Arlington, VA

An Arlington teacher received a Citizens Award after saving third-grade student Grant, who was choking during lunch.

The Arlington County Fire Department and Arlington Public Schools recognized Jamestown Elementary teacher Jaimie Sapp last week after Grant’s father Roger had contacted the department to say how impressed he was by her quick actions.

“She was at lunch on Monday with his class and they’re all talking and eating and he choked on a piece of food,” said Roger, who asked not to use his last name to protect their family’s privacy. “And it completely blocked his airway and he couldn’t breathe.”

Roger told ARLnow today (Monday) that a week beforehand his family had talked with Grant about what to do if he was choking and taught him the universal choking sign.

As a result, Grant knew to hold his hands around his neck when he choked during lunch, and his fellow students started screaming to the teacher for help. Sapp rushed over and performed the chest thrusts of the Heimlich Maneuver — but it didn’t work.

Then Sapp tried the maneuver’s back slaps and was able to dislodge the food choking Grant.

“Thank goodness she knew what to do,” said Roger. “It’s hard to describe the feeling of hearing your child was in peril and you weren’t around to do anything about it.”

“We thank Jaimie for recognizing that the student was choking and taking quick action to save the student,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia. “We are extremely grateful to her.”

“We had the honor of recognizing Ms. Sapp and students from Jamestown [Elementary] today for their heroic actions that saved a student’s life,” said Arlington County Fire Department in a tweet. “For identifying there was an emergency and springing into action she was given a citizens award.”

Roger said the experience was a reminder of how rusty his family was on other first-aid procedures like CPR, and he’s now planning to organize a group CPR certification course with the Jamestown Elementary PTA.

Bellavia said all APS teachers are required to learn basic first-aid and CPR, including the Heimlich Maneuver.

During today’s phone call with ARLnow, Roger said the incident was no big deal for Grant, who was spending his Monday morning — on the first week of summer break — biking.

“We’re hugging him a lot more than we would normally,” Roger said of Sapp. “We’re just very, very happy and proud of her.”

Image via APS/Twitter

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Arlington’s School Board says it will soon announce plans to “seek a superintendent who is an exceptional leader and educator.”

School Board Chair Reid Goldstein issued a statement this morning following last week’s surprise announcement that Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy was retiring. In the statement, Goldstein thanks Murphy “for his commitment to student success in Arlington over the past decade” and says plans to find his replacement are in the works.

Murphy, while retiring from APS, will continue to work: starting Sept. 1 he will be the new superintendent of Berkeley County Schools in West Virginia. Berkeley’s school system has an enrollment just under 20,000 students, compared to the more than 28,000 students enrolled in Arlington schools, according to the websites of both.

Goldstein’s full statement is below.

All of us on the School Board thank Dr. Murphy for his years of service in public education in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and for his commitment to student success in Arlington over the past decade. We wish him much good fortune in his retirement from APS and in his future endeavors.

The School Board is now moving forward and will soon announce plans to execute a search for a new superintendent and to fill other key vacancies in the school system. We are grateful that Dr. Murphy will continue in his role over the summer as we conduct this process. Arlington is an outstanding community, and we will seek a superintendent who is an exceptional leader and educator who will continue to advance our work for Arlington’s learners.

We view this as an opportunity to partner with staff, families and members of the community to select new leadership that will further strengthen APS. The School Board is committed to working with the community on a thoughtful and effective process to find a leader who will continue to inspire excellence, elevate our work and propel us forward as a school system.

We are a top school system in the Commonwealth of Virginia because of the quality of our instructional programs, teachers and staff. They are at the core of our success. We are ready to move forward on current initiatives, including new schools and programs opening in the fall, with new leadership and the talents and support of APS staff. With the recently adopted 2018-24 Strategic Plan as our guide, we are committed to maintaining our momentum during this transition to deliver on our tradition of excellence.

We will share more details on transition plans with the community as they become available.

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Starting next month, Arlington Public Schools’ Stratford Program will be officially renamed the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Program.

The secondary school program is for students with special needs. A seven-member renaming committee of teachers, parents, and students decided to rename the program after Eunice Shriver Kennedy, founder of the Special Olympics and long-time activist for people with intellectual and physical disabilities.

“We decided that her name didn’t need any extra words around it,” said parent Lee Whitem, who sat on the renaming committee. She said at a School Board meeting earlier this month that the program would likely be called “the Shriver Program” for short.

School Board Chair Reid Goldstein said he was “delighted” to see the change.

