James Lander, the Chair of the Arlington School Board, has responded to public concerns about use of school facilities raised by the Arlington Girls Softball Association.
On Monday afternoon Lander wrote to Steve Severn, president of the 30+ year old organization, regarding use of Wakefield High School’s softball field, as well as proposed batting cages and sponsor signage at Arlington Traditional School.
Lander said that the Wakefield softball field is closed to all teams due to safety concerns, that the school system is willing to find a location and design for the ATS batting cage that doesn’t interfere with school operation and that AGSA may put up temporary sponsor signage around school fields but must then take it down after games.
Lander, a Democrat, is currently running for Arlington County Board.
The full letter is below.
Dear Mr. Severn:
I am writing to respond further to concerns that have been expressed about use of Arlington school facilities by the Arlington Girls Softball Association (AGSA).
The Wakefield softball field is not being used by any teams until some improvements have been made. The positioning and safety measures for the softball field at Washington-Lee High School are different and, as a result, decisions are made to meet the unique needs of each space. The safety inspector was concerned about the proximity of Wakefield’s field to the parking lot and walkway through the site, and so APS has agreed to install safety netting. Regarding Wakefield’s use of other fields in the community, today was the last day for practice or play by the Wakefield softball teams, and the Wakefield Varsity Softball tournament will take place at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County on Monday, May 18.
The AGSA has proposed building a batting cage at Arlington Traditional School. APS believes that the initially proposed location for the batting cage would be disruptive to the school’s program and that the specific design would not be appropriate on school property. The Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations, Mr. John Chadwick, has spoken to Mr. Severn about this issue and has explained that APS is willing to consider other potential placement of the batting cage at the school and an alternative design. We look forward to working with the County and community representatives on this measure to find a solution that meets the needs of all parties.
We understand the important role that the AGSA sponsors play in supporting this opportunity for young girls in our community. Regarding the issue of posting banners on the fence at Arlington Traditional, as noted in earlier replies, the School Board policies do not allow outside groups to post and leave signs in schools and on school grounds over an eight-week period. However, when community groups such as the Babe Ruth and Arlington Little League teams use our fields and local groups like churches and other community organizations use our schools, as part of their community use they regularly post signs and/or distribute flyers during their activity and then the signs and flyers are taken away at the end of the event. We hope that the Arlington Girls Softball Association will consider this option so that the girls softball sponsors can be recognized during your practices and games.
Finally, the Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation has contacted APS about these and other concerns, and our staffs will be working collaboratively over the coming months to develop a consistent framework for all athletics and community groups to follow when using county and school spaces so that we can avoid any future misunderstandings.
James Lander, Chair
(Updated at 3:30 p.m.) The president of the Arlington Girls Softball Association says a lack of field space and a newly enforced school policy against signs has him very concerned for the future of the youth league.
The AGSA has been in operation for more than 30 years, President Steve Severn said, and currently serves about 500 girls, 92 percent of whom are Arlington residents. Those girls make up 38 local teams and six all-star and travel teams, who play games on just five fields in the county: Greenbrier Park next to Yorktown High School, Barcroft Park, Wakefield High School, Quincy Park and Arlington Traditional Elementary School.
This year, delayed construction at Wakefield has taken away that field, and Wakefield’s softball teams have taken the AGSA’s field at Barcroft Park. At the same time, the field at Arlington Traditional School is becoming increasingly problematic after Principal Holly Hawthorne banned sponsorship signs, a move the Arlington School Board supports.
“Having so few fields available creates havoc,” Severn told ARLnow.com today, after he sent an email to AGSA’s parents informing them of the issues the league faces. “High schools have the first choice to have fields, and that’s the way it should be… But there aren’t enough fields to go around. Youth sports are screaming for outside field space.”
Severn said the Wakefield field opened for one day this spring, but Arlington Public Schools closed it after it determined the fences were too short to protect the surrounding neighborhood. APS facilities staff said it will reopen in June, but high school teams historically have asked to be the first team to use a new field. Hence, Severn said, he doubts AGSA will be able to use that field until spring 2016.
While field space is a serious issue for every league, sport and age group in Arlington, the sign ban is one that could jeopardize AGSA’s future.
“If sponsors cannot see their banners or recognition for the money they contribute to our organization, they’re not going to contribute,” Severn said. “These are by and large community businesses. Their kids play on the team. That is going to hurt us. We depend on sponsorship money, we do not take in enough money from registration. I don’t know what the end result is going to be. Our sponsorship base is going to dry up eventually.”
Severn said the league has been hanging banners recognizing sponsors for decades. This year, they tried to hang small, individual signs for each sponsor, which Severn said Hawthorne put a stop to. He asked the School Board to step in, and they did — to affirm Hawthorne’s decision.
