Arlington, VA

Virginia schools may be closed for the rest of the academic year, but Barrett Elementary staff members haven’t gone anywhere.

That’s the message from a new music video uploaded to YouTube last night, featuring teachers dancing in their homes and yards to a cover of Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing.”

“Check out this amazing video that our music teacher put together to bring some smiles to our students and their families,” Marissa Mulholland, a special education teacher at the school, told ARLnow. “It was so fun to be a part of this video… almost like music therapy for us teachers!”

Arlington’s public schools are still educating students via online distance learning, though curriculums have been pared back and standardized tests cancelled.

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Arlington Public Schools, now in its second week of students staying home due to the coronavirus pandemic, is working to determine what the rest of the school year will look like.

Monday’s announcement by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam means that APS will be closed for the remainder of the academic year, with educational activities continuing to be held online.

The move to teleworking has some concerned that disparities in access to technology will deepen already existing achievement gaps in public schools. But APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said students brought home their school-issued iPads and laptops before schools closed and students without access to the internet at home were given MiFi cards, allowing all to stay connected to their teachers.

APS is now working to figure out how to finish the school year, given the governor’s order.

“For now, we will continue to provide the continuity of learning plans in place through Canvas, Seesaw and other platforms through April 3,” APS said following the governor’s announcement. “We will be honoring Spring Break and no new assignments will be issued during that week. We will soon announce plans for programming for the weeks following Spring Break.”

In another message to parents earlier this week, before the announcement, APS said that the amount of new content introduced will depend on their grade level.

“Elementary teachers will not introduce new content within the timeframe that schools are currently set to be closed,” APS said. “Secondary teachers may begin introducing new content the week of March 23. We recognize that all students do not have the same ability to regularly access and attend to learning new skills or content while at home. Secondary teachers who are introducing new content are mindful of the opportunity gap that this is likely to create and will plan strategies to address it.”

“While virtual learning can never replace classroom instruction, teachers are providing instructional activities meant to help students maintain their skills and knowledge and prepare for what’s coming next,” APS said. “We understand this comes with both challenges and perks as adults and students work to establish new routines.”

If there are problems with the tech tools given to students, parents are encouraged to email the school system’s IT teams.

Catholic schools in Northern Virginia, meanwhile, have moved to entirely distance learning, the Diocese of Arlington announced yesterday.

“Distance learning is now in place, offering interactive, personalized instruction to students through the remainder of the academic year,” said a press release. “The Diocese has 37 parish (K-8) schools and four diocesan high schools serving almost 17,000 students.”

Update at 10:50 a.m. — Interim Superintendent Cintia Johnson sent the following update to APS parents Thursday morning:

Dear APS Families,

As we all continue to support each other during these challenging times, I want to provide a brief update on our plans, based on guidance we have received from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to date.  But, first I want to acknowledge the impact this is having on family routines and thank you for your continued partnership in working through our present set of circumstances due to the coronavirus.

I understand the emotions our students, families and our staff are feeling, and I am confident we will move forward through this in a way that continues to serve all our students. Below are a few updates I can share now, with more to come.

Continuity of Learning Plan: Teachers will continue to engage in distance learning based on plans in place through Friday, April 3. Spring Break will proceed as planned the week of April 6-10. Monday, April 13 will remain a Grade Prep Day for teachers, and therefore APS will resume distance learning on Tues, April 14 with adjustments to our instructional model that will be announced prior to that time. Those plans are being shared with our advisory committees for input prior to sharing with families.

Graduation: State Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane announced Tues, March 24, that high school seniors who were on track to earn a diploma later this spring will be able to graduate. We are currently exploring creative alternatives to celebrate the Class of 2020. These students have worked hard and have been looking forward to this moment for years, so we want to make sure we honor and celebrate their monumental achievement. This will take more time and is a priority for us all. Once a final plan has been reached, we will share it with students and families.

Grade-Level Placement: Students who were in good standing as of the (end of the third quarter) closure of schools on March 13 will proceed to the next grade level while students in need of support or students with failing grades will receive the necessary help during the fourth quarter to make up work and grades in preparation for the next grade level. More information will be provided in the coming weeks.

Assignment Grading: We are following VDOE guidance to develop a process to ensure grading is fair and equitable while schools are closed. While distance learning cannot replace the work that happens in the classroom, all students will have the opportunity to make progress and to learn and grow.

Special Education Support: Special Education teachers are connecting with families via virtual video check-ins to provide students with the reassurance of a familiar face, as well as consultative support. Related service providers are collaborating with special education teachers to design accessible instructional activities or adapt existing activities for home learning.  Additionally, if individual students or parents are experiencing difficulties accessing instruction, related service providers will set up a consultation with the parents.

