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APS Graduation Celebrations Kick Off This Week

(Updated at 3:30 p.m.) Summer vacation starts tomorrow for high schoolers in Arlington Public Schools, and that means it’s officially graduation season.

The rest of the county’s schools aren’t far behind; middle schools will let out for the summer next Tuesday (June 19) and elementary school students will have their last day Wednesday (June 20).

Graduation and promotion ceremonies for APS are scheduled as follows:

Thursday, June 14 (today): Comprehensive high schools at DAR Constitution Hall

  • 10 a.m. — Washington-Lee
  • 2:30 p.m. — Yorktown
  • 8 p.m. — Wakefield

Friday, June 15: 

  • 5 p.m. — H-B Woodlawn Potluck and Graduation Celebration (H-B Woodlawn students receive diplomas from their home schools)

Monday, June 18: Middle school promotion ceremonies, multiple locations

  • 8:30 a.m. — Gunston, Williamsburg, Kenmore and Swanson
  • 9 a.m. — Jefferson

Tuesday, June 19: Alternative programs in Washington-Lee cafeteria

  • 9:30 a.m. — Arlington Community High School (formerly Arlington Mill)
  • 1 p.m. — Langston High School Continuation Program

Bishop O’Connell, a Catholic school in Arlington, held its graduation ceremony May 31. Today is the last day of school for non-seniors.

New Directions, an alternative APS program, held its graduation yesterday (June 13) in the Arlington Central Library.

The first day of the 2018-19 school year for all K-12 students in Arlington Public Schools is Tuesday, Sept. 4.

Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann

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Parents Planning Protest, Lobbying Effort to Reverse School Board’s Career Center Plans

A group of parents who could someday send their kids to a new high school program at the Arlington Career Center remain frustrated by the school system’s plans for the site, and they’re planning a new effort to make their voices heard.

Concerned parents, largely hailing from the Arlington Heights neighborhood around Columbia Pike, are banding together to form a new nonprofit called “Citizens for Arlington School Equality.” The organization, which will lobby the School Board to include a broader range of amenities at the school site, is planning to kick off its efforts with a march from Patrick Henry Elementary School to the Board’s meeting tonight (June 7) at the Syphax Education Center (2110 Washington Blvd), with a rally to follow.

The Board has yet to finalize just how it will build 1,050 new high school seats at the Career Center, but it is nearing a consensus on a new Capital Improvement Plan that would dictate how the construction proceeds over the next decade. A final vote on the plan is set for June 21, but the Board seems to be nearing agreement on a proposal to build the seats by 2024. Under the proposal, amenities at the site would include a multi-use gym, a “black box” theater, a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage, all to be added by 2026.

Yet that plan has done little to satisfy some Arlington Heights parents, who are concerned that the Career Center site wouldn’t offer the same features as the county’s other comprehensive high schools. They’re particularly concerned that the Board’s proposed design would fundamentally disadvantage students who live near the Career Center in South Arlington and are most likely to attend the new program.

“I want this for my kids, but I want to make sure I live in a county that cares about the education of all kids equally,” Jennifer Milder, the parent of two students attending Henry right now and one of the new group’s organizers, told ARLnow. “And the needle has moved very little on the inequality spectrum so far. There are still not adequate fields, still not adequate parking, or an adequate gym.”

Board members have spent plenty of time wrestling with how they can beef up amenities at the site, and examined several plans that would’ve added more amenities to the program and sped up their construction so they were available as the facility opened its doors.

But all of those proposals would have put a serious strain on the school system’s finances and were ultimately cast aside. Even the Board’s current plans will strain Arlington Public Schools’ borrowing capacity, and the county’s similarly challenging financial picture means the County Board may not be able to help, either.

Yet Milder and some her fellow parents believe both boards should view fully funding amenities at the Career Center site as a priority important enough to force a re-ordering of the county’s long-term construction plans.

“The county is doing all these things to attract businesses and people to Arlington, then not backing it up by supporting students they’re bringing here,” said Megan Haydasz, another Arlington Heights parent involved with the new group.

Haydasz suggested her new group could even pursue legal action against the school system if the Board opts to pursue its current plans at the Career Center. She’s hoping the new group will be able to start accepting donations soon, and will be able to fund all manner of advocacy work.

“Families with the resources to get their students out of this situation will do so, and that will leave behind families who can’t,” Milder said. “It’d be a sad state of affairs.”

That’s why Milder and Haydasz hope to use their new group to convince the county raise taxes next year — a distinct possibility, County Manager Mark Schwartz has repeatedly warned — and use that money to better fund the school system. If the county fails to do so, the parents worry how the neighborhood might change in response.

“I’ve talked to several people already reconsidering adding onto their houses, or are even thinking about putting their homes up for sale already,” Haydasz said. “The uncertainty is too much for them. They wanted to be in the South Arlington community, but they can’t gamble with their kids.”

The group will begin its march from Henry at 5 p.m., and plans to arrive at the Syphax Center for a rally by 5:15 p.m. The Board meeting starts at 6 p.m.

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APS Opts to Let Stratford Families Choose Between Reed, Yorktown for Temporary Move

With Arlington Public Schools’ Stratford Program getting ready for a big move, school leaders are giving students (and their parents) a choice about where they’ll spend the next year learning.

