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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo via Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full letter, after the jump.

(more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — June 17, 2014 at 3:30 pm 3,414 0

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

by Ethan Rothstein — June 10, 2014 at 5:10 pm 6,414 0

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!’”

by Ethan Rothstein — June 10, 2014 at 4:05 pm 2,560 0

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.

by Ethan Rothstein — June 6, 2014 at 1:30 pm 1,762 0

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.”

by Ethan Rothstein — June 5, 2014 at 10:30 am 3,395 0

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.

by Ethan Rothstein — May 30, 2014 at 11:00 am 2,247 0

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

by Ethan Rothstein — May 29, 2014 at 12:00 pm 692 0

W-L girls lacrosse (photo via Washington-Lee athletics)(Updated at 1:00 p.m.) The spring sports season is over for all but the elite teams, like Washington-Lee boys soccer and Yorktown boys lacrosse, which are still hoping to raise more banners in their gyms.

The Generals’ boys soccer team is in the midst of one of its best seasons ever, sporting an undefeated 16-0 record with three ties. It took home the Liberty Conference 6 championship last week and continues its march to the state tournament at home against Stonewall Jackson tomorrow night.

Washington-Lee girls soccer (10-3) also took home the Conference 6 title, defeating Yorktown before losing in the opening round of Region 6A North action, 4-2, to Centreville last night. The Patriots soccer squads both lost just three times this season, and their years wrapped up in similarly heartbreaking fashion: both squads lost in double-overtime last night in the opening round of the regional tournament, the boys to Centreville and the girls to Robinson Secondary School.

Wakefield’s boys soccer team is still playing after turning around what could have been a disappointing season. The Warriors were the runner-ups in the Conference 13 tournament after losing six straight games before the tournament began. They play Leesburg’s Tuscarora in Region 5A North action tomorrow night to try to keep their improbable postseason alive.

Yorktown’s boys lacrosse team, after losing to state powerhouse Langley in the conference champion, secured a huge win last night in the opening round of the regional tournament, blowing by Oakton 12-5. They’ll face South County at a neutral field, Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, tonight at 7:00 p.m. The Patriots girls lacrosse team — also a Conference 6 runner-up — saw its season come to an end last night at the hands of Robinson, 22-12.

Washington-Lee baseball, despite going just 11-11 in the regular season, managed to make a deep run in its conference tournament and qualify for regional play. Arlington’s only remaining baseball team in action will hope to keep its season alive at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow in Chantilly.

Wakefield’s softball team is also still alive after a 10-9 season and a 15-1 loss to eventual conference champion Marshall in the Conference 13 semifinals. Their season continues on the road in regional tournament play tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. against Massaponax.

After the jump, the records and results for Wakefield, W-L and Yorktown’s major varsity team sports. (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — May 27, 2014 at 3:30 pm 2,879 0

The Arlington School Board adopts its FY 2015 budget 5/22/14The Arlington School Board adopted its FY 2015 budget last week, increasing its expenditures by 3.13 percent from $523 million last year to $539.4 million this year.

Arlington Public Schools will receive a transfer from the county of $432.2 million, with the rest of the money coming from federal, state and other sources.

Responding to parent criticism, the School Board reversed many of the cuts proposed by Superintendent Patrick Murphy. While the school system is growing thanks to increased school enrollment, Murphy sought to offset some of the expense of that growth through cuts totaling $7.3 million and the equivalent of about 75 full-time positions.

The School Board moved more than $5.6 million in reserves for 2016 into expenditures for this coming year, adding the equivalent of 70 full-time positions to Murphy’s proposed budget. Among the proposed cuts nixed by the Board:

  • Merging the Langston High School continuation program with Arlington Mill High School, located at the Arlington Career Center ($1.6 million and 19 positions)
  • Eliminating library assistants at elementary schools ($1.1 million in the budget and 21 positions)
  • Reduction of professional development funding from the Twice Exceptional program, for gifted special education students ($75,000 and a part-time position)
  • Cutting seven of the 12 assistants from APS’ secondary school autism program (see below)

School Board Chair Abby Raphael was the only School Board member to vote against reinstating the autism assistants. The seven positions were restored with $271,859 in one-time funding.