Stratford is a reference to Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s home plantation and has been criticized as a relic of slavery. The School Board previously stripped the name from Stratford Junior High School, renaming it after civil rights activist Dorothy Hamm, who integrated the school and left a lasting impression on the community.

The Stratford Program will be renamed officially starting July 1, according to outgoing Superintendent Patrick Murphy, who announced the change during the June 6 School Board meeting.

In the fall, the special needs program is set to move into the new Heights building in Rosslyn together with H-B Woodlawn.

“We’re going to the Heights building changing our name to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Program, which is very appropriate and very wonderful,” said Stratford Program Principal Dr. Karen Gerry. “Our students will flourish in this community and under this new name.”

In the past, School Board members stripped the “Lee” from Washington-Lee High School over heated opposition from some wanting to keep the reference to the Confederate general.

Last month, the state also agreed to let Arlington rename Jefferson Davis Highway as Richmond Highway to ditch the reference to the president of the Confederacy, and the Nauck Neighborhood renamed itself Green Valley Neighborhood, ditching a reference to a Confederate soldier.

Image via Google Maps

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The Arlington County Board has approved zoning changes to make it easier for county schools to add temporary trailers to school grounds.

After a brief discussion, Board members voted unanimously on Saturday (June 15) to allow Arlington Public Schools administrators to add so-called “relocatable structures” to schools without needing to go through the county’s lengthy use permit amendment process.

The approved proposal also exempted the structures from density calculations that affect things like minimum parking requirements. The new zoning regulations would subject structures to inspection every three years and would also forbid the structures from being parked on or within 15 feet of an athletic field.

The proposal includes trailers used for classrooms as well as other purposes, like cafeterias.

APS has long used trailers as a temporary fix to address overcrowding in schools, where they’ve sometimes been criticized by parents for taking up valued green space and playground space. The school system has struggled to keep up with rising enrollment, despite continued school construction and renovations.

“We are at this place for a variety of reasons” said Board Chair Christian Dorsey. “We haven’t really added significant excess capacity to those [school construction] projects for reasons, I guess, primary to being fiscally responsible.”

Board Member Libby Garvey said she supported eschewing the use permit process, which requires County Board approval, because it was too onerous on schools and “time spent doing that could be better spent planning and figuring out a better solution” to overcrowding issues. Now, schools will go through an administrative process with county staff in order to get new trailers approved.

John Chadwick, assistant superintendent in charge of facilities and operations, said schools often don’t know next year’s capacity needs until April, meaning they have to “scramble” to arrange trailers in time for the new school year in September.

Arlington Park and Recreation Commission Chair Bill Ross expressed concern Saturday that the parking requirement could contribute to the loss of schools’ athletic fields.

“They need their recreation space and we’re very careful about maintaining it as much as we can,” replied Chadwick.

The official also noted APS tries to locate the trailers on paved surfaces to prevent having to install stormwater runoff systems.

Currently, staff said APS uses 132 trailers across 25 schools, with Williamsburg Middle School having the highest number of trailers (11) of any individual school.

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(Updated 6/15/19) Dr. Patrick K. Murphy announced today that he would be retiring as superintendent of Arlington Public Schools effective Sept. 3.

Murphy, who has been APS superintendent since July 1, 2009, notified the School Board of his decision in a June 12 letter.

“As I think about the ebb and flow of changes that have occurred over the past 10 years, the progress we have made for children has been the most rewarding,” Murphy wrote. “Each year we offer new opportunities to allow children to flourish, grow and reach for new heights of success. I know great strides will continue to be made because of the dedication of the School Board, community leaders and APS staff and families, who all believe in the importance of excellence in public education.”

In his nine years as superintendent, Murphy has overseen continued growth in student enrollment, the opening of new schools, an increase in the high school graduation rate, and full-accreditation for all Arlington schools by the Virginia Department of Education.

“Dr. Murphy has guided the school division through unprecedented growth and change, and we thank him for his leadership and unwavering commitment to our students and their success,” said School Board Chair Reid Goldstein, in a statement. “During his tenure, APS leadership and staff have expanded opportunities for our students and further strengthened the quality of education in all our schools, solidifying Arlington’s reputation among Virginia’s top school divisions.”

“Now, with our recently adopted Strategic Plan as a roadmap, APS is in a very strong position, and we are poised to continue that success in the future,” Goldstein continued. “The School Board is excited to carry that work forward with new leadership and APS’ exceptional teachers and staff.”

