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Morning Notes

Icy Conditions on N. Glebe Road — The northbound lanes of N. Glebe Road are closed at Military Road “for an unknown amount of time” due to icy conditions. [Twitter]

County Board Member is Pregnant — Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol and her husband Steve are expecting their first child in May. [Twitter]

Long-Time APS Employee Dies — Charles Weber, a World War II veteran who “worked for Arlington County Public Schools for thirty-seven years and served as Principal of Swanson Junior High School and Stratford Junior High School,” has died at the age of 91. [Dignity Memorial]

Scooter Trips > Bikeshare Trips — “In October, when Arlington, Va.’s scooter pilot began, there were 69,189 Bird and Lime scooter trips for 75,425 total miles traveled with Bird and Lime. Meanwhile, Capital Bikeshare – routinely and still considered a success, with lots more potential – had 26,532 total trips in Arlington in October.” [Mobility Labs, Twitter]

Growing Number of $200K+ Earners in Arlington — “If there’s one place in America that doesn’t need a helping hand from Jeff Bezos, it could be [Arlington and the D.C. suburbs]. The Washington commuter area is home to four of the top 10 (Nos. 2, 3, 5 and 6) fastest-growing census tracts of high earners.” [Bloomberg]

Conspiracy Theorists Eye Cemetery — “QAnon believers have become convinced the deep-state cabal has a bunker under Arlington Cemetery, connected to a tunnel running straight to Comet Ping Pong.” [Twitter]

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Here’s How Arlington First Responders Train to Handle ‘Active Shooter’ Scenarios

The call went out over a police radio channel shortly before 9 a.m. Wednesday: there’s an active shooter at Washington-Lee High School, with multiple gunshot victims.

Luckily, this was just a drill, an exercise that police and dispatchers used to prepare should such a nightmare scenario ever play out in Arlington.

In fact, Arlington County Police say they have been actively training since 1999 to handle a school shooting or any such “active shooter” situation, an all-too-common occurrence that has traumatized communities across the country.

The department also formed a “Tactical Training Unit” in 2013 to put an increased focus on the issue, providing each patrol officer with a minimum of six “training days” each year, according to a county fact sheet on the issue.

“Patrol officers participate in ‘no-notice’ training three times per year,” the fact sheet says. “This training requires on-duty police officers and firefighters to respond to a mock training scenario and practice integrating police and fire/EMS response to incidents such as ‘Active Violence Events.'”

The police department also has a full-time officer assigned to the county’s “High Threat Response Program” to coordinate how first responders manage such incidents across Arlington’s various departments.

All Arlington Public Schools also conduct at least four “lockdown” drills each year, coordinating with each building’s school resource officers for each one. Those officers also work with APS staff on “tabletop exercises in preparation for emergency situations,” the fact sheet said.

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Morning Notes

APS Adds Non-Binary Gender Option — “This school year, Arlington Public Schools added a new question on its form for students to indicate a designated gender, including male, female and ‘X.'” [DCist]

ACPD Has New Electronic Sign — “You may see a new electronic signboard around @ArlingtonVA thanks to JAG grant funds provided through the @TheJusticeDept! These signboards help ACPD share important public safety messaging around school zones, events and campaigns… The signboards also display motorists speed so remember to slow down and obey posted speed limits.” [Twitter]

Leak Prompts Early Morning Road Closure — “A water leak has been repaired after causing early morning traffic problems Wednesday in Arlington. The leak was reported along S. Arlington Ridge Road between 23rd St S. and the Interstate 395 Service road.” [Fox 5]

Jail Holds Holiday Party for Inmates’ Kids — “The Arlington County Detention Facility was transformed Tuesday night into the fictional town, Whoville, in anticipation of a few special visitors. Some children were given the opportunity to visit their incarcerated parents.” [WUSA 9]

Amazon News Roundup — Amazon is planning to bring a “Treasure Truck retail vehicle” to the D.C. area. One way to accommodate new HQ2 workers would be to upzone nearby residential neighborhoods like Aurora Highlands to the population density of Capital Hill or San Francisco’s Mission District. Prompted by Amazon’s arrival, George Mason University plans to build a new 400,000 square foot facility on its Virginia Square campus in Arlington to house the Institute for Digital Innovation, “a research enterprise for fields like data analytics, cybersecurity and defense.”

Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen

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Favola Hopes Lawmakers Could Finally Grant Arlington School Calendar Control Next Year

(Updated at 3:35 p.m.) In Arlington’s long fight to regain control of its school calendar, one of the county’s representatives in Richmond finally sees some reason for optimism.

School leaders have hoped for years now to wrest control of the calendar from state officials, giving Arlington Public Schools the chance to start classes before Labor Day each year. State law generally bars school systems from starting any earlier unless officials can demonstrate a compelling reason to push up the calendar, like the threat of winter weather, in what has long been referred to as the “King’s Dominion Rule.”

The theme park helped convince state lawmakers to take control of the school calendar in a bid to boost the state’s tourism industry back in 1986, and the company has frequently fought attempts by school systems to adjust their own calendars since, over fears that doing so would cut into the park’s pool of low-wage summer workers. But the park’s ownership has softened its opposition to the change as time has gone by, and dozens of school systems have managed to obtain “waivers” to the state law to set calendars as they please.

Even still, the General Assembly has repeatedly stymied efforts to hand control back to all the state’s school systems, including Arlington, despite the mounting pressures of standardized tests on the final months of the school calendar. But this year, however, state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) has hope.

She’s crafting legislation that would specifically give all Northern Virginia localities the power to set their own school calendars. Some, like Fairfax and Loudoun counties, already have waivers to start before Labor Day, but she’s hoping that such narrowly tailored legislation to sweep in counties like Arlington might prove more palatable to her Republican colleagues.

“We have so many jurisdictions under the waiver already, it’s ridiculous,” Favola told ARLnow. “We don’t have control over when SATs or SOLs start… and after those are done, students just aren’t energized. I’m hoping this will finally give Arlington the chance to start earlier.”

