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by Alex Koma May 3, 2018 at 10:45 am 0

(Updated at noon) The price tag for a new elementary school could soon get a bit larger, in an effort to make the Thomas Jefferson Middle School more accessible for people with disabilities.

Arlington Public Schools officials are asking the School Board to approve an extra $250,000 in spending at Alice West Fleet Elementary School, which is scheduled to open in September 2019, for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) changes at the adjacent middle school.

The board will get its first presentation on that request at its meeting tonight, as staff seek the green light to bump up the “guaranteed maximum price” for the nearly $47 million project. The changes at the middle school are being incorporated into the Fleet project so that they can be “more effectively coordinated and can be completed prior to the 2018-19 School Year.”

APS officials plan to make accessibility adjustments at two of the middle school’s three entrances.

Though accessibility upgrades are already in the larger APS budget, the size of the change to the Fleet budget means APS will need the board’s approval first. Voting on the matter is expected within a few weeks.

The board is set to approve its fiscal year 2019 budget tonight. The nearly $637 million spending plan is set to fund pay raises for most school employees, but does call for slightly larger class sizes at both the elementary and middle school levels.

Editor’s note: a previous version of this article mistakenly reported that the changes were planned for the elementary school. Photo courtesy Arlington Public Schools.

by Alex Koma May 2, 2018 at 9:45 am 0

(Updated at 2:50 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools staff have named seven elementary schools that could host countywide “option” programs in the coming years, as officials move ahead with their reevaluation of elementary school boundaries scheduled to wrap up this fall.

Yesterday (May 1), APS released an updated draft analysis of potential changes to county elementary schools, with the bulk of the document addressing which schools could someday offer option programs — meaning they are open to student applicants from all over the county. APS currently is eyeing seven possible locations, but aims to keep a total of five schools as option program sites.

Staff indicate that Campbell, Carlin Springs and Patrick Henry Elementary Schools are all likely to earn their recommendation to either become or remain option sites. Barcroft, Claremont and Nottingham Elementary Schools and the Arlington Traditional School are also cited as possibilities to fill the final two available slots, though APS doesn’t plan to offer final recommendations to the board until sometime this fall.

APS currently has five option schools at the elementary level: Arlington Traditional School and Campbell, Claremont, Drew and Key Elementary Schools. The rest are all “neighborhood schools,” meaning only students who live within set boundaries are eligible to attend.

With two new elementary schools set to open over the next three years, the School Board asked APS staff to work up two proposals for policymakers to consider. One would leave all the option and neighborhood school designations the same and adjust attendance boundaries; the other would change both the school designations and the boundaries.

Staff will offer the board a definitive set of recommendations about how the mix of option and neighborhood schools might change. The May 1 analysis explores a host of factors to guide those choices, such as how changing those designations would affect transportation options and the proximity of Spanish-language programs to Spanish-speaking students.

The School Board has already agreed to move the county’s “Montessori” program from Drew Model School to Patrick Henry Elementary School for the 2019-2020 school year, with Drew changing to a neighborhood school, so at least one option site is guaranteed to change. In the May 1 analysis, APS staff suggest that the board could keep the “Expeditionary Learning” program at Campbell Elementary School and establish a new Spanish immersion program at Carlin Springs.

That leaves two spots for option programs empty, and the analysis suggests that the school system could maintain Claremont or Arlington Traditional School as option sites, or convert Barcroft or Nottingham Elementary Schools.

Staff floated the possibility of running option programs at three schools in close proximity — Barcroft, Carlin Springs and Claremont — in order to achieve “greater transportation efficiency” when busing in students from around the county.

(more…)

by Bridget Reed Morawski May 1, 2018 at 2:45 pm 0

Arvaye Robinson, the mother of two elementary school girls she had hoped to enroll in the Arlington Public Schools extended day program, stood in front of the Syphax Education Center this morning during the system’s technical problems that ultimately suspended sign-up indefinitely.

