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Morning Notes

WeWork Coming to Rosslyn — Another coworking space is coming to Rosslyn. WeWork is reportedly coming to three floors near the top of the new CEB Tower. [Washington Business Journal]

Board Passes Four Mile Run Plan — Despite some dissatisfaction among those who live in a nearby community, the Arlington County Board voted unanimously to adopt as-is the proposed Four Mile Run Valley Park Master Plan and Design Guidelines, which includes “a comprehensive Master Plan for Jennie Dean Park and Shirlington Park, with short and mid-term recommendations for maintaining and improving Shirlington Dog Park.” [Arlington County]

Memorial Bridge Closure Rescheduled — Due to high river levels, work on and the closure of the Arlington Memorial Bridge has been rescheduled to this coming weekend. [Twitter, National Park Service]

Salt Storage Structure Approved — “The Arlington County Board today voted to allow the County to build an interim salt storage structure before winter sets in, on County-owned property on Old Dominion Drive, between 25th Road N. and 26th Street N.” [Arlington County]

Scooter Injury in Crystal City — A woman on a motorized scooter reportedly suffered a dislocated elbow after she accidentally ran into a wall in the Crystal City area Friday evening. The safety of the electric rental scooters has been questioned both locally and nationally. [Twitter]

Coming ‘Flood’ of Medicaid Applicants — “The Arlington County Board today voted unanimously to accept state funding that will help pay for additional staff needed to process an expected flood of new applications for Medicaid under the state’s expanded program, Cover Virginia… ‘Under the expanded program, we expect 3,000 more County residents will qualify. Childless low-income adults with no disabilities, a group previously excluded, and families and persons with disabilities whose income previously was not considered to be low enough to qualify will now be eligible for coverage.'” [Arlington County]

Packer Drops By Clarendon Day — Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones, in town for Sunday’s game against the Redskins — the local team ended up upsetting the visitors 31-17 — dropped by Clarendon Day on Saturday. He also posed for a photo with Arlington County police. [Twitter]

APS Wires 40 Schools for Fiber Connection — “Arlington Public Schools (APS) is kicking off the 2018-19 school year with a brand-new connection–ConnectArlington. Thanks to a yearlong collaboration, 40 Arlington school facilities are now up and running on the County’s own fiber optic network. APS made the switch from a commercial provider to take advantage of ConnectArlington’s high-speed, dedicated network for digital telecommunications and broadband services.” [Arlington County]

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School Board Warns of More Budget Challenges Ahead

The School Board is warning of more tough budget times ahead for the county’s school system.

In a memo to Superintendent Patrick Murphy to be discussed at the group’s meeting tonight (Thursday), the Board urges Murphy to be wary of the fact that the county’s planned revenue transfer to Arlington Public Schools “is not sufficient to meet our critical needs” as “cost pressures” for the system only continue to increase.

The school system only narrowly avoided class-size increases as it set its last budget, thanks to the County Board finding some additional money to keep classes at their current levels. But as APS gears up to start the budget process for fiscal year 2020, the Board expects that, as the school system opens five new schools and programs over the next two years, the change will “increase baseline operating costs significantly.”

“We anticipate that, as budget deliberations continue, additional funding for APS’s critical needs will be a top funding priority,” members wrote.

As Murphy works up his new budget, the Board is also directing him to “if possible” avoid additional class size increases, and find funding for other cuts the school system was prepared to make if the county hadn’t come through with the additional revenue last year.

“No new, major initiatives should be presented,” the Board wrote.

The Board expects that its decision this year to cut back on devices offered to second graders will save some money, and it’s also directing Murphy to “explore longer-term strategies for efficiencies, such as collaboration with the county on swimming pools reimbursement and Transportation Demand Management funding.”

County Board members have frequently spoken about their commitment to finding more money for schools, yet the county’s own tight budget picture, brought about by complications stemming from the Metro funding deal and persistently high office vacancy rates, will likely complicate the debate. County Manager Mark Schwartz has repeatedly warned that more tax hikes will likely be on the table in 2020 and beyond.

