36°Snow

UPDATE: Arlington Public Schools Closed Tuesday

Update at 10 p.m. — Arlington Public Schools will be closed Tuesday.

“Because we anticipate hazardous driving and walking conditions on some neighborhood sidewalks and bus stops throughout the County due to freezing tonight, all APS Schools will be closed,” the school system said. School offices will open at 10 a.m.

Arlington County government is currently planning to open on time. The federal government is opening on a two hour delay.

Earlier: Arlington Public Schools will likely open on a two-hour delay tomorrow (Tuesday), as forecasters warn of a re-freeze of melting snow on county roads.

The school system announced that it will open schools and offices two hours late “based on the current forecast and conditions for tomorrow morning,” but officials plan to release a final update at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning.

That means any “essential personnel” and food service workers should still report to work on time. However, APS says it will watch for “deteriorating weather and road conditions” overnight and early tomorrow.

County workers are already warning of below-freezing temperatures making roads a bit icy overnight, and forecasters fully expect that to cause more problems tomorrow. County offices, courts, and facilities are set to open as normal tomorrow, however.

Arlington officials also plan to shift trash collection dates back by one day for the rest of the week, as snow removal continues.

Flickr pool photo by Jenn Vogel

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UPDATED: School Board Picks ‘Washington-Liberty’ as New Name for Washington-Lee High School

(Updated at 10:15 a.m.) Washington-Lee High School will soon be known as “Washington-Liberty High School” instead, now that officials have finally wrapped up the contentious process of stripping Robert E. Lee’s name from the building.

The Arlington School Board voted unanimously on the new moniker for W-L during a lengthy meeting last night (Thursday), about seven months after deciding to rename the school. Washington-Lee has borne the name of the Confederate general ever since it opened back in 1925, but the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville in 2017 convinced school leaders to reevaluate W-L’s name.

“There are those that worry that by changing the name of our high school, we will lose our history,” said School Board member Monique O’Grady. “Rest assured, the history of Robert E. Lee will not be forgotten in Arlington Public Schools. It will continue to be part of our curriculum, and thus a topic for students to explore, debate, learn and, yes, even be tested on. As for General Lee, amid the smoldering scars of the Civil War, he urged us to move forward and refrain from erecting symbols that might cause division. With our vote today, we do just that.”

A committee convened to suggest new names for the school recommended “Washington-Loving” as its first choice for the Board, in reference to Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple who successfully challenged the state’s ban on interracial marriage before the Supreme Court.

But a narrow, 3-2 majority on the Board rejected that name in favor of the “Liberty” option, arguing that the moniker was better suited as to match the school system’s aspirations toward equality. O’Grady and Board member Nancy Van Doren cast the dissenting votes.

“I hope we can name something for Richard and Mildred Loving going forward,” said Board member Barbara Kanninen, who chaired the Board when the renaming effort first launched in earnest last year. “But the concept of liberty is woven throughout our history, and I find that there’s a clear, logical and organic story and narrative that we can build from that name… I don’t think there’s a point in our American history where liberty was not central to the discussions of our time.”

The new names mirrors the Fairfax County’s School Board to rename a high school bearing another Confederate general’s name “Justice,” opting for an abstract concept over drawing a name from history. Loving supporters like Van Doren believe the name could’ve represented “the progress America has made since the Revolution,” but found “Liberty” to be a fine second choice, considering that the renaming committee recommended it as an alternative option.

Some on the renaming committee also proposed substituting in William Lee, George Washington’s enslaved manservant, to leave the name mostly unchanged. That option was even backed by some prominent W-L alumni and former teachers at the school, who made a late push to see it considered instead.

But O’Grady argued that naming the school after a former slave could send the wrong message and run “counter to our [Arlington Public Schools] values.”

“He suffered from a life fraught from opportunity gaps,” O’Grady said. “We will never know the legacy William Lee would’ve left if not for the institutional bias that existed at that time — exactly what we hope doesn’t happen in our school system.”

Of course, support for the name change was far from unanimous. Many of the school’s older alumni fiercely opposed the name change, and have spent the last few months working to block the move — some even backed a legal challenge by three current W-L students, but a judge struck that lawsuit down on procedural grounds in December.

Tempers also flared on the renaming committee itself, with three members ultimately resigning in protest and claiming they were inappropriately barred from debating the possibility of leaving the name the same. And through the entire process, alumni have claimed that the Board misled the community about how they planned to conduct the change.

“You should all be ashamed of yourselves,” said Dean Fleming, vice president of the W-L Alumni Association and a vehement name change opponent. “There’s a much better way to do this.”

But the Board has long vigorously defended its methods, and Kanninen took time to once again stress that members followed “a proper procedure and process.”

School officials hope to have the name change fully in place by the time the 2019-2020 school year kicks off, and W-L staffers say they’ve already been hard at work identifying which signage and uniforms will need to change now that the new name is ready.

But with the final vote finally cast, the school system will now embark on the task of smoothing over hurt feelings and preparing the community for the switch. Board Chair Reid Goldstein assured all in attendance that the switch is “not going to change your diploma, it’s not going to change your education, it’s not going to change you as good citizens or representatives of Arlington Public Schools and the high school you went to,” but many feel the process of reconciliation will be a tricky one.

“You should make use of this opportunity to educate W-L students, parents and alumni,” Thornton Thomas, a freshman at W-L who served on the renaming committee, told the Board. “And if you do that, you might find people are much more accepting of the decision that you make.”

Board members are well aware of the challenges they’ll face on that front, and they’re hoping that even name change opponents can pitch in to start doing a little healing.

“There has been a great deal of emotion on all sides around this renaming,” Van Doren said. “It’s time to come together and remember this is still a great community, a great school with great students and great alumni… Let’s come together now and move forward together.”

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Plans for Education Center’s Transformation into Classroom Space Begin to Take Shape

Plans to transform the old Arlington Education Center into a new wing of Washington-Lee High School are taking shape, with early designs calling for 24,600 square feet of classrooms in the renovated building.

Arlington school officials hope to someday add space for 600 high school students on the site, the former home of the Arlington Public Schools offices at 1426 N. Quincy Street. But first the School Board needs to sign off on a full renovation of the building, in order to welcome students in time for the 2021-2022 school year.

The Board is set to approve “educational specifications” for the facility at its meeting Thursday (Jan. 10), which sketch out the general requirements for the building’s new design. While the exact details still need to be worked out, these new plans will guide the final design work for the space.

In all, the current draft of the specifications mandates that the building will be home to 16 traditional classrooms, three classrooms designed for science classes, a standalone science lab and two rooms designated for physical education classes.

The Education Center should have the capacity for anywhere from 581 to 594 students under these plans, a key addition in high school classroom space as officials wrestle with the best way to tackle the county’s swelling enrollment numbers. The school system is also set to add room for another 1,050 high schoolers at the Arlington Career Center, as leaders have debated the efficacy of building a fourth comprehensive high school in the county.

Another 3,800 square feet in the Education Center will be set aside for office space, with a 4,000-square-foot common space and 400-square-foot “digital library” also included in the plans.