The program, which serves secondary-level special education students, is set to relocate into a new building in Rosslyn for the 2019-2020 school year. But its current space on Vacation Lane, which it shares with the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, will soon be renovated to become a new middle school, forcing Stratford students to temporarily find a new home.

APS officials initially planned to send Stratford over to the Reed School building in Westover for a year, but a few weeks ago they began seeking feedback from parents on a plan to move the program to Yorktown High School instead.

In a letter to Stratford parents Monday (June 4), Stratford principal Karen Gerry revealed that APS settled on a compromise solution between those two proposals. Families will now have the option of sending students to Yorktown or Reed for the 2018-19 school year; summer sessions in both 2018 and 2019 will be held at Reed, regardless of which option families choose, however.

“While we understand that this may mean some students within the Stratford program are educated in different locations for the 2018-19 school year, we also know that the needs of our students are different,” Gerry wrote. “We will provide the staffing and supports expected in the program at either location and will work with families on specific needs.”

Families have until June 15 to complete a survey on where they’d prefer to send their students.

Gerry added that “we want to reassure you that the Stratford Program will continue and our plan to move to the new building on Wilson in the fall of 2019 is moving ahead.” Some rumors circulated a few weeks back that APS would seek to eliminate the Stratford program instead, but officials have insisted there are no such plans in the works.

The full letter from Gerry to Stratford parents is after the jump.

Dear Stratford Families:

Thank you for taking the time over the last several weeks to assist us in analyzing Reed and Yorktown as potential locations for Stratford students and families for the 2018-19 school year. We appreciate your input and engagement in the meetings and tours that have taken place as we work to ensure our students have the best possible educational experience prior to moving to the new building on Wilson Boulevard with the H-B Woodlawn Program.

Through the analysis that has taken place, we have evaluated the many positives as well as concerns of both locations. We want to be certain that our students are safe, supported, engaged, comfortable in their environment, and have access to the many resources that are available to all of our students. We also know that students at Stratford have a variety of needs. Therefore, in moving forward for the 2018-19 school year, we are offering families a choice in location.  Families may choose to continue in the Stratford program:

  1. at Reed for the summer of 2018, Yorktown for 2018-19, and then Reed for the summer of 2019
    OR
  2. at Reed for the summer of 2018, Reed for 2018-19, and then Reed for the summer of 2019

While we understand that this may mean some students within the Stratford program are educated in different locations for the 2018-19 school year, we also know that the needs of our students are different. We will provide the staffing and supports expected in the program at either location and will work with families on specific needs. Also, as always, if you would like to have your child educated at the neighborhood school, that is also a possibility for this summer and the 2018-19 school year and can be considered through an IEP meeting.

Please Click here to complete a brief survey to let us know your preference of location for the 2018-19 school year so that we can begin to plan for the individual supports needed at each location.  Please complete the survey by June 15, 2018. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me.

Finally, we want to reassure you that the Stratford Program will continue and our plan to move to the new building on Wilson in the fall of 2019 is moving ahead. We look forward to continuing to work together with our Stratford community to serve our students’ personal and educational needs.

Warm regards,

Karen

Karen Gerry,
Principal

Photo via Arlington Public Schools

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County Police Investigating Series of Thefts at Arlington Elementary Schools

Arlington County Police and school officials are working to track down the people responsible for a series of thefts from local schools over the last few months.

ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage says her department has received 10 reports of larcenies of credits cards or wallets from Arlington schools since May 2017, with the most recent coming last Thursday (May 31).

She says police are investigating thefts from nine schools in all:

  • Ashlawn Elementary School
  • Barcroft Elementary School
  • Campbell Elementary School
  • Carlin Springs Elementary School
  • Drew Model School
  • Glebe Elementary School
  • Jamestown Elementary School
  • McKinley Elementary School
  • Tuckahoe Elementary School

“The investigation into these incidents determined that in the majority of cases, the suspects enter the schools following dismissal and steal unsecured personal belongings to include wallets, credit cards and cash,” Savage told ARLnow via email. “These crimes are organized and believed to be regional in nature. While there is no indication that this individual is linked to this case, similar incidents have been reported in Maryland.”

Savage says the department is urging school staffers, particularly in elementary schools, to report suspicious activity and regularly monitor their bank statements. APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said the school system is taking steps to address the issue as well.

“We have been working with police to circulate the images of the suspects,” Bellavia wrote via email. “We are also asking staff to make sure to lock up their personal belongings so that they can’t be accessed. Front office staff as well as other staff members are being asked to be vigilant especially during dismissal when there are a lot of people around.”

A tipster told ARLnow that the thefts bring up larger questions about school safety.

“This put[s] the entire school community at risk,” the tipster said. “It is my deep concern about procedures in APS schools and the failure of the administration to properly address the school safety issue. If attention is not drawn to this now, it is my fear this will escalate into a crisis.”

An email sent to school staff from an ACPD sergeant, an image of which was sent by the tipster, has more details about how the thieves operate. (It also contained a link to an article about similar thefts in Maryland.)

We believe these crimes are organized, regional in nature, and possible based out of the area near the Prince George’s/District line. Most charges are near here and in Silver Spring.