“It’s our job to set priorities,” she said during the meeting last Thursday night. “I think as we go through that process, it’s also our job… to decide if we’re not going to have cost savings and we’re going to add things, then what are we going to cut? Primarily how we’ve funded [these programs] is taking funds from our FY 2016 reserve.”

School Board Chair Abby RaphaelRaphael said the reserve in the approved budget is less than $300,000 for FY 2016. In addition to restoring the autism programs, the School Board approved ending early Wednesday release and implementing FLES programs (foreign language in elementary schools) at Oakridge, Nottingham, and Tuckahoe elementary schools.

The School Board decided to quietly eliminate the superintendent’s 1:1 Initiative, which received considerable attention when it was announced this winter. The initiative would have provided APS second-graders with Apple iPads and sixth-graders with Google Chromebooks, with plans to broaden the program to other grades in future years. The initiative was slated to cost $200,000 next year, and it was part of Murphy’s broader literacy initiative, which was slashed by $600,000 in the School Board’s adopted budget.

FY 2015 will also see a decrease in capital projects funding, with the $6.9 million allotted for 2015 coming in 13.5 percent less than 2014′s $8 million in funding.

Though the budget will push Arlington’s per pupil spending to $19,244, the highest of any suburban D.C. school system, some teachers are saying — privately — that it doesn’t deliver on APS’ pledge to attract and retain high-quality teachers. The budget includes a 2 percent cost-of-living increase and $500 one-time bonus for APS employees, but no salary step increase.

“They are not giving teachers the step increases that they promise when you are hired,” one anonymous tipster told ARLnow.com. “They are giving us cost of living increases, sometimes, which help older teachers, but not younger teachers. They keep implementing new ideas and spending loads of money [on] stuff that gives teachers more work, but not actually increasing the pay to even it out.”

(more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — May 19, 2014 at 11:00 am 1,159 0

Barbara Kanninen votes for herself in the 2014 School Board Democratic caucus (Flickr pool photo by wolfkann)(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) Barbara Kanninen won the Democratic endorsement for the Arlington School Board this weekend, a narrow victory in the caucus over Nancy Van Doren and Greg Greeley.

Kanninen, who narrowly lost to School Board member James Lander in last year’s Democratic endorsement caucus, defeated Nancy Van Doren by a similar margin this year, with 1,812 votes to Van Doren’s 1,794. Before an instant runoff was conducted, and Greeley’s votes were distributed to voters’ “second choice” candidates, the margin was a bit wider: Kanninen received 1,549 votes, Van Doren 1,329 and Greeley received 839.

Kanninen campaigned for reduced standardized testing among Arlington Public Schools students and said she was “uncomfortable” when Arlington was announced as the top-spending school system in the state. She also said that one way to solve APS’ growing capacity issue was flexible spending during a debate among the three candidates last month.

Kanninen, an economist and children’s book author, said through working on advisory boards for both the School Board and County Board over the years, as well as with children in Arlington and D.C., she has the experience needed to be a productive Board member.

“Our schools are important to all of us, whether we are parents, teachers, homeowners, or citizens who want to live in a community that values education,” she wrote in her candidate essay for ARLnow.com this month. “Collectively, we have the energy, the brains, and the will to do great things for our kids and our community.”

Kanninen told ARLnow.com in an email Monday afternoon that she enjoyed “the many lively and informative discussions” she’s had with the community during what she called “a vigorous campaign that highlighted Arlingtonians’ deep commitment to making our schools the best they can be.”

Van Doren announced after the caucus results were counted that she would be throwing her support behind Kanninen for the general election in November, for which Kanninen now becomes the odds-on favorite. She will run to fill the seat left vacant by retiring School Board member Sally Baird.

“I wholeheartedly support Barbara in the upcoming general election as she faces the challenges in our school system,” Van Doren said in a press release. “Our community needs to work together to face the challenge of continuing to improve educational outcomes while working with the county to find space for our growing student population.”