The rest of the $37 million renovation effort remains a bit up in the air.

A key question officials will need to resolve in the coming weeks is how best to free up parking on the site — according to documents prepared for the county’s Public Facilities Review Committee, planners are currently recommending that the school system reopen an existing lot on the site and allow room for 70 new parking spaces, but they’re also weighing the best strategies to open up bike access to the campus and move attendees out of their cars.

Arlington Public Schools leaders are also still trying to sort out how to connect the Education Center to the rest of W-L’s existing facilities.

The school system’s initial plans called for a new entrance to the Education Center that would help connect with a new set of stairs and ramp, which would make it easier for students to reach an access road known as “Generals’ Way.”

But planners have also begun considering the prospect of building a bridge to connect the Education Center to the northern half of W-L’s main building, documents show. However, officials have yet to settle on exact specifications for the bridge, or decide on where it would meet W-L.

So long as the School Board gives the green light to these “educational specifications” Thursday, officials plan to spend the next month finalizing the project’s budget and final designs. The Board is then set to sign off on those plans in February, and construction would start by 2020.

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School Board Mulls New Names for Washington-Lee High School, As Final Vote Draws Near

Though the process of renaming Washington-Lee High School has been marked by controversy and acrimony at every turn, the vast majority of those involved in the effort to find a new name for the building are reassuring school leaders that they’re ready to see some action on the issue.

The School Board is gearing up for a vote on a new name for the school next month, putting an end to a process that kicked off in earnest in September 2017. But between a lawsuit challenging the decision to strip Robert E. Lee’s name from the building, and accusations of misconduct surrounding a committee convened to come up with name suggestions, the Board’s faced its fair share of headaches leading up to that momentous meeting.

At the Board’s meeting last night (Thursday), however, members of the renaming committee sought to convince officials that their work to find a new moniker for Washington-Lee was thorough, thoughtful and fair.

While roughly a dozen people still spoke in opposition to the name change, most participants in the renaming process told the Board that they’d done their due diligence in proposing new name options and are ready to see a final decision.

“I’ve been part of bringing together stakeholders in Congress, the EPA, all sorts of places… and this was one of the best processes I’ve seen put together,” said Nikki Roy, who represented the Lyon Park Citizens Association on the naming committee.

The committee’s final recommendation was that the Board name the school “Washington-Loving High School” to commemorate Richard and Mildred Loving, the Virginia couple who successfully challenged the state’s ban on interracial marriage before the Supreme Court. A close second choice was the more generic “Washington-Liberty High School,” which committee members also presented supporting materials for Thursday.

Board members generally didn’t tip their hands on which option they might end up favoring in the end, instead using the meeting as a chance to better understand how the committee conducted its deliberations.

Committee members were certainly quick to acknowledge that the process got heated at times — three representatives ended up resigning from the committee by the time its work was completed, largely over complaints that they were pushed by Arlington Public Schools officials to ignore community feedback urging them not to change the name.

“Instead of honoring these opinions, we were told to dismiss them,” said Julia Crull, a representative of W-L alumni on the committee who eventually resigned from the group. “It should send a message to you when three people out of 21 members resigned for the same reason; we could no longer represent those we were chosen to represent.”

Yet Allan Gajadhar, a representative of the Cherrydale Citizens Association on the committee, stressed that the group did give weight to those views. However, he reiterated that the committee kept coming back to the fact that the Board had already decided to change the name, and it wasn’t within the group’s purview to overturn that decision.

John Holt, a senior at W-L serving on the committee, added that his surveys of current students found that “very few” cared about keeping Lee’s name on the building. While older alumni have largely led the charge to preserve the Confederate general’s name on the school, Holt said maintaining the school’s acronym was more important to most of his peers.

“Almost everyone wanted to keep W-L, but not many wanted Washington-Lee,” Holt said.

Thornton Thomas, a W-L freshman on the committee, also said that some of his classmates remained a bit confused about the “rationale” of changing the name in the first place. Though the Board’s discussions of the name change, kicked off in the wake of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville last August, have attracted plenty of publicity, Thomas urged the Board to do a bit more outreach to students themselves about the process.

However, all involved seemed quite satisfied with the committee’s eventual recommendations.

Board member Barbara Kanninen questioned why the committee opted against advancing the recommendation for “Washington-Lincoln,” even though the option did become one of the group’s top five suggestions. In particular, she suggested that there was a “bit of incongruity” in matching Washington with either a pair of more contemporary figures or an abstract concept like “Liberty.”

But committee members argued that the Lovings proved to be an attractive option particularly because they weren’t as “heroic” as someone like George Washington.

“It was that humility, that lack of heroic statue that lends the gravity and weight to what they did and achieved,” Gajadhar said. “These were people just trying to live their own lives and be happy, yet they had a significant impact on us. It wasn’t necessarily symmetrical, but I consider it quite balanced.”

Some Board members expressed some consternation that embracing the “Loving” name might make it a bit difficult for the school to maintain its current mascot: the Generals.

But W-L Principal Gregg Robertson assured the Board that staff and students were already brainstorming ways they might change the school’s mascot, or even colors (currently blue and gray). Because the committee was anxious to see the “W-L” acronym remain, Robertson added that he was optimistic that any name change wouldn’t prove to be too disruptive otherwise, allowing the school to leave many signs and murals untouched.

Nevertheless, the proposed new names certainly won’t make everyone happy. Many W-L alums remain frustrated with how the Board managed the renaming process, and pledged to keep working to block the change ahead of the Board’s Jan. 10 vote on the matter.

“You violated my trust as a parent, and as a voter who helped put you on the board to represent me,” Toni DeLancey told the Board. “Simply stop this illegitimate process. Let’s start over and listen to the community.”

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School Board Names New Middle School for Dorothy Hamm, Ditches Any Reference to Stratford School

(Updated at 11:15 a.m.) Arlington’s School Board will name a new Cherrydale middle school after civil rights activist Dorothy Hamm, opting against including any reference to the historic Stratford School on the new building’s site.

Following the Board’s unanimous vote yesterday (Thursday), the school will open next year as “Dorothy Hamm Middle School.” It’s set to be located at 4100 Vacation Lane, the former home of the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs, and should hold about 1,000 students.

Though the process of naming the building hasn’t drawn quite as much controversy as the renaming of Washington-Lee High School, the debate has nonetheless raised familiar questions about how the county grapples with its history. The “Stratford” name presented a particularly thorny option for the Board to consider, as it has a bit of a complex legacy.

Many people around the community hoped to see the Stratford name stay attached to the new school, considering its significance in the civil rights movement in Virginia. The original Stratford Junior High School (which remains on the site) was the first school in the state to admit black students following the momentous Brown v. Board of Education decision, marking the beginning of the end of Virginia’s policy of “massive resistance” to desegregation.

Yet the original school was named after Stratford Hall, the childhood plantation home of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, making some uncomfortable with the name’s connection to Lee’s legacy of defending slavery. After all, the Board voted just a few months ago to strip Lee’s name from W-L over similar concerns.