We believe the schools that are targeted are mostly elementary schools and mostly near the outskirts of the county near a highway that links up to DC/MD.

We believe a group arrives at a school near dismissal time and parks nearby.

Some occupants stay inside the vehicle and some wander onto school property and look to enter an entrance that is not the main school entrance. They then look lost, look into open classrooms, and look through purses and only take credit cards. They cards are then maxed out using some type of purchase with money cards at a CVS. This allows the thieves to recover cash from their crimes.

File photo

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School Board Looking for County Help on New Construction, But Funding Squeeze Complicates Debate

(Updated at 4:40 p.m.) Arlington school leaders believe they’ll need plenty of help from the County Board to build enough schools to keep pace with a rapidly growing student body over the next decade — but the county’s own financial pressures will likely limit just how much it can lend a hand.

The School Board and County Board convened for a joint meeting on Tuesday (May 29) as officials pull together their respective capital improvement plans, documents outlining construction spending over the next 10 years, in order to better coordinate the process.

Though neither board has finalized its CIP, the School Board is a bit farther along in the process and is currently eyeing a roughly $631 million plan for approval. But to make that proposal more viable, the Board told their county counterparts that they’ll need help in a few key areas: finding off-site parking and athletic fields for high schoolers, taking on debt to build new schools and securing more land for school buildings.

“Given the constraints we have, we have to be very creative,” said School Board member Nancy Van Doren. “And we need help.”

While County Board members expressed a willingness to work on those issues, they’re facing their own problems. County Manager Mark Schwartz’s $2.7 billion proposal comes with hefty cuts to some transportation improvements and neighborhood infrastructure projects, as the county grapples with increased funding demands from Metro and a shrinking commercial tax base.

In all, Schwartz is envisioning sending $396 million to Arlington Public Schools for construction projects through 2028, but even that amount might not help the school system meet its planned building needs.

“The amount of money we have in there for schools does not match the amount of money the schools are asking for,” Schwartz said during a Wednesday (May 30) town hall on the CIP. “They’re asking for more.”

In part, that’s because the School Board has been working to find a way to add more space for high school students a bit sooner than they originally anticipated, and add more amenities for those students in the process.

Members have spent the last few weeks wrestling with how to implement a “hybrid” plan the Board approved last summer, avoiding the need for a fourth comprehensive high school by adding seats to the Arlington Career Center (816 S. Walter Reed Drive) and the “Education Center” site adjacent to Washington-Lee High School (1426 N. Quincy Street). They’ve been especially concerned with how to most efficiently add features like athletic fields and performing arts space to the Career Center site, over concerns from parents that building space for high schoolers without those amenities would present an equity issue.

As of now, the Board is nearing agreement on a plan to build out space for a total of 1,050 high schoolers at the Career Center by 2024, complete with a multi-use gym and “black box” theater. APS would add a synthetic field on top of an underground parking garage at the site two years later.

Other, more ambitious options were dubbed “budget busters” by APS staffers, but even this plan is $33 million more expensive than Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s original proposal. It would also force the school system to run afoul of one of its principles of financial management: a pledge to avoid spending more than 10 percent of the annual budget on debt service costs.

Accordingly, Board members were quite interested Tuesday in learning how the county might take on some of that debt, or help APS bring down the costs of that new construction, perhaps by helping the school system find off-site parking instead of building new garages or better coordinating the of sharing county fields.

On the former point, County Board member John Vihstadt expressed a willingness to find out how such a debt collaboration would work. Schwartz, however, was not especially optimistic about the prospect, noting it would require some hard choices on the CIP.

“That would mean taking either a project away on the county side or adjusting the timing of a project on the county side,” Schwartz said.

County Board members were much more willing to try working together on sharing fields, and on helping APS find new school sites. Vice Chair Reid Goldstein pointed out that such promises hardly addressed the “elephant in the room.”

“The way to move us away from getting close to the 10 percent [debt limit] is to raise the budget and that means taxes,” Goldstein said. “You folks have that power and we don’t.”

Schwartz has said he’ll likely call for tax increases in next year’s budget, but such discussions are still a year away. First, both boards need to finalize their CIPs — the School Board is set to do so on June 21 while the County Board’s CIP approval is scheduled for July 14.

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APS: ‘Incident’ Involving Substitute Teacher at Swanson Middle School

A police officer stepped in to help with an “incident” involving administrators and a substitute teacher at Swanson Middle School earlier today.

An email sent to parents said that a “conversation escalated” between the sub and school officials, prompting a response from the Arlington Public Schools human resources department and a school resource officer.

An APS spokesman declined to provide additional detail about what happened beyond what was written in the email, saying that it was a “personnel issue.”

The full email is below.

Dear Swanson Community,

Today, we had an incident involving our administrators and a substitute teacher.  Because the conversation escalated, we coordinated with school administrators as well as our school resource officer.  We also worked directly with Central Office staff in the APS Human Resources and Administrative Services departments to address the issue, and great efforts were taken to keep the interactions away from students to avoid causing further disruption to the school day. Nonetheless, several students witnessed the individual being escorted off school grounds.

In light of the prevalence of social media and other communication outlets, I wanted to let you know about this in case you see or hear any reports in the community.  If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at [REDACTED].

