Arlington, VA

This fall, a pair of electric school buses will replace two older diesel buses in the Arlington Public Schools fleet, the first trickle of an expected wave that could convert the fleet to 100 percent electric by 2030.

Dominion Energy is helping to supply the two buses, and 48 others, to 16 Virginia localities, including Arlington. Alexandria, Fairfax County, and Prince William County are among the jurisdictions receiving new buses from Dominion.

“We will be getting two buses sometime in the fall,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia confirmed to ARLnow this afternoon, following the Dominion announcement. “They will replace two buses that are next in the replacement cycle.”

The new buses will be manufactured by Thomas Built Buses, a traditional school bus manufacturer that is now producing electric models. Dominion is offsetting additional expenses associated with the electric school buses beyond the cost of a standard diesel bus.

The power company is working on a multi-phase plan to move Virginia school divisions to all-electric school bus fleets by 2030. Beyond environmental benefits, Dominion says the buses will be used, essentially, as batteries on the power grid to help supply more electricity during peak times.

More from a press release:

The electric school buses will serve as a grid resource by creating additional energy storage technology to support the company’s integration of distributed renewables such as solar and wind. The “vehicle-to-grid” technology leverages the bus batteries to store and inject energy onto the grid during periods of high demand when the buses are not needed for transport. The buses also provide environmental and health benefits through reduced emissions and reduce operation and maintenance costs for schools by up to 60 percent.

“We are excited to move forward with our commitment to bringing the benefits of electric school buses to the customers and communities we serve,” said Dominion Energy Chairman, President and CEO Thomas F. Farrell, II.  “This is an innovative, sustainable solution that will help the environment, protect children’s health, make the electric grid stronger, and free up money for our schools.”

This initial deployment will bring electric school buses to each of the company’s operating regions. Localities were selected based on the benefit the batteries would bring to the electric grid. […]

This is just the first step in a larger initiative to replace diesel-powered buses with electric buses. Phase two of the project, with state approval, would expand the program to bring at least 1,000 additional electric school buses online by 2025. Once phase two is fully implemented, the buses’ batteries could provide enough energy to power more than 10,000 homes. Phase three would set the goal to have 50 percent of all diesel bus replacements in Dominion Energy’s footprint be electric by 2025 and 100 percent by 2030.

Photos via Thomas Built Buses/YouTube

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Citing staffing challenges and future budget cuts, Arlington Public Schools is discontinuing its summer enrichment programs for elementary students this year.

While axing the summer programs — which offered advanced classes on computer programing, math and world geography — APS said it will continue providing make-up classes and resources for students who are falling behind. Outdoor Lab sessions will continue as well.

“We are focusing our resources and staffing to provide makeup and strengthening courses to students who need extra help and additional support,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.

The decision is not sitting well with some parents.

“Arlington Public Schools [is gutting its] summer enrichment program with little advance notice leaving parents in the lurch,” one parent said in an email to ARLnow.

In a letter to families, below, Interim Superintendent Cintia Johnson said the Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation’s summer programs may pick up some of the slack created by the APS decision.

Dear APS Staff and Families,

As you begin to make plans for this summer, I am writing to share updates to the APS Summer School Program for 2020. This year, in order to make the best use of available staff and resources, and to serve the students of greatest need, we will no longer be able to offer elementary summer enrichment programs, including: Global Village Summit, Fun with Coding, Math Academy and Summer Laureate. Outdoor Lab sessions will continue for elementary and middle school students.

We came to this decision based on increased challenges in staffing summer school strengthening, as well as anticipated budget reductions for the 2020-21 school year. While this was not an easy decision, these changes allow us to sustain our high-quality summer strengthening program and provide excellent teachers and staff to serve students with the greatest need.

We are working closely with the Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to identify similar offerings and will communicate comparable camp providers through a follow-up School Talk message in early February, prior to the DPR summer camp registration. Arlington County offers fee reductions for eligible students, making these options comparable in price to APS offerings. Please note:

  • DPR summer camp registration begins on February 12 at 7 a.m. Lots of fun and enriching experiences for your student, with reduce fees as needed.
  • Don’t wait to sign up for a camp until you hear if your student is referred to APS summer school.  Spots fill quickly.  Students who are referred to APS Summer School and must cancel a camp in conflict with APS Summer School can notify DPR by Monday, March 16 to get a full refund. All other cancelations follow DPR Cancelation Policy.