AP/IB Exams: The May 2020 IB examinations have been cancelled, but students still must complete their required assessments. Students will take their AP tests online in place of the traditional face-to-face test. The College Board will release the AP test schedule in the beginning of April.

Standards of Learning: SOLs have been canceled for this school year. The VDOE is currently in the process of officially applying for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, so additional information on SOLs will be released soon. Not having to take SOLs this year takes a lot of pressure off our students and teachers while allowing them to focus on instruction and essential skills during the closure.

Food and Nutrition: On March 16, APS began serving free grab-and-go breakfast and lunch for children ages 2-18 at Kenmore Middle School and Drew Elementary. On March 25, APS added three additional sites at Barrett, Campbell and Randolph elementary schools. Meals are served from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Monday – Friday. To date, we have served 10,034 meals, just over 1,200 per day.

On the Friday before Spring Break, April 3, APS will provide a week’s worth of meals to families who come to one of the sites to ensure they have food during Spring Break.

We are currently evaluating plans for food distribution through the remainder of the year. Those plans are being developed based on state guidance and will be communicated when finalized.

I want to extend my appreciation to the food services workers who have been coming in to prepare the food for our students, as well as the APS executive leadership team and administrators who are volunteering at each of these sites. Thank you to our custodians and facilities staff who continue to clean and prepare our buildings. We also want to thank school PTAs, community partners, non-profit organizations and business who are supporting families through meal distribution and food drives. We have them listed on our website under Meal Services.

Telework and Schedule Adjustments

The transition to distance learning and telework has made it easier for continuous contact at any time of day, so I am asking everyone to please try to limit contact with teachers and staff to the hours they have communicated they are available as much as possible.

We will continue to keep you informed through our website with additional resources and updates on services as they are finalized.

In the meantime, please be safe and take care of yourself and your families.

File photo

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Dr. Gregg Robertson, the beloved principal of Washington-Liberty High School, is retiring at the end of the school year.

With students out until at least the end of spring break as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, Robertson made the announcement yesterday via email. He said he is retiring to go back to teaching, this time at the college level.

Robertson said he’s hopeful the school year will resume and he’ll be able to close out his 17-year tenure as W-L’s principal with a proper farewell.

“I look very forward to when we are all back in school and the current situation is behind us,” he said. “I miss seeing you all in the hallways and can’t wait until we are together again.”

The full letter is below.

Dear Students,

I am sending you this message via Naviance because we are currently not together face-to-face. I originally intended to share this information with you in person, but the current situation does not allow me to do so. I will be retiring at the end of this school year. It has been my pleasure to serve as your principal at W-L.  I am completing my 17th year at W-L and have loved every single day! I have always claimed to be the luckiest person in the world to have been given the opportunity to get to know all of the current Generals at W-L and all the ones who have come before you. As you know, your high school continues to be one of the best high schools in the country. This is true due to all the wonderful and dedicated teachers, all the hard-working and caring students, and your supportive parents. I have met and gotten to know so many incredible students over the years — many with whom I still remain in contact.

I know each of you are going to do great things in life because you are receiving one of the best educations that can be had. I look forward to hearing about all the great things you accomplish over the years to come. I plan to continue my career in education by teaching at the college level. After all these years as a principal — I still miss being in the classroom. So who knows, maybe I will see some of you in class some day! In the meantime, stay safe and well. I look very forward to when we are all back in school and the current situation is behind us. I miss seeing you all in the hallways and can’t wait until we are together again.

With care and respect for all of you,

Dr. Robertson

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Update at 3/23/20 — The number of meal distribution locations has been expanded to five.

Earlier: Arlington Public Schools will be offering free breakfasts and lunches to those who need them during the month-long school closure.

APS announced Friday evening that meals will be provided for pickup from Kenmore Middle School and Drew Elementary, starting Monday, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. The meals will be available to any child ages 2-18, but children must be present to receive the meals.

The program will help fill a need in the community, particularly among those eligible for free or reduced price lunches at school, as families hunker down during the worsening coronavirus outbreak. For some families, the outbreak will mean a loss of hourly wages for an extended period of time.

More from APS:

Beginning Mon, March 16, APS will provide free grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches at two school sites – Kenmore Middle School (200 S. Carlin Springs Road) and Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School (3500 S. 23rd Street). Meals will be set up on a table outside the building for distribution from 11 a.m.to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday.