“I’m so disappointed,” Robinson said, exasperated, with her phone in her hand waiting to hear from a school staffer. “I wanted some confirmation.”

After setting an alarm for exactly 7:59 a.m. so she could hop online and enroll her children, Robinson realized that the site was down and that she would have to drive to the center to enroll her children in person. She was told that she would receive a call about placement, but she didn’t feel confident about that.

“They have the means to take payment, but no concrete confirmation,” said Robinson.

A father who overheard ARLnow interviewing Robinson cut into the conversation, calling the situation absurd and saying that it had thrown his work schedule out the window for the second year in a row.

Indeed, this is the second consecutive year that extended day registration has flopped. There are varying reports of exactly how many parents waited in line to secure a spot for their children, but one parent told ARLnow she saw at least 100 people in the Syphax Education Center’s lobby this morning.

The extended day program allows parents “who can’t juggle everything” to leave children in their school’s care before and after classes, according to the program’ director, Bobby Kaplow.

According to Kaplow, after last year’s technical failure with the same vendor, APS spent the year troubleshooting with the contractor, trying to find a solution.

“All year we worked with him, we told him what we needed, we told him what the problem was, can he see it on his end,” Kaplow said, adding that he had demanded that the contractor fly in from Michigan to be on-site for the enrollment rollout today in case any issues cropped up.

“I talked to him 20 minutes before it started today, and said, ‘Are we good?'” Kaplow said. The contractor told the director that there wouldn’t be any problems.

(more…)

by Alex Koma May 1, 2018 at 10:45 am 0

Arlington Public Schools has once again run into issues with online registration for its “Extended Day” program, prompting big headaches for parents and an indefinite delay in program sign-ups.

APS announced on its Facebook page at 9:30 a.m. that it will be suspending registrations for the program until it can resolve “technical issues” with its registration system. “Extended Day” is designed to offer low-cost care for students before and after school.

APS added that the software vendor is currently working to fix these problems, and will announce a new registration start time soon.

Registration for “Extended Day” opened at 8 a.m., and with spots available at each school on a first-come, first-served basis, parents rushed to sign up for the program. Yet the system began experiencing problems soon afterward, and APS tweeted that it had summoned its contractor to address those issues, but didn’t immediately suspend registration.

The confusion prompted some parents to attempt to register in person, with dozens waiting in line at the school division’s headquarters at the Syphax Education Center to attempt to sign up.

The episode mirrors APS’ problems last year, when the system crashed during its first try at accepting online registrations in March, then again in April.

Photo courtesy of Drew H.

by Alex Koma April 27, 2018 at 10:45 am 0

Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Murphy has named a temporary replacement for Patrick Henry Elementary School Principal Annie Turner, following her sudden death last month.

Cameron Snyder, the school’s assistant principal for the last four years, will fill in as acting principal through the end of the school year, APS announced Friday (April 27).

Murphy cited Snyder’s “excellent leadership and support to the Henry community” in the wake of Turner’s death as a factor in his decision.

“Cameron’s knowledge of Henry’s instructional program, operations, staff, students and community make her uniquely qualified to successfully lead the school to the end of the year,” Murphy wrote in a statement.

Snyder previously spent five years at Henry as a teacher, and became the school’s lead math teacher.

Murphy also announced that Elizabeth Walsh, an APS staffer since 2012, will temporarily fill in as assistant principal now that Snyder’s taken the top job at Henry.

Turner had served as the school’s principal since 2014, prior to her sudden passing on March 31. School officials told parents at the time that they did not know how she died.

Photo courtesy of Arlington Public Schools

by Bridget Reed Morawski April 26, 2018 at 4:15 pm 0

Maybe girls really do run the world — or at least, perhaps, world finals.

An all-girls group of problems solvers from Glebe Elementary School is heading to the 2018 Odyssey of the Mind world finals next month after becoming state champions on April 14 in Newport News, Va.

