During the last few weeks of the school year and throughout the summer, the dogs will patrol secondary schools after hours to try to sniff out illegal drugs.
Described as a “proactive measure” in a letter to parents, sent today (Thursday), the searches come at a time when parents are becoming increasingly alarmed about the presence of drugs in middle and high schools.
“I have two children in middle school and have heard of numerous times this year alone of students overdosing on prescription drugs on school grounds or having drugs on school grounds,” one Arlington Public Schools parent said in an email to ARLnow.com.
“Drugs in APS middle and high schools are a real problem,” said an APS employee, who wished to remain anonymous. “Administrators are quick to sweep the drug problems under the rug so it won’t make the school look bad. Do the police warn drug dealers of a raid before the raid? I’m a concerned parent, tax paying citizen and an employee of APS.”
In an email to staff yesterday afternoon, obtained by ARLnow.com, Washington-Lee High School Principal Dr. Gregg Robertson acknowledged that Arlington “has seen an increase in the use of controlled substances.”
As many of you may be aware, Arlington, like many areas of the country, has seen an increase in the use of controlled substances. Over the course of the past year, APS staff worked closely with a number of county agencies to respond to this uptick and to ensure that our schools continue to be safe spaces for students and staff. One of the new measures that will be implemented to help minimize the presence of illegal substances in the schools is the use of the Arlington Police Department K-9 unit. Beginning later this month, the police will come to each of the high schools with the K-9 units to search for drugs. The searches will take place in the evening after students and staff have left.
APS has been communicating this information to families, and all high schools will make an announcement tomorrow (Thursday) morning. I wanted you to be aware of this initiative as I am sure students may have questions.
The drug dogs will only patrol high schools, not middle schools, according to APS.
At least one middle school principal downplayed the extent of the “drug problem” at her school. In an email sent to parents on Monday, Williamsburg Middle School principal Connie Skelton said the problem was limited to “a small cohort of students.”
I’ve had some questions about the “drug problem” at Williamsburg. I want to assure you that this is not a widespread problem, however, we do share your concern. In our school, there is a small cohort of students we are carefully following for drug related issues. If you have any information you would like to share with me, please give me a call.
Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia said the school system is taking measures to keep students safe in the face of a nationwide upswing in drug use.
“Substance abuse and opioid use is a growing problem both in our region and across the U.S.,” said Bellavia. “In collaboration with our law enforcement partners, we are taking steps to make sure that our students are safe and that our schools remain drug free. We also want to make sure that parents are aware and having conversations with their children at home.”
A plan to designate one of the potential sites for a new public high school as a historic district will be discussed by the County Board tonight (Tuesday).
But the proposal has drawn skepticism from county and Arlington Public Schools staff, who want the Board to deny the request and instead help preserve flexibility for APS as it solves its capacity issues.
The Education Center at 1426 N. Quincy Street is one of three remaining options for the county’s next public high school — not counting a new option involving the center, floated by superintendent Patrick Murphy.
Under the plan for historic designation, the Education Center and the adjacent David M. Brown Planetarium would be saved from possible demolition and subject to a strict design review process for any changes to its exterior.
The request for historic designation came from local resident and Planning Commission member Nancy Iacomini, who described both 1960s-era buildings as “physical embodiments of the forward thinking of Arlington and our County’s hope for the future” in her nominating letter.
Preservation Arlington said in a blog post that the buildings are examples of “New Formalism,” which combined classical and more modern design elements. Both were completed in 1969, after being funded through a 1965 bond referendum.
But in their report on the plan, staff said the Education Center could help address school overcrowding and so designating it would prevent “maximum use (and reuse) of the public facilities we have.”
That is a view echoed by School Board chair Nancy Van Doren, who in a brief letter to County Board chair Jay Fisette expressed the School Board’s opposition to the plan.
“School Board members do not support pursuing historic designation of the building at this time as it would limit options to address the school division’s capacity needs at this site,” Van Doren wrote.
In a previous column, Peter Rousselot argued against the historic designation, and noted that APS is moving its administrative staff out of the building to new offices at Sequoia Plaza 2 on Washington Blvd. The School Board approved the move at its meeting last week.
