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Washington-Lee Teacher Selected for Deep Sea Research Trip

by Morgan Fecto | July 30, 2014 at 11:15 am | 765 views | No Comments

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

County to Appoint Group to Study TJ Park for New Elementary School

by Ethan Rothstein | July 25, 2014 at 11:00 am | 1,144 views | No Comments

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.”

Arlington to Consider School Bus Stop-Arm Cameras

by Ethan Rothstein | July 15, 2014 at 4:35 pm | 1,698 views | No Comments

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

Girls’ Mentor Program Comes to Arlington

by Morgan Fecto | July 14, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 1,393 views | No Comments

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

Unaccompanied Minor Immigrants Pose Dilemma for Arlington

by Ethan Rothstein | July 9, 2014 at 3:30 pm | 4,259 views | No Comments

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

APS Studying Major Expansion of Bus Service

by Ethan Rothstein | July 1, 2014 at 3:45 pm | 1,454 views | No Comments

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.”

APS Superintendent’s Contract Renewed in Surprise Move

by ARLnow.com | July 1, 2014 at 1:30 pm | 2,722 views | No Comments

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.

UPDATED: Noah Simon Resigns from School Board

by ARLnow.com | July 1, 2014 at 10:45 am | 4,381 views | No Comments

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

Elementary PTA Decries APS Waffling on New Middle School

by ARLnow.com | June 25, 2014 at 11:15 am | 2,525 views | No Comments

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.

(more…)

Plan for New TJ Elementary School Angers Residents

by Ethan Rothstein | June 17, 2014 at 3:30 pm | 3,414 views | No Comments

The Arlington School Board adopts its FY 2015 budget 5/22/14(Updated at 3:35 p.m.) The Arlington School Board adopted its 2015-2014 Capital Improvement Plan last night, and it includes a controversial plan for a new elementary school adjacent to Thomas Jefferson Middle School (125 S. Old Glebe Road).

The School Board will ask the Arlington County Board to approve $106 million bond referendum this November to fund several elementary school capacity projects and an addition to Washington-Lee High School.

More than $50 million of the proposed bond is slated to build either a new elementary school on the Thomas Jefferson grounds, the School Board’s “preferred plan,” or to construct additions to two South Arlington elementary schools. According to Arlington Public Schools staff, the new school would add 725 seats by September 2018, while the two additions would add 500 seats for the same price in the same timeline.

Separately, the bond request also includes additions to McKinley and Abingdon Elementary Schools.

The new school next to Thomas Jefferson has drawn the ire of some residents. The Sun Gazette reported “angry community members” spoke at length at Monday’s School Board meeting, and a group called the Friends of Thomas Jefferson Park sent out a press release this morning declaring they were “outraged” with the School Board’s decision.

“The School Board voted to take land purchased for parks and pave it for parking lots and new buildings. This was not what voters wanted when they approved park bond issues,” Jim Presswood, a leader of the Friends group, said in the release. ”All versions of the Arlington School Board proposal reduce green space, children’s playgrounds, and fitness options for the public. This reduces outdoor options at the moment our growing country needs them most. Many citizens spoke in opposition to the TJ Park proposal at the meeting and dozens more provided visible support.”

Thomas Jefferson Middle School (photo via APS)The School Board resolved in its CIP to decide which plan to move forward with by January 2015. If the Board decides on the Thomas Jefferson site, it will decide whether to make it a neighborhood school or a choice program by April 31, 2015.

“This doesn’t make a final decision,” School Board Chair Abby Raphael said last night. “It sets in motion a process.”

A month before the School Board decides the fate of Thomas Jefferson Park, it will decide where to put a planned, 1,300-seat secondary school. There is no site currently identified in the bond motion, but APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said a new school at the Wilson School site in western Rosslyn and moving the H-B Woodlawn program are still on the table.

The School Board resolved to make a decision on where the seats will be placed no later than Dec. 31, 2014. It has requested $4 million for planning and design of the new school in the CIP.