The competition pushes students to work creatively as a team to “create original solutions to… divergent problems,” according to the competition’s website. This year’s theme is “emoji, speak for yourself.”

Seven girls — Buse Arici, Maddie Brown, Audrey Ferguson, Nora Johnson, Zella Mantler, Katie Martin, and Kaitlyn Nowinski — comprise the state championship-winning team.

Getting seven children to work together as a team takes a lot of effort, and the school estimates that the girls have dedicated more than 100 hours toward their competition submission.

The pursuit of problem solving — in their case, finding a way to communicate the story of a forgotten emoji without speaking, by just using emojis — led the seven girls to build “a texting machine that prints a message” and two emoji machines. In the process, they learned to use 3D printers, Adobe Illustrator and power tools to design their prototypes and their own costumes.

The silence stipulation alone will be quite the challenge for the group, a lively and talkative bunch whose excitement bubbled over into constant eruptions of euphoria while meeting with ARLnow at their elementary school on Wednesday (April 25).

The program was first brought to the school in 2015, and the team is the first from Glebe to win at Odyssey’s regional and state competition, according to Arlington Public Schools.

The world finals, hosted at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, will pit the nine- and 10-year-old girls against about 850 teams from 25 countries. According to the competition’s website, tens of thousands of students are anticipated to descend on little Ames, population just over 66,000, from May 23-26.

Getting the team to the competition will also prove challenging, and the girls have set up a fundraising campaign to raise money for their transportation and other expenses. The overall goal is $17,000, the girls said, but the fundraising webpage’s goal is much lower, at $6,000.

The team will be hosting other fundraising efforts, like a bake sale, to raise the remaining funds.

Photo courtesy of Arlington Public Schools

by Bridget Reed Morawski April 25, 2018 at 9:45 am 0

Some members of the Washington-Lee High School Parent-Teacher Association are concerned that the Arlington School Board may re-purpose the adjacent Arlington Education Center into an elementary school instead of adding high school seats, as was previously decided.

The concern stems from a working session on April 12 centered on the Arlington Public Schools Capital Improvement Plan, in which School Board members briefly discussed the costs of potentially converting the Education Center into elementary school space rather than up to 800 high school seats.

John Chadwick, Arlington Public Schools assistant superintendent of facilities and operations, said that the cost determination was done in anticipation of the possible need for swing space in the future, to make sure the numbers are correct from the get-go.

The Washington-Lee PTA circulated an email last week noting that changing the Arlington Education Center plans would make it “extremely likely that boundaries will be redrawn.” If a boundary re-working were to occur, it could knock some Washington-Lee families out of the school’s district, the PTA stated.

At the April 12 working session, School Board members Nancy Van Doren and Tannia Talento both voiced concern about confusion within the community about actions that the School Board may take.

“I’m very concerned that we have two months to make this decision,” said Van Doren at the working session. “This is a compacted time frame and a very complex set of decisions… I’m worried that we need to take the community along as we make that set of decisions.”

Talento added that the Board “cannot be vague” about its future plans, and that the community should be kept apprised of the entire process, even just casual discussions about future facility repurposing. She noted that many families might have already tuned out of school planning discussions because they assumed that nothing would change dramatically, which could cause confusion for those just hearing about a possible Education Center plan change. In fact, Talento said that she herself is unclear on where the Board stands on the matter at this point, and she asked for direction.

“I’m happy to consider, if we’re reconsidering the use, I just need to know and we need the community know that we’re reconsidering,” Talento said.

The email from the WLHS-PTA added that if a re-worked Education Center plan were to come to fruition, the future of and use guidelines for certain facilities — like sports fields and the planetarium — is an open question.

More from the PTA’s email:

In June 2017, the School Board voted to create 500-600 high school seats at the site of the Ed Center building, next to W-L by the planetarium and to create 700-800 high school seats at the Career Center. While the program details for the Ed Center site was not decided at that time, there was a strong possibility that they would have been added as an expansion of WL. If this occurs, W-L would likely get additional benefits such as a black box theater (which YHS and WHS have today, but we don’t) and the capacity to expand our IB program to offer it to any Arlington student who wants it. (Note: For the freshman class entering W-L in 2018, we could accept less than half the students who applied.)