“Ms. Hawthorne contacted APS senior staff to review APS policies on the display of sponsor banners, and we agreed that display of such banners on school property is not permissible,” School Board Chair James Lander said in an email to Severn. “The School Board wishes the AGSA success with the remainder of their season and we appreciate the patience the teams have shown.”
Hawthorne did not respond to an interview request this morning. When asked for comment, APS forwarded to ARLnow.com Lander’s message to Severn.
Severn said he’s met with APS Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Operation John Chadwick, which “opened up a line of communication, but didn’t resolve anything.” The School Board’s ruling could mean no more banners at Wakefield when the new field opens, either. Severn told parents that an anticipated decline in sponsorship revenue could mean a significant increase in league fees.
“I’m not trying to fan any flames here, but I’m upset because the decisions are made in a vacuum,” he said. “When we got the note back from James Lander, it’s the end of the story. There is no other avenue for us. We have no real recourse there. That’s just the disturbing part.”
Photo, top, via AGSA. Photo, bottom, via Google Maps.
U.S. Secretary of Education and Arlington resident Arne Duncan was on hand Friday to personally present Arlington Traditional School (855 N. Edison Street) with one of the Department of Education’s top honors: the designation of Blue Ribbon School.
The elementary school was named a 2012 Blue Ribbon School — one of only 269 schools in the country and one of seven elementary schools in Virginia this year — based on its “overall academic excellence.”
Duncan presented the Blue Ribbon School award to ATS Principal Holly Hawthorne at a school-wide assembly Friday morning. Also in attendance were Rep. Jim Moran (D), School Board Vice Chair Sally Baird, School Board member Abby Raphael, County Board member Libby Garvey, State Sen. Barbara Favola (D), Del. Patrick Hope (D) and State Board of Education President and former Arlington School Board member Dave Foster.
Arlington Public Schools issued the following press release (excerpted) about the recognition.
“This is a tremendous honor for us. Great schools don’t happen by chance, they happen by design,” said Hawthorne. “We know the quality of the education at ATS is the result of the efforts of our talented and dedicated teachers, our hard-working and focused students, and our involved and caring parents. The strong partnerships ATS has forged with families and the community help foster each child’s whole development. Students leave ATS with the skills and attitudes of lifelong learners, prepared to become caring and contributing citizens.”
This is the second time in eight years that ATS has been recognized as a Blue Ribbon School.
“I want to congratulate the entire ATS community on receiving this prestigious honor,” said Superintendent Dr. Pat Murphy. “This recognition rewards the time that teachers spend each day making sure that their students have the tools to help them succeed in the classroom. It recognizes the time that students put into learning as well as the time that parents spend supporting their child’s education. The staff at ATS is to be recognized for building a strong foundation for its students to learn and grow.”
Since 1982, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has honored America’s most successful public and private elementary, middle, and high schools. The National Blue Ribbon Schools award honors schools where students perform at very high levels or where significant improvements are being made in students’ levels of achievement. The award acknowledges and validates the hard work of students, staff members, families, and communities in reaching high levels of student achievement.
The US Department of Education will honor all of the nation’s 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools during a conference and awards ceremony November 12-13 in Washington, D.C. A list of the 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools and more information on the Blue Ribbon award is available at www.ed.gov/nationalblueribbonschools.
Video from today’s ceremony is available online at http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/25243604.
Photo courtesy Frank Bellavia / Arlington Public Schools
Rosslyn Jazz Fest to Be Held on Saturday — The annual Rosslyn Jazz Festival will be held at Gateway Park (1300 Lee Highway) from 1:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Saturday. The musical lineup includes groups and artists like Afro Blue, Rene Marie, Don Byron and Joshua Redman. Some surrounding roadways will be closed for most of the day. Planned street closures for the event include westbound Lee Highway from Lynn Street to Fort Myer Drive, and one lane each on eastbound Lee Highway and North Lynn Street. [Rosslyn BID]
Duncan to Visit Arlington Traditional School — U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will announce the 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools in Arlington this morning. The announcement is scheduled to take place at 10:00 a.m. at Arlington Traditional Elementary School (855 N. Edison Street). Duncan is expected to be joined by Rep. Jim Moran (D) and Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy. [Department of Education]
APS Still Processing Appeals — Arlington Public Schools has received 450 formal appeals from parents of children denied bus service this year. The school system is continuing to respond to those appeals “as rapidly as possible.” At a school board meeting last night, however, APS officials showed no sign of backing down from their controversial new busing policy, despite strong words from a dozen or so parents who spoke. [Sun Gazette, Arlington Mercury]
No West Nile Virus in Arlington — Updated at 9:30 a.m. — D.C. officials revealed this week that an elderly man has died from West Nile virus. So far this year, 21 cases of West Nile virus have been reported in Maryland and five confirmed cases have been reported in Virginia. No cases have been reported in Arlington, a spokesman for the county’s Department of Human Services tells ARLnow.com.