The state Senate has killed similar efforts plenty of times before, and this year was no exception. Even though a bill giving all school systems calendar control passed overwhelmingly in the House of Delegates this session, it died narrowly in a Senate committee.

But Favola says she’s heard that some Republicans in the chamber are “not opposed” to the bill she’s planning, and even gotten “positive feedback” from others. During a work session with Arlington’s County Board on Friday (Dec. 7), Favola said she’d heard specifically from Sen. Steve Newman (R-23rd District) that he could support such legislation — that’s notable because Newman chairs the Senate’s Education and Health committee, the very group that killed the school calendar bill this year.

In an interview after the meeting, Favola declined to elaborate on Newman’s support, or put other Republicans “on the spot” who might support the bill. Through his legislative aide, Newman said he will “look forward to reviewing Sen. Favola’s legislation again this year, and will give it every consideration.”

“As you may know, I have been working to get a Labor Day exemption into the budget over the past few years that would cover much of Virginia,” Newman wrote in a statement. “We will continue to move this important endeavor forward in the 2019 General Assembly Session.”

Despite her optimism, Favola would concede that it’s no sure thing that her legislation will succeed. Even though King’s Dominion has not been as vocal in lobbying against such legislation in recent years, she said the company is “still saying there’s a need” for student workers ahead of Labor Day weekend.

That’s where she hopes the legislation’s provision targeting only “Planning District 8” — which includes Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park — can provide some reassurance to the theme park, and the legislators who may be swayed by King’s Dominion’s concerns. Since the park sits roughly an hour-and-a-half down I-95 from Northern Virginia, it stands to reason that it doesn’t draw many workers at all from the area’s schools.

However, Favola’s bill would leave some large and influential localities without calendar control, including Virginia Beach, Chesterfield, Henrico and Richmond.

That means her legislation will likely need to compete with other bills designed to give all the state’s school systems control — Sen. Amanda Chase (R-11th District), and a representative of some suburban Richmond communities a bit closer to the park, has already introduced just such a bill.

The General Assembly is set to reconvene for a one-month-long session on Jan. 9.

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Morning Notes

Rosslyn Lands Trump HQ2 — President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign will be opening a satellite office to its Trump Tower headquarters at a Rosslyn office building. Arlington has previously been home to a number of presidential campaign headquarters. [Politico]

Popular Popcorn Purveyor Opens at DCA — Chicago’s Garrett Popcorn Shops now has a second location in Arlington. Garrett’s new shop is now open in the pre-security section of Reagan National Airport near Terminal C. [Twitter]

New APS Weather Plan — “Superintendent Patrick Murphy on Dec. 6 announced a new plan for dealing with tricky-to-forecast winter storms, after the school system kept schools open for an unexpectedly potent November snowfall, a decision that sent many parents into spasms of outrage… If inclement weather threatens for the following day, Arlington school officials will announce a two-hour delay by 6 p.m. the previous evening.” [InsideNova]

Jamestown No. 1 on Best Teacher List — Arlington’s Jamestown Elementary School is No. 1 on a new list of “Greater Washington’s best public school teachers.” [Washington Business Journals]

APS Fails to Get Easement for Construction Crane — “Arlington School Board members on Dec. 20 are slated to approve an increase in the construction contract for the new elementary school being built adjacent to Thomas Jefferson Middle School totaling just over $292,000. The project initially assumed that the contractor would be able to use a tower crane on the site, but the school system was unable to come to terms with nearby property owners for the necessary easements.” [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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School Board Signs Off On New South Arlington School Boundaries, Ending Messy Debate Over Maps

Eight South Arlington elementary schools will soon see changes to their attendance boundaries, now that the School Board has signed off on a final map and put an end to a contentious, messy debate over boundaries that roiled several school communities over the last few months.

The Board voted unanimously last night (Thursday) to approve a boundary map drawn up by school officials just a few days ago, a move that could send as many as 413 elementary students to new schools starting next year.

Arlington Public Schools officials designed the boundary process to meet a series of different concerns. Not only is the school system facing rising enrollment numbers across all of its schools, but officials needed to account for the opening of Alice West Fleet Elementary School next year. The school system is also gearing up to convert Drew Model School into a “neighborhood” school, drawing its attendees primarily from the communities surrounding the Nauck building, and move its Montessori program to the building currently serving as Patrick Henry Elementary.

Accordingly, the process involved drawing new boundaries for both Drew and Fleet, while shifting some students primarily from Oakridge and Long Branch to those schools, as well as Hoffman-Boston.

But APS leaders and Board members have come under fire from virtually all sides as they’ve managed this complex series of moves.

Many parents at Henry felt betrayed by proposals that would send roughly a fifth of the community to Drew instead of Fleet, even though they felt school officials had long promised to avoid such a change. Others at Drew fretted that the boundary changes wouldn’t do enough to even out demographics at each South Arlington school, while Abingdon parents were alarmed by a prior proposal to move some students in Fairlington to Drew instead.

Even still, Board members expressed confidence that the map they’ve approved will best serve the needs of the entire school system, despite the acrimony that marred the process.

“It’s a solution we need to have happen at this point because of our rising enrollment,” said Board Chair Reid Goldstein. “This boundary change is not perfect. No boundary change is perfect.”

Yet plenty of parents arrived at Thursday’s meeting to decry the entire process, with many lamenting that the Board has managed to break their trust that future efforts will be managed competently.

“You’re failing Drew and Fleet,” parent Susan Hampton told the Board. “I don’t know why you’d willfully increase economic segregation… I’ve lost my faith in the process.”

Notably, even some Board members expressed regret that they couldn’t do enough to better spread out students eligible for free and reduced price lunch (a key indicator of their family’s economic means) across the eight schools. While the new map will reduce FRL rates at some schools, Barcroft, Drew and Randolph will all still have at least 50 percent of their student bodies eligible for free and reduced lunch.

“I certainly didn’t meet all the goals we laid out for this,” Goldstein said.