During the April 12 School Board work session, it was revealed that APS staff has been working to determine costs for using the Ed Center site as a Middle School or an Elementary School and to move ALL the new high school seats to a comprehensive neighborhood school at the Career Center school. If this actually happens, it is extremely likely that boundaries will be redrawn such that some W-L families will no longer be in the W-L district. Furthermore, it is not known whether W-L students who can currently take advantage of classes offered at the Career Center would still be allowed to do so. There are questions about facilities such as fields – will we have to give up some of our sports fields to be used by a Middle or Elementary School? What other ramifications are there if a MS or ES is built at this site? Will the planetarium remain or will that be destroyed to make room for parking, a playground, or something else?

It is urgent that W-L’s community be aware of this possible change in plans because the timeline for finalizing decisions is extremely short, and the board is bypassing the typical community engagement process to which we are accustomed. The school board vote to finalize its decision is June 21.

File photo

by Alex Koma April 24, 2018 at 1:45 pm 0

(Updated at 3:25 p.m.) The Arlington School Board could soon change which students are allowed to attend Nottingham Elementary School, and some parents are pushing back on the proposal.

Arlington Public Schools staffers see Nottingham as a candidate to become an “option school,” meaning that students from around the county would be able to attend the Northwest Arlington school, and it would offer specialized programs. APS also is considering converting three other schools to option schools as it re-examines attendance boundaries ahead of opening two new elementary schools over the next three years.

Right now, only students living in a set area near Nottingham can attend the school, and some in the community hope to keep it that way. An online petition created by a user known as “Nottingham Community” on April 19 is urging the board to spurn a recommendation from school staffers and maintain Nottingham’s status as a “neighborhood school.”

The petition, which currently boasts more than 500 signatures, notes that roughly 82 percent of Nottingham’s student body is eligible to walk to school, but converting the school to an option facility would require expanding the bus program to bring in students from other parts of the county.

“Nottingham is tucked away in an upper corner of the county and inside a neighborhood making traveling to and from other parts of the county cumbersome, with potentially very long bus rides,” the petition reads. “Option schools should be centrally located to allow equal access from all parts of the county.”

APS officials stressed at an April 12 School Board work session that other factors are at play in their analysis of Nottingham. For example, they noted that if students are bused to Nottingham from other parts of the county, many existing Nottingham students could be redistributed and walk to other nearby schools — Tuckahoe and Discovery Elementary Schools — instead.

Lisa Stengle, the APS director of planning and evaluation, pointed out that APS may run into trouble drawing new school boundaries in the area once a new elementary school opens at the Reed School site in Westover. APS is currently planning to open that building in 2021, and Stengle believes converting Nottingham to an option school could ease the process of divvying up students in the region.

“Otherwise, we may be developing these boundaries that go long and narrow down the county, which requires lots of buses,” Stengle told the board.

Stengle added that APS is projecting that northwest Arlington’s student population will continue growing rapidly in the coming years, which could put even more of a strain on Nottingham if it remains a neighborhood school.

She added that no final determination has been made about which other schools will be recommended to the School Board for conversion to option schools, although Claremont, Carlin Springs and Arlington Science Focus are strongly being considered. County staff plan to release a full draft list of recommendations for neighborhood and option school designations next week, on April 30, then collect community feedback through May 10. APS staff plan to release final recommendations this fall.

“This is really saying that every neighborhood school is at play, but every option school is as well,” said School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen. “It’s really equalizing the stress we’re feeling across the community.”

Photo via Google Maps

by ARLnow.com April 24, 2018 at 12:25 pm 0

Arlington County firefighters are investigating light smoke that filled a classroom at Taylor Elementary School around lunchtime today.