Thank you,

Reneé Harber
Principal

Photo via Arlington Public Schools

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School Board Nears Agreement on Plan to Add Some, But Not All, Amenities to Career Center Site

(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) The Arlington School Board is nearing consensus on a plan to build 1,050 new seats for high schoolers at the county’s Career Center by 2024, with some, but not all, of the features community members want to see at the site.

At a May 22 work session, the Board expressed broad agreement on changes to Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposed 10-year construction plan, known as the capital improvement plan. School leaders have yet to finalize these decisions, but Board members signaled an increased willingness to embrace a plan that costs roughly $64 million more than the one Murphy proposed.

The Board has spent the last few weeks grappling with how, exactly, they’d execute a plan members agreed to last summer calling for Arlington Public Schools to add more capacity yet avoid building a fourth comprehensive high school, by adding seats to the Career Center (816 S. Walter Reed Drive) and the “Education Center” site adjacent to Washington-Lee High School (1426 N. Quincy Street).

Murphy originally suggested that APS add space for 600 high school students at the Education Center site and 250 at the Career Center by 2021, then tack on 800 more seats at the Career Center in 2026. That construction would also involve the addition of a multi-use gym and “black box” performing arts theater at the Career Center, but would not include the addition of other amenities parents in the area have been demanding.

The Board was previously considering more ambitious plans to outfit the Career Center site with a full complement of athletic fields and performing arts space. But the increased cost of those options, when combined with how the spending would strain APS’ capacity for taking on debt, seems to be scaring off Board members.

“I wanted to know how we could fast track seats and get all the amenities,” said Board member Monique O’Grady. “I think it’s clear that would put us in a situation where it wasn’t affordable.”

The Board is moving closer to embracing a plan that would bump up the construction of 800 additional seats at the Career Center to 2024, but also calls for the addition of a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage to the site.

“It’s very important that we add seats, but also that our seats be high quality,” said Board Chair Barbara Kanninen. “This would be what almost all of our high school students want to see in their school day.”

The Career Center would still not include every possible amenity the community might want to see, like a swimming pool or additional athletic fields, a point the Board repeatedly acknowledged. But Kanninen stressed that students at other county high schools have to travel elsewhere to participate in some sports or specialty classes, and she does not feel that building the Career Center school without those amenities would be inequitable for South Arlington residents.

“When we make a promise that we’re providing a quality high school experience, do we make the promise that the opportunity is within a certain distance of their school?” Kanninen said. “Because that’s what we’re hearing from the community, and that’s not the case at our schools… I think we need to have that conversation with the community, and I don’t think we have had it.”

The plan still comes with plenty of its own fiscal challenges, even if it’s not as ambitious as other options the Board considered. Board member Nancy Van Doren suggested that only building a field at the Career Center site and leasing parking elsewhere — instead of building a whole new garage — could help keep costs down.

Other members focused on yet another challenging question for the Board to decide: should the Career Center be a neighborhood school, drawing primarily from the surrounding area, or an option school open to students across the county?

Leaders of the Arlington Heights Civic Association have argued that making the Career Center a neighborhood school without it containing a full set of amenities would represent a fundamental disadvantage for students in the area, and some members tended to agree.

“If we acknowledge we can’t do equitable neighborhood seats there because we can’t provide all the features when the school opens, that pushes it into choice programs,” said Vice Chair Reid Goldstein “But, of course, that requires more buses.”

Kanninen stressed that the Board does not have to decide on that particular question just yet, and there are other options available.

“I don’t want a site that’s neighborhood without amenities, but I don’t want something that’s all option as well,” O’Grady said.

The Board is set to adopt its final CIP on June 21. Members will also meet with the County Board in the meantime to see if the county can offer additional construction funding, though County Manager Mark Schwartz has warned that such a prospect currently seems unlikely.

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School Board Weighs Options to Beef Up Amenities for Career Center High School Plan

Arlington Public Schools is set to add seats for 850 high schoolers by 2021, but the key question for school leaders now is how, exactly, that construction might proceed.

The School Board is gearing up to award a $2.4 million contract for design work at the “Education Center” site adjacent to Washington-Lee High School (1426 N. Quincy Street), where the school system has planned to add space for up to 600 high school students three years from now. Rather than building a fourth comprehensive high school, the Board agreed last summer on a plan to split new seats between the Education Center and the Arlington Career Center just off Columbia Pike (816 S. Walter Reed Drive).

But the Board is also weighing a plan to use the Education Center site for elementary school use instead, while accelerating the construction of new high school seats at the Career Center. Another option would leave high schoolers at the Education Center, but still accelerate the Career Center seats.

Both plans would let APS build additional amenities at the Career Center site, a notable change as parents in the area raise concerns that students there wouldn’t have the same opportunities — a full complement of athletic fields, for instance — as other high schoolers under APS’s current plans.

“We feel like we’re being told we’re asking for too much by simply asking for equality,” Kristi Sawert, president of the Arlington Heights Civic Association, told ARLnow.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy is proposing a 10-year construction plan that broadly follows the outline of the deal the Board hammered out last summer — he’s suggesting that APS add space for 600 high school students at the Education Center site and 250 at the Career Center by 2021, then tack on 800 more seats at the Career Center in 2026.