But Board member Monique O’Grady argued that the new map still took major steps toward addressing racial inequality in the county, primarily with how it will transform Drew’s future. She noted that the Nauck community has long hoped for a “single-focus neighborhood school,” though students there have been constantly bused away from the area, dating back to the days of the Jim Crow era.

While some parents at Henry proposed transforming Drew into a countywide “option” program as one way to avoid more boundary changes elsewhere, O’Grady stressed that converting Drew into a pure neighborhood school is the best way to meet the community’s needs.

“Now Drew will follow in the footsteps of Oakridge and Abingdon… which now enjoy huge support from the families they serve,” O’Grady said. “I believe Drew will enjoy similar success.”

Other parents were similarly pleased that the Board’s map will keep the entirety of the Fairlington community together at Abingdon, even though it will leave the school a bit overcrowded for now. The Board chose to leave some schools a bit under-capacity — including Fleet and Drew — to allow for growth over the years, and avoid more boundary changes. Then, it hopes to address any remaining issues in the 2020 boundary drawing process.

“[This map] acknowledges that our neighborhoods continue to fill with elementary-aged children who want to take advantage of our excellent schools, and gives our county and our kids room to grow,” said Claire Rosenberger, an Abingdon parent.

But many remain nervous that the 2020 changes will proceed similarly turbulently, and warned parents to be vigilant moving forward.

“Successful civic engagement does not require that everyone agree with end result, but it does require transparency and accountability,” said Joe Everling, a Henry parent who has been fiercely critical of the Board’s process. “To my utter amazement, that has not happened here… there is no oversight for this board, except for the citizen voter.”

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APS Fees For Lost, Damaged Devices Leave Some Parents Frustrated

Some parents are fuming over the school system’s decision to charge them for damage to school-issued laptops and tablets this year, arguing that officials shouldn’t pass along the costs of a mandatory program for students.

The School Board agreed to a policy change ahead of this school year, stipulating that parents could be charged if officials see any “intentional or negligent” damage to a student’s device. All county elementary and middle school students are currently issued iPads, while high schoolers receive MacBook laptops, as part of the “1:1 device” program the school system first kicked off in 2014.

Arlington Public Schools still takes responsibility for “routine maintenance or standard repairs” to school-owned devices, under the terms of its “acceptable use” policy. But the school system does reserve the right to charge parents hundreds of dollars for substantial repairs, or replace a lost device.

“People were concerned about the expense at first, but everyone told us: don’t worry, you’re not going to be liable for these,” Danielle Werchowsky, the parent of a sophomore at Yorktown High School, told ARLnow. “A lot of us didn’t ask for these pieces of equipment… but APS chose this path and they should have to figure out how to fix it and how to pay for it, not charge us.”

APS spokesman Frank Bellavia points out that the Board approved such a change back when it was still setting a new budget back in May, in order to “reduce the number of devices being damaged.” The issue has bubbled up now, however, largely thanks to an email from the Yorktown Parent Teacher Association sent out Monday (Dec. 3) laying out the exact cost of repairs.

Werchowsky says many parents were completely unaware of the size of these fees until that email went out (though they are posted on the APS website), and they felt a bit of sticker shock. A “complete replacement” of laptop could cost anywhere from $634 to $734, for instance, while an iPad would cost a family $279.

“I just got a bill for $100 for repairs to my son’s iPad,” Val Steenstra wrote in a Facebook post on the matter. “He pulled it out of his backpack and the screen was glitching. No discussion of fault. No questions about if he did something to damage it. Just a bill.”

“These kids have their laptops for four years, but there’s no depreciation taken into account here, you’re still paying $700,” Werchowsky added. “These aren’t like a home computer where it’s in one spot… And their frontal cortex aren’t necessarily fully developed, they lose things. My son would forget his coat if I didn’t remind him.”

Yet Bellavia notes that only 3 percent of all the school system’s devices are lost, stolen or damaged each year — and even then, “the most common occurrence” is a lost charger. For iPads, replacements for those cost $27: for MacBooks, it’s $53.

Bellavia adds that APS is “self-insured,” so the school system is only charging parents “the actual costs APS pays to have the repairs made.” Given the tight budgets the school system has been facing recently, officials are particularly eager to find ways to defray any costs they can.

“The self-insurance covers the costs to repair accidental damage and situations where the families are unable to pay the full cost of the repair,” Bellavia wrote in an email.

But Werchowsky and many of her fellow parents argue that any fee is too high, considering that they harbor serious concerns about using the devices in the first place, making the potential costs all the more frustrating. Some Arlington parents have managed to collect hundreds of signatures on a petition urging APS to to cut back on how often young students are exposed to the devices — the Board itself has even considered moving to a “2:1” or “4:1” device policy for elementary students, as a strategy to control costs and reduce screen time for younger kids.

“It’s not that I’m anti-computer, but I just don’t think a lot of it has been well thought out,” Werchowsky said. “You really can’t opt out, even if you have screen addiction concerns.”

Yet Bellavia notes that concerned parents do have some options, even if the devices will remain a key component of APS curricula moving forward.

“During the school day, teachers build lesson plans with the knowledge that every student will have their device to use as appropriate to support their learning,” Bellavia said. “Families which have concerns that the device might be damaged outside of school hours can request that the device be kept at school.”

