Arlington, VA

The Arlington School Board has advanced a $669,314,705 million proposed budget — a budget that features a gap of over $6 million.

The Board voted 4-0 to approve its proposal for the school system’s next fiscal year budget. One member, Barbara Kanninen, abstained. Final budget approval is set for May.

Voting stretched late into Thursday night as members weighed five amendments detailing how funds could be cut to reduce the $6.7 million budget shortfall.

Members approved four amendments that together shaved $1,163,330 off the budget by proposing to:

  • Eliminate an anonymous reporting hotline
  • Eliminate APS HR’s budget for computer replacements
  • Eliminate two Technology Support Positions, one Foreign Language in elementary schools position, one full time HR position, and two assistant director positions in assessment and transportation
  • Reduce funding for postage, evaluations, and clerical substitutes
  • Reduce printed report cards
  • Reduce Foreign Languages at Key School
  • Reduce travel reimbursements, and increase student parking fees

Another approved reduction was for the fund that provides employee service awards and special events — hours after the School Board celebrated 168 teachers in front of the dais for their decades of work in APS.

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Amazon is planning to award four Arlington schools with a $10,000 grant for robotics programs.

Abingdon, Hoffman-Boston and Drew elementary schools, along with Kenmore Middle School, have been selected for the grant along with 96 other schools nationwide, according to the statement released this morning.

Amazon is also awarding grants to 13 schools in D.C., six in Alexandria, and two in Prince George’s County.

The “Amazon Future Engineer Robotics Grant” funds the costs of starting up a robotics club and registering it with FIRST, a non-profit that hosts robotics competitions. The awarded schools will decide how exactly to spend the funds, reported the Washington Post.

The round of grants comes a month after the Arlington County Board approved an incentive package to welcome the Amazon’splanned second headquarters in Crystal City.

The deal has drawn repeated controversy from local activists who criticized the $23 million in incentives and $28 million in transportation upgrades offered by the county if Amazon meets certain job creation benchmarks. Critics have also expressed concern over a part of the deal where the county agreed to forward public records to Amazon without redacting filers’ personal information.

Schools were eligible for the grant based on their proximity to Amazon’s sites and their participation in the federal Title I program that awards additional funding for schools serving many low-income families, per the Post.

Amazon is doling out the robotics grants via its “Future Engineer” charity which is funded by a $50 million the tech and retail giant pledged to invest in STEM education by providing students with computer science courses, scholarships, and internships.

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(Updated 17/04/18) Arlington County officials are calling for action on health disparities among residents in two new reports released this week.

Officials outlined a plan for an “oversight entity to provide governance” on health equity policies as part of a report released yesterday (Thursday). The 27-page document includes the plan in a bid to reduce a 10-year life expectancy gap that exists based on where in Arlington you live, as first reported in 2016 by the Northern Virginia Health Foundation.

The “Destination 2027 Steering Committee” was formed last year to close that gap, stating that, “the presence of health inequities in Arlington is inconsistent with who we are and what we value as a community.” The committee is made up of 40 local organizations including the Virginia Hospital Center, police and first responders, and most county departments.

Details for how the group plans to achieve that are starting to come to light, including an open data project around health in the county.

“We are working to share a dashboard with data about health outcomes and community conditions,” Kurt Larrick, Assistant Director of the Department of Human Services, told ARLnow. “So stay tuned with that.”

“The public policies that have led to how our neighborhoods operate, how schools operate, how transportation occurs, often have some population’s benefit and others that are burdened,” said Reuben Varghese, the county’s Public Health Director, in a video yesterday. “And so that can lead to these groups having different life expectancy or other health outcomes.”

Yesterday the county also released the 2019 Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families (APCYF) Community Report which noted “striking disparities” in kid’s health that were “based on factors such as income, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and level of English proficiency.”

Some of the report’s findings include:

  • Hispanic youth were four times as likely to be obese as their white peers.
  • Ten percent of high school students reported going hungry at home.
  • Students with individual education plans (IEPs) were less likely to feel like they belonged in their school community compared to students without IEPS.
  • Forty-two percent of LGBT youth said they had been sexually harassed and were more likely to be depressed than other youth.
  • The total number of kids who said they received the necessary help for their depression “was so low for Black and Asian youth that a percentage could not be reported.”

The 56-page report compiled data from local, state, and federal sources, including the new APS “Your Voice Matters” survey and the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

“Nothing in particular was surprising, we noticed that the data confirmed many assumptions that we have heard,” Kimberly Durand, the coordinator for the partnership, told ARLnow.