APS will provide one (1) lunch for that day and one (1) breakfast to take home for the following day. These meals will be free to any child aged 2 to 18. Children must be present to receive the meals; no meals will be given to parents without their child or children present. We will continue to monitor the situation on a daily basis and make adjustments as needed.

Meals will be provided to all children without charge and are the same for all children regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability, and there will be no discrimination in the course of the meal service.

Meals will be provided Monday-Friday beginning 3/16/2020, at the sites and times as follows:

Kenmore Middle School
200 S. Carlin Springs Road
11 a.m.-1 p.m.

Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School
3500 S. 23rd Street
11 a.m.-1 p.m.

Also on Friday, APS announced that it would be offering instructional activities for students during the school closure, via a combination of hard copy materials and electronic means.

The school system provided the following guidance to families:

We have prepared to deliver instruction to our students during this period. Please note the last day of the third-quarter grading period has been altered due to the school closure. All teachers will now complete their grading of third-quarter content by March 20, and it will only include student work submitted by that date. Report cards will still be sent home to families at the end of April as previously scheduled.

  • For Early Childhood and Elementary students (PreK-Grade 5), instructional materials have been prepared and should have been distributed by individual schools either in hard copy or electronically. If you have questions about how to access the instructional materials for your child, please contact your student’s teacher.
  • Secondary students (Grades 6-12) will be able to access assignments using Canvas. Teachers will spend the week of March 16 fulfilling their normal duties and working to transition course content, assignments and activities online.
    We want to acknowledge that we can never replace the work our teachers do with students in our classrooms; no one expects learning to be as effective as what teachers accomplish directly with students. These activities are meant to help our students maintain their existing skills and knowledge, extend their learning, and prepare a foundation for topics and concepts to come in the fourth quarter.

During our school closure, teachers will provide instructional activities that both review previously taught information and introduce new topics and concepts. While teachers have been instructed not to grade assignments or quizzes of newly-introduced topics or concepts, they may offer assessments to inform their teaching. These formative assessments will be used to monitor student progress and evaluate the effectiveness of instructional activities.

Teachers will be able to grade assignments assigned prior to Friday, March 13, for use when calculating third-quarter grades. It is important to note that the last day for students to submit third-quarter assignments is Friday, March 20, unless otherwise arranged with the teacher.

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The timing could hardly be worse: during the coronavirus outbreak, as people are urged to frequently wash their hands, Wakefield High School is experiencing water pressure issues in bathrooms.

Emails sent to parents and staff report occasional but recurring water pressure problems that affect second and third floor bathrooms in particular. We’re told the issues cropped up again earlier this week.

As a result, school officials say they’ve propped open bathroom doors — so users don’t have to touch handles — and put hand sanitizer in place. The school is also awaiting delivery and installation of a “booster pump” to help solve the issue.

Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia suggested it’s an issue with water pressure from county pipes.

“We have identified the problem and are working on a solution,” Bellavia told ARLnow. “The problem is occurring because Wakefield sits at a high point at the end the line.”

Wakefield Principal Chris Willmore sent the following email to parents last night.

Good Evening Wakefield families,

I wanted to share with you recent steps we have taken to protect against the coronavirus.

We are aware of the urgent issue related to low and inconsistent water pressure on the second and third floors and are working closely with Facilities to address it as quickly as possible. Please note that this issue related to water pressure does occur on the first floor occasionally as well, but not as often as the upper floors. While there are no problems with the water pressure on many days, there are days in which it will disappear for 5-20 minute periods of time. This fall and winter, APS Facilities staff repaired or replaced all broken sinks, faucets, and dead batteries and looked closer into the water pressure situation. Facilities is expediting the purchase of a “pump booster” that will supplement the pressure when there is not enough when water enters the building from the county lines. We do not have an estimated delivery or installation date yet and will keep you informed.

In the meantime, we are continuing to work with the Facilities department to identify interim solutions to ensure students can practice good hand-washing hygiene while we await the installation of the booster pump. As an immediate first step, we have secured bottles of alcohol-based hand sanitizer that we will place outside the administrative offices on the second and third floors and at the welcome table in the Town Hall. If there is no water pressure, staff and students can go get hand sanitizer. While it is not convenient, since many times there is water pressure on the first floor, coming down to a bathroom is also an option.

We have also ordered additional door stops for all student bathrooms so that students will not need to touch door handles as they enter or exit.

I appreciate your patience and understanding as we work through this challenging time. Please let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns.

