School Board member Barbara Kanninen, serving the first year of her term, proposed pausing what’s called the “1:1 Initiative” during the School Board’s budget deliberations last week. Her motion failed, 2-3, with Vice Chair Emma Violand-Sanchez voting in favor.
The initiative has already provided second- and sixth-graders with iPads and freshmen with MacBook Airs. Next year, devices will again be provided to students in those grades.
“We have conducted a very large pilot project this year in terms of this initiative,” Kanninen said, estimating about 3,000 devices are now in the hands of students. “That is a very large and potentially very informative data set. I made this motion because I believe it is now time to evaluate how it’s working and ask some basic questions. Is it helping students learn? Is it helping teachers teach?”
The Board and Superintendent Patrick Murphy had extensive discussions the week leading up to their meeting about the initiative, and the majority, including Murphy, agreed that an evaluation can be completed while pushing forward with handing out devices.
“I have moved from thinking we needed to pause to believing we can do that evaluation and do that assessment at the same time as we continue forward,” Board member Nancy Van Doren said. “Many people have called me about the problems we’ve been having … When I suggest pausing the program, I was surprised people said ‘don’t pause, just do it better.’”
Many of the complaints around the devices have focused on teachers not being adequately trained to use the devices, preventing an optimal environment for the students. Murphy said many teachers have “emerged as leaders” in using the devices while other teachers are more hesitant.
“I will say, with any new initiative, there have been a variety of issues with the rollout,” Murphy told the School Board. “We need to continue to strengthen our training models. I think we’ll continue to focus on professional development, working with families so they understand and working with safety, so students aren’t spending an excessive amount of time in front of these devices.”
The 1:1 Initiative is budget neutral because it is funded by diverting money away from APS’ annual technology replacement funds. While Murphy and the School Board majority acknowledged hiccups with the rollout, Kanninen pushed for a more detailed look at what went wrong.
“One of the main reasons a pause would be necessary is we also need to ask, “are we implementing this model the right way?’” she said. “There are other models and ways we could be rolling this out. By taking a pause here, we then can work on developing curricula, designing professional development programs, developing our principles for use, clarifying our budget implications.”
School Board member Abby Raphael said many of the concerns expressed in the community have been alleviated by a more thorough explanation of the program.
“It’s all about personalizing learning, it’s not about the devices,” she said. “I agree that we can continue to roll this out and evaluate what we’re doing, because I really do think this is a very valuable tool in eliminating the achievement gap.”
ZooBean, based in Rosslyn’s ÜberOffices, has launched Beanstack with the library. The program takes the preferences of each child — “like ninjas, princess or even math and science,” the app’s promotional video explains — and the child’s reading level, and an Arlington librarian recommends books in the catalog that apply.
Each book recommendation also comes with a brief learning tip, ZooBean co-founder Felix Lloyd told ARLnow.com. This could be culling a few vocabulary words from the book to review.
“In many ways, the end user is the parent,” Lloyd said. “A lot of it is about their having a good place to start when it comes to their kid. The way we view it is with a lot of things going on in today’s world, it’s hard to have the confidence that there’s good content and you know how to use it in a way to accelerate their reading, to give them a better place to start in school.”
The app is free and available to any Arlington resident. B0oks available electronically can be downloaded immediately, and those available by hard copy can be reserved and sent to the family’s local branch. Beanstack makes a recommendation for a different book every week, and always reading material that has been approved by a librarian.
“Modern public libraries are constantly looking at the evolving needs of their customers,” Arlington Public Library spokesman Peter Golkin said in an email. “A service like Beanstack takes the knowledge of our children’s librarians, mixes it with proven online ‘matchmaking’ based on the particular child’s interests and puts the results in convenient emails that arrive on a regular basis. If the suggested book is an available ebook in the collection, then you don’t even have to make a trip to the Library.”