A large fire department response was dispatched to the school at 2600 N. Stuart Street. Students and staff have been evacuated, according to scanner traffic.

No fire or flames have been found and firefighters are investigating work on the roof as a possible cause, according to radio traffic. Police are blocking off roads around the school.

by Alex Koma April 24, 2018 at 10:45 am 0

The Arlington School Board could soon overhaul the school division’s policy governing how students use electronic devices in classrooms.

Arlington Public Schools officials presented a new version of technology “acceptable use” guidelines for the board to consider on April 19. The policy would create a new set of standards around how students use their own devices in schools, as well as equipment provided by APS.

Though APS has long relied on guidelines governing how students and teachers can use electronic devices and the internet, school staff are in the midst of a wholesale revision of those policies to keep up with advances in technology.

The proposed acceptable use policy for students stipulates that the use of devices is a “privilege, not a right,” and lays out the division’s process for handling incidents where students use electronic devices in inappropriate ways.

“In essence, if you can’t do something off of technology, you can’t do it in technology,” Tara Nattrass, Arlington’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, told the board.

The proposed policy also sets limits on how APS can collect student data through electronic devices. Specifically, the document bars APS from collecting “unnecessary personal information by means of its website” and directs the division to only take in data “only to the extent necessary to serve its constituents and the community.”

However, the policy does still allow school officials to archive, read and monitor any content generated on APS-owned devices or networks.

Nattrass stressed to the board that this acceptable use policy does not address issues like screen time limits for younger students or the use of devices at home. However, she noted that officials do plan to release more information on those issues later this summer, and some on the board heartily encouraged Nattrass to keep the community apprised of that process.

“I need to know when the rest of this is going to get done and where this is going to be,” said school board member Nancy Van Doren.

The board is set to vote on the draft policy on May 3.

File photo

by Bridget Reed Morawski April 19, 2018 at 5:45 pm 0

The Arlington School Board will hear an update on student rights and the partnership between schools and the Arlington County Police Department at tonight’s (April 19) meeting.

The board will consider a memorandum of understanding that details the ways by which Arlington Public Schools and ACPD intends to “foster relations of mutual respect and understanding in order to build a positive and safe school environment.” Police officers are embedded in schools full time via the department’s School Resource Officer unit.

The document goes on to note that “the vast majority of student misconduct can be best addressed through classroom and in-school strategies,” and enumerates the difference between school discipline and law enforcement matters.

School administrators and teachers are responsible for school discipline. SROs are expected to be familiar with the school division code of student conduct, the rules of individual schools, and their application in day-to-day practice, SROs should not be involved with the enforcement of school rules or disciplinary infractions that are not violations of law. However, SROs may remind students of school rules or disciplinary infractions with prior approval from school administrators.

Consequences of student misconduct should be effective, developmentally appropriate, and fair. Interventions and school sanctions should help students learn from their mistakes and address root causes of misconduct. School administrators will consider alternatives to suspensions and law enforcement officials may consider alternatives to referrals to juvenile court services and arrests for student violations of law.

The [School-Law Enforcement Partnership] shall operate in a manner to ensure children with disabilities receive appropriate behavioral interventions and supports.

Also discussed are policies relating to sharing information about students, interviews and investigations, and searches.

A “student rights draft” has been drafted and is part of the presentation. In an effort to “empower students,” it describes the rights that students have and what interactions are and are not permitted between a student and law enforcement.

The police department previously published a pamphlet for students with “tips for interacting with law enforcement.” Advice includes “do not walk away from officers when they are trying to talk to you” and “if you are at a party where alcohol is present and the police arrive, do not run away and do not hide.”

by ARLnow.com April 13, 2018 at 4:30 pm 0

Police and medics responded to Williamsburg Middle School Friday afternoon after a student suffered a serious medical emergency.

“There was a medical emergency in a 6th period class and CPR was performed,” an Arlington Public Schools spokesman confirmed. “The student was transported to the hospital and was accompanied by an assistant principal.”

