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APS to Give High School Freshmen Macbooks

by ARLnow.com | August 27, 2014 at 4:45 pm | 2,995 views | No Comments

Apple Macbook Air laptop displaying the Arlington Public Schools website(Updated at 5:00 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools plans to give a new Macbook Air to every 9th grader in Wakefield, Washington-Lee and Yorktown high schools this school year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earlier this summer, APS vehemently denied a rumored tablet purchase for 9th graders. One parent who learned about the laptop plan contacted ARLnow.com this week and questioned why APS hasn’t told the community at large about the pilot program.

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

Baird Resigns, Leaves School Board With Three Members

by Ethan Rothstein | August 18, 2014 at 10:30 am | 2,064 views | No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

APS Buys New Football Helmets to Prevent Concussions

by Ethan Rothstein | August 15, 2014 at 2:15 pm | 1,158 views | No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

File photo

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | August 12, 2014 at 9:05 am | 2,571 views | No Comments

Benches in Clarendon

APS Identifies Elementary Schools to Possibly Expand — Arlington Public Schools named two schools that could be expanded as a “plan B” if the proposal to put a new school on the Thomas Jefferson Middle School campus doesn’t go through. If the new school cannot be constructed, APS has suggested expanding Randolph Elementary School and Barcroft Elementary School. The County Board commissioned a working group last month to look into the possibility of building a new school on the Thomas Jefferson campus. [InsideNova]

Voter Registration Deadline — Today is the deadline to register to vote, both in person and absentee, in the special election next Tuesday, August 19. Voter registration can be done online. [Arlington County]

Free Tacos at California Tortilla – California Tortilla is giving away free tacos today to celebrate being voted readers’ favorite Mexican in Washingtonian magazine’s “Best of Washington 2014″ issue. Arlington’s three locations, as well as all locations nationwide, will offer one free taco per customer all day.

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | August 11, 2014 at 10:00 am | 2,262 views | No Comments

Decorated signals in Ballston

APS Still Looking for Teachers — Officials with Arlington Public Schools are still searching for teachers for the 2014-2015 school year, which is only about three weeks away. APS would like about 75 more new teachers in addition to the 225 it already hired. [InsideNova]

Att’y Gen. Asks Supreme Court to Hear Gay Marriage Case — Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has, as expected, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state’s gay marriage case. Herring agrees with the gay marriage ban being struck down, but believes the Supreme Court should look at the case because it could set a nationwide precedent. Last month, Arlington County Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson told ARLnow.com he was waiting for guidance from Herring and would begin performing gay marriages as soon as he received word they would be valid. [Daily Press]

Cemetery to Change Dates on Monument — Arlington National Cemetery has agreed to change the date on a monument to a World War II bomber crew lost in 1944. The stone monument currently shows the year 1946 — which is the year the Army officially classified the crew members as dead — but the plane went missing in 1944. Family members of the crew have been trying to get the date changed for about 12 years. [Stars and Stripes]

Central Library to Loan Garden Tools — Residents soon will be able to borrow garden tools from Central Library. A start date hasn’t yet been set because the library is still gathering gently used tool donations and signing up volunteers to assist with the program. Those interested in helping out or donating tools can get more information online. [Arlington Public Library]

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.”

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | June 16, 2014 at 10:05 am | 1,329 views | No Comments

Patrons lined up to have a book signed by Hillary Clinton at the Pentagon City Costco on 6/13/14

Clinton Signs Books at Pentagon City Costco — Former Secretary of State and likely 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton signed books at the Pentagon City Costco store on Saturday. One group of Clinton supporters who lined up outside the store Saturday morning told ARLnow.com that they were in line for more than 4 hours before getting their books signed. The signature: a simple, cursive “Hillary.” Also dropping by on Saturday was Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was shopping and stumbled upon the event. [Huffington Post, Washington Post]

Board Approves Waycroft-Woodlawn Plan — The County Board on Saturday unanimously approved an updated Neighborhood Conservation Plan for the Waycroft-Woodlawn community, located northwest of Ballston. The plan calls for funding “to address speeding and cut-through traffic, improve pedestrian safety, enhance street conditions and make park improvements.” Waycroft-Woodlawn has 1,600 residents, mostly in single-family homes. [Arlington County]

Healthy Vending Machine Installation Complete — Arlington Public Schools has completed installation of 115 new “FitArlington Healthy Vending Machines” in all 40 APS-owned buildings. The machines offer “bottled water and 100% fruit juice beverages, and a variety of healthy snacks, such as dried fruit, baked chips, and granola bars.” [Arlington Public Schools]

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.

Letter to the Editor: Arlington Values Education

by ARLnow.com | June 7, 2014 at 10:55 am | 2,108 views | No Comments

The following letter to the editor was submitted by Mary Hynes and Noah Simon. Mary is Vice Chair of the Arlington County Board and a former School Board member. Noah is an Arlington County School Board Member. This letter represents their individual views.