The School Board is starting the process of identifying Murphy’s successor, APS said.

Murphy is the second member of APS leadership recently to announce his departure. Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Dr. Tara Nattrass announced that will be resigning at the end of this month.

Murphy’s retirement letter to the School Board can be found after the break:

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Aspire! Afterschool Learning is planning to open its new facility in the Arlington Mill Community Center.

A ribbon-cutting celebration of the new program is planned for 4:30 p.m. on Thursday (June 6), according to a press release.

Aspire! launched a campaign in 2016 to finance a 7,300 square-foot expansion. The expansion ultimately cost $1 million.

“Words can’t express how thrilled and grateful we are to achieve this amazing feat, thanks to the incredible generosity of our partners, donors, and supporters,” said Aspire! Board Chair Steve Manlove in the press release. “This truly has been the most amazing public-private partnership between Aspire! and Arlington County, with invaluable support [of sponsors].”

The summer camp at the facility is planned to open on July 1 for 120 children. Aspire!’s Learning ROCKS! Program for upper-elementary students is planned to return in the fall.

“Aspire!’s new home at the Arlington Mill Community Center is the next step in a great partnership with Arlington County,” said Jane Rudolph, Arlington County director of Parks and Recreation, in the press release.”As a permanent fixture at Arlington Mill, Aspire! will continue to empower students through their after school and summer programs and bring energy and inspiration to this well-loved intergenerational community center.”

Photo courtesy Aspire! Afterschool Learning

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(Updated at 4:50 p.m.) The Arlington School Board has agreed to sign a settlement with the federal government promising to provide more services for English-learning students in county schools.

Board members voted to allow Board Chair Reid Goldstein to sign the document during a meeting last night (Thursday), two weeks after first announcing the Department of Justice (DOJ) sought a settlement with the school district.

Goldstein, who is currently running for re-election, asked Dr. Tara Nattrass, Arlington Public Schools’ assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, how many of the DOJ’s 33 requirements APS will implement “systemwide.” Nattrass said she didn’t have the number “off hand” but stressed the intention is to apply improvements to all schools.

“This is a resolution with the Department of Justice,” Nattrass said, when asked if she had comments to add earlier that evening.

“It’s an issuance that doesn’t have any adverse findings attached to it,” she said, but acknowledged that “there are some things that we need to be doing differently.”

The settlement identified several problems at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. As part of the agreement, the DOJ mandates that the county not use Google Translate in place of interpretation services, begin translating special education and disability plans, and submit annual reports to the federal agency on its progress, among other requirements.

“Many of the solutions outlined in the agreement are in practice in Jefferson” Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy said of the middle school.

He added that APS was “committed” to serving students learning English as a second language, and his administration will report to the Board quarterly about APS’ progress on meeting the DOJ’s requirements.

Both Murphy and Nattrass stressed that APS has already adopted some of the recommendations, such as surveying families for the home language.

Board members Monique O’Grady and Vice Chair Tannia Talento were not present for the Thursday night vote.

The vote was part of the evening’s consent agenda, a placement usually reserved for items expected to pass without debate.

Two parents shared their concerns over APS’ English-language learning resources Thursday night, one saying her adopted daughter had to request any accommodations she needed, like a bilingual dictionary.

“One teacher even told me she was doing her a favor by granting her accommodations,” said the parent, adding that she believed “there are systemic issues across the county” when it comes to services for students learning English.

“I’m sorry about all of this,” said Board Member Nancy Van Doren, who noted that she’d long heard from advisory committees about problems with APS’ English Language Learner programs.

“I wish that we would more assiduously listen to those committees when they tell us there’s a problem, so we can get out ahead of these things,” Van Doren said.

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(Updated at 3:50 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools is seeking public input on a new plan officials hope will help protect transgender students from discrimination.

The Policy Implementation Procedure (PIP) released yesterday (Tuesday) contains several ways the county’s public school system plans to fulfill a 2015 policy promising protections for transgender and non-binary student from harassments, and to ensure these students had the same educational opportunities as their peers.

The three-page document outlines several ways schools can accomplish this, including:

  • Converting some single stall bathrooms into gender neutral bathrooms, and allowing students to use bathrooms that are consistent with their identity
  • Assigning students to rooms during overnight trips that match their gender identity, and allowing any student who is “uncomfortable sharing” a sleep area, or shower or bathroom, to access a “designated safe, non-stigmatizing alternative”
  • Requiring teachers to refer to students by their preferred names and pronouns
  • Directing staff to not share information about a student’s gender identity and gender transition “unless legally required to do so,” or unless the student gives permission to share

In an email shared with parents, APS noted that the PIP was developed with input from the National School Boards Association’s Transgender Students in Schools Guide. Residents can submit feedback on the plan via an online survey or by emailing [email protected].