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Wilson School Construction Moves Forward Ahead of Fall 2019 Opening

According to Arlington Public School (APS) officials, construction is on track for the new secondary school at the Wilson School site in Rosslyn (1601 Wilson Blvd).

In August, much of the steel and concrete work on the site was completed. Throughout September, construction will be occurring on the following, according to APS documents:

  • Façade wall framing will begin.
  • Curtainwall installation will begin.
  • Door Frames and Interior Framing will begin.
  • MEP rough-in (ductwork, electrical, plumbing) will continue.

Meanwhile, Washington Gas will continue replacement of a gas main on Wilson Blvd to allow for the construction of a new electrical vault under the road.

The $100 million building is set to open in fall 2019, and will someday be home to both the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs.

Photos via APS

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Glebe Elementary PTA Recovers $88,000 It Feared Lost

The Glebe Elementary Parent-Teacher Association says it’s managed to recover more than $88,000 raised in its spring auction, after initially fearing that a Crystal City company that collected the funds wouldn’t hand them over.

PTA President Kristen Johnson warned members in late August that the group’s vendor to collect payments for the auction — Student Info Hub, a subsidiary of ConnectUs, LLC — had only transferred over about $11,200 of the more than $98,000 the PTA raised at the April event. Johnson and PTA leadership consulted with law enforcement about the discrepancy, and even considered legal action over the incident.

But it seems the two sides have managed to come to a resolution. In an email to PTA members today (Tuesday) obtained by ARLnow, Johnson wrote that “the contract dispute between Glebe PTA and ConnectUS has been resolved to the satisfaction of Glebe PTA.” She subsequently confirmed the email’s contents to ARLnow, but wouldn’t discuss the issue in more detail.

“We have cashier’s checks in the amounts of $80,000 and the remaining funds in escrow pending any remaining chargebacks which will be accounted for in November,” Johnson wrote her email to the PTA.

The PTA previously feared that losing out on the money would mean the group would have to severely curtail the programs and events it offered this year, but this resolution should alleviate those concerns.

Johnson also would not say whether the PTA was considering additional legal action against ConnectUS in the wake of this outcome. This was the first year the PTA had worked with the company to collect payments for its annual spring auction.

Representatives with the company have not responded to requests for comment on the dispute.

Photo via Glebe ES PTA

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Working Group to APS: Career Center Should Open as an Option School

The Arlington Career Center could someday be home to more students than any of the county’s three comprehensive high schools, but a group studying the site is urging school leaders to keep the campus open to all students countywide for the foreseeable future.

Within the next decade, Arlington Public Schools plans to add 800 new high school seats at the site to meet the demands of an ever-growing student population — but there are still endless details to be worked out around how to accomplish that task, and what the center’s long-term future might hold. After nearly a year of deliberations, a working group convened by the School Board is attempting to provide some answers with a final report released last week.

Though the 35-member group can only offer recommendations to the Board, the report repeatedly reiterates the value of the center accepting students from across the county as an “option school,” at least until APS can build enough amenities on the site to match Arlington’s other three high schools.

“All Arlington students, regardless of the type of school they attend, deserve an educational experience that includes quality indoor and outdoor spaces, including access to (un-programmed) green space,” the group wrote.

The Board has yet to make any decision on the very thorny question of whether the Career Center will be open to students countywide or only draw in nearby students from set attendance boundaries. That’s prompted some fierce advocacy from local parents over the past few months, who argue that making the center a “neighborhood school” without a full complement of facilities and athletic fields would be unfair to South Arlington students.

As part of updating its 10-year construction plan in June, the Board did commit to constructing a multi-use gym, a “black box” theater, a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage at the site, all in time for 800 new students arrive in 2025. Yet the “lack of an on-site pool in the near-term” remained a “sticking point” for some members, the group said. The report recommends that APS build a pool on the site at some point, a feature backed by some county officials, but budget constraints make such an amenity unlikely, for now.