Accordingly, Hamm emerged as an alternative choice, given her role in fighting to integrate Stratford. Her children attended the school soon after its desegregation, and Hamm also supported a series of other court challenges to Jim Crow-era laws in Arlington.

“What I really love is that this was a story of the moms of Arlington, who heard from their children,” said School Board member Barbara Kanninen. “They wanted to know why they couldn’t attend this school. That’s why they stood up and fought. By naming this building after Dorothy Hamm, we’re honoring the fight, rather than the place. I think it’s going to be a terrific message that we’re sending to the students of that school, and I think that’s something to be excited about.”

But in ditching the Stratford name entirely, the Board cast aside the recommendation of an advisory committee convened to offer recommendations for the school’s moniker. The group suggested either naming the building simply “Stratford Middle School” or the lengthier “Dorothy Hamm Middle School at the Historic Stratford Building” to ensure a reference to the “Stratford” remained.

Board Vice Chair Tannia Talento proposed that the Board accept the latter option, but Kanninen made a motion to remove the “Historic Stratford Building” section of the name. That passed, but only on a narrow, 3-2 margin, with Talento and Board Chair Reid Golstein dissenting.

“I find it a bit incongruous that we all like the Dorothy Hamm name because we’re lauding the significant, dynamic and historic actions of Dorothy Hamm in the desegregation activity and, at the same time, setting aside the Stratford name, which is equally a part of the significant desegregation history here,” Goldstein said.

Dean Fleming, a friend of the Hamm family who has also been active in organizing opposition to the W-L name change, also told the Board that Hamm’s daughter, Carmela, is “not interested in having her mom’s name on school.” Dorothy Hamm herself passed away in 2004.

Instead, Fleming said her daughter suggested creating a “hall of honors” at Stratford to honor the family’s legacy, while preserving the original name of the building.

Yet Board member Nancy Van Doren argued that the school system has already sketched out an extensive plan for creating an “interpretative trail” and other memorials on the new school’s grounds to ensure that the full history of the Stratford building is available to students.

Though some historic preservation groups around the county have protested any removal of the Stratford name, Van Doren believes the new building will not lack for commemorations of its integration history.

“Those will all be up at the time the building opens,” Van Doren said. “And because it will all be physically there, on the site, I don’t think we need the ‘at the Historic Stratford School’ section of the name.”

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Arlington School Enrollment is Slowing Down Just in Time for Amazon’s Arrival, Officials Say

Arlington schools aren’t adding quite as many students as they used to, and that’s quite good news indeed for officials bracing for an influx of Amazon workers and their families.

Arlington Public School leaders are still worried about just how much the company and its 25,000 workers will strain local schools, of course. The school system is already trying to build new schools fast enough to match the enrollment surge Arlington saw over the last decade, and that’s before Amazon brings 25,000 employees to Crystal City and Pentagon City.

But Superintendent Patrick Murphy believes there’s light at the end of the tunnel for the school system, giving him hope that the tech giant’s arrival won’t be hugely disruptive for Arlington classrooms over the coming years.

“Based on what we’re seeing, we’re not going to continue at the pace of enrollment growth we’ve experienced here in the last 10 years,” Murphy said during an Amazon question-and-answer session livestreamed on Facebook yesterday (Wednesday). “I think this will work. But we are going to have to make some adjustments and pay attention to it.”

APS has added an average about 800 students per year over the last five years, school statistics show.

But the county’s school enrollment only increased by 578 students between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, and rose by 556 students between the 2017-18 school year and the current year. The school system’s 10-year projections also estimate that Arlington schools will add closer to 500 to 600 students per year over the next decade, with the number generally falling annually.

With Amazon on board, Murphy says that his staff’s early estimates suggest that the company will only add between 73 and 98 students to APS each year, considering that Amazon plans to only bring workers to the area over a period of 12 years. The company plans to move just a few hundred employees to its new headquarters next year, then add between 1,500 and 2,000 workers each year through 2030.

That means each county school may only see an additional two to three students join their classrooms annually, officials say, making the change a gradual one. Murphy expects that schools closest to the freshly dubbed “National Landing” area will feel the greatest impact, but he added there’s no “nice, neat and tidy” way to estimate the exact impacts this far out.

Murphy also reiterated the oft-cited statistic that only 15 to 20 percent of Amazon’s employees are likely to settle in Arlington, based on the county’s experience with other large companies in the past.

However, county officials hope that Amazon will bring along a string of associated businesses, and even help Arlington attract other tech firms on its own, so Jeff Bezos’ employees aren’t the only ones who will arrive in the county in the coming years.

But, once again, leaders stressed that the entire D.C. region, and its schools, will share the burden of absorbing the new arrivals.

“When you bring a company like this in, it ends up supporting other businesses… but they won’t all locate here,” said Victor Hoskins, head of Arlington Economic Development. “Some in alexandria, some in D.C., some in Fairfax County, some in Prince William. Some will be further out, some will be closer in.”

Murphy and Hoskins are both optimistic that Amazon will bring plenty of benefits to local schools as well. Not only do they envision the school system building stronger, tech education-centric partnerships with Arlington universities to meet Amazon’s demand for skilled workers, but they expect the increased tax revenue the company generates will redound to the benefit of county schools.

It will likely take a few budget cycles before Arlington officials start to see any sort of Amazon effect in the county’s coffers (making the next few years a bit unpleasant, in the meantime).

Yet as the company and its employees move in, Murphy hopes the added tax dollars not only funds the construction of more schools, but can also kickstart the expansion of Arlington’s pre-K offerings.

“A rising tide lifts all boats, and I really want that conversation to gain some momentum,” Murphy said.

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Judge Strikes Down Lawsuit Challenging Washington-Lee Name Change Vote

A judge has struck down a lawsuit challenging plans to rename Washington-Lee High School, though name-change opponents are holding out hope that they may yet convince a court to block the process.

Three current W-L students were hoping to reverse the School Board’s vote to strip Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s name from the building, arguing that the Board misled the public and failed to follow its own established procedures in making the decision back in June.

But Arlington County Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman ruled today (Wednesday) that the students didn’t have grounds to challenge the vote, and that the Board didn’t commit any errors egregious enough to warrant the legal action.

Though he stopped short of tossing the case out of court or barring the students from adjusting their claims, he also granted a motion by School Board attorneys to dismiss the case, throwing up a key legal roadblock for the suit.

“Even though I can see things could’ve been done differently here, I can also see that, under the statute, there’s nothing wrong here,” Newman said.

For W-L alumni upset with the name change, about a dozen of whom watched the proceedings Wednesday afternoon, the result isn’t necessarily unexpected, but is disappointing nonetheless. Many have spent the months since the renaming vote aggressively pleading their case, with some even backing an independent challenger to one of the Board members who supported the name change.

Dean Fleming, one W-L alum who’s helped marshal opposition to the name change, told ARLnow that the ruling won’t deter those efforts, as it merely gives opponents “another bite at the apple.” Jonathon Moseley, the attorney representing the students, was a bit more hesitant, however.