The service just launched this month, and Arlington is the second library system to offer it in the country, Lloyd said, following the Sacramento, Calif., library system. Fourteen other library systems have signed on for Beanstack already, including Montgomery, Prince George’s and Howard counties in Maryland.
ZooBean got its big break appearing on ABC’s Shark Tank last April, and receiving a $250,000 investment from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Since then, Lloyd said, Cuban has invested even more into the company. The combination of Cuban’s endorsement and Arlington’s early partnership has helped spur the business’ growth.
“Arlington buying our product before it launched was a bet for them,” Lloyd said. “Them buying into the service helped our business, because we could go out and point to this model community that invested. It was a validation of a small business.”
Tech Leaders Want to Save Artisphere — Some 100 tech leaders and supporters have signed a petition asking Arlington County to reconsider closing Artisphere. Numerous tech-related events have been held at Artisphere in the past couple of years and the petition’s organizer says it’s a “unique” venue that has attracts tech networking events and conferences. [Technical.ly DC]
Memorial Bridge Lane Closures — Two center lanes of the Arlington Memorial Bridge will be closed nightly from April 20 through May 8. The lane closure, slated to be in place between 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., is for a “geotechnical inspection” of the bridge, according to the National Park Service.
ACPD ‘Chief for the Day’ — The Arlington County Police Department, which is currently seeking a successor for now-retired police chief Doug Scott, intends to replace him with a fifth grader — well, sort of but not really. While it conducts a real-life search for Scott’s replacement, ACPD is holding its second annual Chief-for-the-Day contest. The contest encourages submissions from fifth grade students in Arlington schools who want to serve as the honorary Chief of Police for a day. [Arlington County]
Endorsement for Cristol — Arlington Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy has endorsed Katie Cristol, who’s seeking the Democratic nomination for Arlington County Board. Morroy has also endorsed Democratic candidate Christian Dorsey in the race for two open County Board seats. [InsideNova]
Wounded Marine’s Golf Clubs Stolen – Retired Marine Lt. Col. Justin Constantine had a couple of his beloved, custom-made golf clubs stolen from Arlington’s Army Navy Country Club after accidentally leaving them at the driving range. Constantine was shot in the face by a sniper in Iraq in 2006. So far, one of the clubs has been returned while two remain missing. [Marine Corps Times]
Video: iPads in Use at APS — Arlington Public Schools has posted a new “#digitalAPS” video that shows iPads in use in a middle school science class. [Arlington Public Schools]
APS Community Engagement Juggling Act — Arlington Public Schools is planning a community engagement blitz as it seeks to keep up with rapidly rising school enrollment by building new schools. This comes in the wake of the County Board putting the brakes on a plan, unpopular with some residents, to build new elementary school next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School. APS is trying to juggle getting community consensus with the need to build new capacity quickly. [InsideNova]
Dremo’s Owner Dreams Up ‘BeerDisneyLand’ — The owner of the late, lamented Dr. Dremo’s in Rosslyn is proposing to build a two-acre “BeerDisneyLand” on D.C.’s Anacostia River waterfront near Navy Yard. [Hill Now]
Flickr pool by Kevin Wolf
Police: Pair Stole Car, Shrimp, Underpants — (Updated at 2:00 p.m.) A man and a woman allegedly under the influence of crack cocaine and alcohol were arrested in Rosslyn Tuesday afternoon. Police say the pair had stolen a car, men’s underwear and a “large quantity of shrimp.” [MyFoxDC]
Playgroup Controversy in Fairlington — Members of a cooperative playgroup that uses the Fairlington Community Center say that Arlington County is attempting a “takeover of the group.” The parents say the county is trying to buy the playgroup’s toys, take over registration and raise the playgroup fee from $20 to $190. [Patch]
How One Teacher Is Using iPads — There’s some question about just how well Arlington Public Schools has trained its teachers on the use of technology in the classroom — particularly the individual iPads and MacBooks that are being assigned at certain grade levels. One teacher at Carlin Springs Elementary School, however, is taking advantage of the iPads in a big way, using them for various interactive lessons. That, officials say, is indicative of how such technology will increasingly be used in schools. [InsideNova]
ACFD Metro Training — Arlington firefighters are participating in department-wide Metro safety training this month. [Twitter]
One possible explanation for the lack of participation in a program that could save companies thousands of dollars a year: many local tech companies say they haven’t heard about it.