Staff recommended finding that the site meet some of the criteria for historic designation but that further evaluation be shelved. They also proposed denying the request and collaborating in the future to see how the site can be reused.
Kids have apparently been doing too much fidgeting, because at least two schools — and likely more — have addressed the issue in emails to parents.
A parent who did not wish to be identified said emails have been sent to her from Williamsburg Middle and Nottingham Elementary schools, saying that schools are cracking down on the toy, which was originally intended to help students relieve stress and concentrate in class.
Here’s an excerpt from the WMS email:
We need your help with two issues. First, the entrepreneurial spirit has hit Williamsburg! And not necessarily in a good way. We have noted students selling spinners and slime to other students. This activity takes the focus off of learning and we are making every effort to stop it. On a somewhat related issue, we are continuing to see an explosion in the number of spinners. The spinners are getting larger, more complex and increasingly distracting. Unless your child has an accommodation to use a spinner, please encourage them to leave the spinners at home.
There has been “no guidance from central office as of yet” regarding spinners, said Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia. “Principals handle this sort of thing and make decisions based on what they are seeing in schools.”
Initial reports suggested that a student brought a small, sharp object to school and tried to stab a teacher with it, but the teacher was not injured and did not require medical treatment.
The student was then detained by administrators and police were called.
“Just after 9:00 a.m. Arlington County Police responded to Carlin Springs Elementary School for the report of an assault on teacher,” police said in a subsequent statement. “The investigation determined that the student produced a small sewing tool and struck the teacher in the leg. No injuries were reported and there is no threat to students. Police remain on scene investigating and coordinating with the administration of Arlington Public Schools.”
Update at 11:55 a.m. — More from an email sent to parents by Arlington Public Schools this morning:
Dear Carlin Springs Families:
I wanted to update you about an incident that occurred at our school this morning. At approximately 9:15 a.m., a Carlin Springs student was removed from a classroom after attempting to injure a teacher with a small sewing tool the student brought to school. Only one other student was in the immediate vicinity and other staff immediately intervened to calm the situation. The teacher was not harmed and no other students were involved.
As a precaution for everyone, this student was removed from the classroom and away from other students. School Resource Officers from the Arlington Police were contacted and immediately responded to the scene. The investigation is ongoing at this time, and no further information can be shared.
While we understand that many people would like to have additional details of this incident, it is considered a confidential student matter at this time and we cannot share more information. But I want to assure everyone that students are safe and were not affected by the occurrence. All further action as a result of this incident will be taken in accordance with our policies.
Please be assured that all of us at Carlin Springs and Arlington Public Schools take these matters very seriously, and appropriate action will be taken to address the issue and ensure our students’ continued safety at all times.
Corina Coronel, Principal
Carlin Springs Elementary School
Just days after local parents launched a petition favoring building a high school next to Kenmore Middle School, others have begun a petition of their own against the plan.
The petition against the Kenmore plan raises concerns about the impact on traffic on S. Carlin Springs Road, which it says would increase the number of students that attend nearby schools from 2,200 to approximately 3,500.
“Carlin Springs Road is one of the County’s few north/south arterials and a major commuter thoroughfare,” the petition reads. “There is no reasonable alternative to Carlin Springs Road for many people using this route. Adding students would add vehicular traffic in the form of school buses, and cars for students and staff. The increase in traffic and the increase in the number of students crossing Carlin Springs Road will increase the threat of accidents involving students.”
The School Board recently whittled down a list of nine possible sites for the county’s new public high school to three. Under the Kenmore plan the current middle school would remain on the 33-acre campus, and adjacent property would be used to build a new 1,300-seat high school.
The other two options remaining are to develop a ninth-grade academy on the site of the Education Center next to Washington-Lee High School, with the International Baccalaureate program expanded and a World Languages site created, or build at the Arlington Career Center site to co-locate with Arlington Tech.
The petition was also critical of the process to determine the site of the new high school.