Most of all, however, the group expressed “frustration” about a lack of clarity on the option versus neighborhood question, noting that “the distinction in seats would have a direct impact on whether the Career Center site could become a de facto fourth neighborhood high school.”

Whatever the center’s ultimate status, the group repeatedly stressed that school leaders should see the site’s long-term future as a “high school campus.” While APS doesn’t yet know how many students it will need to educate at the center, the group expects anywhere from 2,200 to 2,800 could someday attend school there — for context, just over 2,200 students were enrolled at the county’s largest high school, Washington-Lee, as of this June.

Accordingly, the group recommended that the school system design any changes to the center in a way that “supports potential growth and maintains maximum adaptability.”

APS isn’t sure whether it will someday demolish the current structure in its entirety or simply renovate it to accommodate the new students, but the group wrote that staff repeatedly assured them that “utilizing the core structure of the Career Center is the most environmentally friendly approach and one which can lower construction costs by up to 20 percent through limiting the amount of demolition required.”

However, the group does suggest that APS knock down some structures currently used for career and technical education classes, in order to free up space for a new, six-to-seven story “multi-level education space” near 9th Street S. and S. Walter Reed Drive. Those classes would then be moved to a new structure built along S. Highland Street.

The report also recommends adding a third floor “on top of the existing Career Center building for classrooms,” which could then connect to the new S. Highland Street structure.

Looking a bit further into the future, the group also urged APS to someday relocate the Columbia Pike Branch Library from its current home within the Career Center.

To do so, it suggests that the county acquire some properties owned by the Ethiopian Community Development Council just behind the center, running along S. Highland Street from its intersection with 9th Street S. to where it meets the pike. The group wrote that the nonprofit has already “signaled an interest in selling to the county,” and the land could help Arlington to build an expanded library on the site that “fronts Columbia Pike” to increase its visibility.

Ultimately, the group envisions that such a change would be transformative for the area, and it reasons that Arlington Economic Development officials could take the lead in pulling in developers, local universities and even art groups to chart a new future for the property. And it helps that all of those entities “could provide financial support necessary to acquire and develop” the properties, which surely won’t come cheap.

Photos via Arlington Public Schools

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Morning Notes

Remembering 9/11 — Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine are planning to attend Arlington County’s Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony in Courthouse this morning. The event will feature a moment of silence at 9:37 a.m. The county’s emergency management agency, meanwhile, this morning posted audio of police radio traffic from immediately after American Airlines Flight 77 struck the west wall of the Pentagon. [Twitter]

Would HQ2 Be Good for Arlington? — Amazon could be an economic boon, or a gentrification disaster for lower-income renters — or both. Washingtonian asked a number of people, including Arlington Economic Development Director Victor Hoskins and former Arlington County Board candidate Melissa Bondi — who currently works in affordable housing policy — to weigh in. [Washingtonian]

Isabella Talks About Bankruptcy — Celebrity chef and restaurateur Mike Isabella says “bad press” — in other words, the “extraordinary” sexual harassment he and his executives are accused of — caused customers to stay away from his restaurants in droves, decimating revenue and sending his company into bankruptcy. Isabella’s trio of Ballston restaurants — Kapnos Taverna, Pepita and Yona — remain open but their long-term fate is unclear. [Washington Post]

Student Population Still Rising — “It won’t be official until the end of the month, but Arlington Public Schools is on track for another all-time high in student enrollment. School officials counted 27,522 students in seats when the school year began Sept. 4. While that is lower than a projection of 28,022 made in the spring, it represents a 2.2-percent increase from the first day of school a year ago.” [InsideNova]

Car-Free Diet in Spanish — Arlington’s long-running “Car-Free Diet” campaign is also in Spanish — “Dieta Cero-Auto.” The campaign recently produced a new video. [Twitter, YouTube]

Yorktown Rolls Over Wakefield — Yorktown scored a decisive win over Wakefield on the gridiron over the weekend, notching a score of 48-0. Both teams are now 1-1. In other high school football action over the weekend, Washington-Lee fell in double overtime against West Springfield, 28-21. [InsideNova, InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Jeff Reardon

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APS Teacher Wins Regional ‘Teacher of the Year’

Tim Cotman received two big pieces of news on Wednesday (Sept. 5).

