country for more than three academic years. This category includes but is not exclusive to youth who came to the U.S. unaccompanied.

Additionally, APS has devoted additional resources this school year to students who have had little formal schooling and read below grade level in any language.

The Arlington Career Center reinstituted a previously offered “Accelerated Literacy” program that draws high school students from across the county. Two more teachers were hired, and funds were redirected to serve youth in this program, according to the statement.

Washington-Lee High School is also offering the literacy curriculum. Additional literacy support is available to elementary and middle school students, the statement said.

The county Dept. of Human Services connects youth and their sponsors with medical and behavior health care, English classes, legal aid and limited emergency funds, spokesman Kurt Larrick said. Like all new APS students, unaccompanied minors new to the district are screened for tuberculosis and required to have a set of immunizations, he added.

The HHS report noted that many of the unaccompanied youth have survived trauma.

“These children may have histories of abuse or may be seeking safety from threats of violence,” it said. “They may have been trafficked or smuggled.”

School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez said in July that APS should prepare for a “crisis situation” in providing services to unaccompanied minors. County Board member Walter Tejada said then that Arlington was preparing to serve them.

APS does not request and is not required by law to ask students to report their immigration status, the statement said.

(File photo)

by Ethan Rothstein — September 17, 2014 at 4:55 pm 1,575 0

Barcroft Elementary School 2-19-14Some parents of Barcroft Elementary School students are concerned about Arlington Public Schools’ plan to expand the school if a controversial plan to build a new elementary school next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School falls through.

The School Board says it’s their preference to build a new school adjacent to Thomas Jefferson, at 125 S. Old Glebe Road. Amid protests from those who want to preserve the parkland next to the school, the School Board has appointed a working group to determine the feasibility of that plan. The group will present its findings to the School Board in January.

If the TJ site cannot be developed, APS’ backup plan is to expand Barcroft and Randolph elementary schools. Barcroft (625 S. Wakefield Street) is currently at a 460-seat capacity and the expansion would add 265 seats. Randolph (1306 S. Quincy Street) has a 484-seat capacity and would expand to seat 725 students.

While APS struggles to keep up with rising school enrollment, county and school officials have warned that there’s precious little open land left in Arlington to build new schools.

Some Barcroft parents, however, are crying foul over being targeted for expansion. They’re worried about the effect it would have on the surrounding community and how the school would be able to adjust to the influx of space and students.

“Barcroft has tireless, dedicated administrators and teachers, but they face serious challenges,” one parent, Sarah Freitas Waldman, told ARLnow.com in an email. “I feel the top issue is whether it is fair for the community and the students and whether it is responsible policy for APS to propose a plan that places the entire burden of South Arlington’s overcrowding on two small schools with ongoing issues of student performance.”

Barcroft’s performance on the state Standard of Learning exams has been dwindling in recent years, culminating in only 71 percent of students passing the English reading exam and 68 passing math, compared to the state average of 74 percent for each subject and the Arlington-wide average of 81 percent in reading and 83 percent in math. Randolph performed about the same as Barcroft, with 61 percent passing English reading and 70 percent passing in math.

“Barcroft consistently underperforms the County in terms of student achievement on the Virginia SOLs,” Waldman wrote. “Is it wise educational policy to expand a program by 50 percent when it is already struggling to meet the needs of its students?”

Waldman said parents were distributing flyers in the neighborhood this past weekend, including bilingual flyers, to notify residents and other parents of APS’ plans. APS facilities staff will be conducting a meeting tonight at 7:00 p.m. Barcroft to inform parents of the process to address the district’s capacity crisis. For those who can’t make it, there will be another meeting at 7:00 p.m. on Sept. 22.

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