Last year, the Arlington County Board approved a measure “to broaden the Technology Zone incentive program for new technology companies.” The action was trumpeted in a press release by then-County Board chair Jay Fisette.
“These updates reflect the reality of a quickly-changing tech world,” Fisette said at the time. “I said that we would lay the groundwork this year for Arlington to become a hub of the innovation economy. This update to our Tech Zones is a big step in the right direction.”
As of March 19, however, only eight businesses had applied and subsequently qualified for “Technology Zone” status for their 2014 taxes, according to Deputy Commissioner of Revenue Ann Bisson. She could not say which companies had qualified nor how much local tax revenue those companies represent.
“Because of the nature of the tech business currently having so few companies applying, I am not allowed by law to give you that information in this case,” Bisson said. “Virginia law prohibits us from giving out any kind of information where it could be determined what one company has in income.”
In order to qualify, a company has to prove that it meets the following requirements:
- Has been in business in Arlington for no more than 18 months, or has grown in full-time employment by at least 25 percent within the past 12 months.
- Is located in a commercial building in Arlington.
- “Has a primary function in the creation, design, and/or research and development of technology hardware or software.”
It’s unclear how many of the current crop of up-and-coming media- and service-oriented tech companies — Uber, Snapchat, Airbnb, Pinterest, Spotify, etc. — would qualify under of that definition.
“The use of computers, telecommunications services, or a web page or internet site shall not, in itself, be sufficient to qualify as a qualified technology business,” according to county code.
For those that do qualify, the savings are significant: the Business, Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) tax rate is reduced from $0.36 for every $100 of a business’ gross receipts, to between $0.18 and $0.10, depending on the size of the company.
“Arlington Economic Development (AED) estimates that the updated incentives would amount to a five-year benefit from about $39,000 for a 20-employee company to $155,000 for an 80-employee company – an average savings of $2.25 per square foot, if applied to annual rent for companies that qualify,” according to the 2014 press release.
ARLnow.com reached out to a number of the Arlington-based tech firms we have profiled for our Startup Monday feature. Of those that responded, most said they would likely qualify for the incentive, but none had heard of it before we reached out.
“Without you pointing it out, I’m not sure we would have figured it out,” said the founder of a Clarendon-based startup, who declined to be identified. “We use an out-of-state accountant and this is a pretty hyper-local set of incentives. We certainly would sign up, now that we know it exists.”
Raymond Rahbar, founder and CEO of UberOffices, which houses at least a dozen local tech startups at its Rosslyn coworking space, said no one has reached out to him or his company about informing its members of the incentive.
Rami Essaid, the founder and CEO of Distil Networks in Ballston, also said he had not been contacted. However, he said incentive program is small potatoes for startups that hope to scale into billion-dollar businesses.
“When you are in hyper growth, you care more about big picture things like being able to continue to scale and not optimizing little things like taxes,” Essaid told ARLnow.com. “That said, Arlington I feel like has done many of the right things to foster an environment for scale. That means having the right talent pool, good community events, etc. The extra tax perks are nice bonuses but they don’t influence our reason for being in Arlington.”
Ironically, despite being an incentive for tech companies, little information about the program can be found on Arlington County’s own website.
There’s a blurb buried deep on AED’s website, but no information about how to apply for it. “Contact Arlington Economic Development for specific details,” the page said.
We couldn’t find anything on Arlington’s Taxes & Payments site. A PDF document on the site, listing business tax rates, does not list the Technology Zone rate. Neither did the paper tax bill mailed by the Commissioner of Revenue’s office. When we asked about it last month, we were referred to the Tech Zone’s section of county code itself.