One was the surprise announcement by Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni that Cotman was chosen as “Teacher of the Year” for the state’s Region 4, covering all of Northern Virginia.

The other was that his daughter was being born.

Cotman is an English teacher at Jefferson Middle School and the school’s minority achievement coordinator, a specialist in working with minority students to close the achievement gap in public schools. Cotman has been working in APS for 22 years, both with students and behind the scenes developing training for staff.

Cotman’s daughter was born at 5:30 a.m. and so was unable to attend the assembly held at the school, but FaceTime’d in to receive congratulations from Qarni and the students and staff of Jefferson Middle School.

In April, Cotman was chosen as Arlington’s Teacher of the Year. The award particularly noted the effort he put not only into teaching, but into coaching, facilitating, mentoring and parent outreach.

Cotman is one of eight teachers from regions across Virginia under review next week to be selected for Virginia’s Teacher of the Year award. An announcement is expected to come Sept. 14. The winning teacher will then be put forward by Virginia for the National Teacher of the Year program.

Should Cotman win statewide, he’d follow in the footsteps of Wakefield High School’s Michelle Cottrell-Williams, who won in 2017.

Photo Courtesy Arlington Public Schools

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Washington-Lee Renaming Committee Now Set to Start Its Work

Arlington’s School Board has signed off on members of a committee to guide the renaming of Washington-Lee High School, tasking 23 people to suggest new names for the school over the next three months.

The Board quickly agreed to form the new committee at its meeting last night (Thursday), and the group will soon begin meeting to offer up options ahead of a planned December vote on a new name for the school. The Board decided in June to strip Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s name from the building as part of a broad review of the school system’s naming policies, though a trio of Washington-Lee students are challenging that move in court.

The new committee will be led by a professional facilitator and the school system’s assistant superintendent for school and community relations, Linda Erdos — neither will have a voting role on the committee. The remaining members, selected following an open application process, include the following:

  • John Holt — Current Student (Grade 12)
  • Chloe Slater — Current Student (Grade 11)
  • Ana Regina Santos-Caballero — Current Student (Grade 10)
  • Thornton Thomas — Current Student (Grade 9)
  • Patrice Kelly — Current Parent
  • Allison Chen — Current Parent
  • Duane Butcher — Current IB Transfer Parent
  • Hiromi Isobe — WLHS Staff
  • Jackie Stallworth — WLHS Staff
  • Dave Peters — WLHS Staff
  • William Moser — WL Alumni Representative (Class of 1952 – 1970)
  • Julia Crull — WL Alumni Representative (Class of 1971 – 1985)
  • Peter Strack — WL Alumni Representative (Class of 1986 – 2005)
  • Dana Raphael — WL Alumni Representative (Class of 2006 – 2018)
  • James Rosen — Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association
  • Allan Gadjadhar — Cherrydale Civic Association
  • Nikki Roy — Lyon Park Civic Association
  • George Keating — Waverly Hills Civic Association
  • Melissa Perry — Arlington Civic Coalition for Minority Affairs
  • George Wysor — Arlington Historical Society
  • Gregg Robertson — WLHS Principal

Erdos told the Board during an Aug. 28 work session that applicants looking to serve as student or parent representatives to the committee were selected via “random, double-blind lotteries” conducted by the leaders of the school’s student government association.

She added that the committee will now meet once every two weeks, leading up to the planned December vote on the matter.

However, Board Chair Reid Goldstein questioned Erdos on whether there’s a true “drop-dead date” for the renaming process to wrap up. He’s frequently questioned the timing of the school’s renaming, arguing in the work session that “whether the committee is done in this month or that month, it doesn’t impact anything.”