“We do have the ability to rewrite [the suit],” Moseley said after the proceedings. “But we will have to think about whether a rewrite will cure what the judge saw to be a problem.”

Chiefly, Newman agreed with many of the procedural arguments raised by the Board’s attorney, John Cafferky.

Moseley and the students claimed that the Board erred when it first voted to change its policy governing the names of all Arlington Public Schools, then decided to initiate a name change for Washington-Lee immediately afterward, citing Lee’s “principal legacy” as a soldier for the Confederacy and defender of slavery.

Yet Cafferky pointed out that the Board largely followed the process it laid out in September 2017 to govern the name change deliberations. Though the Board did circulate some other possible guidelines in January that would’ve called for another round of community engagement before a name-change vote, Cafferky noted that the Board never formally adopted that change, and stuck with its initially established procedures.

“Everyone knew darn well that renaming the school was a possibility,” Cafferky said. “It wasn’t a surprise, because by that point, there had been all kinds of engagement for the past nine to 10 months.”

Moseley argued that it would’ve made more sense for the Board to “go back to the community, talk to them, advertise and then have a vote” before changing W-L’s moniker. But Cafferky also charged that it was within the Board’s discretion to guide how the process was managed, noting that “renaming procedure is not a provision of law.”

“The school could hold an essay contest to change the name or take nominations from the floor during a meeting,” Cafferky said. “They have a great deal of flexibility here.”

Procedure aside, Moseley and the students claimed that the school’s name was “part of their community experience,” and changing it would force them to shell out cash to change the names of uniforms and clubs. Yet Cafferky argued that such negative impacts on the students were “speculative,” considering that Washington-Lee won’t actually receive a new name until the Board votes on the matter next month.

Similarly, he pointed out that the Board is considering “Washington-Loving” and “Washington-Liberty” as the new names for the school, which could avert the need for any cumbersome logo or uniform changes by maintaining the “W-L” acronym.

With Newman’s ruling, the Board’s renaming work is set to move ahead (though it has not been without additional controversy). The Board will review new name proposals for the first time tomorrow (Thursday), then is set to vote on the matter on Jan. 10.

Moseley said his clients may well file an amended suit before that vote, though the impending holidays could complicate scheduling.

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School Board Signs Off On New South Arlington School Boundaries, Ending Messy Debate Over Maps

Eight South Arlington elementary schools will soon see changes to their attendance boundaries, now that the School Board has signed off on a final map and put an end to a contentious, messy debate over boundaries that roiled several school communities over the last few months.

The Board voted unanimously last night (Thursday) to approve a boundary map drawn up by school officials just a few days ago, a move that could send as many as 413 elementary students to new schools starting next year.

Arlington Public Schools officials designed the boundary process to meet a series of different concerns. Not only is the school system facing rising enrollment numbers across all of its schools, but officials needed to account for the opening of Alice West Fleet Elementary School next year. The school system is also gearing up to convert Drew Model School into a “neighborhood” school, drawing its attendees primarily from the communities surrounding the Nauck building, and move its Montessori program to the building currently serving as Patrick Henry Elementary.

Accordingly, the process involved drawing new boundaries for both Drew and Fleet, while shifting some students primarily from Oakridge and Long Branch to those schools, as well as Hoffman-Boston.

But APS leaders and Board members have come under fire from virtually all sides as they’ve managed this complex series of moves.

Many parents at Henry felt betrayed by proposals that would send roughly a fifth of the community to Drew instead of Fleet, even though they felt school officials had long promised to avoid such a change. Others at Drew fretted that the boundary changes wouldn’t do enough to even out demographics at each South Arlington school, while Abingdon parents were alarmed by a prior proposal to move some students in Fairlington to Drew instead.

Even still, Board members expressed confidence that the map they’ve approved will best serve the needs of the entire school system, despite the acrimony that marred the process.

“It’s a solution we need to have happen at this point because of our rising enrollment,” said Board Chair Reid Goldstein. “This boundary change is not perfect. No boundary change is perfect.”

Yet plenty of parents arrived at Thursday’s meeting to decry the entire process, with many lamenting that the Board has managed to break their trust that future efforts will be managed competently.

“You’re failing Drew and Fleet,” parent Susan Hampton told the Board. “I don’t know why you’d willfully increase economic segregation… I’ve lost my faith in the process.”

Notably, even some Board members expressed regret that they couldn’t do enough to better spread out students eligible for free and reduced price lunch (a key indicator of their family’s economic means) across the eight schools. While the new map will reduce FRL rates at some schools, Barcroft, Drew and Randolph will all still have at least 50 percent of their student bodies eligible for free and reduced lunch.

“I certainly didn’t meet all the goals we laid out for this,” Goldstein said.

But Board member Monique O’Grady argued that the new map still took major steps toward addressing racial inequality in the county, primarily with how it will transform Drew’s future. She noted that the Nauck community has long hoped for a “single-focus neighborhood school,” though students there have been constantly bused away from the area, dating back to the days of the Jim Crow era.

While some parents at Henry proposed transforming Drew into a countywide “option” program as one way to avoid more boundary changes elsewhere, O’Grady stressed that converting Drew into a pure neighborhood school is the best way to meet the community’s needs.

“Now Drew will follow in the footsteps of Oakridge and Abingdon… which now enjoy huge support from the families they serve,” O’Grady said. “I believe Drew will enjoy similar success.”

Other parents were similarly pleased that the Board’s map will keep the entirety of the Fairlington community together at Abingdon, even though it will leave the school a bit overcrowded for now. The Board chose to leave some schools a bit under-capacity — including Fleet and Drew — to allow for growth over the years, and avoid more boundary changes. Then, it hopes to address any remaining issues in the 2020 boundary drawing process.

“[This map] acknowledges that our neighborhoods continue to fill with elementary-aged children who want to take advantage of our excellent schools, and gives our county and our kids room to grow,” said Claire Rosenberger, an Abingdon parent.

But many remain nervous that the 2020 changes will proceed similarly turbulently, and warned parents to be vigilant moving forward.

“Successful civic engagement does not require that everyone agree with end result, but it does require transparency and accountability,” said Joe Everling, a Henry parent who has been fiercely critical of the Board’s process. “To my utter amazement, that has not happened here… there is no oversight for this board, except for the citizen voter.”

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APS Fees For Lost, Damaged Devices Leave Some Parents Frustrated

Some parents are fuming over the school system’s decision to charge them for damage to school-issued laptops and tablets this year, arguing that officials shouldn’t pass along the costs of a mandatory program for students.

The School Board agreed to a policy change ahead of this school year, stipulating that parents could be charged if officials see any “intentional or negligent” damage to a student’s device. All county elementary and middle school students are currently issued iPads, while high schoolers receive MacBook laptops, as part of the “1:1 device” program the school system first kicked off in 2014.

Arlington Public Schools still takes responsibility for “routine maintenance or standard repairs” to school-owned devices, under the terms of its “acceptable use” policy. But the school system does reserve the right to charge parents hundreds of dollars for substantial repairs, or replace a lost device.