The APS Summer Strengthening Program, which runs July 6-31, will continue to be offered for elementary students who meet specific eligibility requirements established by the Department of Teaching and Learning. Enrollment is by teacher and principal recommendation only for students who are at least one grade-level below in reading and/or math. Eligible students will be notified during Parent-Teacher conferences on March 5-6. A letter will also be mailed to families indicating student eligibility.

Lastly, the make-up and strengthening fee for all programs, PreK-12, will be $150. Students who currently receive free or reduced-price meals will continue to pay $56 for summer classes, and students who receive Extended School Year services, may attend free of charge. The 2020 Secondary Enrichment fees and New Work for Credit fees will remain the same as in 2019.

These changes were presented by APS staff and approved by the School Board at the December 19 meeting. The full presentation is available online on BoardDocs.

I hope that this notice helps you plan accordingly. I also encourage you to participate in the APS Summer Activities Fair on Friday, February 7. This is a great way to learn about the many academic and arts programs, sports camps and other offerings available for the summer. Additional resources are provided below. Please contact the Summer School Office by phone at 703-228-7645 or by email at  [email protected], if you need additional assistance.

Sincerely,

Cintia Johnson
Interim Superintendent

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Equity was the buzzword of the night as five Arlington School Board candidates announced their candidacy at an Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting last week.

Two incumbent School Board members, Tannia Talento and Nancy Van Doren, are not running for reelection, leaving two of the five School Board seats open. A video posted by Blue Virginia showed each of the five Democratic candidates running for those two seats making their pitch at last week’s meeting.

(While School Board races in Virginia are nonpartisan, Arlington Democrats hold an endorsement caucus that functions as a defacto primary.)

In speaking order, the candidates were:

Symone Walker: An attorney and parent of two students at Gunston Middle School, Walker’s campaign speech was the first of the evening to focus on equity. Walker said every decision needs to be made “through an equity lens.” Walker also suggested that schools being more adept at handling student trauma, from training administrators to educating parents on ways to handle emotional situations, could help prevent school shootings.

Cristina Díaz-Torres: Díaz-Torres is a former geometry and AP statistics teacher who said her experience in a classroom that had more students than desks helped inform her decision to try to change education administration.

“[Policies] were made and written by folks who were well intentions but had no experience in classroom,” Díaz-Torres said.

During her speech, Díaz-Torres pledged to deliver teacher compensation that would allow educators to live in Arlington and to eliminate what she described as “deceptive” practices in the way the school system presents data and information to the public.

David Priddy: Priddy — who previously ran for School Board — is an Arlington Public Schools graduate and parent to a student in Thomas Jefferson Middle School. He told Democrats that his business experience gave him experience making cuts and difficult decisions that will help bring a sense of fiscal responsibility to the School Board. Like Walker, Priddy said his campaign would center on securing equity between students. Priddy also vowed to revamp the school district’s boundary process.

Sandy Munnell: A retired Washington-Liberty High School teacher, Munnell’s speech focused around achieving competency through teacher retention.

“We are starting to lose teachers to neighboring jurisdictions who offer better support in the classrooms… and yes, better pay,” Munnell said. “That’s a real change for Arlington. If we don’t keep quality teachers in the classrooms, we can’t keep quality results.”

Terron Sims: An Iraq War vet and former County Board candidate, Sims said his military experience taught him lessons about accountability and management that he hopes to bring to the School Board. On Sims’ website, he says his goal is to promote more apprenticeship programs at Arlington Tech and the Career Center and to continue to work on securing more community partnerships to help offer opportunities to students.

After the Democratic endorsement caucus, the date of which has yet to be announced, the two new School Board members will be chosen in the Nov. 3 general election.

File photo. Hat tip to Blue Virginia.

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(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Interim Superintendent Cintia Johnson is recommending an elementary school swap involving four schools, a more modest of two proposals presented in October.

Both proposals have received considerable pushback from parents, but in a presentation to the Arlington School Board last night administrators said it’s the best option for dealing with projected increased in enrollment in certain parts of the county.

“As we look at our projections and we look at the growth that’s coming along,” a school staffer said, “the area where we see the biggest growth is on the eastern side of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.”

The recommended proposal would make the following changes, starting with the 2021-22 school year:

  • Move most McKinley Elementary students, plus most faculty and the principal, to the new school under construction at the Reed site in Westover.
  • Move students, faculty and the principal of Arlington Traditional School (ATS) — a “choice” school — to the larger McKinley building.
  • Move students, faculty and the principal of Key Elementary, a bilingual English/Spanish immersion program, to the current ATS building.
  • Make the current Key building a new neighborhood elementary school, to support growth in the area.