That construction would also involve the addition of a multi-use gym and “black box” performing arts theater at the Career Center, with plans to build a new elementary school all the way out in 2029.

Yet, at a May 15 work session, county staff presented the Board with two alternatives.

One calls for moving the 800-seat expansion at the Career Center up to 2024, while simultaneously constructing an addition for performing arts programs. Then, a few years later, APS would add a synthetic athletic field on top of an underground parking garage at the site.

That option would reduce the school system’s reliance on trailers at the high school level a bit sooner, but force APS to delay plans to add more middle and elementary school seats, APS planner Robert Ruiz told the Board.

The other option APS staff developed calls for moving the Montessori program at Patrick Henry Elementary School to the Education Center instead, then sending 500 high schoolers to Henry by 2021.

By 2024, APS would add 800 seats at the Career Center, which would help replace the Henry seats. That option would also guarantee a full range of amenities at the Career Center by 2026, including two synthetic fields, an underground parking garage, a performing arts addition, a gym and a black box theater. Murphy’s current plan only calls for the gym and theater to be built.

However, it would also be about $10 million more expensive than Murphy’s plan, an unpleasant prospect for Board members after APS narrowly avoided class size increases in its last budget.

In all, Leslie Peterson, assistant superintendent of finance and management services, estimates the plan would involve APS spending at least 10 percent of its budget on construction debt from 2023 to 2027, when the school system has long sought to avoid exceeding that 10 percent figure.

“Taking on more debt has a higher impact on operating budgets, and that means that’s less we can put into enrollment increases or compensation,” Peterson said.

The first alternative, involving accelerating the second phase of Career Center construction, is even more expensive, and could cost $64 million more than Murphy’s proposal. The debt would be a bit more spread out, however, with APS set to exceed that 10 percent figure in just two years.

However, Board members did suggest that the County Board could step in to help fund the Career Center construction, though those negotiations are ongoing.

The two boards are set for a joint meeting on May 29, as each moves closer to approving their new capital improvement plans. The School Board is set to kick off design work at the Education Center with a vote on May 31, though county staff assured Board members that work will take into account whichever alternative officials choose.

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APS: Stratford Program May Temporarily Move to Yorktown HS

Arlington Public Schools is shooting down rumors that the Stratford Program is going to be “dismantled” while also announcing that a new, temporary location is under consideration.

Stratford serves secondary-level special education students and is currently co-located with the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program on Vacation Lane. Both programs are set to move to a new facility in Rosslyn for the 2019-2020 school year, but Stratford will be moving to a temporary home during the next school year to facilitate the renovation of its current building into a neighborhood middle school.

In a letter to parents today, Stratford principal Karen Gerry said that APS is now reconsidering a plan to house Stratford in the Reed School building in Westover for a year. For various reasons, APS says Yorktown High School may be a better temporary location, and the school system is kicking off a hurried outreach effort with parents to discuss the new option.

Gerry, in her letter, also acknowledges a false rumor that had been spreading via email that APS was planning to eliminate the Stratford Program.

“It seems that Arlington County has made a decision to dismantle the Stratford Program and that we will not be joining HB Woodlawn at the new site in Rosslyn, as planned,” said the email, which was sent by a parent and later obtained by ARLnow.com. “Several Stratford parents are concerned that this decision has been made without consultation with the wider Stratford community.”

“Over the last few days, there have been many community conversations, emails and statements posted about our plans for next year, and unfortunately, much of it has included misleading or incorrect information,” Gerry wrote. “We want to reassure you that regardless of the one-year location for Stratford students in the 2018-19 school year, the Stratford Program is not being dismantled and our plan to move to the new building on Wilson in the fall of 2019 has not changed.”

The full letter from Gerry to Stratford parents is after the jump.

Photo via Google Maps

Dear Stratford Families:

In the summer of 2018, our building here on Vacation Lane will begin the renovation process as it transitions to a neighborhood middle school. Because of the construction that will take place, Stratford students will no longer be able to access the entrances and classrooms previously available to support their learning. Therefore, for the 2018-19 school year, students will be moving to a new location within APS.

Over the last year or so, we have been working as a community to prepare our students to transition to the Reed building for one year, and then ultimately to the new building on Wilson Boulevard with the H-B Woodlawn Program. As we have been preparing for this move, APS staff has been working to ensure that Reed was the best location for our students for the 2018-19 school year. In analyzing Reed, another potential location — Yorktown High School — was suggested for consideration.  We understand that Yorktown was not an option that was previously discussed, but we believe it is worth exploring further for several important reasons. During this year of transition, we want to ensure that Stratford students have the opportunity to regularly interact with peers from outside of the program. We also want to be sure Stratford’s students have access to the resources that are available to all middle and high school students including the arts, music, and physical education (including swimming); breakfast and lunch in the school cafeteria with their peers; co-curricular activities; and other staffing and facility resources. Yorktown was suggested as a worthy alternative for consideration because none of these educational features and resources will be available next year for our students at the Reed building.