“People were concerned about the expense at first, but everyone told us: don’t worry, you’re not going to be liable for these,” Danielle Werchowsky, the parent of a sophomore at Yorktown High School, told ARLnow. “A lot of us didn’t ask for these pieces of equipment… but APS chose this path and they should have to figure out how to fix it and how to pay for it, not charge us.”

APS spokesman Frank Bellavia points out that the Board approved such a change back when it was still setting a new budget back in May, in order to “reduce the number of devices being damaged.” The issue has bubbled up now, however, largely thanks to an email from the Yorktown Parent Teacher Association sent out Monday (Dec. 3) laying out the exact cost of repairs.

Werchowsky says many parents were completely unaware of the size of these fees until that email went out (though they are posted on the APS website), and they felt a bit of sticker shock. A “complete replacement” of laptop could cost anywhere from $634 to $734, for instance, while an iPad would cost a family $279.

“I just got a bill for $100 for repairs to my son’s iPad,” Val Steenstra wrote in a Facebook post on the matter. “He pulled it out of his backpack and the screen was glitching. No discussion of fault. No questions about if he did something to damage it. Just a bill.”

“These kids have their laptops for four years, but there’s no depreciation taken into account here, you’re still paying $700,” Werchowsky added. “These aren’t like a home computer where it’s in one spot… And their frontal cortex aren’t necessarily fully developed, they lose things. My son would forget his coat if I didn’t remind him.”

Yet Bellavia notes that only 3 percent of all the school system’s devices are lost, stolen or damaged each year — and even then, “the most common occurrence” is a lost charger. For iPads, replacements for those cost $27: for MacBooks, it’s $53.

Bellavia adds that APS is “self-insured,” so the school system is only charging parents “the actual costs APS pays to have the repairs made.” Given the tight budgets the school system has been facing recently, officials are particularly eager to find ways to defray any costs they can.

“The self-insurance covers the costs to repair accidental damage and situations where the families are unable to pay the full cost of the repair,” Bellavia wrote in an email.

But Werchowsky and many of her fellow parents argue that any fee is too high, considering that they harbor serious concerns about using the devices in the first place, making the potential costs all the more frustrating. Some Arlington parents have managed to collect hundreds of signatures on a petition urging APS to to cut back on how often young students are exposed to the devices — the Board itself has even considered moving to a “2:1” or “4:1” device policy for elementary students, as a strategy to control costs and reduce screen time for younger kids.

“It’s not that I’m anti-computer, but I just don’t think a lot of it has been well thought out,” Werchowsky said. “You really can’t opt out, even if you have screen addiction concerns.”

Yet Bellavia notes that concerned parents do have some options, even if the devices will remain a key component of APS curricula moving forward.

“During the school day, teachers build lesson plans with the knowledge that every student will have their device to use as appropriate to support their learning,” Bellavia said. “Families which have concerns that the device might be damaged outside of school hours can request that the device be kept at school.”

File photo

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W-L Renaming Deliberations Inspire ‘Disgust’ From Some Participants, Pride Among Others

“Washington-Loving” might’ve earned a committee’s blessing as the ideal new name for Washington-Lee High School, but members of the group say the process of reaching that recommendation was anything but smooth sailing.

Two members of the W-L renaming committee even ended up resigning from its ranks, decrying the group’s work to find a new name for the school as a process that was tainted from the time deliberations started this September.

Other members of the committee argue that the group had some passionate disagreements at times, but generally reached a fair consensus on a name for W-L. Regardless of exactly where the truth lies, however, the dispute marks yet another complication in a process that’s been characterized by plenty of fierce debate ever since the School Board’s June vote to strip Robert E. Lee’s name from the building.

“I am departing with disgust about a morally bankrupt process that has been directed, not facilitated,” Patrice Kelly, a W-L parent, wrote in a letter resigning from the committee provided to ARLnow. “Between the chilling of discussions, the manipulative process, the disregarding of solicited public opinion and the pressure to conform to the unstated mandate, I have concluded that this process is a disingenuous attempt to appear that public input was sought.”

The chief concerns of Kelly and Bill Moser, a W-L alumnus who resigned from the committee once it finished its work last week, are that the committee failed to give any consideration of the prospect of keeping the name the same, or finding another historical figure with the name “Lee” as a substitute.

Both were also frustrated that one of their fellow committee members had ties to the school system, albeit indirectly, which they felt showed that the Board was unduly influencing the process. Dana Raphael, the daughter of former Board member Abby Raphael, represented recent W-L alumni on the committee.

“I won’t say that she orchestrated the process… but I do wonder about the whole thing,” Moser told ARLnow.

Raphael, for her part, feels that such assertions are ridiculous. She says she became interested in the battle over the W-L name when the Board was deliberating the issue this summer, particularly because she’s believed that the name should be changed ever since she was a freshman at W-L.

And as for her mother, Raphael says “she’s had no role in the facilities policy or the renaming,” particularly since she left the Board in 2015.

“Her commitment to public service inspired me when I was in high school to take an active role in my community, in politics and in current events,” Raphael wrote in an email. “I applied to join the renaming committee because I wanted to ensure the process considered the history of the school and the legacy of Jim Crow, as well as ensure we centered a conversation about civil rights.”

Raphael also argues that it wasn’t part of the group’s mission to consider the prospect of keeping the name, noting the group had “no authority to ‘overturn’ or ‘nullify’ the School Board’s decision to replace ‘Lee.'” She added that a neutral facilitator brought on by the school system to guide the process made such a point clear “at every single meeting.”

“It was out of our control,” said Chloe Slater, a junior at W-L representing current students on the committee. “The point was to choose a new name, because that’s what the School Board decided. Some people didn’t understand that aspect.”

Even still, Kelly and Moser were frustrated that the committee was directed to ignore comments submitted in public surveys about the process that pushed for the name to stay the same. Kelly even felt that the committee was dissuaded from any consideration of feedback asking the group to pick another “Lee” to honor.

But Linda Erdos, a School Board spokeswoman and a staff liaison to the committee, says the group decided on its own not to move forward with another “Lee” option.

The committee considered people like “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, Robert’s father and a Revolutionary War general, or William Lee, George Washington’s enslaved manservant. Yet Erdos said the group ultimately decided that picking another “Lee” would feel too much like “smoke and mirrors” after the Board’s decision. William Lee, in particular, ended up among the committee’s top choices, but did not advance in the group’s final round of voting.

“We thought, if we’re going to make a change, why not make it be a big one, why not make it be amazing?” Slater said.

Slater, the daughter an interracial couple herself, was quite pleased that the committee settled on a name to honor Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple who managed to successfully challenge Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage in court. It helped, too, that replacing “Lee” with “Loving” meets the desire of many students to keep the “W-L” moniker intact, Slater said.

Raphael said she was willing to consider other names beyond those that would’ve preserved the school’s W-L acronym — abolitionist Harriet Tubman was the lone finalist to be considered whose name didn’t begin with “L” — but she believes “Loving” is a fine choice to honor ‘those who fought for equality and equal citizenship.”