“The planning process by the County and the School Board to engage in more proactive planning is appreciated,” it reads, “but it appears that the effort to site the 1,300 [seat] high school seats is short circuiting the process.”
Another School Board work session is scheduled for May 15 at the Education Center, with the Board set to discuss the options and adopt one in June.
Parents and community members are being asked to help choose the name of the new elementary school that’s being built next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School.
A naming committee has narrowed down the choices, which included suggestions submitted via an online survey, to five. The finalists, each with an explanation from the naming committee, are below.
- Alice West Fleet Elementary School — “A native Virginian, a granddaughter of slaves, and a long-time Arlington teacher, resident, community activist and leader… she broke down racial barriers, serving as the first black reading teacher in Arlington and the first black teacher to teach in an all-white school in Arlington.”
- Grace Hopper Elementary School — “Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper was an acclaimed computer scientist, professor, and long-time Arlington resident… Ms. Hopper was key to the development of COBOL, a computer programming language that helped make coding more accessible.”
- Journey Elementary School — “The new elementary school building is designed with different levels and sections representing different biospheres… The name ‘Journey’ was recommended through the Community Input Form and represents the students’ journey through the building as they explore our diverse world as well as the educational journey that students and their families experience.”
- Liberty Elementary School — “The name ‘Liberty’ is a tribute both to Patrick Henry’s famous ‘Give me liberty, or give me death!’ speech and to his support of the Bill of Rights. This option represents a name change that maintains a connection to the school’s existing name.”
- Patrick Henry Elementary School — “Patrick Henry Elementary School was given its name in 1925, renaming the original school name, Columbia Elementary School. Patrick Henry was a lawyer, orator, and statesman who served as the first and sixth governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. He was also a slave owner.”
The new school is expected to open in September 2019. Students and staff will be moving from the existing Patrick Henry Elementary, near the Columbia Pike Branch Library, to the new school.
The naming committee says it received input on both sides of the debate over the current school’s name.
The committee heard compelling arguments both for keeping and for changing the name of the school. Some felt that keeping the name would provide continuity and maintain a connection to the school’s history, while continuing to honor one of our nation’s founding fathers. Others thought that the school name should be changed in order to avoid confusion between the new and existing school, or to reflect the creative design of the new building. Some also felt that Patrick Henry’s name should no longer be used since he owned slaves.
The committee says it received more than 500 survey responses via its online form. Among the serious suggestions were at least a few from pranksters, we’re told; other name suggestions included Howard Stern Elementary and Pokemon Elementary.
This time around, the committee is hoping to only receive input from Patrick Henry Elementary and Jefferson Middle School parents, students, staff and nearby neighbors.
A proposal to build a high school next to Kenmore Middle School appears to have garnered some support among local parents.
The School Board recently whittled down a list of nine possible sites for the county’s new public high school to three. Under the Kenmore plan the current middle school would remain on the 33 acre campus, and adjacent property would be used to build a new high school.
A petition in support of the Kenmore plan — and against expanding Washington-Lee High School — has garnered more than 100 signatures.
“This would be a smaller high school initially but would have the potential to become a 4th comprehensive high school if a new middle school building can be built elsewhere in the near future,” the petition says. “School start times could be staggered, and officials have recognized the need to improve access to the campus to relieve traffic.”
(Currently, the county has three comprehensive high schools: Washington-Lee, Yorktown and Wakefield.)
Of the other two options remaining, Superintendent Patrick Murphy said a ninth-grade academy would be developed on the site of the Education Center next to Washington-Lee, with the International Baccalaureate program expanded and a World Languages site created.
That, says petition supporters, would make W-L far too large of a school.
“Students would share common spaces and fields with students already at W-L,” says the petition. “This would place 3,500 to 4,000 high school students in one location.”
The third option is to build at the Arlington Career Center, expanding Arlington Tech and allowing for the repurposing of the Education Center. Supporters of the Kenmore option say the plan to build at the Career Center would force that to be a choice program, something that has come in for criticism online given Arlington Public Schools’ enrollment growth.