“For example, Child Care and Mental Health continue to be of concern, and the data that we have compiled confirmed that,” she said.

The Steering Committee’s action report also shared some research from previous years that indicated:

  • Black residents in Arlington are hospitalized for asthma-related medical issues eight times more often than white residents.
  • Hispanic youth are 11 times more likely to become teen parents than their white classmates.
  • Arlington residents report poor mental health when earning less than $50,000 a year.

Durand’s youth report did found some improvements often associated with better health outcomes. Last year, 75 percent of Hispanic youth and students learning English graduated on time, compared to 61 percent graduating on time in the 2012-2013 year.

Arlington may have been nominated Virginia’s second healthiest county last month, but researchers have long noted residents’ health varies greatly across geographic, economic, and racial lines.

“While we may not be responsible for creating these conditions, each of us owns solving them,” said Destination 2027 co-chair Tricia Rodgers.

Photo via YouTube

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Next week, Kenmore Middle School will be recognized as one of the country’s top five schools for including special needs students in its community.

The Special Olympics selected Kenmore last fall and will present the Unified Champion Schools National Recognition Program award next Friday, April 12, from 1-2 p.m. at the middle school.

Winning schools were chosen based on demonstrating “excellence” for including special needs students in sports and youth leadership, among other benchmarks.

The award is being presented alongside ESPN.

Yorktown and Washington-Lee high schools are also Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools, according to a map of participants.

The program reported that nationwide 6,500 schools participate in the program, which allows 272,000 students to participate in sports inclusive of special needs.

The Unified Schools Program is managed by the Special Olympics and funded via a grant from the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs, per its website.

Separately, President Trump recently backtracked on his administration’s plan to cut funding for the Special Olympics after public outcry mounted in support of the program, reported Politico.

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Morning Notes

Clerk’s Office Stressed By Extra Work — “Increasing amounts of paperwork – whether of the hard-copy or electronic variety – are putting the squeeze on the staff of Arlington’s clerk of the Circuit Court.” [InsideNova]

Amazon Aiming for Net-Zero HQ2? — “Amazon seems to be eyeing the possibility of constructing ‘net-zero energy’ buildings when it readies its new offices in Pentagon City and Crystal City, and raised the issue repeatedly in negotiations with county officials.” [Washington Business Journal]

APS Lauded for Music Education — “Arlington Public Schools has been honored with the Best Communities for Music Education designation from the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Foundation for its commitment to music education.” [InsideNova]

Nearby: Alexandria Running Out of Office Space — “Alexandria’s efforts to lure new companies into the city are being thwarted by a space problem — there’s just not enough of it… there’s a dearth of the the right kind of office space, and that needs to change if Alexandra hopes to step up its game.” [Washington Business Journal]

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A new study indicates most Arlington Public Schools staff and students find personal electronic devices helpful in the classroom, but School Board members say questions remain about an initiative to give iPads and laptops to students.

Dr. Shaun B. Kellogg of the Friday Institute of NC State University, which conducted the “1:1 Digital Device Initiative Study,” said teachers and students surveyed were “generally pretty positive” about devices, but that “parents who completed the survey were clearly more skeptical of the benefits.”

“In fact the results from parents were kind of polarizing,” Kellogg said.

Eighty-five percent of teachers and 75 percent of students reported that the MacBook Air laptops and iPads used in APS classrooms can make learning more interesting — but only 55 percent of parents surveyed agreed.

Last year, the Friday Institute began studying the impact the devices had on students and teachers and presented these initial results based on analysis of the quantitative data gathered over the last year. Data was collected via interviews, 410 classroom observations, survey responses from 882 teachers, 8,519 students, and 1,693 parents, per Kellogg’s presentation last week.

Kellogg told the School Board that students are using devices roughly 40 percent of the time during classes in elementary schools, about 53 percent of the time in middle school classrooms, and 58 percent of the time in high school.

“I think in simple kind of parent speak we really want to know if what we’ve invested in is of benefit to their children,” said School Board member Nancy van Doren, who acknowledged that Kellogg was likely unable to answer that question during this first phase of his research.

Board Chair Reid Goldstein said the Board will revisit the issue in May.

Officials acknowledged during the meeting that the second phase of the study is not expected to be completed by May.

Goldstein said the study to examine the “the cost benefit analysis” of the program, but noted he had hoped the presentation included information on the “health effects” more screen time could have for youth.

Board member Barbara Kanninen also asked if there exists a consensus in the educational community about one-to-one device programs.