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Morning Notes

Arlington County Prepares for Winter Weather — Though a winter storm this weekend is looking increasingly unlikely for the area, Arlington County says it is preparing for a snowy winter and “will be ready to fight back” against snow and ice. [Arlington County]

More Solar Panels for APS — “Arlington County Public Schools signed a contract on Thursday night that they say will save them millions of dollars. Five of their schools will be made over with solar panels as part of a power purchase agreement, or PPA, with a Charlottesville, Virginia firm called Sun Tribe Solar.” [WUSA 9]

Fire at Ledo Pizza — Firefighters responded to an electrical fire at the Ledo Pizza restaurant in the Red Lion hotel in Rosslyn yesterday. The fire was extinguished by a sprinkler system. [Twitter]

Amazon, Pentagon City and Housing — Most or even all of Amazon’s permanent presence in Arlington could actually be in Pentagon City, not Crystal City. That presents an opportunity to add more housing, including affordable housing, in Pentagon City. [Greater Greater Washington]

American May Add Flights at DCA — “American Airlines is closely ‘studying’ online retailer Amazon’s plans to open a second headquarters steps away from its hub at Ronald Reagan Washington National airport, where it is already planning to add seats at the slot-controlled facility. ‘We absolutely plan to upgauge at DCA,’ the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier’s vice-president of network Vasu Raja tells FlightGlobal.” [FlightGlobal]

Our Lady of Guadalupe Celebration — “On Saturday, December 8, approximately 300 people are expected to pour into Saint Agnes Catholic Church’s Parish Hall in Arlington to celebrate the anniversary of the apparition of the Blessed Mother to Juan Diego on December 12, 1531. Following the Mass, there will be a candle lit procession with some of the faithful carrying a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, followed by praying the rosary, and a potluck dinner with live entertainment -a mariachi band!” [Diocese of Arlington]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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W-L Renaming Deliberations Inspire ‘Disgust’ From Some Participants, Pride Among Others

“Washington-Loving” might’ve earned a committee’s blessing as the ideal new name for Washington-Lee High School, but members of the group say the process of reaching that recommendation was anything but smooth sailing.

Two members of the W-L renaming committee even ended up resigning from its ranks, decrying the group’s work to find a new name for the school as a process that was tainted from the time deliberations started this September.

Other members of the committee argue that the group had some passionate disagreements at times, but generally reached a fair consensus on a name for W-L. Regardless of exactly where the truth lies, however, the dispute marks yet another complication in a process that’s been characterized by plenty of fierce debate ever since the School Board’s June vote to strip Robert E. Lee’s name from the building.

“I am departing with disgust about a morally bankrupt process that has been directed, not facilitated,” Patrice Kelly, a W-L parent, wrote in a letter resigning from the committee provided to ARLnow. “Between the chilling of discussions, the manipulative process, the disregarding of solicited public opinion and the pressure to conform to the unstated mandate, I have concluded that this process is a disingenuous attempt to appear that public input was sought.”

The chief concerns of Kelly and Bill Moser, a W-L alumnus who resigned from the committee once it finished its work last week, are that the committee failed to give any consideration of the prospect of keeping the name the same, or finding another historical figure with the name “Lee” as a substitute.

Both were also frustrated that one of their fellow committee members had ties to the school system, albeit indirectly, which they felt showed that the Board was unduly influencing the process. Dana Raphael, the daughter of former Board member Abby Raphael, represented recent W-L alumni on the committee.

“I won’t say that she orchestrated the process… but I do wonder about the whole thing,” Moser told ARLnow.

Raphael, for her part, feels that such assertions are ridiculous. She says she became interested in the battle over the W-L name when the Board was deliberating the issue this summer, particularly because she’s believed that the name should be changed ever since she was a freshman at W-L.

And as for her mother, Raphael says “she’s had no role in the facilities policy or the renaming,” particularly since she left the Board in 2015.

“Her commitment to public service inspired me when I was in high school to take an active role in my community, in politics and in current events,” Raphael wrote in an email. “I applied to join the renaming committee because I wanted to ensure the process considered the history of the school and the legacy of Jim Crow, as well as ensure we centered a conversation about civil rights.”

Raphael also argues that it wasn’t part of the group’s mission to consider the prospect of keeping the name, noting the group had “no authority to ‘overturn’ or ‘nullify’ the School Board’s decision to replace ‘Lee.'” She added that a neutral facilitator brought on by the school system to guide the process made such a point clear “at every single meeting.”

“It was out of our control,” said Chloe Slater, a junior at W-L representing current students on the committee. “The point was to choose a new name, because that’s what the School Board decided. Some people didn’t understand that aspect.”

Even still, Kelly and Moser were frustrated that the committee was directed to ignore comments submitted in public surveys about the process that pushed for the name to stay the same. Kelly even felt that the committee was dissuaded from any consideration of feedback asking the group to pick another “Lee” to honor.

But Linda Erdos, a School Board spokeswoman and a staff liaison to the committee, says the group decided on its own not to move forward with another “Lee” option.

The committee considered people like “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, Robert’s father and a Revolutionary War general, or William Lee, George Washington’s enslaved manservant. Yet Erdos said the group ultimately decided that picking another “Lee” would feel too much like “smoke and mirrors” after the Board’s decision. William Lee, in particular, ended up among the committee’s top choices, but did not advance in the group’s final round of voting.

“We thought, if we’re going to make a change, why not make it be a big one, why not make it be amazing?” Slater said.

Slater, the daughter an interracial couple herself, was quite pleased that the committee settled on a name to honor Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple who managed to successfully challenge Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage in court. It helped, too, that replacing “Lee” with “Loving” meets the desire of many students to keep the “W-L” moniker intact, Slater said.

Raphael said she was willing to consider other names beyond those that would’ve preserved the school’s W-L acronym — abolitionist Harriet Tubman was the lone finalist to be considered whose name didn’t begin with “L” — but she believes “Loving” is a fine choice to honor ‘those who fought for equality and equal citizenship.”

“I would be proud to tell people that I graduated from Washington-Loving High School,” Raphael said.

Moser takes a considerably dimmer view of the committee’s recommendation. He felt the group was too “racially fixated,” primarily submitting African American historical figures for consideration, even though the W-L student body has a large Hispanic population as well.

He also sees the “Loving” name as a “totally inappropriate and ridiculous” and viewed it as “a joke as far as I was concerned,” considering that he doesn’t think much of the Lovings and their fight to end the interracial marriage ban.

“The rationale for them was they wanted to be happy and they were willing to break the law to do so,” Moser said. “These were not people of high stature. They didn’t accomplish anything other than being in an interracial relationship.”

Moser’s skepticism regarding the Lovings aside, Erdos believes the committee’s deliberations were generally quite civil. Given the legal wrangling and political battles that have so far marked the renaming process, she says that was (generally) a pleasant surprise.