The program, which has the goal of giving each 2nd-12th grade student a tablet or laptop for school use by 2017, was rolled out last year with little fanfare. There were no APS press releases or public announcements, and ARLnow.com only found out about some of the details thanks to tips from parents who were seeking more information on the schools system’s plans.
While some criticized the lack of transparency and the idea of school-issued computers for students, there is little denying that the move comes at a time when the younger generation is increasingly “digital native” — 72 percent of children age 8 and under, and 38 percent of children under 2, have used a mobile device for a media-related activity, according to one study cited by APS.
Today’s students are accustomed to reading, watching, writing, discovering and communicating on phones, tablets and computers. To supporters, it seems natural to transition from the age of pencils, paper and textbooks in schools to one increasingly reliant on computing devices. Additionally, supporters say providing each student with a device, much like schools currently provide textbooks, will ensure that children from disadvantaged backgrounds don’t get left behind.
APS has now set up a Digital Learning web page and recently started producing a “#digitalAPS” video series, in part to make its case for technology in the classrooms. This week, ARLnow.com asked APS about where the digital learning initiative stands now and what future plans are for adding more laptops and tablets.
Arlington Public Schools is currently leasing 3,800 Apple iPad Airs for one grade level per elementary school (mostly 2nd-4th grade) and for middle schools (mostly 6th grade), according to school spokeswoman Jennifer Harris. Another 1,700 Apple MacBook Airs were leased for 9th graders. The annual leasing cost: approximately $400,000, or less than $73 per device, which comes out of APS’ $2.1 million technology replacement fund.
(APS expects to have about 20,000 2nd-12th grade students enrolled this fall.)
Individual schools are able to decide whether to allow students to take the devices home or leave them in school, according to Harris. As for what sort of instruction is taking place with the devices, Harris said that there are a “wide variety of examples where technology supports instruction,” and referred us to the three videos in the #digitalAPS series.
“We are using technology purposefully, not just for the sake of using technology,” Harris said. “Our focus is integrating it as an important strategy to support the teaching and learning process.”
More laptops and tablets — iPads for elementary and middle school, MacBooks for high school — are expected to be rolled out on an annual basis until all levels from 2nd to 12th grade have their own device. APS has previously set the goal of each eligible student having a device by 2017.
Harris did not specifically address a question about whether someday students will be reading digital-only textbooks from their devices, saving the school system money on physical books. She did, however, quote the following passage from this APS document.
The words of John Dewey best frame our challenge: “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” Arlington Public Schools is committed to providing all of our students with the learning benefits of a personalized education that will lead them to successful and accomplished tomorrows.
When trying to view the cameras on the website Trafficland.com, which the county’s own website links to, residents hoping to monitor traffic conditions on Wilson Blvd, Glebe Road and Columbia Pike are faced with a blue screen that reads “this image is temporarily unavailable.”
The feeds have been down, off and on, for months. In addition to residents trying to plan their commute, the cameras are also often used by members of the media for traffic reports and for reporting on crashes and road conditions during storms.
Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services says 90 percent of the county’s cameras are operational, and all the viewing issues lie with TrafficLand.
“Many cameras on TrafficLand can be down at any given time, and this is due to connectivity issues between functioning cameras and their website feed,” Baxter wrote in an email. “The county provides TrafficLand access to our video feeds. The connection between our feed and their server is up to them to maintain.”
There is no alternative place for the public to view these cameras, DES spokeswoman Jessica Baxter told ARLnow.com. A random sampling of other jurisdictions’ cameras revealed that most VDOT, D.C. and Montgomery County traffic cameras were working on Trafficland.
While the county maintains that the public’s inability to view the feeds is TrafficLand’s fault, it is currently undergoing a technological overhaul of the system. Starting next month, DES will begin to replace the copper wiring in its communication system with a fiber optic system as part of its ConnectArlington project, Baxter said. The project is expected to be completed in spring 2016.