Kellogg held his own iPad aloft at the podium and replied, “They have ether potential to really amplify really good instruction, really good curriculum, but they also have the amplify really poor classroom management, really poor instruction.”

When pressed by Kanninen on whether APS has good quality instruction and curriculum Kellogg said, “I’d be very comfortable making that conclusion after phase two. That is one of my goals, figuring that out.”

Proponents of the program have said providing an iPad or laptop for every student from second grade on offers a chance to personalize their learning and address the achievement gap. But the program remains controversial with parents, some of whom were recently billed the costs for repairing devices after a policy change last year.

Board member Monique O’Grady also asked last week if it is common for school districts to have a device for every student.

Kellogg referenced his work in North Carolina where he answered that about 40 percent of their schools have “officially” adopted a similar policy but “realistically” only about 20 percent of them have achieved a one-to-one ratio.

In 2015, Kanninen attempted to pause and study the program, which had deployed 3,000 devices at the time. Her questions four years ago echoed last week’s: “Is it helping students learn? Is it helping teachers teach?”

The initiative began toting iPads and MacBook Air laptops into classrooms in the 2014-2015 school year with the goal of outfitting every student with a device by 2017.

The program initially drew criticism from parents who said APS introduced it in the budget with little public input and without sharing details about the plan with parents.

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Morning Notes

School Board Budget Quarrel — “Despite being blasted by colleagues for circumventing established procedures and potentially poisoning a well of goodwill, a majority of School Board members on March 28 voted to direct their chairman to tell County Board members the school system couldn’t take any further budget cuts.” [InsideNova]

Arlington Tech Succeeding in Engaging Girls — The Arlington Tech high school program “applicant pool for the 2019-20 school year has an almost equal breakdown when it comes to gender. As far as reflecting the county’s racial diversity, this public school program, which accepts students based on a blind lottery, is within a few percentage points.” [Technically DC]

Online Signup to Speak at Budget Meetings — Arlington County’s public meetings on the county budget and tax rate will be held on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. Those who want to speak at the meetings can register to do so until 5 p.m. the day before the meeting. [Arlington County, Arlington County]

New Name for Nauck Elementary School — Drew Model School in Nauck is being renamed “Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School” after the Arlington School board voted last week to accept a naming committee’s recommendation. [Arlington Public Schools]

ACFD Weekend Incidents — Arlington County firefighters responded to a fire on an apartment balcony in Courthouse and a chimney fire in a house near Westover over the weekend. [Twitter, Twitter]

Photo courtesy of Craig Fingar

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Construction is proceeding as planned on The Heights Building, the name of the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program’s new home at the former Wilson School site in Rosslyn.

Located at 1601 Wilson Blvd, The Heights Building will include an estimated 775 seats for students, at a cost of around $100 million. The Leo A. Daly– and BIG-designed building, with its unique stacked-rectangle design, will house both H-B Woodlawn and the Stratford Program.

H-B Woodlawn, an arts-oriented high school program with a focus on self-discipline, was once known as “hippie high.” Stratford is a secondary school for students with special needs.

Demolition for the project started in 2017.

Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia told ARLnow that the project remains “on schedule to open in September,” though he offered no other details on the construction progress so far.

Meanwhile, next to The Heights Building, another large construction project is underway. Excavation for the massive project — which will feature three towers, a park and a new road as part of a mixed-use development called The Highlands — appears to be mostly complete.

More from our prior coverage in October:

Work is kicking off on a massive new development in West Rosslyn, and its developer is offering a first look at its plans to build three new residential towers, a new fire station and an improved Rosslyn Highlands Park.

The D.C. developer Penzance announced today (Monday) that it would be dubbing the project “The Highlands,” which will be located at 1555 Wilson Blvd.

In all, the development will include 104 condos, 780 apartments and 40,000 square feet of retail space, including a new CVS pharmacy replacing the old shop at the location that closed earlier this year.

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(Updated at 10:40 a.m.) Arlington Public Schools is developing a framework for a policy passed years ago aiming to protect transgender students from discrimination.

APS is trying to figure out how it could best achieve a 2015 policy aimed at protecting transgender and non-binary students from discrimination and bullying.

The Policy Implementation Procedure (PIP) is slated for revisions until June, per a timeline posted by APS.

“Staff has been reviewing a variety of resources to develop a working draft and outline of the procedures, but the working group has not yet finalized the draft,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia. He added that when the draft is ready it “will be shared with our Advisory Committees and others to gather feedback” but that at the moment no public input events were planned.