“I would be proud to tell people that I graduated from Washington-Loving High School,” Raphael said.

Moser takes a considerably dimmer view of the committee’s recommendation. He felt the group was too “racially fixated,” primarily submitting African American historical figures for consideration, even though the W-L student body has a large Hispanic population as well.

He also sees the “Loving” name as a “totally inappropriate and ridiculous” and viewed it as “a joke as far as I was concerned,” considering that he doesn’t think much of the Lovings and their fight to end the interracial marriage ban.

“The rationale for them was they wanted to be happy and they were willing to break the law to do so,” Moser said. “These were not people of high stature. They didn’t accomplish anything other than being in an interracial relationship.”

Moser’s skepticism regarding the Lovings aside, Erdos believes the committee’s deliberations were generally quite civil. Given the legal wrangling and political battles that have so far marked the renaming process, she says that was (generally) a pleasant surprise.

“I really was bracing for some difficult meetings,” Erdos said. “But, quite honestly, I was surprised it went as well as it did.”

The Board plans to discuss the name change for the first time on Dec. 20, and vote on Jan. 10.

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After Uncovering Key Data Error, APS Unveils New, Last-Minute School Boundary Proposal

Arlington school officials recently realized they made a critical error in calculating school enrollment rates as they prepared a final proposal for the redrawing of attendance boundaries in South Arlington, prompting the last-minute introduction of a new map to correct that snafu.

The School Board is gearing up for a final vote this week on boundary changes at eight elementary schools, which will conclude a lengthy, contentious process stretching over the better part of the last six months. Superintendent Patrick Murphy put forward what was meant to be a final proposal last month, but officials then tinkered with that map to better distribute students across the schools involved and reduce overcrowding.

The school system released the result of some of that work last week, with figures initially showing that the new Alice West Fleet Elementary School would open next fall at close to 100 percent of its planned capacity. The school’s opening helped prompt the boundary adjustment process in the first place, and the school system’s methods for determining which communities will head to Fleet have become particularly controversial in recent weeks.

However, staffers soon discovered they’d erred in counting the number of students set to head to the school. The proposal actually would’ve opened Fleet at about 82 percent of its capacity, far below the standard officials hoped to hit.

Accordingly, the Board convened a new work session for last night (Tuesday) to examine a revised map accounting for that mistake. That new proposal would leave Fleet closer to 90 percent capacity instead, largely by redirecting some students currently attending Long Branch Elementary School to Fleet. The Board will ultimately have a chance to vote to approve this newest map, or any of the other six proposals the school system has worked up thus far.

“We’re trying to be as clear as possible here, and we realize there are ongoing confusions about the data and about the process,” said School Board Chair Reid Goldstein. “Unfortunately, there’s not much time for Board members and the community to absorb all this.”

Lisa Stengle, the APS director of planning and evaluation, told the Board that the change won’t pull all that many students away from Long Branch, a process officials hoped to avoid given the last-minute nature of the change.

Instead, the school system discovered that a variety of students attending the Ft. Myer Cody Child Development Center at Joint Base Myer (some of whom are the children of active duty service members) currently attend Long Branch or even Patrick Henry Elementary after receiving a special waiver to do so. Those students would be sent to Fleet instead for the next two years, Stengle said.

“We just need to give Long Branch a little breathing room,” Stengle said. The school will open at about 101 percent of its capacity under the latest plan, down from its current 113 percent.

School officials were optimistic that the change will work out for the best, filling more of Fleet but still allowing for a little bit of wiggle room at the school moving forward. But, given the acrimony that the boundary process has generated everywhere from the Drew Model School to Abingdon Elementary to Henry, Murphy was also quick to acknowledge that this latest error came at an unfortunate time.

“I think we continue to get better at this,” Murphy said. “And I look forward to continuing to refine things in the future.”

Goldstein was similarly conciliatory, particularly after parents at Henry accused him and other school officials of delivering assurances that their community would move as one to Fleet this year. Drew’s Montessori program is set to move to Henry, forcing current students out of the building, and the school system’s latest plans call for about 20 percent of those students to go to schools other than Fleet.

Parents even dug up emails from years ago featuring Goldstein providing such promises, and he expressed plenty of regret for having done so.

“I wish I could go back and keep my mouth shut at the time when it would’ve been a good idea to do so, but I can’t,” Goldstein said. “I apologize for creating an impression two and half years ago that the future would have ironclad certainty… I’ll be much more circumspect about future events as we go forward.”

Board members also addressed a proposal from some Henry parents to convert Drew into a hybrid neighborhood-option school drawing in students from across the county to its STEAM program. Its backers hoped such a change would help keep the Henry community together and build a strong base of support for Drew, but many in Nauck resisted such an effort.

Board member Monique O’Grady pointed out that part of the intent of moving the Montessori program out of Drew was to “give Drew its neighborhood school back,” and she felt the STEAM proposal ran counter to that purpose.

Goldstein praised the proposal, noting that “some parts of it are very intriguing and some parts are attractive.” But he also agreed with his colleagues that it would be too difficult to manage such a change on such short notice, particularly without consulting with the Drew community first.

“We just wouldn’t be able to do this in two weeks,” Goldstein said. “We don’t know yet how to define a future option program, how to identify where we need it and where the optimal location is.”

Even still, Goldstein and his fellow Board members praised the community for being engaged enough on the issue to come up with such a proposal in the first place. And, with the Board set to approve a final map tomorrow (Thursday), O’Grady urged concerned parents to channel that energy into a positive outlet going forward.

“The desire to stay at your current school doesn’t necessarily mean you’re against another school, just that you’re passionate about where you are,” O’Grady said. “We hope you’ll bring that passion to your new school.”

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Naming Process for New Middle School Sparks Debate Over County’s Civil Rights History

Arlington school officials will soon decide on a name for the new middle school to be built on the site of the Stratford School building in Cherrydale — but the complex history of the building, and its original name, has divided the community over which option is best.

A naming committee settled on three options for the 1,000-seat school in October, ahead of the building’s planned opening next fall. But that collection of parents and community members hasn’t been able to settle on a definitive recommendation as the School Board gears up for a vote on the matter.

The 28-member committee was instead split down the middle on two options for the building: naming it simply “Stratford Middle School,” or dubbing it “Dorothy Hamm Middle School at the Historic Stratford Building.”

The group initially considered “Legacy Middle School at the Historic Stratford Building” as an option, but that choice fell out of favor as the process advanced. The committee even floated the compromise possibility of naming the building “Stratford-Hamm Middle School,” but stopped short of recommending such an option.

The building, located at 4100 Vacation Lane, currently houses the H-B Woodlawn program, but was once the site of Stratford Junior High School. That’s believed to be the first school in Virginia to admit black students following the momentous Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, lending plenty of historic significance to the site and its name.

But the “Stratford” name itself comes from a considerably darker part of the nation’s past. The name is derived from Stratford Hall, the plantation home of Robert E. Lee and his family in Westmoreland County.