Administrators say moving Key to the ATS building would put it closer to more Spanish speakers and “allow for long-term growth in the program.”

A number of parents from each of the potentially affected school spoke out against the swap at the School Board meeting, for a variety of reasons, following the presentation.

The presentation also included discussion of an “alternate scenario,” that would change elementary school boundaries rather than swap schools. The decidedly unpalatable alternative called for about 4,000 students — 38% of the elementary population — to be assigned to a new school. On top of that, it would require more busing.

“To fill schools to manageable capacity, boundaries would require more students to be assigned to schools farther away instead schools closer to where they live,” the superintendent’s presentation said.

Next up in the process, the School Board is expected to hold a public hearing before taking action on the proposal in February.

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(Updated at 10:20 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools will open on a two hour delay Wednesday, following today’s snowfall.

Officials hope the delay will allow slick spots on roads and sidewalks, from an expected refreeze overnight, to start to melt.

APS announced the delay at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday night, noting that morning field trips will be cancelled.

Arlington officials and forecasters are continuing to warn that temperatures will likely dip below freezing overnight, producing black ice and making driving dangerous.

Snow crews “will be on standby” to treat any problem spots, Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services said.

The National Weather Service says it will be breezy and cold Wednesday, with wind gusts up to 35-45 mph.

Also tonight, Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation announced changes with its programs Wednesday.

Arlington Public Schools have announced a two hour delay Wed., Jan. 8 so DPR will proceed as follows per the DPR Inclement Weather Policy:

  • All congregate meal programs will begin at 10 a.m.
  • All Early Childhood Programs (Preschool and Co-op) will begin at 10 a.m.
  • All Enjoy Arlington classes (except for Gymnastics), 55+ classes and trips, nature center programs, sports activities, leagues and instructional programs in County and joint use facilities scheduled to start prior to 9:59 a.m. are cancelled.
  • All Enjoy Arlington classes (except for Gymnastic), 55+ classes and trips, nature center programs, sports activities, leagues and instructional programs in County and joint use facilities scheduled to start at 10 a.m. or later will proceed as scheduled.
  • Gymnastic Classes scheduled to start prior to 11:59 a.m. are cancelled.
  • Gymnastic Classes scheduled to start at noon or later will proceed as scheduled.
  • All community centers (including the five joint use centers located at Carver, Drew, Gunston, Langston and TJ) will open as scheduled.
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Morning Notes

Amazon ‘Excited’ for HQ2 Construction — “As we look ahead to 2020, we’re excited to start construction on our first buildings and hear more from our neighbors on how our investments can benefit the entire community — and continue to hire… Today we have more than 400 employees working from our leased office space on Crystal Drive, 18th Street S and South Bell Street in Arlington.” [Amazon]

Nearly 400 Amazon Job Openings in Arlington — Amazon currently lists just shy of 400 open positions in Arlington, from systems engineers to advertising account executives to event managers. [Amazon]

APS May Bring Back Paper Report Cards — “The effort by Arlington Public Schools to go high-tech with the distribution of student report cards appears to have hit a major snag. Two School Board members on Dec. 19 expressed significant concerns, and a third offered a milder form of disquiet, with the school system’s decision to scrap printed report cards in favor of online reporting.” [InsideNova]

Yorktown Boys Basketball Still Undefeated — Yorktown High School’s boys basketball team has extended its winning ways by winning the annual Bulldog Bash holiday tournament. The team’s 10-0 run included a 24-point comeback win on Dec. 20. [InsideNova, InsideNova, Twitter]

Q&A With New Economic Development DirectorIncoming Arlington Economic Development Director Telly Tucker, in a Q&A: “I really want to first start with listening and learning about priorities and interests from all of those different entities to figure out a way to massage them into working toward common goals.” [Arlington Magazine]

Charitable Clothing Store Opens in Arlington — “There is a new option in Arlington that’s already helping hundreds of kids in need… Clothesline for Arlington Kids isn’t exactly a store. There are no price tags, and no money is exchanged. Instead, low-income children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches can come here for clothing, free of charge.” [WJLA]

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Morning Notes

Lee Highway Merchants Profiled — “Oscar and Evelyn Bunoan are well known in the community for the amazing food they serve at their modest grocery store in Arlington, Va. – the Philippine Oriental Market & Deli. From the time it opened 42 years ago, the place is constantly busy. These days, it’s just the two of them running the store. There are long lines at lunchtime. And they get frequent calls for catered meals or large orders for birthday parties.” [Manila Mail]

