(Updated at 4:15 p.m) Arlington Public Schools students headed back to school today and the positive energy, according to Superintendent Francisco Durán, was palpable.
“It was so wonderful,” he told ARLnow on a phone call this afternoon, debriefing from his morning spent visiting the half-dozen schools with new principals, including Gunston Middle School. “People are excited to be back.”
Going into this year, Durán says APS has its work cut out for it.
The system spent two years focused on improving literacy among kindergarten through second-graders, and is starting to see more students who are proficient the basics of reading. Now, the system is developing an all-hands-on-deck approach to another area of concern: middle and high school students who cannot read or write on grade level, either.
“We haven’t done a systemwide approach to secondary literacy,” he said. “How do we shift and go intensely, and in a strategic way, to supporting… those who are really struggling?”
Already, APS has identified struggling readers who he says could benefit from a new reading curriculum and the extra attention. The school system also is looking into ways to assess and identify struggling students better. Families can expect more information coming online about this shift in the coming months.
Likewise, the school system says a big challenge ahead will be tackling mental health. Last year saw the death of a 14-year-old due to an overdose as well as a rash of reported deaths connected to worsening mental health.
Middle and high schools have new intervention counselors and APS is working with Arlington County Dept. of Human Services to bring therapists to the schools. Three middle schools and all high schools have new deans focused on providing supports to students and getting their families involved.
“When we see students who are experiencing behavioral challenges — being suspended or being sent out of class or experimenting with substance abuse — we have to take an approach that’s not just punitive,” he said.
Part of that work, for Washington-Liberty High School Principal Tony Hall, is holding students to the school’s policy to keep phones “away for the day.” This week on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, he outlined the academic and social reasons for keeping phones off.
This affects student mastery of concepts as a whole. Additionally, I have observed that some cell phone and personal device usage while in class has resulted in instances of bullying or other negative behaviors. 2/8
— Tony Hall (@Principal_WLHS) August 25, 2023
A learning environment where cell phones and personal devices are away and out of sight during/while in class helps to do just that. 8/8
— Tony Hall (@Principal_WLHS) August 25, 2023
Meanwhile, Durán says APS is also trying to increase family and community engagement by streamlining communications from schools and finding more ways to get people to volunteer in a building.
This fall, the school system adopted a new platform that Durán says improves on what used to be a frustrating suite of tools parents used to talk to teachers and administrators. It also allows for immediate translation so teachers and families can send messages despite language barriers.
One bright spot for the superintendent is that APS is starting the year with only about 28 vacancies among 3,087 full time instructional staff positions. Getting to 99% filled was an uphill battle this summer, but APS boasts a 98% retention rate from last year. Of the new hires, a majority come from other school systems.
“I was impressed and excited to hear that almost everyone talked about the tone and tenor regarding how we’re supporting public educators,” he said.
There are several more vacancies across the system, including among part-time instructional staff who support students with disabilities or students learning English, however.
Going forward, Durán says, the challenge will be making sure teachers feel supported and like active participants in the decisions the system makes.
“We don’t always get the perspective,” he admitted.
For the part of Arlington’s teacher union, President June Prakash says she’s “certainly optimistic” going into the new year.
“We’re working on our collective bargaining proposals and trying to take care of staff the best we can,” she said. “It’s another start to the school year, it’s a time to reset, hopefully we can learn some lessons from last year.”
Good Tuesday evening, Arlington. Let’s take a look back at today’s stories and a look forward to tomorrow’s event calendar. 🕗 News recap The following articles were published earlier today…
In a bid to improve accountability, the Arlington County Fire Department is looking to put its mission and priorities in writing with its first-ever strategic plan. The plan is designed…
Under the direction of Music Director James Ross, Alexandria Symphony Orchestra presents a holiday program “Holiday With A Twist.” Enjoy this celebration of the season with traditional fare mixed with…
The Ballston “singing tree” is set to return for the holiday season. Starting next week, the sparkling, voice-activated Christmas tree near the Ballston Metro station will brighten the neighborhood with…
Children’s Weekday Program (CWP) is a non-profit preschool rooted in a play-based philosophy. We focus on developing a love of learning and exploration, cooperation, empathy, and independence.
Our caring and experienced educators create opportunities for children 16 months to 5 years old to play, learn, and grow in a nurturing environment of child-centered and developmentally appropriate experiences.
Initially established more than 50 years ago in South Arlington, CWP continues to be a lauded program in the Northern Virginia area. We are extremely proud to have been recognized as a Best Preschool in Northern Virginia Magazine for the last 4 years.
Located now in North Arlington at 2666 Military Road, CWP offers a part-time parents day out and preschool program with options to extend care both before and after school. We offer a supportive and inclusive school community for children and parents alike and welcome all families to join our school!
The Optimist Club of Arlington is holding its 77th annual Christmas tree sale!
This year, the tree sale will be held at the Knights of Columbus (5115 Little Falls Road). The lot opens for sales on November 24th. The Optimist Club is selling small and large trees ranging from tabletop size to 10 foot tall trees! Wreaths, garland, tree stands, and White House Christmas ornaments will also be for sale.
100% of all proceeds go towards helping Arlington County youth.
For more information, please visit the Arlington Optimists website at https://optimistclubofarlingtonva.org/.
Holiday Art Show featuring artists: Peter Fitzgerald, Claire Plante, Alanna Rivera, and Suzy Scollon. At the Barcroft Community House, 800 South Buchanan St., Arlington, VA. Dec. 8 from, 2 PM to 8 PM and Dec. 9 from 10 AM to
2023 Christmas Tree Sales Begin
Saturday, December 2
Get your holiday decorating off to the right start this year! We will be selling 150 Fraser firs, freshly cut and delivered from Sparta, North Carolina.