The PIP comes a year after Superintendent Patrick Murphy announced in a memo for the previous school year that gender identity had been added to the school system’s anti-bullying policy, and that transgender students will be allowed to use their bathroom that corresponds with their self-identified gender.

It’s popular on a Facebook group for APS parents where dozens of members expressed support for the PIP in discussions on the page, and 243 voted to favor of it in an informal poll.

One anonymous group calling themselves the “Arlington Parents Coalition,” however, called the PIP “radical” and said the coalition had “concerns” about it in a blog post.

When contacted by ARLnow via a form on their website — which appears to have been created in March and has only posted about the PIP development — a member declined to identify themselves or others in the group.

The 2015 policy the PIP hopes to support was unanimously approved by the School Board in 2015. Policy J-2, as it’s called, requires APS provide, “educational opportunities and learning environments that are free of discrimination, including harassment, on the basis of… gender identity or expression.”

“No student, on these bases, shall be denied access to educational or extracurricular programs, activities, services, or benefits, or be limited in the exercise of any right, privilege or advantage,” the policy says. Depending on the framework adopted, the PIP could have implications for bathrooms and other school facilities, sports teams, and school procedures.

The School Board Chair at the time, Emma Violand-Sánchez, said she was “very proud” of the policy.

Bellavia said the PIP has not been changed by the recent backlash from right-wing websites after transgender activist Sarah McBride read a book about trans kids, I Am Jazz, To Ashlawn students earlier this month.

Research from William Institute of UCLA’s School of Law released this month found a correlation between the presence of anti-bullying laws for sexual orientation in a state and fewer suicide attempts by youth. LGBT+ youth have historically reported high rates of bullying in studies, with one in three transgender high school students surveyed last year saying they attempted suicide and a third saying they felt unsafe in school.

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Morning Notes

New APS Verification System — “For the 2019-20 school year, Arlington Public Schools will implement a new annual online verification process for updating and maintaining accurate student information. This will replace the First Day Packet students used to receive on the first day of school.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Garvey: Board Should Get Full-Time Pay — From Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey, who has previously spoken out about the issue: “To expect 5 Board members to hold outside jobs to supplement our $55k salary while maintaining Arlington’s presence in the region and the Board’s connection to the multitude of civic associations, commissions, and organizations we have is, I believe, unreasonable and not healthy for our County.” [Libby Garvey, Blue Virginia]

Border Wall May Cost Local Projects — Arlington may lose out on more than $50 million in military construction projects — including a road project and Pentagon exterior and security upgrades — if the money is diverted to President Trump’s southern border wall project. In all, nearly a half billion dollars worth of projects are at risk in Virginia. [WUSA 9]

Cyclist Struck in Shirlington — “ACFD on scene of a cyclist struck by a vehicle at the intersection of Shirlington Road at Arlington Mill, in Shirlington. Victim is being transported to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, per scanner. Several lanes blocked.” [Twitter]

Wardian Does it Again — “Running from south to north, Michael Wardian of Arlington, Virginia has set an FKT on the 631-mile (1,009K) Israel National Trail of 10 days, 16 hours and 36 minutes (unofficially). That’s like running a 100K race every day for 10 days.” [Trail Running]

Ride Hailing Service for Kids Comes to Arlington — “A California transportation service is looking to make life easier for Greater Washington families — by driving their kids. Los Angeles-based HopSkipDrive Inc., whose service chauffeurs kids between school and other activities much like a family-friendly Uber or Lyft, is launching in the D.C. area, now live in Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria.” [Washington Business Journal]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Hoffman-Boston Elementary now has a new mural thanks to a collaboration between its 5th grade students and renowned artist MasPaz.

The mural features animals from foxes to fishes and took the students several weeks to paint along one of the school’s main hallways, according to a video of the project.

MasPaz, whose name means “more peace,” has painted murals worldwide before moving back to Arlington. He told ARLnow last year he’s eager to work on more local projects.

Hoffman-Boston’s mural is part of the student’s legacy project that build “excitement” among other students who got to see the work progress over the past month, said art teacher Emily Wade.

Wade said it was an “incredible opportunity” for the students to get to learn from the Columbia-born artist who grew up in Arlington and attended Oakridge Elementary and H-B Woodlawn.

“So many of our students here can relate to that,” said Wade.

“I liked doing the mural with MasPaz,” said one student interviewed in the video. “He has a very unique style and I like the way he designed the fox and I hope he comes back again.”

The project was funded by The Humanities Project which brings artists into Arlington schools to lead workshops or teach courses.

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