APS Wants to Hire Superintendent By Spring — “Arlington School Board members say they hope to have a permanent superintendent announced by April, and will lay out steps for the community to become involved in the process in coming weeks. A series of community meetings to gather input will be held the week of Jan. 20, and an online survey also will be made available, in order to create an ‘in-depth profile’ of the qualities and skills being sought in a new education chief.” [InsideNova]

Police: Woman Threw Knife at Man — “At approximately 3:18 p.m. on December 20, police were dispatched to the report of a stabbing [on the 3100 block of 9th Road N.]. Upon arrival, it was determined that known individuals were involved in a verbal dispute when the female suspect threw a knife at the male victim, causing injury. The suspect fled the scene prior to police arrival. The victim was treated for non-life threatening injuries at an area hospital. Warrants were obtained for Malicious Wounding.” [Arlington County]

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The following Letter to the Editor was written by Jennifer Myers, a parent of two children at McKinley who’s active in the McKinley PTA and serves as a SEPTA parent liaison.

Arlington Public Schools’ recent proposal to swap a number of elementary schools has gone no better than past boundary changes.

Parents, stymied by APS’s reliance on data that they’re later told should be considered “back of the envelope” work at best, and by APS’s refusal to release alternate proposals despite its requests for community engagement and feedback, are frustrated and angry. PTAs are expressing concerns about the quality of data and impacts on diversity.

Community meetings are breaking down into yelling, and neighbors are trying not to feel pitted against one another. A former Arlington School Board member has weighed in, questioning APS’s stated decision not to factor demographics into the school moves.

Given the size and scope of the current elementary school moves proposal, and given that APS staff have signaled that they expect to redraw boundaries every year for the foreseeable future, we need to improve this process for the health of our school system and our County.

APS should hire an outside consultant to improve what is a broken school boundary process.

As an example of how an outside consultant can help, I would point to a Nov. 2019 report released by Public Consulting Group (PCG). Hired by APS to evaluate the “effectiveness and efficacy of APS policies, procedures and practices” when it comes to special education, PCG spent the past school year surveying and speaking with parents and staff, analyzing data and documents, and benchmarking APS against local, state and national standards. They asked how well APS was doing in its evaluation practices, resource allocation, access and equity, use of high-quality staff to service needs, and parent and family engagement. From there, 54 action items to improve special education in APS were recommended.

We need the same for school planning.

We all want to make sure the process and data for school moves and boundary changes are optimized in a way that will produce successful schools. Bringing in an outside consultant would allow us to make sure that APS employees in the Planning & Evaluation office have the right staffing structure and resources to do their work — particularly at a time when there are unfilled staff positions in the Planning & Evaluation office — and that they have a clear framework for how to partner productively with parents and other community members during each boundary process. An outside consultant would be a smart investment in our system and County.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity, at our discretion.

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As The Children’s School gets closer to building a three-story daycare facility at 4700 Lee Highway, the Arlington County Board has approved a request to eliminate off-site parking and modify initial architectural plans.

During its meeting last night the Board approved a request to alter the site’s requirements for an off-site parking lot, and instead have a total of 36 on-site parking spaces, 12 more than required under updated zoning code. Thirty of the spaces will be in an underground garage, while 6 will be surface parking.

“At the time of use permit approval [in 2018, the Zoning Ordinance required one (1) parking space per employee for a child care use,” a county staff report explains. “Since that approval, Section 14.3 of the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance has been updated to require one (1) parking space per ten children.”

The new facility is being built where the shuttered Alpine Restaurant now stands.

Architectural changes include extension of the third-story rear play deck, expansion of the front landscape, and the addition of windows to the rear of the building.

The Board also moved to expand the site’s rear wall so car headlights will not shine into neighboring houses, which was subject of concern from residents at the meeting.

Eight spaces in the site’s parking garage will used for child pick-up and drop-off. Parents will also be able to use a teacher-assisted curb loop right off Lee Highway for similar purposes.

When complete, the child care center will oversee up to 235 children between the ages of two months to five years old. The final number of children permitted will “be subject to approval” by the county Child Care Office and the county’s Inspection Services Division, per a staff report.

The co-op program for the children of Arlington Public Schools employees has long operated out of the Reed School building in Westover, but with APS planning to open a new elementary school at that site in 2021, the Children’s School has been forced to relocate elsewhere. The new facility will also be home to Integration Station, a program for kids with developmental or other disabilities that intermingles with The Children’s School.

Until its permanent location is complete, the facility is temporarily located in the second and third floors of a Ballston office building located at 4420 N. Fairfax Drive.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

While many believe that Arlington Public Schools (APS) currently is engaged in an elementary school boundary process, it is not. Instead, APS proposes moving entire school populations from one school to another. It then will consider boundary changes in the fall of 2020, offering no details on what those might look like.