Erdos did stress, though, that the school system is hoping to have the new name in place in time for the 2019-2020 school year and the school will need to know the new name soon to start purchasing new athletic uniforms.

“They need to have that in place so they can begin planning,” Erdos said.

While Washington-Lee is the only school in the county being renamed, the Board also appointed naming committees for several new schools Thursday: the building on the former Wilson school site in Rosslyn that will one day house the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs, the new middle school on the Stratford site and the school system’s new Montessori program.

Photo via Google Maps

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Commuter Incentives Suspended for APS Employees

(Updated at 10 a.m.) Arlington Public Schools is indefinitely suspending its incentive program to push employees out of their cars, after the effort proved to be a bit too successful — and expensive.

The school system’s Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Commuter Program provides stipends to employees for turning to public transit, walking, bicycling, carpooling and other options to limit the number of cars going to and from schools.

It was budgeted for $222,600 last year, but School Board spokeswoman Linda Erdos said actual expenses were over $389,000. While the difference was covered in last year’s budget, Erdos said the budget for the program remained the same for FY 2019 without the same flexibility.

“No one wanted to make any changes, but we also had to find a way to reduce the growing deficit,” said Erdos in an email. “Carpoolers and transit users also receive stipends, and staff believed that maintaining those programs was important because it immediately reduces an employee’s direct costs for commuting (fares, toll fees and fuel) and keeps the number of cars in school parking lots lower.”

Erdos said the school system looked at reducing the stipend for walkers and bicyclists, but were still left with a $50,000 deficit.

At last Thursday’s School Board meeting (Aug. 30), Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Operations John Chadwick stated that part of the reason the bicyclists’ and pedestrians’ incentives were targeted was because the data showed they’d be more likely to continue using those methods to get to school.

“Looking at numbers and usage, those members of staff who used to bike and walk would be most likely to continue using walking and biking to school,” said Chadwick. “If we applied the benefit to users of the carpool, we would likely get more people returning to single use cars and have more cars around our schools, more congestion, which causes safety concerns and issues of air quality. Faced with a difficult decision, we determined it would be most useful to suspend bike [and] walk benefits.”

Teachers at the Aug. 30 meeting said they dismayed by the decision.

“Two years ago, the incentive program helped me change my habits,” said Aaron Schuetz, a physics teacher at Yorktown High School. “Now, biking to work is my primary mode of transportation… [it was] disappointing to get email that it was cancelled.”

The suspension of the motor-free benefits was effective Sept. 1, which some teachers noted was an abrupt change.

“I was surprised to see benefits eliminated with three days notice,” said Jeffrey Bunting, an english teacher at Yorktown High School. “I found the process maybe a little cynical how it was eliminated… I fully agree there are probably improvements that can be done, but I encourage the Board and Mr. Chadwick not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Erdos said the Office of Multimodal Transportation Planning in the Department of Facilities & Operations will continue to work on reorganizing the program and will release more information later this year about the changes.

Photo via Arlington Public Schools

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Morning Notes

Vida Fitness Eyeing Second Arlington Gym — Vida Fitness has signed a letter of intent to open a gym and a “Sweatbox” boutique fitness studio in western Rosslyn, likely by the end of 2020. The company is expected to open its first Arlington location in Ballston in late 2019. [Washington Business Journal]

Beyer: If Impeachment Comes, It Must Be Bipartisan — “U.S. Rep. Don Beyer is no fan of Donald Trump. But he’s against moving forward with impeachment of the president unless it becomes a true bipartisan effort. ‘I don’t believe impeachment should ever be partisan – it should be done together,’ Beyer (D-8th) said at a campaign forum.” [InsideNova]

Warning About Swollen Streams — After an almost disastrous incident yesterday, the Arlington County Fire Department tweeted: “Remember, even a few inches of rushing water can be deceivingly powerful.” [Twitter]