Because we want the Stratford families to help us consider all of the implications of the move for next year, we would like to invite you to join Paul Jamelske, Dr. Tara Nattrass, and me to discuss the Reed and Yorktown options for the 2018-19 school year. We will be hosting an Open House at Stratford from 5:00 until 8:30pm next Wednesday, May 16. You are welcome to drop in at any time during this window of time. We will meet individually or in small groups to discuss the benefits and concerns of both Reed and Yorktown High School as potential locations for our students.

Over the last few days, there have been many community conversations, emails and statements posted about our plans for next year, and unfortunately, much of it has included misleading or incorrect information. We want to reassure you that regardless of the one-year location for Stratford students in the 2018-19 school year, the Stratford Program is not being dismantled and our plan to move to the new building on Wilson in the fall of 2019 has not changed. We look forward to talking with you about next year and, most importantly, to work together with all of our Stratford community to find the best opportunity to serve our students’ personal and educational needs as we prepare to successfully transition to the new Wilson location in September 2019.

Warm regards,

Karen
Karen Gerry,
Principal

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Arlington Schools See Racial Disparity in Suspension Rates, Police Referrals

(Updated at 12:40 p.m.) Following a national trend, data shows that Arlington Public Schools are disproportionately suspending black and Hispanic students compared to their white classmates.

The recently released stats from the U.S. Department of Education indicate that among the total 25,149 APS students, 10.6 percent were black, 28.4 percent were Hispanic and 46.1 percent were white. Meanwhile, the makeup of students serving in-school suspensions in APS was 29.1 percent black, 40.6 percent Hispanic and 19.4 percent white students. For students serving out-of-school suspensions, 29.5 percent were black, 33.3 percent were Hispanic and 27.6 percent were white.

APS administrators also referred disciplinary incidents to county police on 160 occasions, the stats show. In those cases, 25 percent of the students involved were black, 40.8 percent were Hispanic students and 25.8 percent were white students. There were only two expulsions at APS in 2015, and both students represented two or more racial backgrounds.

The racial disparity reflects a national trend revealed in the DOE’s report that found black students were suspended, expelled and referred to law enforcement more frequently than their white peers.

Nationally, in 2015, black students made up 31 percent of children referred to police or arrested, but only 15 percent of the total U.S. school population. White students comprised 49 percent of all students, but only made up 36 percent of student police referrals.

The disparity within APS also includes students with disabilities. Although students with disabilities only made up 13.3 percent of the school population, they comprised 34.6 percent of in-school suspensions, 42.5 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 46.7 percent of referrals to law enforcement.

In a statement emailed to ARLnow.com, Jeannette Allen, the school system’s director of administrative services, said that the APS is aware of the disproportionally large number of suspensions of both minority students and students with disabilities, and is committed to eliminating those disparities.

Allen highlighted the national problem as well, adding that the school system has seen these disparities persist, even as APS has recorded a decline in its total number of suspensions.

The top three offenses that lead to disciplinary action at APS are categorized as “disruptive behavior,” “altercation” and “fighting,” Allen said. Over the past few years, APS has begun to address the disparity by providing funds to schools to find alternatives to suspension, including training for administrators.

“Since most of our suspensions fall in the category of disruptive behavior, our primary focus is providing professional development,” Allen wrote. “Providing professional development and alternatives to suspension will help address the subjectivity that sometimes influences decisions to suspend a student. We are also providing targeted support for students to address their disruptive behaviors in a way that encourages behavioral improvements and helps students to self-regulate their actions and reactions.”

The rest of the suspension data for APS — including specific totals for Wakefield, Washington-Lee and Yorktown High Schools — is after the jump.

Arlington Public Schools
Total Students – 25,149
Black – 10.6%
White – 46.1%
Asian – 9%
Hispanic – 28.4%
Students with disabilities – 13.3%
In-School Suspensions – 635
Black – 29.1%
White – 19.4%
Asian – 5.7%
Hispanic – 40.6%
Students with disabilities – 34.6%
Out-of-School Suspensions – 315
Black – 29.5%
White – 27.6%
Asian – 6.3%
Hispanic – 33.3%
Students with disabilities – 42.5%
Referrals to Law Enforcement – 120
Black – 25%
White – 25.8%
Asian – 3.3%
Hispanic – 40.8%
Students with disabilities – 46.7%
Expulsions – 2
Black – 25%
White – 37.5%
Asian – 12.5%
Hispanic – 25%
Students with disabilities – 0%

Washington-Lee High School
Total Students – 2,189
Black – 9.5%
White – 42.8%
Asian – 10.3%
Hispanic – 31.6%
Students with disabilities – 11.7%
In-School Suspensions – 138
Black – 23.2%
White – 25.4%
Asian – 4.3%
Hispanic – 42.8%
Students with disabilities – 39.9%
Out-of-School Suspensions – 62
Black – 30.6%
White – 21%
Asian – 3.2%
Hispanic – 41.9%
Students with disabilities – 53.2%
Referrals to Law Enforcement – 16
Black – 25%
White – 37.5%
Asian – 12.5%
Hispanic – 25%
Students with disabilities – 50%
Expulsion – 0