Best,

Chris

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Arlington County may have opted to keep the tax rate steady, or even cut it, but the Arlington Public Schools (APS) says it still needs to find a way to bridge at least a portion of a $27.6 million budget gap.

In total, Interim Superintendent Cintia Johnson’s budget comes out to $725.9 million in expenditures and only $698.4 million in revenue, assuming the transfer from the county to the school system remains as proposed by County Manager Mark Schwartz.

Budget gaps are nothing new for APS, but the difference has often been covered by tax hikes that the off the table for this year. The familiar pattern prompted some cynicism at a budget work session last night from School Board member Nancy Van Doren, who said she’d been through the budget dance six times and hoped that maybe this year would be different.

“Maybe I’ve just done this too many times but I know the process we’re about to go through,” Van Doren said. “We have a greater need than the money allocated to us by the county. They have proposed their tax rate and it’s not going to be enough for us to cover our budget. Therefore we’re going to them and asking them for more money. They’re going to decide how much they give us and we’re going to adjust our budget.”

“That will involve a lot of community angst,” she added.

Van Doren proposed, at some point in the budget process, meeting with the County Board formally before the School Board prepares its final budget.

“There’s a script to this that we all go through, and it’s exhausting,” Van Doren said. “I’m wondering if we might write a letter to the county and say ‘we have a 27 million shortfall, how much are you going to help us with’ so we can cut to the chase and find out what we have to close.”

She faces a similar veteran of budget gaps, County Manager Mark Schwartz, who in his budget presentation to the County Board said he fully expected APS to request more funding, but that the $17.7 million more than last year that the school is receiving should be enough to account for the increase in students.

Johnson’s budget presentation cited a 4% increase in enrollment and rising costs for students with special needs, transportation services, substitutes, ADA accommodations and health insurance as factors in the gap. Enrollment growth accounted for $12.8 million, but that was not the largest new cost in the budget.

The largest cost increase in Johnson’s budget is a step increase for school employees and a 1.6% cost of living adjustment, totaling to $18 million. There are also $10.3 million in one-time and ongoing costs for opening five new schools and programs, according to a press release from APS.

The budget also proposes 84 new special education and special needs positions throughout the school system — at an annual cost of $6.56 million — and around 35 new full-time English Learner teachers, at an annual cost of $3.89 million, to comply with a settlement with the U.S. Dept. of Justice.

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Yorktown High School students are enjoying a three-day weekend thanks to a power issue at the school.

An internal breaker blew, shutting off power to most of the building, according to Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia. APS is awaiting delivery of a part to fix the issue, and expects power to be restored by this afternoon.

The school is expected to be back open on Monday, before closing again to students for the Super Tuesday primary. (The school serves as a polling place for the Yorktown precinct.)

Yorktown’s athletics department says all sports practices and tryouts will proceed as normal today.

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(Updated at 9:15 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools will close next Tuesday, March 3, due to the primary elections.

The Super Tuesday primary in Virginia is expected to draw large crowds to the polls, as voters cast ballots for the Democratic presidential nomination. With 23 schools serving as polling places, and citing the “safety and security of APS students,” the school system said it has decided to cancel classes and instead make Tuesday a teacher work day.

In a brief statement on its website, APS said “we understand that it may be difficult for some families to make alternative arrangements for the care of their children given the timing of this decision.”

The full statement:

Arlington Public Schools will be closed to students on Tue, March 3, 2020 which is Virginia’s Presidential Primaries Day (Super Tuesday). Currently, 23 APS buildings serve as polling places and the decision to close is in response to the anticipated challenges as a result of the increased accessibility to our buildings by the community on Primary Election day. All APS staff will be expected to report to work on March 3.

We understand that it may be difficult for some families to make alternative arrangements for the care of their children given the timing of this decision.

As always, the safety and security of APS students is our top priority.

Prior to the announcement, some questioned why APS was seemingly planning to remain open, when neighboring jurisdictions like Alexandria and Fairfax County already canceled classes.

“Having hundreds of people in and out of the schools all day goes against the safety protocols already in place,” said one concerned parent. “I can’t even pick up my own student without showing ID and wearing a tag, yet a large number of people will have to be in and out of their polling place (our school). Also, where are the students going to be when their gyms and cafeterias are used for polls?”

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The Arlington Career Center is poised to change from drab, squat and Brutalist to taller, glassier and more modern, if new concept designs are approved by the School Board next month.

The designs were revealed at a meeting of two Arlington Public Schools committees on Wednesday. Created by the design firm Stantec, the concept renderings show the new planned look of what’s being called the “Jewel of the Pike.”