“The new technology is expected to improve the connectivity and reliability of the County’s CCTV camera system,” she said. “It’s anticipated that the fiber upgrade will resolve the cameras that are down and improve reliability.”
Baxter could not say whether the fiber replacement would improve access to cameras via TrafficLand.
So far, TrafficLand has not responded to a request for comment.
Screenshot via TrafficLand
Kids Have iPads, But Teachers Don’t Have Training — Updated at 1:50 p.m. — Some fourth and sixth graders received iPad Air tablets (and ninth graders received MacBook Air laptops) from Arlington Public Schools this year, but many teachers have reportedly still not received formal training on how to use them, according to the Washington Post. (ARLnow.com hears that some students from other grades also received iPads.) While certain parents view the devices as “another screen,” others say the devices, if properly implemented in classrooms, can be used to educate students in an interactive way that they’re especially receptive to. [Washington Post]
Concrete Falling from I-66 Overpass — A local cycling advocate says chunks of concrete have been falling from the I-66 overpass over Lee Highway. [Windy Run]
Superintendent Makes Boundary Refinement Recs — Arlington Public Schools staff presented the superintendent’s recommendations for North Arlington elementary school boundary refinements to the School Board Thursday night. The changes would impact a relatively small number of students. A public hearing on the refinements is set for Jan. 15. [InsideNova]
Aquatics Center Still on Back Burner — Arlington County was hoping that D.C. might win the 2024 Summer Olympics bid so that it could build the stalled Long Bridge Park Aquatics and Fitness Center with Olympic funds. With hopes of that dashed, the county is now focusing on finding a way to build the aquatics center without using more than the $79.5 million allocated. The county may also start building the next planned phase of Long Bridge Park without the center. [Washington Post]
Disruption Corporation in Crystal City (2231 Crystal Drive, 10th floor) is hosting the annual Tech Cocktail holiday party and all-star award ceremony tomorrow night.
The party will start at 6:00 p.m., end at 8:30 and costs $25 to attend ($35.99 if the guest wants a copy of Startup Mixology by Tech Cocktail’s Frank Gruber). All guests are encouraged to bring canned goods to donate to the Arlington Food Assistance Center.
Hundreds from the D.C. startup scene are expected to be in attendance, and awaiting the announcement of the annual awards. Winners will be named in the following categories:
- Best Design (Product)
- Best Bootstrapped
- Most Innovative Product
- Most Disruptive
- Biggest Pivot
- Best Company Culture
- Most Active in Local Community
- Most Likely to Get Acquired
- Best Social Good Startup
- Best Big Company with Startup Culture
- Most Charismatic or Best Founder(s)/Leader(s)
- Best Community Leader
There will also be a mixology demonstration and cocktails — naturally — for the occasion. After the event concludes, the remaining guests will migrate just one floor up for a happy hour at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
Photo via Teck Cocktail
ModevCon, a conference for people interested in designing software for mobile platforms, is coming to Arlington next week.
Starting at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 11, Artisphere (1101 Wilson Blvd) will host hundreds of developers attending dozens of lectures, workshops and sponsors over a two-day event. The conference is described as “the East Coast’s premier mobile development event.”
The schedule also includes networking events and sessions on developing for iOS and Android, design, cross-platform technology and marketing. Panels include topics like “Women in Mobile Development” and monetizing apps.
The event is still open for registration. For two full days the conference costs $595 — it’s $395 for Thursday only and $295 for Friday only. Registration is still open here.
Arlington County’s economic development office, which runs Artisphere, is listed as a platinum-level sponsor of the event.