Major projects approved for inclusion in the Capital Improvement Plan last night were:

  • A $5 million, 300-seat expansion at Washington-Lee High School, to be completed by September 2016. All funds to come from the 2014 bond referendum.
  • A $20 million, 241-seat expansion at McKinley Elementary School to be completed by September 2016. The School Board is requesting $7.47 million in 2014 bond funds, and the rest will be funded by a $12 million 2012 bond resolution and $633,500 in other construction funds.
  • A $28.75 million, 136-seat expansion at Abingdon Elementary School, to be completed by September 2017. All funds to come from the 2014 bond referendum.
  • A $153.4 million, 1,300-seat expansion at the Arlington Career Center for a secondary school, to be scheduled in three phases, completing for the start of the school years in 2020, 2021 and 2022. No bond funding was requested for 2014.
  • $70.11 million for minor construction/major renovation funding. $10.31 million to be requested in the 2014 bond referendum.

Photo (bottom) via APS

St. Charles Borromeo Pastor Gets Transferred, Speaks Out

by Ethan Rothstein | June 10, 2014 at 5:10 pm | 6,414 views | No Comments

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic ChurchThe Rev. Horace “Tuck” Grinnell, who has served as the pastor for St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Virginia Square since 2010, has been transferred out of Arlington in the aftermath of the church’s impending school closing.

Grinnell sent a letter to his parishioners in the church’s June newsletter announcing he would be transferring to a church in Rappahannock County, Va., but he said the decision was made by Arlington Diocese Bishop Paul Loverde without his consent.

“The alleged reason the Bishop gave for my transfer — against my will — was that I was not a sufficient supporter of Catholic education,” Grinnell wrote. “This is untrue, as I demonstrated to him and his advisors. I have been pastor of Parishes with Catholic schools for the past 28 years and in every parish I have been in I have worked to support and increase the enrollment of each school… Both the Bishop and the Superintendent of Catholic schools not only signed off on, but were in agreement to, the closing of the school.”

The school announced it would be closing its K-8 school in January due to a lack of enrollment. In the school’s announcement, Grinnell said a private school needed to operate at 90 percent capacity to remain viable, but the 117 students this school year only brought the school to 57 percent capacity. “No Catholic school can survive with such low numbers,” he wrote at the time.

The church announced it would restructure the school as an early childhood center, in a letter to parents given to children in their backpacks. Some parents said the closure was announced too abruptly, without allowing its community to have any input.

“[F]or things to end this way is unacceptable and disrespectful,” A parent, Kayleen Fitzgerald, wrote in a letter to ARLnow.com in January. ”We were never afforded the respect and dignity to be invited into the process. We were never given financial information or analyses. We were never notified of the warnings that were apparently delivered from the Diocese to the school. We were never rallied and given a goal to try to attain. We were never given a chance to go down swinging.”

The Catholic Diocese of Arlington declined to comment on why Grinnell was transferred, saying “Bishop Loverde is attending the USCCB Spring General Assembly, and it is the policy of the Diocese of Arlington not to discuss personnel matters,” through its spokesman, Michael Donohue.

Grinnell went on to say he believed the decision to transfer him to a church more than 80 miles away was not justified based on how he handled church operations.

“They wanted me out of the parish,” he said. “In the end, I truly believe that this transfer was ‘personal’ and not ‘business’… I love you, the people of St. Charles, and I will miss you! I had hoped to continue to minister here until I turned 75 in eight years. It is not to be. As one of my uncles used to say, ‘paybacks are hell!’”

APS Mixes Up Students’ Last Names in Bus Letter

by Ethan Rothstein | June 10, 2014 at 4:05 pm | 2,560 views | No Comments

APS sends name mistake in busing letter to parents(Updated at 5:30 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools’ transportation department sent out its annual letter informing parents of their children’s bus status this past week, but many parents saw names of children they didn’t recognize.

That’s because of a processing error that used the wrong last name in letters to children slated to walk to school next year.

One parent, Jim South, said he received a correctly-addressed letter for his third-grade daughter, who rides a courtesy bus. However, his kindergarten-aged daughter, who won’t be taking a courtesy bus, received a letter addressed to a non-existent ”Caroline Chacon-Barrientos.”

Another parent, Inger Moran, told ARLnow.com that she received a letter addressed to her daughter that also had an incorrect name, and found out on social media the problem was widespread.

“If they can’t do a simple mail merge then how can they manage bus routes?” Moran said in an email.

APS Assistant Superintendent for School and Community Relations Linda Erdos said the mistake was made in the process of a mail merge for one of four groups of students.

“We discovered this weekend that the mail house merge for the ‘walker’ letters pulled the last name from the wrong field on the data file,” Erdos told ARLnow.com. “This error only occurred with the walker letters — the other letters printed the name correctly.”

