Some parents of Barcroft Elementary School students are concerned about Arlington Public Schools’ plan to expand the school if a controversial plan to build a new elementary school next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School falls through.
The School Board says it’s their preference to build a new school adjacent to Thomas Jefferson, at 125 S. Old Glebe Road. Amid protests from those who want to preserve the parkland next to the school, the School Board has appointed a working group to determine the feasibility of that plan. The group will present its findings to the School Board in January.
If the TJ site cannot be developed, APS’ backup plan is to expand Barcroft and Randolph elementary schools. Barcroft (625 S. Wakefield Street) is currently at a 460-seat capacity and the expansion would add 265 seats. Randolph (1306 S. Quincy Street) has a 484-seat capacity and would expand to seat 725 students.
While APS struggles to keep up with rising school enrollment, county and school officials have warned that there’s precious little open land left in Arlington to build new schools.
Some Barcroft parents, however, are crying foul over being targeted for expansion. They’re worried about the effect it would have on the surrounding community and how the school would be able to adjust to the influx of space and students.
“Barcroft has tireless, dedicated administrators and teachers, but they face serious challenges,” one parent, Sarah Freitas Waldman, told ARLnow.com in an email. “I feel the top issue is whether it is fair for the community and the students and whether it is responsible policy for APS to propose a plan that places the entire burden of South Arlington’s overcrowding on two small schools with ongoing issues of student performance.”
Barcroft’s performance on the state Standard of Learning exams has been dwindling in recent years, culminating in only 71 percent of students passing the English reading exam and 68 passing math, compared to the state average of 74 percent for each subject and the Arlington-wide average of 81 percent in reading and 83 percent in math. Randolph performed about the same as Barcroft, with 61 percent passing English reading and 70 percent passing in math.
“Barcroft consistently underperforms the County in terms of student achievement on the Virginia SOLs,” Waldman wrote. “Is it wise educational policy to expand a program by 50 percent when it is already struggling to meet the needs of its students?”
Waldman said parents were distributing flyers in the neighborhood this past weekend, including bilingual flyers, to notify residents and other parents of APS’ plans. APS facilities staff will be conducting a meeting tonight at 7:00 p.m. Barcroft to inform parents of the process to address the district’s capacity crisis. For those who can’t make it, there will be another meeting at 7:00 p.m. on Sept. 22.
Van Doren replaces Noah Simon on the Board and will serve her interim turn until the Nov. 4 general election. Van Doren is running unopposed for the seat in the election, and she will be sworn in for her full, four-year term after she wins. Simon resigned this summer to take care of his children after his wife died on Dec. 30, 2013.
Van Doren will fill one of two open seats on the Board. Former Board member Sally Baird also resigned this summer; Barbara Kanninen and Audrey Clement are running to replace her in the Nov. 4 election. Baird originally had announced she wouldn’t seek re-election but would serve out her current term, but changed course and resigned on Aug. 22.
“Nancy is a well-regarded civic leader who has supported the Arlington Public Schools for a decade,” School Board Chair James Lander said in a press release. “Nancy has been highly engaged and is well-informed about the many complexities associated with Arlington’s needs. She will make a tremendous addition to this Board.”
After the jump, the full release from Arlington Public Schools on Van Doren’s appointment: (more…)
APS Mulls Contract for School at TJ – The Arlington School Board tonight will consider a $4.7 million contract for architectural and engineering work on a proposed elementary school on the grounds of Thomas Jefferson Middle School. That’s despite well-organized neighborhood opposition to the school encroaching on Thomas Jefferson Park. [InsideNova]
Unreliable Mail Delivery in Douglas Park – Residents of Arlington’s Douglas Park neighborhood say their mail delivery has become considerably less reliable in the past year. Talk of missing mail, misdirected mail and delayed mail has reached a crescendo. The Postal Service says it’s investigating. [WJLA]
HOT Lanes Lawsuit Had ‘Unintended Consequences’ – Democratic County Board candidate Alan Howze acknowledged at Tuesday’s debate that Arlington County might have erred in pursuing an aggressive lawsuit against proposed High Occupancy Toll lanes on I-395. Howze said the suit “had unintended consequences with our relations with Richmond.” [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
(Updated at 2:25 p.m.) Vying for a seat on the Arlington County Board, challenger Alan Howze and incumbent John Vihstadt made their cases for and against the big-ticket Columbia Pike streetcar and described other goals should they be elected November 4.
Speaking before the Arlington Civic Federation last night, Howze, a streetcar backer, repeated his call for a public referendum on the transportation option, calling it a huge economic opportunity for the county.
“When you look at the capacity and the economic development that will be driven by the streetcar versus the buses, it’s a smart investment to make,” he said. “We’re talking about passing on thousands of jobs in our community and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue that can go toward funding our schools and our social services.”
Howze suggested looking at renewable energy to power the streetcar. “If we can get into a long-term power purchasing agreement, it may actually not cost anything” beyond current energy rates, he said.
Vihstadt countered that the streetcar’s operating costs will have to be funded by bonds and tax dollars and that improved buses are a cheaper and more flexible option.
