Arlington, VA

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Arlington Public Schools parents Amina Luqman-Dawson and Robert Dawson, following the publication of our article, Group of Black Parents Say Racial Disparities in Arlington Schools Need to End.

For parents with black children in Arlington Public Schools, hope and wariness accompanies the experience. Like other families, we have hopeful expectations about our community’s excellent schools. We read the headlines. APS Named Top School System in Virginia for the second year in a row. Four of our high schools are ranked in the top 2% of schools nationwide. We hope our children will also be beneficiaries of that excellence. Yet, the data tells a different story. It tells a tale of (at least) two school systems in one County. One which offers countless advantages to white children, the other which offers far less to black children.

The tale unfolds in APS’s own published data recently compiled by Black Parents of Arlington. In one story, a white child enters APS, and from the first years in school, that child has a one in four chance of being identified as gifted. By middle school that child has a 46% chance of being of being labeled gifted. 46%! That “gifted” child will be, at times, clustered with other “gifted” students, and will ultimately end up in higher-level classes which are disproportionately white. Just as the white child’s high intelligence will be presumed, that child’s innocence will also be presumed, with a far lower likelihood of being suspended than their black and Latinx counterparts.

For instance, at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, despite a 32% white population, white students account for only 9% of suspensions, and at Yorktown High School, despite a 65% white population, white students constitute only 28% of suspensions. In their course work, the white child has about a 90% chance of taking at least one AP/IB course and around an 80% chance of passing at least one AP/IB exam. The white child will almost certainly graduate on-time, but more importantly, has around an 80% chance of graduating with an advanced diploma, best suited when applying to competitive colleges and universities. For white students, the tale of APS is often a great one.

In contrast, the APS tale is quite different for a black child. It begins in elementary school, where a black child has only a 12% chance of being identified as gifted. By the time that child reaches middle school, it rises to 21%. As the child’s gifted identification is lower than the white child, her/his presumption of guilt is far higher. For example, in suspensions at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, despite a black population of 17%, black children received 82% of suspensions. At Washington and Liberty High School, despite a 9% black population, black children constituted 43% of suspensions. APS data only reflects the most punitive sanction, suspension.

We still don’t know about disproportionate uses of other disciplinary measures, such as detention, in-class and in-school sanctions that disrupt a child’s learning and define how black children see themselves. In their course work, about 62% of black students will take at least one AP/IB course. However, a black child has only a 30% chance of passing one of those course exams. Is it any wonder; after they’ve been over disciplined and under educated relative to their white counterparts? Although it’s highly likely a black child will graduate on-time, it’s not likely that child will leave APS with an advanced diploma. Only 46% of black children graduate with an advanced diploma. The tale of APS for black students isn’t quite as bright.

The data also shows that prospects for black students may differ depending on the APS schools they attend. For the past two reporting years, SOL disparities in math and reading between black and white students are relatively small (a 0 to 10-point difference) in some elementary schools, including Arlington Traditional, Long Branch, Randolph, Campbell, Carlin Springs and Arlington Science.

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(Updated at 4 p.m.) Several parents with children in Arlington Public Schools have formed a group to address what they say are persistent racial disparities in the county’s school system.

The group, Black Parents of Arlington, shared a pamphlet with public data on issues like discipline they say show how APS students of color are being left behind. Together, the members plan to advocate for solutions and support other parents of color in running for PTAs and APS advisory positions.

“Yes we are happy to know that the majority of black students are taking at least one AP or IB class,” said BPA member Amina Luqman-Dawson. “However, it is really sobering to see that the pass rates are at 31%.”

Another area where disparities exist: standardized testing. The latest results from state-mandated Standards of Learning tests show disparities between white, Asian and multiracial students on one side, and black and Latino students on the other side, the Sun Gazette reported Tuesday.

Members said they were proud of APS’s high on-time graduation rates, but pointed out that APS data indicates only about 46% of black students earned advanced studies diplomas over the last three years — compared to around 82% of white students.

“We’re not looking for just passing, we’re looking for excellence,” said Luqman-Dawson, who lives in Shirlington and works with education policy and non-profits.

Another data set highlighted in the group’s pamphlet is the rate at which white youth versus black youth are entered into APS’s Gifted and Talented Program: 12% percent of black students in 2017-2018 entered the program, compared to 25% of white students.

“We are not only looking at how black students are being negatively stereotyped,” said Luqman-Dawson. “I think you’re also looking at how white students are being favorably viewed.”