“Choice schools were great when the schools were under-enrolled and kids had a decent chance of getting into them,” wrote one commenter on a message board for local moms. “Now getting into a choice school is like a Golden Ticket while everyone else is crammed into high schools that are getting too big and you don’t know the people in your class. We can’t afford to spend $100 million on choice schools like HB [Woodlawn] while the rest of the peasants make do in trailers smuched [sic] together at other high schools.”
“[The] Kenmore option is the only option that establishes a solid pathway to a 4th comprehensive high school, which the APS system desperately needs,” the petition says.
Earlier this week, the Yorktown PTA hosted a town hall with Board members Barbara Kanninen and Reid Goldstein. Another School Board work session is scheduled for May 15 at the Career Center, with the Board set to discuss the options and adopt one in June.
Photo via Google Maps
APS implemented a system called Peachjar last year, replacing paper-based “backpack mail” with email that’s sent directly to the inboxes of elementary and middle school parents.
With a click, families can also use Peachjar to register their children for school events, after-school programs and other activities.
In a statement issued just prior to Earth Day, APS said the switch has saved $2.1 million in paper costs and staff time, while saving 475 trees from being cut down.
APS said the switch has been part of an “effort to reduce waste, promote sustainability, and save valuable time and money.”
The new elementary school at 125 S. Old Glebe Road would provide 752 seats and replace the current Patrick Henry Elementary School at 701 S. Highland Street. A naming process for the new school is underway. It is projected to cost $59 million and to open in September 2019.
But a report prepared by county staff acknowledges the project still has concerns, including theater parking during construction, the impact on homes at the north side of the site, whether an existing surface parking lot should remain and neighbors’ desire for sidewalk improvements in an area outside of the project’s scope.
As part of the approval process, the County Board will also discuss leasing county-owned land at the site to the School Board so the new school can be built.
If the County Board allows the lease to be executed, Arlington Public Schools would then have the right to use the land to build the new elementary school and a 214-space, joint-use parking garage. The lease would be set to expire in 75 years, in 2092.
A report by county staff found that executing the lease would not impact the county financially, but an agreement will be necessary to solidify how the county and APS will share the parking garage’s operating and maintenance expenses.
Staff recommends approval of the use permit for the new school and the execution of the lease.
Arlington Public Schools’ preliminary FY 2018 budget has an $11 million gap in funding after the School Board approved its proposal last night.
The budget now stands at just over $614 million, down from Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s initial plan of $617 million.
County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed additional real estate tax hike, in part to help fund schools, would likely make up the shortfall in county funding. The state has also kicked in an additional $78,000 to help with construction projects.
“What we’ve done with our budget is taken it to the point where it fits with what the county manager has proposed to the County Board,” said School Board vice chair Barbara Kanninen. “We’re looking at the county manager’s proposal as his sincerest effort to do what’s needed at the county level. We hope the County Board sees it that way.”
During Thursday’s meeting, members found savings by again tweaking the budget plan. Savings include $1.8 million on technology, adding a transportation planner and removing a School Board staff member. Various other job cuts would only take effect if the County Board does not provide the extra money.
Board members emphasized that the savings on technology do not relate to the controversial one-to-one policy of giving each elementary student an iPad. Leslie Peterson, assistant superintendent for finance and management services, said that instead the savings have come through looking at the school system’s procurement of contracts.
School Board member Reid Goldstein said staff and elected officials have worked tirelessly to bring the funding deficit down from more than $20 million. He said that even with the efficiencies found, the budget plan balances educating students with fiscal responsibility.
School Board members presented the budget plan to the County Board earlier today. The County Board is set to adopt its budget and tax rates on April 22.
Three candidates for Arlington School Board looked to stake their claim for the Democratic endorsement in a forum dominated by talk of capacity, boundaries and diversity.
Incumbent James Lander faced challengers Maura McMahon and Monique O’Grady on Wednesday night at the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s monthly meeting. All three are vying for ACDC’s endorsement at next month’s caucuses.
And while there was broad consensus among all three on several issues facing Arlington Public Schools, there was some disagreement over respecting the system’s diversity and solving its capacity needs.
Lander said the School Board’s decision to issue a statement in support of its immigrant families earlier this year showed that APS stood with them.