Greeley, in an email to ARLnow.com, also congratulated Kanninen, saying the campaign was a chance to have “a great discussion about the future of our schools.”

“Barbara ran a strong campaign,” Greeley wrote. “She had the experience and organization from her campaign last year. Last year’s campaign also provided a degree of name recognition that ultimately proved decisive this year. I look forward to working with her to address the important issues our school system faces, most notably our looming capacity crisis.”

Flickr pool photo by wolfkann

by Ethan Rothstein — May 14, 2014 at 11:15 am 2,695 0

Fire Station 10 in Rosslyn (photo via Google Maps)Four Arlington County-owned sites are already in the planning stages to be developed into affordable housing.

The sites — Rosslyn Highlands Park/Fire Station 10 (1559 Wilson Blvd); Courthouse Square and Plaza; land adjacent to Lee Gardens at the intersection of Fairfax Drive and Arlington Blvd; and Gables North Rolfe Street (1307 N. Rolfe Street) — were introduced by County Manager Barbara Donnellan yesterday when she presented her proposed 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Plan to the County Board.

The sites are already in the planning process, Donnellan told the Board, and the county is exploring their potential for affordable housing during said process. Providing more affordable housing has long been a priority for many of the Board’s elected members.

In addition, Donnellan identified three sites as potential places for new school construction. Those locations include Wilson School, which had already been earmarked for a potential new school, Thomas Jefferson Middle School and the Arlington Career Center/Fenwick Center site at 816 S. Walter Reed Drive.

“Affordable housing and schools are two of our County’s highest priorities, and the County Board has emphasized its commitment to the concept of using Public Land for Public Good,” Donnellan said in a press release. “We need to do a lot more analysis, but this is a good start for finding ways to use public land to achieve important community goals.”

Four other sites are considered “Tier 2″ potential places for affordable housing — they are not in the CIP for redevelopment but they have been identified as areas where affordable housing development could be feasible. Those sites are Lubber Run Park, which one interfaith community group has also identified as having potential for affordable housing; Fire Station 8 on Lee Highway; land adjacent to Jennie Dean Park on Four Mile Run near Shirlington; and the Edison Complex, adjacent to Virginia Hospital Center.

The county and Arlington Public Schools analyzed all 678 parcels of publicly-owned land in the county to develop the final list of 11 sites. Donnellan is recommending each of the sites be considered for development within the next 10 years.

Photo via Google Maps

by ARLnow.com — May 6, 2014 at 2:05 pm 1,522 0

The capacity crunch at Arlington Public Schools and the need for establishing better coordination with county officials were two of the major topics addressed by the three candidates for School Board at a forum last month.

The candidates who are seeking the Democratic School Board endorsement — Barbara Kanninen, Nancy Van Doren and Greg Greeley — politely agreed on many topics, including the urgency of the school system’s overcrowding issues, but some differences did emerge during the two-hour forum at the Arlington Mill Community Center on Columbia Pike.

Kanninen, for instance, was outspoken in her belief that there’s too much emphasis on standardized testing in Arlington Public Schools. She said students shouldn’t be spending an entire week of instructional time preparing for Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests.

“I believe every child in Arlington deserves a bright future,” she said. “They are more than their test scores… we should de-emphasize test prep.”

Greeley agreed, to an extent, saying that he believes the tests are not “an accurate reflection” of many students’ skills and abilities.

“It’s pretty clear that the pendulum for standardized testing has swung too far,” he said.

Van Doren emphasized her volunteer work for students with special needs, including six years on APS’ Special Education Advisory Committee. She said the school system is doing a better job serving students with special needs, but more must be done. Greeley echoed that sentiment.

“If there’s any area where we as a school system must improve, it’s how we treat our students with special needs,” he said.

Asked about the rising per pupil cost at Arlington Public Schools — it will rise past $19,000 next school year, the highest of any school system in the region — Van Doren said most of APS’ costs go to teacher salaries.

“I just don’t see how we’re going to be able to cut that,” she said.