“In keeping with the APS vision and core values, this PIP is being developed to ensure that all students feel accepted and safe in inclusive school environments, including our transgender and gender non-conforming youth,” Dr. Tara Nattrass, assistant superintendent of Teaching and Learning, said in a statement to ARLnow.

Dr. Julie Alexandrin, Arlington Gay Lesbian Alliance board member and education psychology expert, praised the plan for its thoroughness and inclusive definitions of gender. However, she said, “the real question will be the implementation and how people are held accountable to it — not just faculty and staff but also students.”

When it comes to sports, the PIP proposes that students be able to “participate in any co-curricular or extra-curricular activity consistent with their gender identity” but notes that “athletic participation regulated by the Virginia High School League (VHSL) and the Virginia Scholastic Rowing Association (VASRA) must be in compliance with rules outlined by that organization.”

“That shows us where our next battle is,” said Alexandrin. She added that it’s important the county follow the state rules in order not to disqualify current athletes in sports like crew, which recent funding battles revealed has a strong fan base.

“There’s only so much the school system can do without hurting the students,” she said.

The plan generated controversy among some who opposed special anti-discrimination policies based on gender identity. Several opponents aired frustrations in blog posts, and two criticized the School Board during an April 11 meeting for not sharing more information during the PIP drafting process.

One public speaker at the April meeting said the PIP features a “presumption of gender fluidity and a heavy emphasis on supporting and education about gender transition” and could therefore be harmful to “gender dysphoric children.”

A parent who testified at hearing later that month said she sympathized with parents’ concern over how policy changes might impact their children, but added “when your fear marginalizes our children, you leave them to be bullied or worse.” She noted that her transgender son said he’s “tired of being the rope in this tug-of-war.”

“I think that’s why you have to talk about respect and what respect means,” said Alexandrin, who identifies as lesbian. “You can disagree with gay marriage but treat me with respect as a person. We can still have civil conversation about it, and we can still treat each other with respect. And that’s what we need to teach youth.”

“This is a sensitive topic for many, and it is a more prominent area of focus for PreK-12 education than it was at that time,” said Nattrass, when asked why the plan picked up controversy after the original non-discrimination policy passed with little fanfare four years ago.

“Recognizing the sensitivities, APS staff have taken a considerable amount of time and care to gather input from many perspectives, including APS staff and advisory groups, as well as several outside sources, including the National School Board Association’s guide on policies for transgender students in schools,” Nattrass said.

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The School Board is expected to sign a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations that Arlington Public Schools has provided inadequate help for students learning English.

“In 2015-2016, a complaint was filed regarding service concerns for our English Learners at Jefferson,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia, referring to Thomas Jefferson Middle School (TJMS).

“The settlement provides specifics on actions that APS will continue to take to meet the needs of our English Learners,” he told ARLnow in an email Monday. “This settlement agreement provides a mutually agreed upon resolution in lieu of litigation.”

DOJ’s 19-page settlement gives APS 33 requirements to comply with, including that TJMS teachers and administrative officials be trained in English Learning (EL) program requirements. It also seeks to “ensure that ELs are not over-identified as needing special education services based on their language barriers in elementary schools and are not denied timely evaluations for suspected disabilities at TJMS.”

Bellavia said APS already has procedures in place to prevent English-learning being confused with special needs.

“For example, through the Arlington Tiered System of Support, all students are provided with core instruction and interventions based on their needs,” he said.

The settlement also stipulates that APS begin to translate copies of special education documents like Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans for disabilities into the languages spoken by EL students’ families.

“As part of the settlement agreement, we will now translate the framework into the four major languages of our families (Spanish, Amharic, Arabic and Mongolian),” said Bellavia, who added that the IEP framework is now only translated into Spanish. “We will also let parents know that the full IEP or 504 will be available for translation if requested.”

“Except in an emergency, the District will not use students, family or friends of limited English proficient parents, or Google Translate for interpretation of District- or school-generated documents or for any other translation or interpreter services,” the settlement notes.

Nineteen percent of APS students in 2017 were enrolled in EL learning programs, according to the most recent reports shared by the School Board. Among students in Pre-K through high school that year, Spanish was the most common foreign language spoken (22.8 percent of students), followed by Amharic (2.4 percent), Arabic (2.2 percent), Mongolian (1.8 percent), and Bengali (1 percent).

