Arlington, VA

New data from Arlington Public Schools suggest that more secondary students are failing classes and their average GPA has dropped.

Sixth-grade students appear to be the hardest hit this year: Their average GPA dropped about 6%, and the number of students failing at least one class increased 118%.

The newest numbers span marking periods one, which ends in November, and two, which ends in February, for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years. ARLnow obtained the data from an APS parent, who requested it from the school system.

“We are concerned by the grades we are seeing as compared to last year,” said APS spokesperson Frank Bellavia. “Our commitment is to ensure every student continues to grow and make progress, regardless of their instructional model.”

There is a bright spot, he said: The number of As are up for students with disabilities who receive accommodations as well as those learning English.

Nearly one year after school buildings closed, students in grades 6 and 9 will enter their classrooms this coming Tuesday, March 9, followed by students in grades 7-8 and 10-12 on Tuesday, March 16.

Secondary students are the last to return. Elementary students began their phased return this past Tuesday, following some career and technical education students earlier this year, and some special-education students in the fall.

Students will be in-person twice a week, with teachers teaching to online and in-person students concurrently.

Across the board, metrics for student achievement indicate students are struggling to make grades this year compared to last year.

“Our middle and high school students are almost always ignored in return-to-school discussions because they are supposedly more equipped to handle virtual school — the data shows that is clearly not the case,” said Arlington Parents for Education, a local group that has been vocal in pushing for a swift return to in-person instruction, in a statement.

The group added that “it’s clear that our secondary students need to be back in the classroom just as much — and just as soon —  as our youngest learners.”

This year’s sixth graders have an average GPA of 3.3, compared to last year’s, whose GPA averaged at 3.5. For ninth-graders, the second hardest-hit group, their GPA dropped from 3.2 in November 2019 to 3.0 in November 2020.

Pre-pandemic, researchers have noted that the transition from elementary to middle and middle to high school has an impact on student achievement.

The same cohort of students appeared to be on a positive trajectory from September to February of the 2019-20 school year: While the number of students failing one course grew about 18% for transition-year students, their average GPA improved. The most significant drop was among seniors, whose average GPA fell 6% during that time.

A greater number of middle schoolers are failing at least one class compared to their high-school counterparts. In fact, fewer seniors this February failed at least one class than last February, down to 293 from 334.

ARLnow previously reported that fewer K-2 students in Arlington Public Schools, particularly English learners and Black and Hispanic children, were meeting literacy benchmarks this fall.

Bellavia said APS is adding in a number of supports to help students who fell behind catch up.

Teachers will provide one-on-one support for students who are experiencing difficulties during their office hours, he said. Counselors will reach out to students and parents when they do not attend school, online or in-person, regularly or are not performing well academically or socially.

APS is also allowing teachers to extend deadlines to support students experiencing difficulties, he said. Schools have made adjustments to the school day to include academic support opportunities designed to provide students with additional resources and direct instruction.

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Morning Notes

Quarter of Students Staying at Home — “Students in Pre-K through second grade returned to Arlington County classrooms Tuesday, a step that Superintendent Francisco Duran says the school system is prepared to take on. Roughly 75% of the student body took the in-person learning option, while 25% will continue to learn virtually. Staff and students who return will complete a daily screening.” [WTOP]

More Commercial Burglaries Reported — Two more local businesses have been victimized among a spate of commercial burglaries. Arlington County police yesterday reported that business on the 5500 block of Columbia Pike and the 4200 block of N. Pershing Drive in Buckingham were broken into. In both cases, thieves stole cash registers and an undisclosed amount of cash. Police did not reveal the businesses involved; there are two on that block of N. Pershing Drive: El Paso Cafe and Popeye’s. [ACPD]

Wakefield Football Undefeated So Far — “The Wakefield Warriors rallied from a 14-0 deficit to defeat the Edison Eagles, 34-14, in National District high-school football action on Feb. 27… Wakefield stays undefeated on [the] gridiron.” [InsideNova]

W&OD Trail Work Taking Place — From the Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services: “[This] afternoon: W&OD Trail asphalt repairs in Bluemont Park just south of Wilson Boulevard. Will take about 4 hours. Flaggers on hand to direct users onto nearby Four Mile Run Trail. (Rescheduled from earlier this week.)” [Twitter]