Cemetery to Hold Expansion Dedication — “Arlington National Cemetery on Sept. 6 will formally dedicate a 27-acre expansion that will provide more than 27,000 additional burial spaces… The expansion will provide for 10,882 in-ground burial spaces and 16,400 above-ground niche spaces for cremated remains.” [InsideNova]

Mongolian School Fights Fee Increase Proposal — “The Arlington school system’s proposal to vastly increase rental fees charged to the non-profit Mongolian School of the National Capital Area has outraged supporters of the school and led to predictions it might have to close if the increase isn’t reduced or rescinded… The proposal to jump the facility-use charge to $28,000 a year would be ‘devastating to our children and hard-working families,’ said Jane Batsukh, president of the Mongolian School Parents Association.” [InsideNova]

New Metrorail Cars Coming — Metro has kicked off the procurement process for its next-generation 8000 series rail cars. The transit agency plans to purchase hundreds of such cars and to put them into service as soon as 2024. [WMATA]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Morning Notes

HQ2 Odds Ever in Our Favor — Business Insider says it has “long seen the evidence pointing to the DC area” as the eventual destination for Amazon’s second headquarters. Online betting odds, meanwhile, favor Northern Virginia, and ARLnow.com hears that Crystal City is the far and away the most likely Northern Virginia locale for HQ2. [Business Insider]

High School Football Season Underway — “For the second straight season, but this year at a different venue, the Wakefield Warriors opened their high-school football campaign with a victory over the Washington-Lee Generals.” Yorktown, meanwhile, gave up a lead and lost to Wilson 37-29. [InsideNova]

McCain and Vietnam Vets Calls Nam Viet Home — A group of Vietnam War veterans, including the late Sen. John McCain, who was laid to rest over the weekend, regularly met up at Nam Viet restaurant in Clarendon. [Cronkite News]

First Day of School Reminder — Today is the first day of school for Arlington Public Schools and the school system is reminding residents that passing a school bus with its stop arm out is a traffic infraction punishable by a $250 fine. Police, meanwhile, are participating in a back-to-school safety campaign that includes extra enforcement of such traffic laws. [Twitter, Arlington County]

School Board: Don’t Go Over Building Budget — “Should Arlington Public Schools hold firm, no matter what, to budgets on upcoming construction projects? Or allow a little maneuvering room, if the opportunity arises, in an effort to get more bang for their buck? That question played out again Aug. 30, as School Board members split 3-2 in directing an advisory body to not even think about returning with a plan that exceeds the $37 million budget for turning the Arlington Education Center’s administrative offices into classroom space.” [InsideNova]

Police Prepare for Plane Pull — “The public is invited to cheer on the Arlington Police and Sheriff Team during the Plane Pull at Dulles Airport on Saturday, September 15, 2018.” [Arlington County]

New MU Prez Focuses on Real-World Experience — Irma Becerra, Marymount University’s new president and the first person of color in that role, plans “to further connect the Arlington university with its surrounding business community, making internships an equal pillar of her vision as enrollment, graduation and retention rates.” [Washington Business Journal]

Empanada Thief Caught on Camera — Arlington squirrels, apparently, are now blatantly stealing and eating empanadas in broad daylight. [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Here’s What to Expect as Labor Day and the First Day of School Draw Closer

Going into the Labor Day weekend, Arlingtonians should be aware of several closings coming up on Monday and one big opening the day after: back to school day.

As local students head back to the opening day for schools on Tuesday (Sept. 4), the Arlington Police Department has put out a reminder for motorists to slow down, avoid distractions, and watch for the influx of students walking and biking to school.

Arlington Police also reminded drivers that passing a stopped school bus loading or unloading can result in a $250 fine. Vehicles on both sides of the road must stop on all roads except for divided highways, where drivers are urged to proceed with caution.

Pedestrians are reminded to only cross streets at crosswalks with permitting signals, to walk along sidewalks or paths rather than on the side of the road, and to follow the directions of crossing guards.