Although the new federal settlement only names TJMS, it notes that the recommendations apply to all of APS’ EL programs.

The document is currently listed on the consent agenda for the School Board’s Thursday meeting, a place usually reserved for items expected to pass without debate.

The settlement will not be finalized until DOJ officials and School Board Chair Reid Goldstein sign it.

If Goldstein signs the document, APS would also agree to do the following:

  • Tracking each student’s progress in EL programs and record the information in their permanent record.
  • Reporting compliance updates to the DOJ for review starting this October and until July 2022.
  • Conducting a three-year “longitudinal analysis” of all its EL programs, due for DOJ review by August 2022.
  • Develop a plan to “actively recruit” English as a Second Language (ESL)-certified teachers within 90 days of signing the settlement.

Failure to comply could mean APS violates the 1974 Equal Educational Opportunities Act, which requires schools provide the same opportunities for all students regardless of race, gender, or language.

DOJ did not respond to a request for comment for more information about the settlement.

The agency has settled with dozens of school districts over similar complaints in recent years, including Prince William County in 2013.

Bellavia told ARLnow that compliance with the settlement would not affect APS’ budget for the next fiscal year.

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A cotton plant growing at Campbell Elementary School drew criticism online today, but Arlington Public Schools said allegations that staff were going to make kids “pick cotton” was a misunderstanding.

“At no time, never, was the school going to have students pick cotton,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.

Catherine Ashby, the Director of Communications for APS, tells ARLnow that a teacher planted cotton seeds in pots as an experiment to see how they would grow. Social media posts about the experiment from the teacher prompted objections from other educators.

“She tweeted about her experiment and what she was growing, and that’s what got other staff members upset about what she was doing,” said Ashby.

Community members started talking online about the incident after an email circulated from Campbell Principal Maureen Nesselrode, who called a staff meeting to discuss what to do with the plant. Bellavia said the plant was destroyed after the meeting.

“Once they realized staff had concerns about the prospects of this they decided to remove the plants,” Ashby said of yesterday’s meeting with the principal. “End of story.”

One Twitter user, who said her name was R. Jones, shared a screenshot of the email. She told ARLnow that a school staff member had forwarded it to her and they were both “angry and offended” about the racial undertones of a teacher planting cotton.

“What do y’all think? Is this okay or offensive?” asked Jones on Twitter.

In the email, Nesselrode asked that “anyone who would like to discuss the prospect of planting cotton seeds” join the Tuesday afternoon meeting “so we can address various viewpoints and come to a mutual understanding.”

Bellavia and Ashby said that Jones had drawn the wrong assumptions about the planting.

Campbell’s curriculum has a hands-on learning focus that includes a Wetlands Learning Lab as well as a greenhouse, and a garden.

Photo via Kimberly Vardeman/Flickr

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Arlington County Board will take a final vote this Saturday on a plan to add capacity for 600 additional students at Washington-Lee High School by building classrooms in its nearby office building.

Arlington Public Schools requested a permit change in order to convert the former administrative offices at the Education Center (1426 N. Quincy Street) on the W-L campus into educational space. The 24,600-square-foot space is slated to be converted into classrooms, a science lab, gym, and a “commons” area, with a fall 2021 completion date, according to a staff report submitted to the Board.

If approved, the updated use permit would allow APS to make others changes:

In addition to the conversion of use, the request also includes minor exterior alterations to the building, including replacing ground floor windows. Site modifications include a new pedestrian connection between the main W-L building and the Ed Center, provisions for new off-site bus and parent pick-up and drop-off, additional bicycle parking, and improvements to a pedestrian crossing at North Quincy Street to enhance pedestrian safety.

The request comes as the student population in Arlington continues to grow. School Board members already approved an APS budget that factors in an additional 1,000 students next year. W-L’s expansion into the Education Center is one of the solutions officials have picked to house the additional enrollment growth.

The staff report described the expansion as “a sustainable alternative to building a new school facility to address capacity needs.” The report indicated 55 teachers and staff would be needed at the Education Center if it’s converted to classrooms.

The building previously served as APS administrative headquarters but has been empty since staff relocated to an office building in the Penrose neighborhood.

The Arlington School Board approved the expansion project two years ago and funded it last year with $37 million in the budget. Washington-Lee is set to be officially renamed Washington-Liberty High School this summer.

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