“The way to keep taxes under control in this county is not to spend so much,” he said. “People want to get from point A to point B in the fastest amount of time, in reasonable comfort and at a good price. The bus is the way to do that.”
Vihstadt said he is not a “single-issue candidate” and stated he would focus on creating affordable housing if elected.
“We want an Arlington that’s welcoming, that’s diverse and that’s affordable to everybody and it’s just really a question of how we’re going to do that — whether it’s through additional committed affordable units or additional housing grants or a special program for workforce housing, I am completely open to that,” he said.
Howze said he was also committed to making affordable housing a priority.
Vihstadt touted his successes thus far in bringing “balance and accountability” to the Board and reminded audience members that he won their vote in April. Vihstadt, a Republican who ran as an independent, won the special election in April to replace Chris Zimmerman (D) on the board. He captured 57 percent of the vote, to Democrat Howze’s 41 percent.
“Since I’ve been on the Board, we have lowered the property tax rate for the first time in nine years, freed up more bonding authority for more new schools and additions to address our capacity crisis, and we’ve directed the County Manager to examine staffing levels for our fire and police,” Vihstadt’s opening statement said.
In his opening statement, Howze criticized Vihstadt’s work on the board thus far.
“He put politics ahead of the needs of our community when he voted this summer against funding for school construction, Metro and parks in the Capital Improvement Plan, just to make a political point,” the statement said. “But political obstruction won’t build schools for our children or secure a more prosperous future.”
Also participating in the Civic Federation candidate forum were the three candidates running for two open Arlington School Board seats. Nancy Van Doren, who is running unopposed, addressed the capacity crowd at Virginia Hospital Center’s Hazel conference center, as did Nov. 4 opponents Barbara Kanninen and Audrey Clement.
Nancy Van Doren, who’s running unopposed to replace Noah Simon on the Board, is being considered for the appointment.
The three remaining members of the Board — Chair James Lander, Vice Chair Emma Violand-Sanchez and Abby Raphael — have approved a process by which Van Doren could be appointed at a special meeting on Friday, Sept. 12 at 8:00 a.m.
“The interim appointment will help to ensure fair and responsive leadership to represent the citizens of Arlington County and to make certain that decisions made during this period of transition reflect support by at least three members of the five-member body,” Arlington Public Schools said in a press release.
Simon resigned from the School Board earlier this summer. Sally Baird, who had already decided not to run for re-election, officially resigned from the Board last week, prompting the remaining three members to consider an interim appointment.
Residents will have a chance to voice their opinions on the appointment during a public hearing at the School Board’s regular meeting on Sept. 4 at 7:30 p.m.
“The public hearing will provide an opportunity for citizens to comment on whether Nancy Van Doren… or any other potential candidate(s), should be appointed,” APS said.
Baird’s seat will remain vacant until the Nov. 4 election, which includes two competing School Board candidates: Democrat Barbara Kanninen and Audrey Clement, who’s affiliated with the Green Party. In May, Van Doren finished second to Kanninen in the Democratic endorsement caucus for that race. After Simon announced his resignation, however, Van Doren was the only candidate to step forward.
Van Doren is a mother of four and an Arlington Public Schools volunteer.
School 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.”
Gas Leak Causes Evacuation in Clarendon — A Saturday gas leak forced the closing of Clarendon Blvd. near the Clarendon Metro station. Approximately 50 people evacuated six nearby buildings during the incident. Nobody was hurt. [Washington Post]
Proposal to Turn Basement into Classrooms — On Thursday, Arlington School Board members are expected to approve a $2 million project to turn basement crawl space into classrooms at Arlington Science Focus School. The project would end the need for the four relocatable classrooms on the school’s property, as well as a planned fifth. [InsideNova]
No GOP Treasurer Candidate So Far — The Arlington County Republican Committee doesn’t have any contenders so far to run in the special election for county treasurer. If no names are added by the August 15 deadline, Treasurer Carla de la Pava will be unopposed. [InsideNova]
Arlington Probation Officer Charged — A 40-year-old Arlington County probation officer has been charged with the aggravated sexual battery of a 10-year-old girl in Woodbridge. The officer has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation into the crime. [NBC Washington]
No Democrats to Run Against Van Doren — Nancy Van Doren is the lone Democrat to file to run for the Arlington School Board seat being vacated by Noah Simon. She’s expected to be confirmed as the Democratic endorsee on Aug. 6. [InsideNova]
Verizon Outage Reported — A widespread Verizon FiOS and wireless data outage was reported in the D.C. area Sunday night through Monday morning. [CBS Local]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
Caucus Date Set for Treasurer, School Board — Arlington Democrats will hold a caucus the evening of Monday, Aug. 4 to determine the party’s nominees in the special elections to replace Treasurer Frank O’Leary and School Board member Noah Simon. The caucus will be held from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. [InsideNova]
Comeback for Crumbs? — The Crumbs store in Clarendon and across the country closed this week, but could a comeback for the cupcake company be imminent? A group of investors is planning to provide financing for the bankrupt Crumbs Bakeshop Inc., and that could revive some of the company’s stores. [Washington Business Journal]
Clarendon Art Festival to Return — The “Arlington Festival of the Arts” will return for a second year in Clarendon. The art festival is scheduled to take over part of N. Highland Street for two days on the weekend of Saturday, Sept. 20. [ArtFestival.com]
Last Day for Cheaper Tickets to ARLive — After today, tickets to the upcoming ARLive Startup Smackdown will increase from $15 to $20. The event — which is being held after work on Tuesday, July 22 — will pit about 20 Arlington-based startups against each other in a bid to collect the biggest “investment” from attendees, who will be given play money to dole out to their favorites. Beer, wine and food are included in the price of admission. [nVite]
Fallon, Baker Out; Omara, Schneider In for 48th – The list of contenders in the race to replace the retiring Del. Bob Brink (D-48) continues to change. Peter Fallon, mentioned as a possible candidate, says he will not run. Steve Baker, who threw his hat in the ring for a few hours, is no longer running. Young Democrats of America President Atima Omara, meanwhile, is running, as is Yorktown Civic Association President Andrew Schneider. At last count, there are six Democrats and no Republicans in the race.