Kanninen said she was “uncomfortable” when it was announced that Arlington was the top-spending school system. She said she believes that it’s possible to cut “hidden” costs in the budget, and that savings can be found by reducing technology and test preparation spending. With the current budget, Kanninen argued, there’s no excuse for poor performance in any Arlington schools.

“We’re funding our school system at a level where we should be the best,” she said. Kanninen, Van Doren and Greeley all expressed concern about student performance issues that have come to light at Drew Model Elementary.

Greeley had some strong words about APS’ allegedly top-down approach to community communication. He said that school staff is told not to attend community forum and discouraged to communicate with the public outside of official channels.

“The notion that we don’t want staff to talk to the community is part of the broader philosophical issue that we need to address,” he said.

(more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — May 2, 2014 at 2:05 pm 4,267 0

Car wash signs (Flickr pool photo by Christaki)(Updated at 2:40 p.m.) Teams, clubs and activity groups at Arlington Public Schools have been banned from doing car wash fundraisers because of stormwater regulations.

According to the county’s Department of Environmental Services, APS was issued its first stormwater permit by the state last month, after more stringent stormwater regulations were passed by the Virginia General Assembly in July 2013. The permit disallows all charity car washes on school property.

Washington-Lee, Yorktown and Wakefield High Schools notified their teams and clubs this week that they were no longer allowed to conduct such fundraisers.

“There is an important underlying reason why most types of car washing are not allowed under state and federal stormwater regulations,” said DES spokeswoman Shannon Whalen McDaniel. “The chlorinated water, detergents, petroleum products, and other pollutants that get washed into the storm drain system are carried into our local streams, the Potomac River and ultimately, to the Chesapeake Bay. As a result, there are educational and environmental benefits that come with finding new and environmentally friendly ways to raise money for extracurricular activities.”

However, some coaches are concerned that, particularly for the more expensive sports, the ban could have negative repercussions for the athletes.

“This could have a large impact on fundraising by sports teams/boosters/school clubs in need of dollars to support the school programs,” one Washington-Lee coach, who preferred to remain anonymous, told ARLnow.com. “I am not sure how many teams are affected by this new rule. I know that my team will be, since every little bit helps deal with the expense of our sport as we try to support the kids.”

Soap suds in a waterway in Bluemont (photo courtesy Arlington County)A few years ago, the ban may have had a greater impact. But Wakefield Activities Director Noel Deskins said none of the schools teams or clubs have held car wash fundraisers there for years. Instead, they opt for bake sales, pizza sales and other money-raising endeavors.

“I think it’ll be a little easier here adjusting to the new policy,” she said.

The new regulations passed by the state last year prohibit smaller public entities, like APS, from conducting car washes, according to DES Watershed Programs Manager Jason Papacosma. All car washes that aren’t for personal use require a specific permit or written determination from the state, even charity car washes held on private property.

“Working with APS, we plan to continue educate entities looking to hold such events about the rules and environmental impacts,” Papacosma said, “and work to suggest alternatives that can raise funds and also protect the environment and comply with the environmental protection rules we are both required to follow.”

Flickr pool photo by Christaki

by ARLnow.com — April 23, 2014 at 7:00 pm 2,881 0

Wilson School (photo courtesy Preservation Arlington)(Updated at 12:00 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools is backing off a plan to sell its Wilson School property to a developer. Instead, the school system and the county are exploring the possibility of building a new 1,300-student secondary school on the property.

Located at 1601 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn, the Wilson School was built in 1910 and preservationists have been calling for it to be restored rather than torn down. Under a plan approved by the School Board last summer, it was to be demolished to make way for a private mixed-use development with affordable housing, a new fire station and a 1.5 acre park.

Now, according to a press release (after the jump), that plan has been scrapped in favor of retaining the property and perhaps building a new secondary school at the site, to address the school system’s capacity crunch.

The Wilson Boulevard school is envisioned as a brand new secondary school, not a new location for the 624-student H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, currently located in Cherrydale, according to Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations John Chadwick.

(more…)

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