“I really was bracing for some difficult meetings,” Erdos said. “But, quite honestly, I was surprised it went as well as it did.”

The Board plans to discuss the name change for the first time on Dec. 20, and vote on Jan. 10.

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After Uncovering Key Data Error, APS Unveils New, Last-Minute School Boundary Proposal

Arlington school officials recently realized they made a critical error in calculating school enrollment rates as they prepared a final proposal for the redrawing of attendance boundaries in South Arlington, prompting the last-minute introduction of a new map to correct that snafu.

The School Board is gearing up for a final vote this week on boundary changes at eight elementary schools, which will conclude a lengthy, contentious process stretching over the better part of the last six months. Superintendent Patrick Murphy put forward what was meant to be a final proposal last month, but officials then tinkered with that map to better distribute students across the schools involved and reduce overcrowding.

The school system released the result of some of that work last week, with figures initially showing that the new Alice West Fleet Elementary School would open next fall at close to 100 percent of its planned capacity. The school’s opening helped prompt the boundary adjustment process in the first place, and the school system’s methods for determining which communities will head to Fleet have become particularly controversial in recent weeks.

However, staffers soon discovered they’d erred in counting the number of students set to head to the school. The proposal actually would’ve opened Fleet at about 82 percent of its capacity, far below the standard officials hoped to hit.

Accordingly, the Board convened a new work session for last night (Tuesday) to examine a revised map accounting for that mistake. That new proposal would leave Fleet closer to 90 percent capacity instead, largely by redirecting some students currently attending Long Branch Elementary School to Fleet. The Board will ultimately have a chance to vote to approve this newest map, or any of the other six proposals the school system has worked up thus far.

“We’re trying to be as clear as possible here, and we realize there are ongoing confusions about the data and about the process,” said School Board Chair Reid Goldstein. “Unfortunately, there’s not much time for Board members and the community to absorb all this.”

Lisa Stengle, the APS director of planning and evaluation, told the Board that the change won’t pull all that many students away from Long Branch, a process officials hoped to avoid given the last-minute nature of the change.

Instead, the school system discovered that a variety of students attending the Ft. Myer Cody Child Development Center at Joint Base Myer (some of whom are the children of active duty service members) currently attend Long Branch or even Patrick Henry Elementary after receiving a special waiver to do so. Those students would be sent to Fleet instead for the next two years, Stengle said.

“We just need to give Long Branch a little breathing room,” Stengle said. The school will open at about 101 percent of its capacity under the latest plan, down from its current 113 percent.

School officials were optimistic that the change will work out for the best, filling more of Fleet but still allowing for a little bit of wiggle room at the school moving forward. But, given the acrimony that the boundary process has generated everywhere from the Drew Model School to Abingdon Elementary to Henry, Murphy was also quick to acknowledge that this latest error came at an unfortunate time.

“I think we continue to get better at this,” Murphy said. “And I look forward to continuing to refine things in the future.”

Goldstein was similarly conciliatory, particularly after parents at Henry accused him and other school officials of delivering assurances that their community would move as one to Fleet this year. Drew’s Montessori program is set to move to Henry, forcing current students out of the building, and the school system’s latest plans call for about 20 percent of those students to go to schools other than Fleet.

Parents even dug up emails from years ago featuring Goldstein providing such promises, and he expressed plenty of regret for having done so.

“I wish I could go back and keep my mouth shut at the time when it would’ve been a good idea to do so, but I can’t,” Goldstein said. “I apologize for creating an impression two and half years ago that the future would have ironclad certainty… I’ll be much more circumspect about future events as we go forward.”

Board members also addressed a proposal from some Henry parents to convert Drew into a hybrid neighborhood-option school drawing in students from across the county to its STEAM program. Its backers hoped such a change would help keep the Henry community together and build a strong base of support for Drew, but many in Nauck resisted such an effort.

Board member Monique O’Grady pointed out that part of the intent of moving the Montessori program out of Drew was to “give Drew its neighborhood school back,” and she felt the STEAM proposal ran counter to that purpose.

Goldstein praised the proposal, noting that “some parts of it are very intriguing and some parts are attractive.” But he also agreed with his colleagues that it would be too difficult to manage such a change on such short notice, particularly without consulting with the Drew community first.

“We just wouldn’t be able to do this in two weeks,” Goldstein said. “We don’t know yet how to define a future option program, how to identify where we need it and where the optimal location is.”

Even still, Goldstein and his fellow Board members praised the community for being engaged enough on the issue to come up with such a proposal in the first place. And, with the Board set to approve a final map tomorrow (Thursday), O’Grady urged concerned parents to channel that energy into a positive outlet going forward.

“The desire to stay at your current school doesn’t necessarily mean you’re against another school, just that you’re passionate about where you are,” O’Grady said. “We hope you’ll bring that passion to your new school.”

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Naming Process for New Middle School Sparks Debate Over County’s Civil Rights History

Arlington school officials will soon decide on a name for the new middle school to be built on the site of the Stratford School building in Cherrydale — but the complex history of the building, and its original name, has divided the community over which option is best.

A naming committee settled on three options for the 1,000-seat school in October, ahead of the building’s planned opening next fall. But that collection of parents and community members hasn’t been able to settle on a definitive recommendation as the School Board gears up for a vote on the matter.

The 28-member committee was instead split down the middle on two options for the building: naming it simply “Stratford Middle School,” or dubbing it “Dorothy Hamm Middle School at the Historic Stratford Building.”

The group initially considered “Legacy Middle School at the Historic Stratford Building” as an option, but that choice fell out of favor as the process advanced. The committee even floated the compromise possibility of naming the building “Stratford-Hamm Middle School,” but stopped short of recommending such an option.

The building, located at 4100 Vacation Lane, currently houses the H-B Woodlawn program, but was once the site of Stratford Junior High School. That’s believed to be the first school in Virginia to admit black students following the momentous Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, lending plenty of historic significance to the site and its name.