But O’Grady said the statement did not go far enough to help support families in light of some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric stemming from President Donald Trump’s administration.
“We do have to do a better job of making those families feel safe in our community,” she said. “Putting a statement out is just a start.”
And in her closing statement, McMahon said respecting diversity includes ensuring a quality education for all students, regardless of economic or social background.
“We may all be at the same Arlington party that Mr. Lander refers to,” she said, “but we are not all eating the same meal.”
The candidates also differed on their approaches to solving APS’ capacity needs, as each year the system adds approximately 800 students. Lander said the provision of a short-term plan to add 5,000 seats at all levels in 10 years as well as a long-term plan would help ensure every student has a seat, but his challengers advocated for thinking differently.
O’Grady said more collaboration with the County Board is needed, as well as ensuring a school’s instructional program — whether a choice program or comprehensive — fits with the location’s needs. McMahon said APS must look at its current sites and examine if they are being used as efficiently as possible, and shake things up if needed.
“It might mean more complicated shifting around if necessary, but it will help in the long-term,” she said.
All three appeared broadly supportive of the additional 1 cent real estate tax hike proposed by County Manager Mark Schwartz to pay for APS’ budget needs.
They also agreed that the current practice of providing each elementary school student an iPad should be discontinued, if it means being able to pay for other budget needs like psychologists or social workers.
“We want to make sure our students have a love for reading, and some of that is done with a book,” said Lander.
Three Arlington School Board candidates looked to ease neighborhood fears about the future Reed Elementary School at a forum Monday night.
But neighbors have raised concerns about the traffic impact of students being bussed in, and neighborhood children having to be educated elsewhere.
And at a candidate forum hosted by the Highland Park-Overlee Knolls Civic Association, incumbent James Lander and challengers Maura McMahon and Monique O’Grady all agreed the IB designation was just a suggestion and not set in stone. A fourth candidate, Mike Webb, was absent.
“There is no decision, there is no proposal, it’s a concept,” said Lander. “It’s a concept I don’t support, but it was a way to get the conversation started with the community.”
The school currently hosts The Children’s School, a nonprofit that provides education and child care for the children of APS parents, and the Integration Station, which helps students with disabilities integrate with those without disabilities.
The Reed School site would then be revamped as an elementary school, with construction likely to begin that year once Wilson is open, Lander said.
And rather than be an IB choice program, the majority of those present appeared more supportive of Reed being a neighborhood school. O’Grady encouraged neighbors to make their voices heard on that point.
“I keep hearing from the community that a neighborhood school is important,” she said. “If that’s what you want, I suggest you come together and advocate for that.”
McMahon, meanwhile, said APS must be strategic to combat its growing enrollment and ensure the programs it already has are of a high standard. She cited previous conversations with parents about adding schools with immersion programs in world languages like French and Mandarin.
“My opinion is they would be great, but we have a lot of other things we need to focus on first, like do we have enough schools?” she said.
Transportation and traffic also weighed heavily on the discussions around Reed. Lander said he wanted to revisit adding an exit on the back of the site, a plan that has not been supported in the past. McMahon said discussions on bussing must also involve catering to low-income families who use public transportation to get to and from school.
And while several attendees said the community is often consulted too late in the planning process for such projects, O’Grady said getting involved early would be a good way to shape the future.
“I think it’s an exciting time for your community, and it’s the perfect time to step up and say, ‘This is what we want,'” she said.
As Arlington school officials consider locations for a new high school, a resident has nominated one of the potential sites for consideration as a local historic district.
The 1960s-era Arlington Education Center and planetarium, next to Washington-Lee High School, should be designated historic and preserved, says Nancy Iacomini, an Arlington Planning Commission member.
More from the website of Preservation Arlington:
Designed by Cleveland-based architecture firm Ward and Schneider, the building is an excellent example of “New Formalism” which combined classical design elements with modern materials and techniques. Bethlehem Steel used a new cost-saving technique of steel wedges to construct the building. Both buildings were completed in 1969, having been funded by a 1965 bond referendum and designed with community-wide input. In 1967 a special citation from the American Association of School Administrators said the center “should attract the public and focus attention on the importance of education.” The two buildings were built as a pair and symbolize the great civic pride of Arlington and its’ investment in the future.