Considering that the school system is in the midst of a contentious process to strip Lee’s name from Washington-Lee High School, any association with the Confederate general has the potential to kick off a new firestorm of controversy in the county. Accordingly, some members of the naming committee championed naming the building after Dorothy Hamm, a civil rights activist who helped lead a court challenge to Arlington’s school segregation policies, leading to the eventual integration of Stratford.

“The event signified the end of massive resistance in the commonwealth of Virginia and dealt a powerful blow to the opponents of racial equality nationwide,” Ellen Smith, the incoming principal of the new middle school, wrote in a letter to the Board. “While Hamm was the community activist at the forefront of the campaign to integrate Arlington Public Schools, she was not the only community activist that was determined to integrate Arlington schools so that all students would have the opportunity to receive an equal education.”

Smith noted in her letter that the committee was determined to see “Stratford” remain part of the name somehow, in order to maintain “the clear connection between the name of the school” and its historic integration. But by including it only as addendum beyond Hamm’s name, Smith wrote that some on the committee fear it will be “dropped from regular use.”

That’s why many would much rather simply name the school “Stratford.” The county’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board endorsed such an option, castigating the school system in a letter for even considering the possibility of a name other than Stratford “without any apparent prior consideration of the uniqueness and the historical and cultural significance” of the site.

A special committee convened by Superintendent Patrick Murphy to debate “Historic Interpretation at the Former Stratford Junior High School” reached a similar conclusion, noting that the school has earned inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.

“That the Stratford name comes from the birthplace of Robert E. Lee is an uncomfortable part of the history, but not the most important part,” Susan Cunningham, the co-chair of that committee, wrote in an email to ARLnow. “As community historian Dr. Arnold Taylor reminds us, ‘We have to understand where we are coming from so we can appreciate where we are going’… Names matter. History matters. At Stratford, the civil rights history matters most.”

Smith urged the Board to consider the opinions of both the commission and the review board, but otherwise would not take a firm position beyond suggesting one of the two names.

The Board will discuss naming options for the first time on Thursday (Dec. 6), with a final vote set for Dec. 20.

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‘Washington-Loving High School’ Proposed As New Name for Washington-Lee

Washington-Lee High School could soon be renamed to honor Mildred and Richard Loving, the Virginia couple who successfully challenged the state’s ban on interracial marriages before the Supreme Court.

A committee tasked with suggesting a new name for the school voted on Thursday (Nov. 29) to recommend “Washington-Loving” as its new moniker, according to School Board spokeswoman Linda Erdos. She added that the committee’s second choice was “Washington-Liberty High School” in passing along recommendations to the Board.

The 23-member group began its work in September, after the Board voted in June to strip Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s name from the building due to his legacy of fighting to preserve slavery. Board members will now have the final say on a new name for the school, which they’re hoping to have in place in time for the 2019-2020 school year.

The renaming effort has been a controversial one throughout the community, with three W-L students suing the school to block the name change, arguing that the Board didn’t follow its own procedures in kicking off the renaming. The Board vigorously denies those charges, and a hearing in that case is set in Arlington Circuit Court later this month.

Other disgruntled alumni also backed Audrey Clement’s unsuccessful School Board campaign this fall in a bid to register their displeasure with the name change.

Nevertheless, the Board is set to debate the matter for the first time at its Dec. 20 meeting, Erdos said. In an email to the school’s staff that Erdos provided to ARLnow, W-L Principal Gregg Robertson expressed confidence that the “Washington-Loving” option would be the ideal option for the Board to consider.

“I don’t like to speculate, but ‘Loving’ holds a strong first place recommendation,” Robertson wrote. “I am so proud that our school community is moving forward in a positive way, while being insightful and thoughtful. I am also proud that we may be the first school in the United States to honor two individuals who looked past race and color and joined in a marriage based on their love and respect for each another. Though at the time, treated very unfairly by the state they loved — they will now hopefully be honored for possessing many of the same attributes we associate with our school, our goals and our vision for a global society.”

Chloe Slater, a junior at Washington-Lee who sat on the committee, agreed that “Washington-Loving” provides a “clear representation” of the school’s values. As the child of an interracial couple herself, Slater says the Lovings’ court battle represents an inspiring example of “how everyday people can accomplish great things.”

“I just really enjoy how we can turn a name with so many negative connotations into something positive,” Slater told ARLnow.

The Lovings, who have both since died, hailed from Caroline County, just south of Fredericksburg. The couple married in D.C. in 1958, but were subsequently convicted under a Virginia law banning interracial couples from returning to the state. The Lovings challenged that sentence in court, and the Supreme Court ultimately issued a unanimous decision in their favor in 1967, in effect striking down all laws banning interracial marriage across the county. The case was also the subject of the film “Loving” in 2016.

The Board had originally hoped to vote on a new name for W-L before year’s end. However, Erdos said it’s currently planning to do so at its Jan. 10 meeting.

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Parents Feel Betrayed By APS Proposal to Send Henry ES Students to Schools Other Than Fleet

(Updated at 9:50 a.m.) Many parents of Patrick Henry Elementary School students have expected, for years, that their community would move as one to Alice West Fleet Elementary when it opens next fall.

They believe Arlington school officials have repeatedly promised them as much over the years, as deliberations have progressed over the best way to build a new South Arlington elementary school, then shift Drew Model School’s Montessori program to Henry’s old building. That’s why so many Henry parents are now furious that Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposal for a redrawing of school boundaries would send more than a fifth of current Henry students to schools other than Fleet.

School leaders, however, argue they’ve never made such promises about keeping the entirety of the Henry community together. The current boundary process is aimed at better spreading out students across eight different South Arlington elementary schools, and officials argue that it’s likely impossible they’ll be able to please every single parent as they look toward the greater good for the whole school system.

But some parents believe there’s a better way to achieve school officials’ stated goals for the boundary process, which simply involves a little bit of creative thinking. They’d much rather see the school system transform Drew into a science and technology-focused program that accepts transfers from across the county, as a way of simultaneously solving overcrowding issues in the area and avoiding a major breach of trust with the community.

“South Arlington has always been on the back end of receiving support for its schools,” Gary Belan, a parent of two current Henry students, told ARLnow. “But this whole process has not only been a disservice to the kids at Henry, but the folks at Drew. It does a minimal amount to set either up for success.”

After releasing a slightly revised version of Murphy’s map and holding a public hearing on the boundary proposals last night (Tuesday), the School Board won’t approve a final map until Dec. 6. Some early proposals would’ve moved all but a small section of the Henry community to Fleet, though some came at the cost of angering parents in Fairlington by moving students from Abingdon to Drew, and Board members stress that all of the draft maps remain on the table for debate.

Yet some parents who’ve spent years working on committees guiding Fleet’s opening have lost faith that the Board will listen to Henry’s concerns. For instance, Joe Everling, who worked on the Building Level Planning Committee for Fleet, believes the Board “wasted my time” and “co-opted me into this flawed process.”