But the “Stratford” name itself comes from a considerably darker part of the nation’s past. The name is derived from Stratford Hall, the plantation home of Robert E. Lee and his family in Westmoreland County.

Considering that the school system is in the midst of a contentious process to strip Lee’s name from Washington-Lee High School, any association with the Confederate general has the potential to kick off a new firestorm of controversy in the county. Accordingly, some members of the naming committee championed naming the building after Dorothy Hamm, a civil rights activist who helped lead a court challenge to Arlington’s school segregation policies, leading to the eventual integration of Stratford.

“The event signified the end of massive resistance in the commonwealth of Virginia and dealt a powerful blow to the opponents of racial equality nationwide,” Ellen Smith, the incoming principal of the new middle school, wrote in a letter to the Board. “While Hamm was the community activist at the forefront of the campaign to integrate Arlington Public Schools, she was not the only community activist that was determined to integrate Arlington schools so that all students would have the opportunity to receive an equal education.”

Smith noted in her letter that the committee was determined to see “Stratford” remain part of the name somehow, in order to maintain “the clear connection between the name of the school” and its historic integration. But by including it only as addendum beyond Hamm’s name, Smith wrote that some on the committee fear it will be “dropped from regular use.”

That’s why many would much rather simply name the school “Stratford.” The county’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board endorsed such an option, castigating the school system in a letter for even considering the possibility of a name other than Stratford “without any apparent prior consideration of the uniqueness and the historical and cultural significance” of the site.

A special committee convened by Superintendent Patrick Murphy to debate “Historic Interpretation at the Former Stratford Junior High School” reached a similar conclusion, noting that the school has earned inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.

“That the Stratford name comes from the birthplace of Robert E. Lee is an uncomfortable part of the history, but not the most important part,” Susan Cunningham, the co-chair of that committee, wrote in an email to ARLnow. “As community historian Dr. Arnold Taylor reminds us, ‘We have to understand where we are coming from so we can appreciate where we are going’… Names matter. History matters. At Stratford, the civil rights history matters most.”

Smith urged the Board to consider the opinions of both the commission and the review board, but otherwise would not take a firm position beyond suggesting one of the two names.

The Board will discuss naming options for the first time on Thursday (Dec. 6), with a final vote set for Dec. 20.

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Cristol Joins Effort Calling on General Assembly to Step Up Education Funding

Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol is joining a statewide push for more education funding, calling on the General Assembly to send more cash to local school systems.

Cristol, a Democrat, is standing with leaders from 10 other Virginia localities in supporting the “March for More,” a demonstration in Richmond set for this Saturday (Dec. 8). Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D) is coordinating the effort and has made school funding a key focus of his administration.

The march is primarily focused on convincing state legislators to reverse cuts to K-12 education funding they made at the height of the Great Recession. Its supporters argue that the state’s failure to restore those funds and keep pace with rising enrollment levels have put a huge strain on local governments, which bear the burden of funding their school systems.

“As a locality that receives the smallest percentage of funds from the state for K-12 education, we’ve watched funding dwindle since the start of the recession in 2009,” Cristol wrote in a statement. “Shifting such a disproportionate burden of educating young Virginians on to the commonwealth’s localities is as inequitable as it is unsustainable.”

For fiscal year 2019, state funds accounted for about 12 percent of the roughly $640 million that Arlington Public Schools took in in revenue, while the county accounted for about 78 percent of that amount. However, there are plenty of factors accounting for Arlington’s small share of state funding — officials dole out money based on each locality’s “ability to pay,” a statistic that the state calculates by evaluating factors like property values, income levels and taxable retail sales. The county performs quite well relative to other Virginia localities on all of those measures.

But the “March for More” advocates point out that state law obligates the General Assembly to fund 55 percent of the costs of meeting the state’s “Standards of Quality,” which govern everything from class sizes to facility maintenance schedules, but Richmond has fallen far short of meeting that standard. As of 2017, the state combined to meet just 43 percent of school funding needs statewide.

Similarly, research from the left-leaning Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis suggests that state funding is down 9.1 percent per student compared to pre-recession levels.

Arlington officials are particularly interested in a little budget relief, given the county’s current fiscal challenges.

County leaders are considering everything from tax increases to staff layoffs to help meet a projected $78 million budget gap, which is driven in part by a $43 million deficit that the school system is facing. The school system only narrowly avoided increasing class sizes in this year’s budget, and may have to consider such a measure again in fiscal year 2020.

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‘Washington-Loving High School’ Proposed As New Name for Washington-Lee

Washington-Lee High School could soon be renamed to honor Mildred and Richard Loving, the Virginia couple who successfully challenged the state’s ban on interracial marriages before the Supreme Court.

A committee tasked with suggesting a new name for the school voted on Thursday (Nov. 29) to recommend “Washington-Loving” as its new moniker, according to School Board spokeswoman Linda Erdos. She added that the committee’s second choice was “Washington-Liberty High School” in passing along recommendations to the Board.

The 23-member group began its work in September, after the Board voted in June to strip Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s name from the building due to his legacy of fighting to preserve slavery. Board members will now have the final say on a new name for the school, which they’re hoping to have in place in time for the 2019-2020 school year.

The renaming effort has been a controversial one throughout the community, with three W-L students suing the school to block the name change, arguing that the Board didn’t follow its own procedures in kicking off the renaming. The Board vigorously denies those charges, and a hearing in that case is set in Arlington Circuit Court later this month.

Other disgruntled alumni also backed Audrey Clement’s unsuccessful School Board campaign this fall in a bid to register their displeasure with the name change.

Nevertheless, the Board is set to debate the matter for the first time at its Dec. 20 meeting, Erdos said. In an email to the school’s staff that Erdos provided to ARLnow, W-L Principal Gregg Robertson expressed confidence that the “Washington-Loving” option would be the ideal option for the Board to consider.