As a result, APS Transportation Services had to send out the following correction letter:

Dear Parents/Guardians:

Last week we mailed letters to families about Transportation for the 2014-15 school year. We have learned that your student’s last name was not printed correctly and we apologize for the error. However, we wanted to confirm that your student is designated as a walker for next year, and all of the other information in the letter was correct.

If you have questions about transportation services, or if you believe your student may be eligible for courtesy bus service and would like to discuss that option, please contact the Transportation Call Center at 703-228-8670 weekdays between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.

Sincerely,

APS Transportation Services

As for reports from some parents that one child in a household was granted courtesy bus transportation while another was designated a walker, Erdos said that courtesy bus service is offered on an as-available basis.

Courtesy busing was first offered in select areas last year for specific students whose parents requested it. It was approved for each student based on whether there was adequate space available on the bus. If the request could be accommodated, the transportation status for the student was changed manually in the student information system from Walker to Courtesy. So it is possible that a family could have requested courtesy service for one student last year and assumed that it would automatically be provided for a younger sibling this year. Unfortunately, that is not the case since staff have to go in and “override” the walker designation.

However, more importantly, this is why we have staff available to help through the Transportation Call Center (703-228-8670). If a student has been miscoded in the student information system, we want to know that now. The Call Center staff will be happy to work with families to resolve any issues so that when the letters with bus stops and times are mailed before the start of school, those inconsistencies will have been resolved.

Residents Petition Parks Dept. Over Softball Field Conditions

by Ethan Rothstein | June 6, 2014 at 1:30 pm | 1,762 views | No Comments

A group of residents in North Arlington have launched a petition, aimed at county Director of Parks and Recreation Jane Rudolph, to protest the conditions of the softball field at Greenbrier Park.

Diamond #1 — which is the home field for the Yorktown High School varsity and JV softball teams and is used by the Arlington Girls Softball Association (AGSA) – has several patches of dirt in the outfield grass and the petitioners say the warning track between the grass and the outfield wall has drainage problems to the point that, after it rains, water ”collects in deep pools several inches deep along the entire block wall in left field.”

“The $10 million renovation of Greenbrier Park which was completed in 2007 is a perfect example of what Arlington County can do when constructing new facilities. It was beautiful,” the petition, submitted by AGSA Vice President David Lansing, states. “It is also a perfect example of how Arlington County cannot seem to maintain these expensive, state of the art facilities to a level dictated by their initial expense. Focusing on the softball field, it has deteriorated in 7 short years from the pride of our softball community to an embarrassment.”

The petition says that, after the outfield grass deteriorated, the ACSA, Yorktown officials and the county hired an outside contractor to repair it. Since then, “[t]he grass turf is now in far worse condition than before this $20K project was started last fall.”

“It is overgrown with weeds and large clumps of un-mowed clover. It has large bare spots with no grass whatsoever and only dirt showing… Our non-profit organization has essentially thrown away thousands of dollars with nothing to show for it other than the worst high school level diamond field in all of Northern Virginia.”

Other issues the petition identifies are a lack of an adequate mix for the infield dirt, resulting in “sink holes,” and a lack of trash collection that allows trash cans to be “overflowing” with trash “before any attempt at removal occurs.”

The petition asks Rudolph to “direct the Field Maintenance crews under her authority to correct several major deficiencies that have gone unchecked at Greenbrier Park.”

Rudolph, who joined Arlington County as parks and rec director in January 2013, says the department is working on it.

“I’ve seen the petition and appreciate the community’s interest and concern,” Rudolph told ARLnow.com. “Staff is meeting with stakeholders next week at the site. We value this feedback and interest and will work with them to make sure that Greenbrier is a safe and enjoyable place to play ball.”

H-B Woodlawn Could Move to Wilson School

by Ethan Rothstein | June 5, 2014 at 10:30 am | 3,395 views | No Comments

Wilson School (photo via Preservation Arlington)Arlington Public Schools has floated the idea of moving the H-B Woodlawn program to the Wilson School property in Rosslyn in the coming years.

APS staff’s presentation during the third work session to discuss the 2015-2024 Capital Improvements Program last week introduced a new, alternative capacity solution, one that would convert H-B Woodlawn’s current building at 4100 N. Vacation Lane to a roughly 750-seat middle school and build a 1,300-seat secondary school at the 1601 Wilson Blvd property to house the H-B Woodlawn program, Stratford program and a 600-seat middle school.