Arlington’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board will now consider the nomination. If the HALRB recommends historic designation, public hearings will then be held by the Planning Commission and County Board.
Iacomini says there is both architectural and cultural significance to the Education Center, which currently houses Arlington Public Schools administrative offices and the School Board’s meeting room.
From her nomination letter:
Structures are literally visual landmarks of our shared history; the Education Center is emblematic of an important era of Arlington’s past…
Clearly the 1960s was a boom time for the county — a time when we were beginning to plan for the future of the Rosslyn/Ballston corridor and time of great growth in our schools but also still a time of grappling with social issues in our schools. The Education Center and the planetarium are physical embodiments of the forward thinking of Arlington and our County’s hope for the future. They should stand as reminders of our accomplishments and goals of the past as we continue to provide for the future.
The Education Center and Planetarium are proud civic buildings of a set, carefully designed and constructed with taxpayer funds on publicly owned land. It is not unlike the commitment we’ve made to the new school on the Wilson site. They are part of our shared civic heritage.
Parents were left frustrated on Saturday after registration for Arlington Public Schools’ Extended Day Program was beset by server issues for the second time in as many months.
Originally, the program’s registration portal had opened at midnight on March 1, but suffered technical issues and was closed indefinitely to be fixed.
APS reopened online registration at 3 p.m. April 1 for Summer School and the 2017-18 school year, but within minutes the system struggled with technical issues.
Several parents vented their frustrations on the APS Facebook page at the repeated technical issues.
“This was the issue a month ago and it is still not fixed,” wrote one. “Please provide additional guidance to parents (many of whom signed up the first time at midnight) on if we should continue to wait for the site to be fixed (now at 36 mins of trying) or try again later. It is the weekend and expectations should be managed.”
“Thanks for wrecking a Saturday afternoon,” wrote another. “It would be much appreciated if you would either offer a time frame or advise whether or not we should keep trying. You have a lot of parents feeling stuck and afraid not to keep hitting ‘refresh.'”
At 4 p.m., APS posted the following on its Facebook page:
UPDATE from Extended Day:
We greatly apologize for the inconvenience as the registration website is again experiencing issues. The developers are working to correct any issues and make the process faster.
Please send an email [email protected] with your student(s)’s name, school and requested sessions and we will process your registration. You will be contacted in the next few weeks with additional information.
But less than an hour later, APS posted to say the website “appears to be working now,” then again the following morning to “apologize for the inconvenience as the registration website experienced issues.”
There do not appear to have been any further issues with the website since.
The proposed elementary school on the site of Thomas Jefferson Middle School is on track for County Board approval next month.
The new elementary school at 125 S. Old Glebe Road would house the current Patrick Henry Elementary School at 701 S. Highland Street and provide 725 seats. A naming process for the new school is underway. It is projected to cost $59 million and be open in September 2019.
A previous report by county staff noted the unique nature of the project as it was evaluated by both Arlington Public Schools’ Building Level Planning Committee and the county’s Public Facilities Review Committee.
But concerns remain over the project, particularly the impact of construction on the 3.85-acre site.
A tipster emailed ARLnow to say that while construction is underway, a large portion of the western parcel of the campus will be unavailable for public use, limiting access to the middle school. The tipster said this may put the programs at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theater “at risk of failure.”
Meanwhile, parking at the community center along 2nd Street S. will be reduced during the day, as portions will be used as drop-off and pick-up points for the middle school. And school staff will park in the east lot at S. Irving Street and 2nd Street S.
Previously, community members have also raised concerns about the impact of construction on nearby homes and the effect moving a sidewalk north will have on existing mature trees and green space.
In the last few weeks, the project has been examined by the Urban Forestry Commission; the Environment and Energy Conservation Commission; and the Park and Recreation Commission. It will also go before the Transportation Commission in April 3, before heading to the Planning Commission two days later.