For cyclists, helmets are required for anyone 14 or under, but are recommended for everyone. When riding through Arlington, cyclists should keep to the right on the roads and ride in the direction of traffic.

Parents with students starting school should make sure their child knows their home phone number and address. Parents or guardians should roleplay possible situations a child might encounter and discuss personal safety tips with their child.

Before school opens back up, several government facilities will be closed on Monday for Labor Day.

Courts

  • Closed

DMV Select & Virginia DMV

  • Closed

Human Services

  • Closed

Libraries

  • Closed

Parks & Recreation Facilities & Programs

  • Admin Offices – Closed
  • Classes/Leagues – Closed
  • Parks – Grounds Open
  • Centers – Closed
  • Spraygrounds – All spraygrounds will be open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Parking

  • Metered areas not enforced

Public Schools

  • Closed

Sheriff’s Office

Swimming Pools

Transportation

Trash Pickup & Recycling

  • Trash & Recycling – Regular schedule
  • Special Collection (Brush, Metal, E-waste) & Cart Services – Regular schedule
  • Mulch Delivery – No service
  • Leaf & Brush collection – Regular schedule

Call Center

  • Closed

HHM Facility and ECRC

  • Closed

Treasurer’s Office

  • Closed

File Photo

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County SOL Test Scores Dip Slightly, Remain Above State Averages

Pass rates for standardized tests held steady or dipped slightly among Arlington students last year, though the county still boasts success rates well above state averages across all subjects.

According to test results released yesterday (Wednesday), county students exceeded state pass rates on 25 of the 29 subjects included on the Standards of Learning tests for the 2017-18 school year. Arlington Public Schools expects the results will mean all of its schools earn state accreditation for the fourth straight year.

In all, county students recorded slight dips in pass rates in four of the five broad subject areas covering the SOL tests. Reading pass rates dipped from 87 percent a year ago to 84 percent; history and social sciences declined from 88 percent to 86 percent; math went from 86 percent to 83 percent; and science moved from 86 percent to 84 percent. Writing pass rates held steady at 86 percent.

APS recorded steeper declines among English learners and economically disadvantaged students, though most rates also held steady. The reading pass rate for low-income students dipped from 70 percent to 63 percent, for instance, while it fell from 69 percent to 61 percent for English learners.

The year came with some notable successes for APS students as well. A full 100 percent of county eighth graders passed their history test, matching a feat the county last managed in the 2015-16 school year.

“These results reflect the continued dedication of our teachers and staff who focus on ensuring that the individual needs of all students and families are being met,” Superintendent Patrick Murphy wrote in a statement. “I recognize that partnerships with families and community organizations will further strengthen our efforts to ensure success for all students; a core focus of our 2018-24 Strategic Plan.”

Statewide, students also recorded slightly lower pass rates than they did a year ago. Scores in all five subject matter areas dipped from last year, though state officials note that pass rates have increased overall since the state introduced more difficult tests five years ago.

File photo

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W-L Name Change Opponents Claim New Recording Strengthens Legal Challenge

The students suing to block the renaming of Washington-Lee High School believe they have a powerful new piece of evidence to offer in support of their case.

The three W-L students behind the legal action claim that one School Board member, Vice Chair Tannia Talento, admitted in a recent conversation to a key contention of their lawsuit: that school officials failed to solicit enough community feedback on the name change before the Board’s June 7 vote on the matter.

An attorney for the students submitted a transcript of a recording of that conversation as evidence in Arlington County Circuit Court earlier this month, arguing that it helps prove that the Board didn’t follow its own public engagement process ahead of the W-L decision.

Arlington Public Schools officials have been adamant that the renaming process was conducted properly, even as some W-L alumni have expressed increasing frustration about the removal of Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s name from the building. The transcript also shows that Talento noted in the conversation that the Board circulated several different timelines for how the renaming might proceed, meaning that there may not be an easy answer to the question of whether the Board followed its own guidelines for the process.