The plan was introduced, according to the presentation, after APS staff received feedback from the School Board and the community.

Another solution proposed for alleviating middle school capacity problems is a $117 million, 1,300-seat middle school at the Wilson School property. Yet another is a combination of $59 million for an addition at the Reed-Westover Building to house H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs; $48 million for an addition to H-B Woodlawn’s current building to house a 1,300 seat middle school; and $9 million to renovate part of the Madison Community Center, a former elementary school, to house the Children’s School daycare program for the children of APS employees.

H-B Woodlawn (via Google Maps)APS staff said in the presentation that there are currently 204 middle school students in the Rosslyn area spread out among five middle schools, with 142 attending Williamsburg Middle School on the western edge of the county. APS also projects 73 more students will come into the APS system from the approved, but not under construction, residential projects in the Rosslyn area, like Central Place and Rosslyn Gateway.

“The CIP process is very fluid, and staff continues to work to refine the proposed plan and options for Board consideration, based on School Board direction and community feedback,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia told ARLnow.com.

If the Wilson School is built as a 1,300-seat middle school, APS staff estimates it would cost $117 million and it would open in 2019 or 2020, depending on bond funding. 

Also being considered as part of the CIP is a needed renovation to Abingdon Elementary School, in the Fairlington area. County staff is pegging the cost of a renovation alone at $14.5 million, while a renovation and addition would cost $28.5 million for 136 additional seats or $33 million for 225 additional seats.

Tonight, APS Facilities and Operations staff will be presenting another revision to the proposed CIP to the School Board, and Bellavia said that could include changes to the proposal to move H-B Woodlawn to Rosslyn.

After tonight’s informational meeting, there will be another CIP work session on June 10 if needed, and the School Board is scheduled to adopt the CIP on June 17 before it goes before the County Board on June 19.

Photos courtesy Preservation Arlington (top) and Google Maps.

APS Denies Rumors of Rogue Tablet Purchase

by Ethan Rothstein | May 30, 2014 at 11:00 am | 2,247 views | No Comments

aps_logoArlington Public Schools staff are denying rumors that allege the school system has already purchased and received hundreds of tablet computers for ninth-grade students.

Multiple tipsters — including at least one high school teacher and a person commenting on our story about the recently-passed Arlington Public Schools budget – have contacted ARLnow.com this week claiming the administration has purchased hundreds of Microsoft Surface tablets, including 400 specifically for Yorktown High School. The School Board’s adopted budget pulled the $200,000 Superintendent Patrick Murphy had proposed to accelerate APS’ plan to give every student in the school system a tablet to take home by 2017.

However, APS said they have only purchased 10 tablets in the past month, one for the Instructional Technology Coordinators in 10 different schools. The total purchase price was roughly $8,600, according to purchase documents provided to ARLnow.com.

Assistant Superintendent for School and Community Relations Linda Erdos told ARLnow.com that, while the school system has continued to allocate funding for technology purchases, the idea that it has conducted a mass purchase of tablets for students is “false and misleading information.”

Raj Adusumilli, APS assistant superintendent for information services, said the purchase of 10 tablets was used with operational funds already in the system’s FY 2014 budget.

Microsoft Surface tablet  (photo via Microsoft“We are not aware of any school that has purchased tablets for all ninth graders — this includes Yorktown. We have confirmed this with the school principal and with Information Services,” Adusumilli said in an email. “The current Strategic Plan sets a target of having personalized devices for all students by 2017. In support of this goal, the Department of Information Services has conducted and continues to do pilots in all of our schools to find the best options to support instruction and classroom needs. These pilots are designed for individual schools based on the school goals and instructional needs. APS will continue to work towards achieving this Strategic Plan goal.”

Erdos said the $200,000 that was pulled from the budget was to accelerate the strategic plan as part of a broader early literacy initiative. Although APS says it did not conduct the mass tablet purchase, they are determined to acquire thousands of tablets in the coming years.

“At no time has the School Board ever made any decision about changing its six-year Strategic Plan for 2011-17,” Erdos said. “The Strategic Plan was developed after a 12-month process involving the APS community stakeholders. The Board takes that plan seriously and would not change the plan without a separate community engagement process that is separate from the annual budget deliberations.”

Photo (bottom) via Microsoft

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