In response, Arlington Public Schools acknowledged the issue and said it is continuing to work to close what it described as an “opportunity gap.”

“We agree that there is a gap that exists between student groups,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said in a statement today (Wednesday). “We have a professional commitment to close the opportunity gap, and this is a top priority for APS and the School Board.”

Bellavia said APS needed to make more improvements, but highlighted some the school system had made, including:

  • Increasing the graduation rate of black students
  • Increasing the pass rates of mathematics standardized tests for black students
  • Hiring a Diversity Officer with the fiscal year 2020 budget
  • The APS Mathematics Office holding four parent-teacher sessions for black families

The school system has previously faced scrutiny for its discipline rates, racist reactions to a diversity sign in Yorktown High School, and more recently, for backlash after a teacher unknowingly-planted cotton. In May, APS also signed a Department of Justice settlement over inadequate support for English-language-learning students and their families.

BPA member Sherrice Kerns, who lives in Penrose and works as a policy analyst, pointed out in a Tuesday interview that these findings mirrors national data about racial disparities in schools. 

“APS is certainly not immune to these sorts of disparities,” she said.

“This is not unique to Arlington,” agreed Bellavia in his statement. “School systems across the country have been addressing this challenge for a long time.”

Today, BPA’s members say they hope to work together on several problems, including:

  • Closing the achievement gap between black and white students
  • Making staff cultural competency training mandatory
  • Updating discipline policies to ensure black students are not excessively punished nor unfairly prosecuted

Members of the group all told ARLnow that they hope BPA can help advocate for other parents of color who don’t have time for nighttime meeting and advocacy. They also are seeking to boost membership in PTAs among black parents. The group is planning a cookout for parents interested in joining BPA on Sunday, September 8 at Alcova Heights Park (901 S. George Mason Drive) from 3-5 p.m.

“One of the our goals is to bridge the gap between the parents who aren’t able to show up to meetings,” said Luqman-Dawson.

The members said overall they support APS, with several mentioning they moved to Arlington because APS was highly ranked and offered quality programs. But since then, Luqman-Dawson said it’s been “sobering” to see racial bias even at the schools as good as the ones in APS.

“It’s hard to send a child to school thinking that they are going to be victims, or going to be poorly judged,” she said.

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Arlington Public Schools has been named the top school system in Virginia for the second year in a row.

Ranking site Niche recently released its new 2020 Best Schools list and APS topped all others in the Commonwealth with an A+ ranking. Falls Church City Public Schools was No. 2, Loudoun County Public Schools was No. 4 and Fairfax County Public Schools was No. 6.

APS received an A or A+ grade in the six major categories evaluated by Niche: academics, teachers, clubs and activities, diversity, college prep, and health and safety.

User reviews also gave APS high marks. One recent review, which Niche says was posted by a high school senior:

I have grown up in Arlington my entire life. This small town has taught me how to love home football games and holiday-themed parades. Every school, elementary, middle, and high school, has provided me with tools to grow as a student. The faculty has laid down the stepping stones for me to become a successful woman, and I cannot thank them enough.

Among individual high schools, Fairfax County schools dominated the top 10 in the state, while Arlington’s Washington-Liberty ranked No. 13, Yorktown ranked No. 17 and Wakefield ranked No. 51.

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Arlington Public Schools has a new interim superintendent for the new school year.

Cintia Johnson, who first joined APS in 1986 and is currently Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services, will serve as interim superintendent starting Sept. 1. The Arlington School Board unanimously approved her appointment at a special meeting Tuesday evening.

Johnson will serve until a permanent superintendent is selected. The School Board “expects to have a search firm hired by early fall.”

“Johnson earned numerous awards throughout her tenure,” an APS press release noted, “including Principal of the Year while at Patrick Henry Elementary in 1999 and Teacher of the Year while at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in 1992.”

The full press release is below.

The Arlington School Board today appointed Cintia Johnson as the Interim Superintendent for Arlington Public Schools, effective September 1, 2019, at a special meeting held Tuesday, July 30. Johnson is currently the Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services, a position she has held since 2012. Members of the School Board made the appointment with a unanimous vote of 5-0.