But name change opponents are confident that her admissions amount to yet more proof that a judge will someday halt the Board’s plans to have a new name for W-L ready for the 2019-2020 school year.

“They skipped over the community involvement that they’d planned on, and Talento discussed that with them,” Jonathon Moseley, an attorney for the students, told ARLnow. “It adds to the same allegations that were there before, but we think it’s important.”

Through a Board spokeswoman, Talento said that the transcript “reflects my initial overall recollection of the discussion” with the students, which she believes occurred during one of her regularly scheduled “open office hour” sessions. She says the students didn’t inform her in advance that they’d be attending, or that they wanted to discuss the name change.

“It is important to share that the students did not ask or let me know that I was being recorded during the meeting,” Talento said. “I do not have anything to add to the discussion I had with the students.”

Moseley said he was unsure of the exact circumstances of the conversation in question, but he believes it happened immediately before the students decided to file the lawsuit and that they informed Talento that they wanted to discuss the name change in advance of the meeting. The students have asked the court not to reveal their identities, though two gave on-camera interviews to WUSA 9 about the suit.

Moseley believes the key section of the transcript comes when Talento tells the students “there was never any intentional engagement to the community about specifically changing [the name of] Washington-Lee.”

The students and other W-L alumni argue that the Board moved too quickly by voting to change its policy guiding how all schools should be named, then kicking off a process to change W-L’s name specifically that same night.

In legal filings, and the conversation with Talento, the students point to a Jan. 30 document released by APS that calls for a separate community engagement process on W-L, culminating in a final decision on the name by sometime this winter. To the students, Talento’s statement is a clear admission that the Board ignored its stated processes by agreeing to change the name in June.

However, Talento also notes in the conversation that the January document was a “back-up” plan, in case APS couldn’t meet its original timeline for the process.

She pointed out that Superintendent Patrick Murphy penned a Sept. 19, 2017 memo back when the Board first contemplated a name change, stating that the Board could direct APS staff “to begin a renaming process for any school(s) that may need to be renamed to conform with the new School/Facility Naming Policy.” That more closely mirrors the procedure the Board ultimately followed.

According to the transcript, the students told Talento that those dueling timelines confused them, and they were taken aback when the Board voted to concurrently change the name policy and W-L’s name. Talento expressed some sympathy for the students, and suggested that they could still advocate for the Board to “send [the name change] to committee for consideration.”

She also discussed the possibility of that APS could “find another Lee” to take Robert E. Lee’s place in the school’s moniker. One option the group discussed was Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, Robert’s father and a famous officer in the Revolutionary War.

“That would have to be determined by the [naming] committee and the school, but it minimizes costs,” Talento told the students.

As it stands now, the committee Talento alluded to will indeed have the final say on advancing new names for the Board to consider later this year. Unless a judge intervenes on the side of the students, that committee will start meeting sometime this fall.

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Morning Notes

More School Renaming Committees on the Way — Though the Washington-Lee controversy gets all the headlines, the School Board will also soon kick off the process of naming two new buildings and renaming two others. Patrick Henry ES will likely draw the most scrutiny. [InsideNova]

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe Fundraising for de Ferranti — Virginia’s last chief executive will help Democratic County Board hopeful Matt de Ferranti fill his campaign coffers later this month. McAuliffe, a potential 2020 presidential hopeful, joins Attorney General Mark Herring as another statewide politician lending de Ferranti a hand in his bid against John Vihstadt. [Twitter]

County Treasurer Slashes Tax Delinquency Rate Again — Carla de la Pava has hit new highs by ensuring that more taxpayers are keeping up with their payments than ever before, recording the lowest delinquency rate in county history. [InsideNova]

Arlington Centenarians Still Dancing — The county has at least 47 residents who have passed the 100-year mark, and they say they feel as young as ever. [WAMU]

Flickr pool photo via Erinn Shirley

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