Board to Consider ‘Technology Zone’ Expansion — The Arlington County Board on Tuesday approved a motion to advertise changes to its program of giving tax breaks to small technology firms. Possible changes include expanding the “technology zones” in which businesses are eligible for the program to instead cover the entire county. The Board will vote on the changes in December. [Arlington County]
Werth Gnome Made of Cans at DCA — A huge Jayson Werth garden gnome sculpture made of cans is one such can creation on display at Reagan National Airport. Made for the annual “Canstruction” competition, which runs through Nov. 22, the sculptures will benefit the Arlington Food Assistance Center. [DCist]
Students Place First in Video Contest — Six Arlington Public Schools students have placed first in a state-wide video contest. They created a 30-second video for the annual Virginia School Boards Association competition. [Arlington Public Schools]
Shooting Suspect Arrested in Arlington — One of the two suspects in the shooting of two teenagers in Woodbridge was arrested Tuesday by Arlington County Police, following a traffic stop on N. George Mason Drive. [WNEW]
Columnist: Streetcar’s Death Will Widen Class Divisions — Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney opines that the decision to kill the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar system will “probably deepen” class and racial divisions in Arlington. “In effect, Arlington just told its least prosperous residents: ‘You want streetcars to upgrade your neighborhoods? Too expensive. Keep riding the bus.’” McCartney writes. [Washington Post]
New Incubator to Launch in Crystal City — Eastern Foundry, a new incubator serving small businesses that contract with the federal government, is launching next month in Crystal City. Eastern Foundry joins two other recent startup-oriented additions to Crystal City: TechShop and the Crystal Tech Fund. [Washington Business Journal]
Rosslyn Planning Meeting — The county will share “preliminary Concept Plan Alternatives” as part of its Western Rosslyn Area Planning Study at a public workshop on Saturday. The study is, among other things, considering redevelopment possibilities for the Wilson School and Fire Station No. 10 property on Wilson Blvd. [Arlington County]
Glen Campbell Movie Screening in Ballston – A special screening of the Glen Campbell documentary I’ll Be Me will be held at the Regal Cinema in Ballston (671 N. Glebe Road) on Saturday. The documentary explores the music legend’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease. [Volunteers of America]
Tips for Car-Free Living in Arlington — Arlington’s transportation blog has seven tips for living car-free in Arlington. Tips include shopping at local stores, downloading the right transportation-related smartphone apps and borrowing a car when you need one. [Arlington County]
Photo courtesy Andrew Clegg
Warm weather may be winding down but Arlington’s innovation economy is heating up.
Tandem NSI, which connects technology entrepreneurs and national security agencies, is hosting an “Throwback Thursday” event on Oct. 2, promising that “summer’s not over until we say it is.”
Classic rock band Two Car Living Room will perform at the free event, which is being held at Artisphere from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. Also on offer: beers and the exhibit Think With Your Hands, a collaboration between artists and software developers.
Register for the event here.
“Last week, my kids were playing at the new rope park (at Rocky Run Park on N. Barton Street), I noticed a loose bolt on the climbing rope, took a photo, submitted through the [mobile] app and it was fixed within 48 hours,” Clarendon resident Izzy Tepekoylu told ARLnow.com in an email. “Wow! This is how a local government should work! Very impressed. I don’t think I ever thought I’d say this, but this made me feel good about my local taxes.”
The app is available on iPhone and Android devices. It allows users to see pending service requests in their area, check on the requests’ status, and submit their own. Users can also look up what items are recyclable in the county and what aren’t, and view county and Arlington County Police Department press releases.
“I had submitted a bunch of potholes through the app before and all were fixed, everyone should use it, it’s great,” Tepekoylu wrote. “We always write about complaints and what is broken etc., I thought we should also write about the good stuff as well.”
The app doesn’t have any reviews on iTunes, but it has three five-star reviews and two one-star reviews on the Google Play store. The app was updated in July, with a new user interface and a “streamlined request submission workflow.”
The free app has 1,588 downloads from iTunes since it launched in February, according to county spokeswoman Jennifer Smith, and 514 on Android. Of all electronically submitted requests for service, about 25 percent come from the apps, Smith said, and 75 percent come from the “Report a Problem” web page.
In August, there were 151 submissions for service on the from the mobile app, which, along with the web page, was developed by New York City-based tech company Public Stuff.