Endorsements in 48th District Race — Candidates for the 48th District special electoin are starting to tout high-profile local endorsements. Del. Patrick Hope and former Va. lieutenant governor candidate Aneesh Chopra have endorsed Rip Sullivan. Arlington County Board Vice Chairman Mary Hynes, Treasurer Frank O’Leary and Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos have endorsed Paul Holland. In Arlington, a firehouse Democratic primary in the race will be held on Sunday.
Hazmat Scare at TJ Middle School — There was a hazardous materials scare at Thomas Jefferson Middle School yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon. According to an Arlington fire department spokeswoman, the family of a former school employee who passed away brought a box of art supplies to the school as a donation. A school staff member sorting through the donation opened a bag, smelled a strong odor and began to feel sick. Arlington’s hazmat team arrived and determined that the bag contained a chemical used for gold plating. A cleanup crew was brought in to dispose of the chemical and the employee was transported to the hospital in stable condition.
STEM School Proposed – During a discussion about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, the Arlington School Board began talking about the possibility of opening a new STEM-focused middle school or high school. Such a facility could potentially compete with Fairfax County’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a magnet school attended by a number of Arlington students. [InsideNova]
New Va. Laws Take Effect – A number of new laws in Virginia took effect Tuesday. Among them: the abolition of a $64 tax on hybrid vehicles, a law requiring fewer Standards of Learning tests for grades 3-8, and a law that requires motorists to maintain more space between their vehicles and bicyclists. [Reston Now]
Flickr pool photo by Alex Erkiletian
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.
Among 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.”
The Arlington School Board, in a surprise move not included in the board’s scheduled agenda, approved a new four year contract for Murphy this morning by a vote of 4-1.
All five School Board members praised Murphy’s job performance, in spite of criticism of his tenure from some parents who view his efforts to keep the APS budget in line — while dealing with an expanding student population — as arbitrary and poorly-communicated. There were no public speakers to weigh in on the contract renewal at the morning meeting.
“The trajectory is very much in the direction it should be going,” retiring Board member Sally Baird said of Murphy’s impact on the school system. She called Murphy and his leadership team the “core of the success of the system.”
Baird and other Board members said stability in leadership is a key component to the success of school systems.
“My objection on this isn’t based on merit or performance, it’s based on process,” he said. “I would gladly consider a contract extension in the future. We are stewards of the taxpayer dollar… the expectation is that this would be done a year from now. I believe that granting an extension in an off year, without prior discussion… doesn’t align to our commitment to transparency.”
Board member Abby Raphael, however, argued that the Board typically does not hear public comment on personnel decisions.
“This is the most important obligation of the School Board,” she said. “This is a decision that the School Board is elected to make. It’s the right thing to do.”
Murphy’s previous contract was approved in 2012. His annual salary for the 2013-2014 school year was $218,375.
The new contract will expire at the end of the 2018 school year. It provides Murphy an annual salary of $223,242.50.
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
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.
Park Activists Taking It Too Far? — Residents pushing for the Arlington School Board to scrap a plan to build a new elementary school on parkland next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School might have taken their effort to preserve parkland too far. Activists reportedly placed “Save TJ Park” signs in the yards of some school board members overnight before the vote on a new Arlington Public Schools Capital Improvement Plan. School-related activism “seems to be getting out of hand,” writes Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey. [InsideNova]
HOV Enforcement Today — Virginia State Police, Arlington County Police and other D.C. area law enforcement agencies are conducting an HOV enforcement campaign today on I-395, I-66 and other local highways. The enforcement took place during the morning rush hour and will take place again during the evening rush hour. [Associated Press]
WETA Takes Ownership of ‘NewsHour’ — Shirlington-based public TV station WETA has taken ownership of the PBS NewsHour from longtime owner MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. The NewsHour is produced at WETA studios in Shirlington, but has lately been struggling to raise funds for its $25-30 million budget. [New York Times]