“I don’t like to speculate, but ‘Loving’ holds a strong first place recommendation,” Robertson wrote. “I am so proud that our school community is moving forward in a positive way, while being insightful and thoughtful. I am also proud that we may be the first school in the United States to honor two individuals who looked past race and color and joined in a marriage based on their love and respect for each another. Though at the time, treated very unfairly by the state they loved — they will now hopefully be honored for possessing many of the same attributes we associate with our school, our goals and our vision for a global society.”

Chloe Slater, a junior at Washington-Lee who sat on the committee, agreed that “Washington-Loving” provides a “clear representation” of the school’s values. As the child of an interracial couple herself, Slater says the Lovings’ court battle represents an inspiring example of “how everyday people can accomplish great things.”

“I just really enjoy how we can turn a name with so many negative connotations into something positive,” Slater told ARLnow.

The Lovings, who have both since died, hailed from Caroline County, just south of Fredericksburg. The couple married in D.C. in 1958, but were subsequently convicted under a Virginia law banning interracial couples from returning to the state. The Lovings challenged that sentence in court, and the Supreme Court ultimately issued a unanimous decision in their favor in 1967, in effect striking down all laws banning interracial marriage across the county. The case was also the subject of the film “Loving” in 2016.

The Board had originally hoped to vote on a new name for W-L before year’s end. However, Erdos said it’s currently planning to do so at its Jan. 10 meeting.

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Letter to the Editor: Converting Drew into a STEAM Option School is a ‘Ridiculous’ Plan

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Amelia Black, a Nauck resident living within Drew Model School’s attendance boundaries and the mother of two young children.

She penned this note to the Arlington School Board as it weighs a redrawing of South Arlington school boundaries. Parents at Henry Elementary School have proposed converting Drew into a neighborhood school accepting countywide transfers for a “STEAM” program in order to address some of their boundary concerns. The Board has dismissed the possibility of such a proposal, and is set to vote on a final boundary map next month.

My name is Amelia Black, and I am a parent of two children under the age of 5, and I live in the Drew neighborhood walk-zone. The views expressed here are my own.

I am writing because I have been frustrated to learn of the recent proposal by some community members to scrap this whole boundary process and make the new Drew neighborhood school a ‘hybrid option school.’ I thought it was ridiculous on its face, but learned it has been shopped around with all School Board members and even has a full PR campaign complete with ARLnow article and attempts to convince neutral stakeholders like Drew’s principal and PTA president.

I am not sure what you all think about this proposal, but I am hoping it is non-idea for you like it is for me. The school has been an option school for decades and has not had the benefit of a single community rallying around its success like other schools have had. You all know the history of the school, how we all got this point, and I hope that going back now is not considered an option.

I personally support map 6 with some reservation, in particular about filling the school and students not opting out, ultimately delaying Drew congealing into a strong community school. Changes that I hope would be considered 1) all Pre-school seats, including leftover non-VPI seats, should be given to Drew families living in this boundaries so as to encourage families to come into the school 2) Large numbers of students should not be allowed to stay at their former neighborhood school just because it has some extra capacity.

However, I am also formally requesting that you do what you feel is the best long-term solution for all students. The inherent problem with having all us parents constantly engaged in any process like this is that we all would do ANYTHING to prevent real or perceived threats to our children’s’ optimal development.

Parents can pull out charts, spreadsheets, and videos but none of us are objective, and we all want what we feel is the best solution RIGHT THIS MINUTE for our precious children. But often, what is best for those being the loudest right now is not necessarily the best solution for the long-term. We elected you all to gather our input and then make an objective decision that is best for all students, not just the ones who have time and resources to make our voices heard.  I’ve shared my opinion, and I am telling myself I’m objective, but I’m biased like every other parent, and I hope you will each do what you feel is most fair to all involved.

As a final thought, please though there have been many flaws in this process that I hope you will seriously reflect on in making improvements for the future, please do not delay this decision. Please make efforts to pull the band aid off now and make a decision on December 6.  Delaying the decision will only give people more time to creatively combat the inevitably painful acceptance of changes coming next year.

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. 

Photo via Google Maps

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Parents Feel Betrayed By APS Proposal to Send Henry ES Students to Schools Other Than Fleet

(Updated at 9:50 a.m.) Many parents of Patrick Henry Elementary School students have expected, for years, that their community would move as one to Alice West Fleet Elementary when it opens next fall.

They believe Arlington school officials have repeatedly promised them as much over the years, as deliberations have progressed over the best way to build a new South Arlington elementary school, then shift Drew Model School’s Montessori program to Henry’s old building. That’s why so many Henry parents are now furious that Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposal for a redrawing of school boundaries would send more than a fifth of current Henry students to schools other than Fleet.

School leaders, however, argue they’ve never made such promises about keeping the entirety of the Henry community together. The current boundary process is aimed at better spreading out students across eight different South Arlington elementary schools, and officials argue that it’s likely impossible they’ll be able to please every single parent as they look toward the greater good for the whole school system.

But some parents believe there’s a better way to achieve school officials’ stated goals for the boundary process, which simply involves a little bit of creative thinking. They’d much rather see the school system transform Drew into a science and technology-focused program that accepts transfers from across the county, as a way of simultaneously solving overcrowding issues in the area and avoiding a major breach of trust with the community.

“South Arlington has always been on the back end of receiving support for its schools,” Gary Belan, a parent of two current Henry students, told ARLnow. “But this whole process has not only been a disservice to the kids at Henry, but the folks at Drew. It does a minimal amount to set either up for success.”

After releasing a slightly revised version of Murphy’s map and holding a public hearing on the boundary proposals last night (Tuesday), the School Board won’t approve a final map until Dec. 6. Some early proposals would’ve moved all but a small section of the Henry community to Fleet, though some came at the cost of angering parents in Fairlington by moving students from Abingdon to Drew, and Board members stress that all of the draft maps remain on the table for debate.

Yet some parents who’ve spent years working on committees guiding Fleet’s opening have lost faith that the Board will listen to Henry’s concerns. For instance, Joe Everling, who worked on the Building Level Planning Committee for Fleet, believes the Board “wasted my time” and “co-opted me into this flawed process.”