Yorktown High School 
Total Students – 1,733
Black – 5.6%
White – 65.5%
Asian – 9.2%
Hispanic – 14.4%
Students with disabilities – 12.6%
In-School Suspensions – 25
Black – 24%
White – 28%
Asian – 0%
Hispanic – 32%
Students with disabilities – 40%
Out-of-School Suspensions – 14
Black – 29.5%
White – 27.6%
Asian – 6.3%
Hispanic – 33.3%
Students with disabilities – 71.4%
Referrals to Law Enforcement – 8
Black – 0%
White – 50%
Asian – 0%
Hispanic – 25%
Students with disabilities – 50%
Expulsions – 2
Black – 0%
White – 0%
Asian – 0%
Hispanic – 0%
Two or More – 100%
Students with disabilities – 0%

Wakefield High School
Total Students – 1,708
Black – 22.2%
White – 20.1%
Asian – 9.5%
Hispanic – 42.9%
Students with disabilities – 17.7%
In-School Suspensions – 198
Black – 32.8%
White – 10.1%
Asian – 6.1%
Hispanic – 48%
Students with disabilities – 29.3%
Out-of-School Suspensions – 47
Black – 48.9%
White – 8.5%
Asian – 4.3%
Hispanic – 29.8%
Students with disabilities – 34%
Referrals to Law Enforcement – 15
Black – 46.7%
White – 0%
Asian – 0%
Hispanic – 40%
Two or More – 13.3%
Students with disabilities – 40%
Expulsions – 0

Editor’s note: a previous version of this story misidentified Jeanette Allen, APS’ director of administrative services. File photo 

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Internet and Email Outage at Arlington Public Schools

Internet connections are down across all Arlington Public Schools.

Both the internet and email systems are experiencing an extended outage, APS announced Monday afternoon. The outage is not expected to be resolved before the end of the school day, APS said.

APS spokesman Frank Bellavia told ARLnow that the school system’s internet vendor is experiencing problems, and they believe that “some cables were cut somewhere.” He added that there’s no timetable for the problem to be fixed.

Anyone who needs to reach school staff is being to encouraged to call rather than email.

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Parents, Students Speak Out About APS Plan To Phase Out Japanese and German Language Classes

Arlington Public Schools will not offer high school students beginner’s level Japanese and German classes this fall, and some parents and students are speaking out about it.

Much of the loudest advocacy has been geared toward supporting up the Japanese classes. Public comments after a world languages presentation at last week’s School Board meeting (May 3) focused on the ways that the Japanese classes have made an impact on students.

“It’s not just a language, it’s not just something people take because they want to get the advanced diploma,” said one student, Juliana Logan. “It’s not an easy language, we take it because we care and we want to learn more about it.”

Another student, Liam Mason, started a Change.org petition that, as of May 4 (Friday), had garnered more than 1,800 signatures over the past week. The petition isn’t clear as to how many of the signers are Arlington residents.

Mason spoke of his strong desire to learn the language, calling the news of the phase out “devastating.”

The demand for Japanese and German courses has shrunk in recent years, according to Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia.

In 2015-2016, 65 students signed up for German and 54 signed up for Japanese. By the next school year, 2016-2017, those numbers dropped to 42 and 37 students respectively.

Though the numbers rose by two students per language in 2017-2018, Bellavia said that the numbers for 2018-2019 German and Japanese enrollment were low. There were 33 requests for German, or six less than in 2017-2018, and 41 requests for Japanese.

Bellavia added in an email to ARLnow that the school system “often [has] attrition from level one to level two… that means that there are even smaller levels at the advanced language level.”

“Therefore, we have decided to use our resources for courses that have a greater level of interest throughout APS,” he said.

Supporters have noted that the reason for the relatively low requests, compared to much more popular languages like Spanish or French (with a respective 2,326 and 673 enrolled students in the last school year), is due to school counselors advising students to switch to Chinese and the lack of a Japanese and German option at the middle school level.

Mason described how many students tend to stick with their middle school language as they advance grade levels, and that German and Japanese are thus dealt an unfair hand during enrollment.

“Counselors have told children to disenroll and it’s not offered in middle school, [yet] numbers are increasing by a surprising margin,” said Mason. His comments continued, stating that he believed that the anticipated larger class sizes would add more students to the program.

According to Bellavia, the advice from counselors came after it was determined that there would be insufficient enrollment for the 2018-2019 school year:

APS counselors do not advocate for one world language course over another. Students were given the same opportunity to select Japanese and German as they were all world languages within APS.  Each year, students select those courses they are interested in taking. Once all of the course requests are approved, school staff review the requests and then determine the number of sections needed for each course.  Each year, there may be some courses for which there is not enough student interest to run the course. Once it was determined there was not enough interest to run Japanese and German for the 2018-19 school year with the current model, counselors advised students that another option would need to be selected.

We are in the process of determining other potential options for offering these languages to those students who are interested.

A committee, Save Japanese in Arlington Public Schools, has been formed by the parents and students, seeking a one year deferment of the decision to allow for community input.

It’s unclear how much sway the committee could have, as Bellavia told ARLnow that all levels of those classes will be phased out by the 2020-2021 school year.

The phase out comes weeks after parents vocalized their collective frustration over budget cuts to the world language program at the elementary school level, known as FLES.

It also comes weeks after a Japanese high school planted dogwood trees at Arlington Career Center as a commemoration of a gift from the United States 103 years ago.