As Interim Superintendent, Johnson will replace Superintendent Dr. Patrick K. Murphy, who will retire from APS on September 1, 2019. Johnson’s contract begins on August 1, 2019 and extends through June 30, 2020, or until a permanent superintendent is hired. This will allow for transition time during the month of August. Johnson’s appointment to Interim Superintendent will be effective on September 1, 2019.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have found a leader who has spent her career serving Arlington Public Schools, who embodies the skills and leadership qualities our community values, who knows our school system, understands our priorities for this year, and has the trust and respect of her colleagues and our staff,” said School Board Chair Tannia Talento. “Ms. Johnson is the right person to lead APS during this important time of change, and I am confident that her skills and experience will allow for a seamless transition as we open new schools, advance the work of our strategic plan, and prepare for a future leader in the months ahead.”

Johnson, a bilingual educator for more than 35 years, has served APS in a variety of instructional, management and leadership roles since 1986, including most recently as assistant superintendent for administrative services. In this role, Johnson works collaboratively with school principals and staff across APS to enhance operations, strengthen schools and promote student success and achievement. She has also served as the Superintendent’s designee throughout his tenure when he has been away from the office.

“I am absolutely honored and humbled to take on this role. Serving our students and supporting their education has been my life’s work, and I look forward to continuing that work in a new capacity,” Johnson said in her remarks during the meeting. “We are successful in Arlington because of the quality and dedication of our incredible staff, and I am confident that together we will continue to do great things for all our students.”

Johnson began her career in APS in 1986 as a 4th grade teacher at Patrick Henry Elementary and then taught 6th grade at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. She was a teacher for nearly 20 years before starting her administrative career as assistant principal of Randolph Elementary.

In 2002, Johnson, who is fluent in Spanish, helped open and establish Arlington’s second dual-language immersion elementary school, Claremont Immersion, where she was principal for ten years until 2012. She also served as principal of Patrick Henry Elementary for eight years.

Johnson earned numerous awards throughout her tenure, including Principal of the Year while at Patrick Henry Elementary in 1999 and Teacher of the Year while at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in 1992.

She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Early Childhood Education and Spanish from Rutgers University and has a master’s degree in linguistics. She later earned her educational leadership licensure from George Mason University.

The terms of her contract include an annualized $224,796 salary, a $3,000 monthly contribution to a retirement account and a $400 monthly car allowance. The School Board continues to move forward on the hiring process for the new superintendent.

A Request for Proposal (RFP) will be issued in August, and the Board expects to have a search firm hired by early fall. Once the firm is in place, the process will include input from staff, families and the community. APS will share a timeline and updates on the search process via a dedicated page on the Engage with APS! webpage by the first of August.

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Morning Notes

Interim APS Superintendent to Be Named — The Arlington School Board is planning to name an interim superintendent at a special meeting tonight, following the departure of long-time APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy. The School Board is expected to select a search firm by early fall to find a new, permanent superintendent. [Twitter, InsideNova]

Plan for New Ballston Metro Entrance Advancing — “Arlington County staff have been given the ‘go-ahead’ to move forward with planning a second entrance at the Ballston Metro station, according to project manager Bee Buergler, but it could be another five years before it actually comes to fruition. The project is over 15 years in the planning, but until recently it’s been held up because the building that would be above it was being redeveloped and ran into delays.” [Greater Greater Washington]

Cross-Crystal City Corporate Clash — Crystal City-based prescription drug IT provider SureScripts is feuding with its future neighbor, Amazon, over the use of patient medical records. [Bloomberg]

Photo courtesy laash/Instagram

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Morning Notes

ACPD School Donation Drive Returns — “Help Arlington County students start the school year prepared to succeed by donating new school supplies and other classroom materials during the Fill the Cruiser Back-to-School Supply Drive… on Thursday, August 15 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.” [Arlington County]

Discussing Marymount’s Ballston Campus — “Colleges and universities have cracked the code to propel cities forward toward the future of education: focus on the campus experience, expand pathways to new careers, and partner with surrounding communities and cities to drive growth. In Arlington, Va., Marymount University has done just that.” [Medium]

National Night Out in Crystal City — The Crystal City Civic Association and Crystal City BID will be holding their first National Night Out event on Tuesday, Aug. 6. [Crystal City BID]

Post-Flood Trash Collection Update — “The County took special measures to assist residential curbside customers in trash collection efforts following the July 8 damaging storm. This service was in addition to the weekly trash collection by our contractors. Over 110 tons of trash was collected through this service, which is the equivalent of the total weight of 16 school buses. Most of this had to be hand collected and lifted by our crews.” [Arlington County]