“The ‘Arlington Way’ is often all about asking for feedback and then doing whatever you want anyway, and that’s what’s happening here,” said Everling, the parent of two kids currently at Henry and a third approaching school age. “They’re talking to us like we’re kindergarteners, telling us we didn’t hear what we heard… We’ve been working with them, not fighting with them. But then they reveal something that doesn’t even reflect what they’ve been promising.”

Yet Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia insists that moving Henry to Fleet was merely a “general plan” developed as the school system began planning for a new elementary school in 2013, and never an explicit promise.

“When APS began this boundary process, the School Board listed eight schools to be included in this process and none were to be exempt from possible boundary changes,” Bellavia said.

School Board Chair Reid Goldstein was even more emphatic during an Oct. 24 work session, arguing that parents were mistaken in assuming that Henry’s student body would move together to Fleet. He even conceded that some school officials, himself included, might have given parents the wrong impression about the matter, and should’ve expressed more uncertainty about the future.

Goldstein went on to explain that he’d requested a correction to an ARLnow article which reported on APS officials reassuring Henry parents that all students would move to Fleet, after several parents mentioned such assurances at an October School Board meeting. He argued that the article was “inaccurate” and “further inflamed” tensions over the matter.

“Staff has attempted to quell this rumor but, unfortunately, it still persists in some places,” Goldstein said. “I’m addressing it here to hopefully, finally, put it to bed.”

But Everling points to a number of school documents delivered to various committees over the years dubbing Fleet “a new school for Henry Elementary.” The Board’s April 2016 motion approving plans for Fleet even refers to it as such; a January 2018 presentation on the school’s design similarly notes that the Board “identified Patrick Henry Elementary as the school community that will occupy the new elementary school.”

And, in a May 2016 email to Douglas Park Civic Association leaders obtained by ARLnow, Goldstein himself looks to quell what he dubs “rumors” that the Henry community will be split up in the move to Fleet.

“To fill up the new building, we need to move all of the Henry students there,” Goldstein wrote. “Removing current Henry students from that new boundary zone is counter-productive to accomplishing this goal.”

Megan Haydasz, the chair of the Fleet BLPC and another Henry parent, remembers receiving similar assurances from school officials and Board members alike. She recalls hearing that Fleet would be built large enough to accommodate both the entirety of the Henry community and other South Arlington students, which eased plenty of minds as the Fleet design process advanced.

“We’re taking a school and moving it to place with less acreage, but we made that tradeoff because we thought we could keep the community together,” Haydasz said.

Beyond any promises that the school system did or did not make, Haydasz and her fellow Henry parents are concerned that splitting up students would break up an academically thriving school — Henry received a designation as a “National Blue Ribbon” school for its academic performance in 2015, one of just 11 in the state to earn the recognition.

Additionally, the school has one of the more diverse student bodies in the county — as of 2017, Henry had the 11th highest non-white population of students of Arlington’s 23 elementary schools — and parents fear losing some of that diversity under the proposed boundary changes.

“Schools are very rarely as diverse as Henry; most students go to school with kids who look just like them,” said Jennifer Rawlings, the parent of two Henry students. “But removing families south of Columbia Pike will change that completely.”

Murphy’s proposal would indeed move some kids living south of the Pike to Drew, though APS projections suggest that Fleet’s percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunch — a key indicator of a family’s economic means — wouldn’t look substantially different from Henry’s FRL rate under the boundary changes.

However, the Henry parents think they’ve found a way to simultaneously avoid any breakup of the community and help Drew thrive.

Parents at Drew have been similarly frustrated with the boundary process, with some worrying that the changes will leave the school with too large a concentration of students from low-income families. Murphy’s recommendation would reduce the school’s FRL rate slightly from prior boundary proposals, but leave it among the higher rates in the county.

That’s why Christine Brittle, a parent of two Henry students, crunched the numbers and came up with a proposal to transform Drew into a countywide program aimed at solving all of the aforementioned issues.

Brittle found that the eight South Arlington schools included in the boundary process have an unusually high number of students who transfer elsewhere — Drew, for instance, had the sixth highest transfer rate in the county last year. She suspects that’s driven by wealthier families who go in search of countywide “choice” programs, leaving the South Arlington schools with more lopsided demographic mixes and suggesting there’s clear demand for more option programs in the area.

Brittle proposes building on Drew’s existing program focusing on science, technology, engineering, art and math — known by the acronym “STEAM” — to make such a change. She envisions Drew still having neighborhood boundaries, but accepting students from all over the county to build a different kind of community there.

“There’s clearly a strong demand in Arlington for the type of program they’re already creating… and that will only increase with Amazon coming here,” Brittle said. “This is a solution that has a lighter touch on the boundaries… and creates a larger constituency for that school. And it needs a larger community to advocate for it and fight for it.”

She expects the change would mean the county could fill Drew without diverting as many students away from Henry, satisfying her fellow parents, and she says she’s already heard broad support from parents at all manner of schools for the idea. Brittle even brought it to both Drew’s principal and the head of its parent-teacher association and she says both were open to the idea — PTA president Melissa Thierry did not respond to a request for comment.

Brittle says she also presented the idea to all five Board members, though none of them responded to questions about the proposal posed to a Board spokeswoman.

Instead, Bellavia confirmed that both Murphy and the Board have reviewed the proposal and decided it was “not feasible to implement at this time.”

“There was an extensive visioning process in late 2016 and early 2017 that involved the Drew community as well as surrounding communities,” Bellavia said. “Out of that process came a shared vision for the future of Drew as a neighborhood school with a STEAM focus, but did not include option school elements. Last year, Drew staff began implementing that focus, and will continue, as it transitions into a neighborhood school beginning next fall.”

It’s that sort of response that Everling says has caused him to lose most of his faith in the school system before the process is even officially over. After his experience working on the issue over the last few years, he hopes that parents at the 14 schools set to have their boundaries redrawn in 2020 sit up and take notice.

“Listen up, because these people will lay out a process and then change it at the last minute,” Everling said.

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APS Weighs Giving Staff Columbus Day Off Next Year, Adding Vacation Day for Students

Arlington school officials are weighing a new proposal to give all staff Columbus Day off next year, a move that would end up giving students another day home from school in the process.

The county school system is currently accepting feedback on two options for the 2019-2020 year. One would maintain Columbus Day, which will fall on Oct. 14 next year, as a holiday for students and a “professional learning day” for all year-round employees, with those same workers getting Dec. 26 as a day off.

The other would make Columbus Day a holiday for students and staff alike, and Arlington Public Schools will set aside Oct. 7 for staff training instead. That would mean that students also get that day off, while 12-month staffers would need to report to work on Dec. 26.

The change would result in students having 27 weekdays off from school next year, compared to 26 under the first plan. It would not, however, impact the last day of school for students at any level, or affect the dates of any holiday breaks.

The school system is unique in the county in observing Columbus Day in the first place, as most other county government offices and facilities remain open for the controversial holiday.

School officials are still accepting feedback on those two options, and the final decision rests with the School Board, which has yet to review the new school calendar.

An online APS survey on the matter — asking responders to rate each of the two calendar options — will close by the end of the day today (Monday).

File photo

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