The career and technical education facility along the Columbia Pike corridor is set to add 250 seats next year and 800 new high school seats by September 2015, as APS works to accommodate rising enrollment across the school system. The School Board is expected to vote on the concept designs in March and the overall plan for the $185 million project in June.

The concept slides suggest that about 167,000 square feet of the existing structure will remain, with an additional 204,000 square feet built around it.

The first phase of the project, a two story building immediately adjacent to the career center, will be built on top of what’s currently a playground along S. Highland Street. It will include sufficient space for auto tech and animal science programs, as well as TV production and other uses.

As we reported in September, the expanded center will include a full-sized gym, a performing arts center, a new cafeteria, a new common area, a parking garage, a pool, and a multi-use outdoor synthetic turf field.

Despite the additions, the Arlington Career Center will remain an option school and not a comprehensive high school, though the concept renderings include notations of places where the facility can be expanded in the future.

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Students who attend the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program and the Shriver Program, at the new Heights Building in Rosslyn, are staying home today.

The building is closed, Arlington Public Schools said in an email to families (below), after a contractor accidentally broke a sprinkler line, causing the library, gymnasium and some classrooms to flood. The closure may stretch into Wednesday if repairs and cleanup from the water damage are not completed in time.

APS plans to notify families by 6 p.m. tonight whether school will be back in session tomorrow.

The $100 million building opened just in time for the start of the school year this past September. More from APS:

The Heights Building, including H-B Woodlawn, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Program and administrative offices, will be closed Tuesday, February 18, due to an accidental break in a sprinkler line caused by a contractor performing work on Monday. The break caused water damage in the library, gymnasium and adjacent classrooms. Repairs and clean-up are in progress. Unless otherwise directed, essential personnel should report to work at their scheduled time on Tuesday, and custodians should report to work at 6 a.m. Extracurricular activities, games, team practices, field trips and other scheduled activities for H-B Woodlawn and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Program at The Heights Building are also cancelled. We apologize for the inconvenience and will keep families informed of the status. Families will be notified by 6 p.m. on Tuesday regarding the operating status for Wednesday, February 19.

Update at 4:30 p.m. — The building and the programs will remain closed on Wednesday, Arlington Public Schools just announced.

Hat tip to anonymous. Photo via Arlington County.

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Amid ongoing fears about the coronavirus outbreak, Arlington Public Schools is barring recent visitors to China from schools.

The action is in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. In a letter to parents last night, APS said any student who has returned from mainland China since Feb. 2 will need to wait at least 14 days before returning to school.

“APS will provide support to any student who is unable to attend school by providing take-home educational materials,” the school system said. “Please contact your child’s school to receive these materials by mail.”

One parent who contacted ARLnow questioned why parents were only being notified of the policy now, saying APS should have implemented the CDC-recommended, 14-day quarantine earlier.

Currently there are no known cases of coronavirus in Virginia, D.C. or Maryland.

The full letter is below.

Dear APS Staff and Families:

We have received inquiries from families about our procedures for students who may be returning to the United States from China.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all travelers returning from Mainland China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) to the US after 5 pm on February 2, 2020, should remain at home for 14 days after their return date to the US. Therefore, APS students returning from Mainland China after the date above will not be allowed to attend school for 14 days. This will help us reduce the possible risk of coronavirus spread in our schools.

APS will provide support to any student who is unable to attend school by providing take-home educational materials. Please contact your child’s school to receive these materials by mail.

Based on Arlington County Public Health Division guidance, APS continues to take the following effective steps to prevent students and staff from becoming ill in schools:

Cleaning and disinfecting touched objects and surfaces frequently with materials that meet the criteria recommended by the CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for control of coronavirus.
Reinforcing the following effective behaviors in schools with students and employees:Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth as much as possible.
Cover mouth and hands with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
Stay home when sick – and only return to school when children and staff are symptom free for 24 hours.
Keep their distance from people who are sick – and encourage sick people they encounter to go home and seek care as needed.
Avoid non-essential travel.
To further protect all our students, our employees, and our community, we need your help to reinforce the messages above. Have your student(s) practice these behaviors at home – it will make it easier to follow these same recommendations in school.

APS will continue to work with Arlington County Public Health Division and the School Health Bureau as the situation evolves. This is a rapidly developing situation, and we will publish updated guidance as warranted.

For up-to-date information about the coronavirus, visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/ 2019-ncov/about/index.html.

Cintia Johnson
Interim Superintendent
Arlington Public Schools

Reuben K. Varghese, MD, MPH
Health Director and Arlington County Public Health Division Chief

Photo via CDC

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