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Morning Notes

New Lyon Park Neighborhood Plan Approved — “The Arlington County Board today accepted the first update to historic Lyon Park’s Neighborhood Conservation plan since 1973. The update, spearheaded by the Lyon Park Citizens Association, seeks to address increased non-resident traffic and other challenges through 19 recommendations for improvements.” [Arlington County]

ACPD Traffic Enforcement in Crystal City — “Motor Officers conducted high visibility traffic enforcement along Crystal Drive today to curb illegal practices including stopping/parking in the bike and travel lanes. Increase roadway safety [by] being a PAL — Predictable | Alert | Lawful.” [Twitter]

How to Beat the Heat in Arlington — With a scorching weekend of dangerous heat ahead, and an Excessive Heat Watch issued, Arlington County is reminding residents of some ways they can keep cool, stay informed and help at-risk individuals. [Arlington County]

Metro Waterfall, Explained — Metro has an explanation of why a waterfall developed in the ceiling of the Virginia Square Metro station and inside a passing train during the Flash Flood Emergency last week. [DCist]

Grants for African-American Heritage Projects — “Two Arlington-based organizations are among 25 non-profits statewide that will share more than $140,000 in new grant funding from Virginia Humanities” for projects exploring local African-American heritage and history [InsideNova]

Beyer on Trump Impeachment Vote — “I strongly support an impeachment inquiry into the conduct of President Trump. I voted to table H. Res. 489 because it would effectively prevent the House from conducting such an inquiry… It would initiate an impeachment trial in the Senate solely to consider whether the President should be removed from office for his recent racist tweets.” [Twitter, Blue Virginia]

Dueling APS Letters to the Editor — On one hand, Arlington Public Schools should stick to funding only the basics, like providing textbooks and pencils, according to one letter to the editor published in the Sun Gazette. On the other hand, APS should have a comprehensive approach to sustainability, including recycling and excess cafeteria waste, according to another letter to the editor writer. [InsideNova, InsideNova]

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Morning Notes

HQ2 to Include Banana Stand, Local Businesses — “Schoettler said the outdoor areas will likely include elements from its Seattle headquarters, such as a community vegetable garden and a banana stand… Amazon’s in-house food program will only serve about one-quarter of the HQ2 workforce, encouraging the majority of the employees to each lunch at nearby businesses. And because Amazon will own the buildings, Schoettler said it will be able to curate the retail to focus on locally owned businesses.” [Bisnow, WAMU, Washington Business Journal]

County Again Recognized for Tech Savvy — “Arlington County is once again among the top ranked digital counties in the nation. The Center for Digital Government and National Association of Counties 2019 award designated Arlington second place in the 150,000-249,999 population category.” [Arlington County]

Legion Development a National Model? — “Post 139 and APAH’s partnership should serve as an example for addressing the issue of homeless veterans, said Darryl Vincent, chief operating officer of nonprofit U.S.VETS… In 2018, there were 12,806 American Legion posts across the country, a huge inventory of property that could be repurposed as affordable housing.” [Politico]

Helicopter Noise Amendment Passes House — “The House of Representatives adopted a set of amendments to H.R. 2500, the National Defense Authorization Act, including two offered by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) which would address helicopter noise in the National Capital Region.” [Press Release]

ACPD: Lock Your Car and House — “The Arlington County Police Department is joining law enforcement agencies throughout the country in a public safety campaign aimed at promoting crime prevention strategies to reduce and prevent thefts from vehicles and homes. The campaign, known as the 9 P.M. Routine, encourages residents to conduct security checks in their homes and vehicles each evening to ensure their property is secure.” [Arlington County]

APS Teacher Receives National Recognition — “Wilfredo Padilla Melendez, teacher at Claremont Immersion School, received Instructure’s 2019 Educator of the Year Award. Wilfredo was recognized as one of six educators who go above and beyond to redefine traditional classroom activities.” [Press Release]

Photo courtesy Arlington VA/Flickr

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Morning Notes

Incubator Leaving Crystal City — “Startup incubator 1776 plans to open its new D.C. location this year and will ultimately shut down its Crystal City location. 1776 spokesman Lucas McCanna said the company will relocate to ‘the general McPherson Square area,’ but declined to give a specific address.” [Washington Business Journal]

AAA: Worst Times for Independence Day Travel — “Holiday travelers hailing from the area will face absolute gridlock along key freeway segments starting [today], July 3. Topping the list of the worst corridors for those departing Wednesday, July 3, is Interstate 270 northbound.” [Press Release]