Arlington was chosen as the site of the gift as part of a desire to create a sister city status between Arlington County and Setagaya ward in Tokyo.

Marc Hitzig, a Bluemont resident and the Japan-America Society of Washington D.C.’s executive director, thinks that the phase out will make the county look less dedicated to the creation of a sister city.

“Whenever sister cities or companies want to make a connection with a city or an area, they’re going to look at how much that area is internationalizing… how much of Japan they’re already focused on.”

He added that the society was willing to assist Japanese teachers at APS get the word out about the program and encourage more students to enroll.

Screenshot via Arlington School Board

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School Board Avoids Class Size Increases in New Budget, But Warns of Trouble Ahead

The Arlington School Board managed to avoid class size increases in its new budget, but the county’s worsening financial outlook has school leaders warning that future spending plans could include additional painful cuts.

The School Board voted unanimously Thursday to approve a roughly $637 million budget for fiscal year 2019, though board members expressed plenty of trepidation about the document.

“This was a very difficult year, and I think we’re going to have a few more difficult years,” said board member Tannia Talento. “The things we were able to save this year, we may not be able to save next year. We just need to be aware of that reality.”

Just as the County Board has been wrestling with challenges associated with a shrinking commercial tax base and ballooning Metro expenses, Arlington Public Schools officials have been forced to start doing some belt tightening as well. Superintendent Patrick Murphy proposed about $10 million in spending cuts in the budget he sent to the board, targeting areas like employee benefits and planned hires, and he warned that the rapid pace of student enrollment is likely to only make budget pressures more acute in the coming years.

However, the School Board was able to push off the impact of this year’s budget squeeze in some select areas, thanks to an extra $3.2 million in one-time funding the County Board opted to send to the school system as it finalized its budget on April 22.

The School Board decided Thursday to use the bulk of that money — roughly $2.6 million — to delay a bump in class sizes across every grade level for one year, saving 28 jobs from the chopping block in the process. Murphy had originally proposed upping average elementary school class sizes by one student each, with average increases of .75 pupils in each middle school class and .5 students in high school classes.

But using that money to avoid class size increases was not without controversy; it passed on a 3-2 vote, with Vice Chair Reid Goldstein and board member Monique O’Grady dissenting. While neither board member expressed any great satisfaction with those votes, both stressed that they’d rather see the school system save up now to prepare for choppy financial waters ahead.

“I don’t like taking cuts, but the reality is we must do so,” Goldstein said. “Tightening the belt means things are not going to be perfect all the way around.”

Yet board members like Chair Barbara Kanninen argued that keeping class sizes small is “a hallmark of our school system,” justifying the extra spending. Furthermore, she reasoned that the board could use the county’s one-time funding to support such a change because APS wouldn’t be adding any new positions with the money, merely supporting existing employees.

That sort of thinking informed the board’s decision to spend another $305,000 in county money to fund the hiring of several new social workers and psychologists — Murphy originally proposed adding one part-time employee and one full timer, but the board unanimously voted to increase that to five full-time positions in total.

Talento originally proposed using about $855,000 to hire a total of 11 new social workers and psychologists instead, but some board members bristled at the prospect of using quite so much one-time money to support employees that APS will have to pay for years to come.

Kanninen also proposed using $250,000 to let APS offer one week of paid parental leave to its employees — the school system has offered two weeks of that leave to staffers for the last two years, but Murphy proposed axing that benefit in its entirety. But Kanninen was the only board member to support that motion, leaving it out of the budget.

While board members were pleased that the spending plan will still support many of their priorities — including roughly $12 million in employee pay raises — they also stressed that it was far from ideal.

“In the same way the county’s growing, our budget needs to grow,” said board member Nancy Van Doren. “I fully expect to be requesting more money for our budget next year.”

Photo via Arlington Public Schools

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APS Eyes Accessibility Upgrades for Thomas Jefferson Middle School

(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.

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APS Eyes Seven Elementary Schools as Future “Option” Program Sites

(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.

“The main concern with Barcroft is placing four option programs in South Arlington,” APS staff noted. “Currently two options programs, Key and [Arlington Traditional School] are located in North Arlington. If North Arlington families continue to access option programs, then it may stress capacity in South Arlington schools.”

Another factor for staff to consider will be public backlash against any attempt to tinker with a school’s designation; parents at Nottingham have started a petition resisting any change to the school’s status as a neighborhood school, over concerns that many students currently walk to Nottingham and an option designation would result in more busing instead.

Yet APS officials wrote in the May 1 analysis that setting up an option program at a Northwest Arlington school like Nottingham would provide a bit more geographic diversity to the school system’s option offerings. Staff also notes that some students currently walking to Nottingham are also eligible to walk to the nearby Tuckahoe and Discovery Elementary Schools instead, reducing the need for some buses.

Staff stressed in the analysis that “all schools remain on the table,” even if they are honing in on the seven aforementioned schools. They plan to further examine the attendance and traffic impacts of these possible changes in the coming weeks and months.

Anyone interested in commenting on these proposals can do so on the APS website. School staff will offer final recommendations to the board later this fall ahead of a slated November vote on the matter.

File photo

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