“The ‘Arlington Way’ is often all about asking for feedback and then doing whatever you want anyway, and that’s what’s happening here,” said Everling, the parent of two kids currently at Henry and a third approaching school age. “They’re talking to us like we’re kindergarteners, telling us we didn’t hear what we heard… We’ve been working with them, not fighting with them. But then they reveal something that doesn’t even reflect what they’ve been promising.”

Yet Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia insists that moving Henry to Fleet was merely a “general plan” developed as the school system began planning for a new elementary school in 2013, and never an explicit promise.

“When APS began this boundary process, the School Board listed eight schools to be included in this process and none were to be exempt from possible boundary changes,” Bellavia said.

School Board Chair Reid Goldstein was even more emphatic during an Oct. 24 work session, arguing that parents were mistaken in assuming that Henry’s student body would move together to Fleet. He even conceded that some school officials, himself included, might have given parents the wrong impression about the matter, and should’ve expressed more uncertainty about the future.

Goldstein went on to explain that he’d requested a correction to an ARLnow article which reported on APS officials reassuring Henry parents that all students would move to Fleet, after several parents mentioned such assurances at an October School Board meeting. He argued that the article was “inaccurate” and “further inflamed” tensions over the matter.

“Staff has attempted to quell this rumor but, unfortunately, it still persists in some places,” Goldstein said. “I’m addressing it here to hopefully, finally, put it to bed.”

But Everling points to a number of school documents delivered to various committees over the years dubbing Fleet “a new school for Henry Elementary.” The Board’s April 2016 motion approving plans for Fleet even refers to it as such; a January 2018 presentation on the school’s design similarly notes that the Board “identified Patrick Henry Elementary as the school community that will occupy the new elementary school.”

And, in a May 2016 email to Douglas Park Civic Association leaders obtained by ARLnow, Goldstein himself looks to quell what he dubs “rumors” that the Henry community will be split up in the move to Fleet.

“To fill up the new building, we need to move all of the Henry students there,” Goldstein wrote. “Removing current Henry students from that new boundary zone is counter-productive to accomplishing this goal.”

Megan Haydasz, the chair of the Fleet BLPC and another Henry parent, remembers receiving similar assurances from school officials and Board members alike. She recalls hearing that Fleet would be built large enough to accommodate both the entirety of the Henry community and other South Arlington students, which eased plenty of minds as the Fleet design process advanced.

“We’re taking a school and moving it to place with less acreage, but we made that tradeoff because we thought we could keep the community together,” Haydasz said.

Beyond any promises that the school system did or did not make, Haydasz and her fellow Henry parents are concerned that splitting up students would break up an academically thriving school — Henry received a designation as a “National Blue Ribbon” school for its academic performance in 2015, one of just 11 in the state to earn the recognition.

Additionally, the school has one of the more diverse student bodies in the county — as of 2017, Henry had the 11th highest non-white population of students of Arlington’s 23 elementary schools — and parents fear losing some of that diversity under the proposed boundary changes.

“Schools are very rarely as diverse as Henry; most students go to school with kids who look just like them,” said Jennifer Rawlings, the parent of two Henry students. “But removing families south of Columbia Pike will change that completely.”

Murphy’s proposal would indeed move some kids living south of the Pike to Drew, though APS projections suggest that Fleet’s percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunch — a key indicator of a family’s economic means — wouldn’t look substantially different from Henry’s FRL rate under the boundary changes.

However, the Henry parents think they’ve found a way to simultaneously avoid any breakup of the community and help Drew thrive.

Parents at Drew have been similarly frustrated with the boundary process, with some worrying that the changes will leave the school with too large a concentration of students from low-income families. Murphy’s recommendation would reduce the school’s FRL rate slightly from prior boundary proposals, but leave it among the higher rates in the county.

That’s why Christine Brittle, a parent of two Henry students, crunched the numbers and came up with a proposal to transform Drew into a countywide program aimed at solving all of the aforementioned issues.

Brittle found that the eight South Arlington schools included in the boundary process have an unusually high number of students who transfer elsewhere — Drew, for instance, had the sixth highest transfer rate in the county last year. She suspects that’s driven by wealthier families who go in search of countywide “choice” programs, leaving the South Arlington schools with more lopsided demographic mixes and suggesting there’s clear demand for more option programs in the area.

Brittle proposes building on Drew’s existing program focusing on science, technology, engineering, art and math — known by the acronym “STEAM” — to make such a change. She envisions Drew still having neighborhood boundaries, but accepting students from all over the county to build a different kind of community there.

“There’s clearly a strong demand in Arlington for the type of program they’re already creating… and that will only increase with Amazon coming here,” Brittle said. “This is a solution that has a lighter touch on the boundaries… and creates a larger constituency for that school. And it needs a larger community to advocate for it and fight for it.”

She expects the change would mean the county could fill Drew without diverting as many students away from Henry, satisfying her fellow parents, and she says she’s already heard broad support from parents at all manner of schools for the idea. Brittle even brought it to both Drew’s principal and the head of its parent-teacher association and she says both were open to the idea — PTA president Melissa Thierry did not respond to a request for comment.

Brittle says she also presented the idea to all five Board members, though none of them responded to questions about the proposal posed to a Board spokeswoman.

Instead, Bellavia confirmed that both Murphy and the Board have reviewed the proposal and decided it was “not feasible to implement at this time.”

“There was an extensive visioning process in late 2016 and early 2017 that involved the Drew community as well as surrounding communities,” Bellavia said. “Out of that process came a shared vision for the future of Drew as a neighborhood school with a STEAM focus, but did not include option school elements. Last year, Drew staff began implementing that focus, and will continue, as it transitions into a neighborhood school beginning next fall.”

It’s that sort of response that Everling says has caused him to lose most of his faith in the school system before the process is even officially over. After his experience working on the issue over the last few years, he hopes that parents at the 14 schools set to have their boundaries redrawn in 2020 sit up and take notice.

“Listen up, because these people will lay out a process and then change it at the last minute,” Everling said.

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