Arlington County Holiday Closures — All Arlington County government offices, courts, libraries and facilities will be closed Thursday for the Independence Day holiday, though trash and recycling will still be collected. Also, “metered parking is not enforced but street parking near the US Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima), Long Bridge Park, and the Air Force Memorial will be restricted. Motorists should look for temporary ‘No Parking’ signs.” [Arlington County]

Memorial Bridge Closed to Pedestrians — In addition to other July 4 road closures around Arlington, Memorial Bridge will be closed to both vehicles and pedestrians throughout the day Thursday. [Twitter, National Park Service]

ART Bus Holiday Schedule — “ART will operate holiday service on Thursday, July 4, 2019, in observance of Independence Day. ART 41, 42, 45, 51, 55 and 87 will operate on Sunday schedules. All other ART routes will not operate and the ART customer call center will be closed.” [Arlington Transit]

Superintendent Search May Be Drawn Out — “Arlington’s new School Board chair, who will be focused in coming months on the selection of a new superintendent, asked for patience in the community as the process plays out. ‘Finding the right leader and the best fit for our community will take time,’ Tannia Talento said July 1 as she rotated in as chair of the School Board for the coming year.” [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Lisa Novak

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The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

It is a big summer for Arlington Public Schools. It started with the June 12th announcement that Superintendent Patrick Murphy is leaving his post September 3rd after a decade at the helm.

Yet, according to incoming School Board Chair Tannia Talento, the search for his replacement still has not begun, nor have they named an interim superintendent who can be an active part of the transition. Talento noted the School Board plans to hire an executive search firm, but has not done so yet. In fact, Talento says the search firm may not be in place until sometime in the fall.

Murphy’s decision must have caught the School Board members off-guard. Three weeks have already gone by, and apparently it will be three months before the search begins.

This is the second instance that calls into question the priorities of the School Board when it comes to staffing APS. Just a couple months ago, we heard that APS does not have an effective exit interview system in place to determine why staff leave.

This is a school system with a budget that will approach $700 million next year, but may not have a new leader in place when budget negotiations commence. Regardless of whether you agree with the outcome or not, Superintendent Murphy was able to shepherd through the request for a tax rate increase to give the School Board nearly everything it could have asked for in the most recent budget process.

The School Board should have a contingency plan in place for these circumstances. Even if they did not, they should have made starting this search process a higher priority. If the School Board does not get more serious about finding a permanent replacement, it will not help their cause as the next budget is being written next spring.

Speaking about getting serious, APS is taking another step toward school security by testing a visitor management system this summer that would require a photo ID for those wishing to enter a school. Acceptable forms of ID can include any ID, regardless of where it was issued, so long as it contains your full name, date of birth and photograph. APS will work out the kinks before the system is rolled out county-wide in the fall.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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Morning Notes

Talento Selected as School Board Chair — “The Arlington School Board held its annual organizational meeting for the 2019-20 school year and elected Tannia Talento as Chair and Monique O’Grady as Vice Chair. The terms for the new Chair and Vice Chair begin immediately and will continue until June 30, 2020.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Which Amazon Units Are Coming to HQ2 — “We’re still a pretty long way from knowing what the estimated 25,000 workers at Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters will do, but a top company executive has named three units that will be represented in Arlington: Alexa, Amazon Web Services and Amazon’s consumer division.” [Washington Business Journal]

Private Sector Job Growth in Arlington — Arlington County’s private employment grew by nearly 20,000 jobs, or about 17%, between 2010 and 2018, according to the D.C. Policy Center. [Twitter]

Arlington Winners at the RAMMYs — Ambar in Clarendon captured the Service Program of the Year award at the 2019 RAMMYs over the weekend. The distinction of Chef of the Year at the D.C. area restaurant industry award show, meanwhile, went to Kyle Bailey of The Salt Line, which is opening a location in Ballston. [Washington Business Journal]

APS Testing New Visitor System — “Summertime will bring a security pilot program to a number of Arlington’s public schools, with a full roll-out of the initiative slated throughout the system in the fall. The new visitor-management system to be tested at five sites during the summer will require visitors, volunteers and contractors to provide specific photo identification, and their identities will then be checked against state and federal sex-offender registries.” [InsideNova]

ACFD Holds ‘Camp Heat’ — “Camp Heat, put on by the Arlington County Fire Department, concluded Friday night. During this week-long immersion into firefighting, campers learned everything from running hoses to breaking down doors to working on water rescue techniques. All the campers are young women, 15 to 18 years old.” [WJLA]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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