Arlington residents value education. We are, after all, a community where 70% of residents hold bachelor degrees and over 25% hold advanced degrees. We see the commitment to education daily – in engaged parents, committed teachers, active PTA’s, and strong business partnerships. That commitment has been demonstrated for more than three decades by voter support for upgraded and expanded schools.

Still, our community now faces school enrollment levels that we have not seen for nearly 50 years in Arlington. People want to live in Arlington because of our high quality schools and to entrust their children’s education to our dedicated school professionals.

We know that Arlington supports education because of the way our tax dollars are spent. As has been true for decades, both the County’s and the Arlington Public Schools’ FY15 budgets reflect Arlington’s sustained commitment to public education and academic excellence. And the School Board maintained the community’s vision of a high quality education for all students while aligning community priorities with fiscal prudence.

In terms of dollars invested in education, the APS budget totals $539.4 million, an increase of 3.1 percent. It includes a County transfer of $432.2 million as well as one time payments that provide an even higher percentage increase. The increases address the growing enrollment trend that shows no sign of slowing in the next several years.

This schools investment represents approximately 47% of Arlington County’s locally generated revenue. We spend more on schools than on any other community priority. We invest far more per pupil – approximately $19,200 — than other jurisdictions in our region, largely a product of low class size and high quality teachers. Considering that only 13 percent of Arlington households have school-age children, the community’s commitment to education is substantial.

What do Arlington students and residents get for this education investment? Successful students, great schools, expanded adult education opportunities, high graduation rates, strong higher education attainment rates, more efforts to eliminate achievement gaps, and a highly ranked education system that attracts quality businesses and employers.

Here are a few highlights from the budget:

  • A reaffirmed countywide commitment to current low class sizes;
  • Additional County transfer funding to address enrollment growth;
  • Full funding for all available Pre-Kindergarten slots in recognition that early childhood education is critical to student success — Arlington remains the only Northern Virginia county that uses all available state funding for Pre-K;
  • Funding to prepare students to meet the demands of a global marketplace by eliminating early-Wednesday release at three schools and enabling those schools to implement the Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES) Program;
  • A strong commitment to students with special needs;
  • Numerous opportunities for Advanced Placement courses, athletic participation and arts education;
  • A 2 percent salary increase and $500 one-time bonus payment for employees; and
  • Opportunities for adult English language learners to earn their high school diploma and enhance their future career opportunities.

Our community knows that education is a key contributor to our economic growth and to the success of future generations. That is why Arlington is so committed to having excellent schools.

As the needs of the school system change over time, we remain committed to addressing those needs. Today, enrollment growth is one of the most pressing challenges we face. That is why the County Board and School Board are working together to come up with solutions and resources – including a look at how we can take a fresh look at how best to structure a revenue sharing agreement to manage taxpayer funds efficiently and plan effectively to keep our schools strong.

With the passage of the County and Schools budgets, attention now shifts to the Capital Improvement Planning (CIP) process. In the coming weeks, the Schools capital plan will request funding to meet enrollment needs. Getting more seats into the pipeline – at all levels – is a priority that both Boards are committed to meeting.

It will take all of us — parents, educators, civic associations, School Board and County Board colleagues – the entire community – to solve the challenge of school capacity in a timely and responsible manner. Arlington remains committed to providing the best in public schools – and we are committed to keeping it that way by growing our economy, investing for the future, and aligning community priorities with fiscal responsibility.

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.

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | June 5, 2014 at 9:15 am | 1,442 views | No Comments

Memorial Bridge and the Lincoln Memorial (Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen)

Police Locate Autistic Man With Lojack — The Arlington County Police Department’s Lojack-powered Project Lifesaver has helped locate another missing man. A 29-year-old autistic man who wandered away from his group home was located by police Wednesday morning, less than an hour after he was reported missing. [Arlington County]

APS Receives Award — Arlington Public Schools has received “the prestigious Medallion of Excellence Award presented by the U.S. Senate Productivity and Quality Awards for Virginia and the District of Columbia (SPQA).” APS is the ninth Virginia school division to be recognized since the award was established in 1983. [Arlington Public Schools]

W-L Advances to State Tourney — Washington-Lee High School’s boys soccer team defeated West Potomac 4-2 Tuesday night to advance to the 6A North Region title game and to the Virginia High School League state tournament. [InsideNova]

Library Digitizing Local Newspapers — Arlington Public Library is digitizing its microfilm archive of the Northern Virginia Sun newspaper, originally named the Arlington Sun. The new digital archives will be text searchable, “a boon for researchers, history buffs and anyone searching for specific moments in Arlington’s 20th century story.” The archives cover 1935 to 1978. [Arlington Public Library]

County Bureau Runs ‘Like a Startup’ – Arlington County Commuter Services, which is charged with getting more Arlington residents and workers to bike, walk or take transit rather than drive, “looks and operates more like a start-up tech company than a government agency.” [Mobility Lab]

Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen

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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