Making adjustments to school assignments is necessary to create an attendance zone to fill seats at the new elementary school at the Reed building opening in 2021. In addition, APS intends to redraw the attendance zone for Arlington Science Focus School to address significant crowding in that part of the County.

APS has a detailed policy for boundary changes, which includes consideration of the following factors: efficiency, proximity, stability, alignment, promoting demographic diversity, and contiguity. However, there is no policy governing the current “school move” process and APS has been explicit that it is not considering demographics.

Research is clear that students — all students — do better in diverse learning environments.

Yet many of our schools are not diverse. The socio-economic differences are stark: the average eligibility for free/reduced price meals for neighborhood elementary schools in south Arlington is more than three times that of neighborhood schools in north Arlington – 52.58% compared with 15.58%.

We also know that there are significant gaps in academic achievement between poorer and wealthier schools. For example, the Standards of Learning math pass rate last year at Carlin Springs Elementary was 62% (free/reduced price lunch eligibility — 81.15%) and for Tuckahoe Elementary it was 98% (free/reduced price lunch eligibility — 1.51%).

The School Board’s boundary policy appropriately considers promoting demographic diversity, recognizing that this has an impact on student achievement. Students in diverse schools also have the benefit of learning about and from others with different backgrounds, languages, and life experiences.

Among the APS core values is equity, which is defined this way: “Eliminate opportunity gaps and achieve excellence by providing access to schools, resources, and learning opportunities according to each student’s unique needs.”

APS should consider lack of diversity in schools as an opportunity gap.

As APS staff, community members, and the School Board engage in the current process, I suggest that the four equity questions I referenced in my November 1 column be asked:

  • Who benefits?
  • Who is burdened?
  • Who is missing?
  • How do you know?

Since APS is not considering demographics in its school move process, these questions cannot be fully answered. We do know that the burden of one of the proposals may fall disproportionately on low-income students, since it would move nearly all students at Campbell, Carlin Springs, and Key elementary schools. And given what appears to be the lack of any community support for the proposals, who benefits?

The Board should not move thousands of elementary school students in a process that is separate from a boundary process and that does not consider demographic diversity. To do so misses the chance to reduce opportunity gaps by increasing diversity at our elementary schools.

Instead, school moves and boundary changes should be considered together, with data about the free/reduced price lunch population and racial/ethnic composition of each elementary school that would result. And consideration should be given to other tools that have been used in the past to address crowding, diversity, and achievement, such as option and team schools.

Achieving more diversity across our elementary schools, most of which are neighborhood schools, is challenging. But we cannot make any progress if promoting demographic diversity is not even a factor in the process of assigning students to different schools.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Project Peace Prevention Committee and Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with the Community Progress Network and Second Chance.

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Morning Notes

NAACP Slams APS Diversity Czar Process —  “The Arlington school system’s effort to appoint a diversity czar has run into a buzzsaw of criticism from the county’s major civil-rights organization. The two co-chairs of the Arlington NAACP’s education committee took to the Dec. 5 School Board meeting to complain that the selection process was leaving out many of those the position is designed to support.” [InsideNova]

Snow Likely Overnight — “Temperatures are poised to leap to near 60 degrees Tuesday, and it won’t feel at all like it could snow. But, in a flash, that will change. An Arctic front charging to the East Coast will switch our weather from fall-like to winterlike in a matter of hours, setting the stage for possible wet snow overnight Tuesday into early Wednesday morning.” [Capital Weather Gang, Twitter]

Yorktown in Xmas Choir Competition — “Vote Now! The @yhschoir is a finalist in 97.1 WASH FM’s Christmas Choir Competition. The top prize is $5,000!” [Twitter, WASH-FM]

Local Bus Routes on Chopping Block — Metro is considering cutting or restructuring a number of local bus routes as part of its new, proposed budget. Among the Arlington bus routes that could be cut are the 5A, 16G, 22A and 22C. [WTOP]

Wardian Attempts Elvis Record — “Local ultramarathoner Michael Wardian has unfortunately failed to re-capture the world record time for the fastest marathon run while dressed as Elvis.” [Canadian Running]

Letter: County Shouldn’t Rescue Fallen Phones — “I question whether retrieving personal property is really an appropriate use of Arlington County resources. It must have cost significantly more than the value of the phone to provide the personnel for the recovery effort. As an Arlington County taxpayer, I resent that.” [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

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