So far there’s no word as to the cause of the medical emergency nor the student’s current condition.

by Anna Merod April 5, 2018 at 9:50 am 0

A community conversation regarding sex and violence is set to be held today (Thursday) at Yorktown High School.

The event, scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. in the school’s Patriot Hall, will kick off Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month in Arlington.

Entitled “#MeToo: What Men, Boys, and Everyone Need to Know,” the event will feature nationally recognized scholar and activist Jackson Katz as the keynote speaker. Katz is also the co-founder of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), an organization that has been running gender violence, sexual harassment and bullying prevention programs for more than 20 years.

Almost 50 percent of Arlington Public School female students in grades 8, 10 and 12 report that they have been sexually harassed while at school, according to the Arlington 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Other community leaders will also be in attendance, including Arlington Chief of Police Jay Farr, County Board Chair Katie Crisol and Theo Stamos, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington and Falls Church. Middle and high school students as well as adults are encouraged to attend.

Arlington’s Project PEACE is hosting the event in partnership with INOVA Fairfax Hospital and Arlington Public Schools. Project PEACE, which stands for Partnering to End Abuse in the Community for Everyone, is a community educational initiative to end domestic and sexual violence in the county.

Photo via APS

by Anna Merod April 4, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

At least 500 Wakefield High School students are scheduled learn how to give hands-on CPR on Thursday.

The event is part of the “Hands2Hearts” initiative which seeks to help every adult working or living in Arlington to learn hands-only CPR.

The initiative is sponsored by the Arlington County Fire Department and Virginia Hospital Center. Organizers will spend 30 minutes teaching students how to recognize a cardiac arrest victim while teaching them how to potentially save their lives through hands-only CPR.

Students will also be taught how to treat a choking victim and use an automated external defibrillator. Students reached out to ACFD and VHC to bring the event to school.

by ARLnow.com April 2, 2018 at 2:00 pm 0

The principal of Patrick Henry Elementary School died unexpectedly over the weekend.

Parents were informed this morning of Annie Turner’s passing. The cause of death “is unknown at this time,” according to the email.

“This morning, a support team of administrators, psychologists, counselors, and social workers from Arlington Public Schools joined our Henry team to provide counseling and support to the staff and students,” the email noted. “Counselors will be available today and throughout the days ahead for those who need additional support with this news.”

Turner, who has degrees from the University of Virginia and George Mason University, first joined Arlington Public Schools as a physical education teacher at Jamestown Elementary in 1986, according to her school biography. She became principal of Patrick Henry in 2014.

Turner is married and enjoyed “vacationing, exercising and walking together and attending sporting events and concerts” with her husband, the biography said.

The letter to parents and school staff is below.

Dear Henry Students, Staff and Families:

It is with great sadness that we are writing to let you know that Annie Turner, principal of Patrick Henry Elementary School, died unexpectedly on Saturday morning.  The exact cause is unknown at this time.

We know that this is a shock for everyone in our school and the community, and ask that you join us to remember and celebrate Annie’s life. On behalf of the Turner family, we also ask that you to respect their privacy during this difficult time as they grieve their sudden loss.

It is very difficult for all of us to face the death of anyone close to us. This morning, a support team of administrators, psychologists, counselors, and social workers from Arlington Public Schools joined our Henry team to provide counseling and support to the staff and students. Counselors will be available today and throughout the days ahead for those who need additional support with this news.

Your child may be coming home with questions and worries about this loss. Although we cannot predict how any child may react, we will work to be sensitive and aware of the common reactions experienced by grieving children. We also are enclosing some suggestions that may be helpful to you as you discuss Ms. Turner’s death in the days ahead. Please feel free to contact the school if you have an issue you would like to discuss.

I know you join us in extending our heartfelt sympathy to Annie Turner’s family. When we receive word about funeral arrangements, we will share the information with you. […]

Sincerely,

Cameron Snyder, Assistant Principal
Dr. Patrick Murphy, Superintendent

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