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Reminder: In-Person School Resuming Updated at 8:55 a.m. — “@APSVirginia elementary schools re-open for preK-2nd grade on Tuesday, March 2, followed by 3rd-5th + 6th (middle school) and 9th (high school) grades on March 9, then all returning students on March 16.” [Twitter, Twitter]

County Buying Fairlington Area Apartments — “A push to redevelop the Park Shirlington apartment complex in South Arlington has fallen through, prompting county officials to take the unusual step of buying part of the aging affordable community. Arlington leaders signed off on plans in late January to purchase about half of the property, located along I-395 near the county’s border with Alexandria. The county will end up paying about $27.9 million for 105 apartments on a 6.3-acre parcel should the deal close in August.” [Washington Business Journal]

New Rosslyn Apartments Start Leasing — “Today, Penzance… announced the start of leasing and the opening of their interactive leasing center for Aubrey, the first luxury apartment tower to deliver at The Highlands, a dynamic mixed-use development project along the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor.” [Press Release]

Amazon Donates to Wakefield HS — “As part of it’s celebration of Black History Month, Amazon presented a $15,000 donation to support Wakefield High School. This is the latest in Amazon’s ongoing work to support education and racial equality initiatives in communities across the country where its employees live and work. The donation to Wakefield High School of $15,000 will include the book Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You by Jason Reynolds.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Food Stand Operators Expand into Alpacas — “What started as just a food truck eight years ago [and later a food stand in Crystal City] has now turned into an expanded business. The Peruvian Brothers are actually selling a new product — selling alpaca poop. Yes, that’s right.” [WJLA]

Jaywalking Now No Longer a Primary Offense — “Though it didn’t garner as much attention as other police reform measures during the special legislative session that ended this fall, a provision to decriminalize jaywalking in a pretextual policing bill from Delegate Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, means that come March 1, police will no longer be able to stop folks for the act of crossing the street outside of a marked crosswalk.” [Virginia Mercury, NBC 4]

Amazon Funds Affordable Housing in Falls Church — “In response to concerns about the anticipated impact of its second headquarters in Arlington on the region’s housing prices, Amazon pledged $75 million over five years to affordable housing in Northern Virginia… Falls Church will get $3.4 million for a new affordable housing homeownership program and $350,000 to extend the availability of nine committed affordable apartments at the Read Building (402 W. Broad Street).” [Tysons Reporter]

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(Updated 12 p.m. 2/26/21) For the first time in nearly a year, school starts next week for Pre-K through 2nd grade students in Arlington Public Schools.

To help ensure safety for students getting to school — even if only for two days per week — the Arlington County Police Department is getting involved in the process.

APS is making final health and safety preparations ahead of elementary schoolers returning on Tuesday, March 2 — nearly one calendar year after APS closed due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, ACPD is ramping up efforts to remind residents of how to drive, cycle and walk safely in school zones.

“Since this is the first time in nearly a year that motorists will see an increased number of students walking, bicycling, and riding the bus to class, ACPD is encouraging the public to re-familiarize themselves with the location of school zones, applicable traffic laws (including those pertaining to school buses), and tips to keep students safe,” a press release said.

APS expanded its walk zones around schools to limit the number of students on the buses and enforce social-distancing. ACPD said this may result in more children being driven to school.

“The public can expect to see increased vehicular traffic in and around schools,” the release said.

Message boards along roadways throughout the county will remind motorists to slow down, avoid distractions and watch for students.

The county is also installing the following signs indicating temporary parking restrictions near schools.

In terms of health and safety inside schools, more than 98% of classrooms meet or exceed air quality requirements, APS said.

Additionally, the school system has three ways to ensure lunch can be consumed safely, Superintendent Francisco Durán told School Board members on Thursday. And starting March 1, families can fill out the daily COVID-19 symptom screener sent to their devices, and the school has made changes to transportation.

Amid falling rates of COVID-19 cases, reported cases among in-person students and teachers appear to remain low, when compared to close contacts with sick individuals. This means mitigation strategies are working, Durán said.

“I just want to acknowledge the Herculean effort that has gone on over the past year even to get to this point… and all the people who contributed to creating this plan,” Arlington School Board member Cristina Diaz-Torres said. “I am very confident in what we have thus far.”

Still, the superintendent acknowledged more work ahead. Many teachers report lacking clarity on how to teach online and in-person students at the same time using new technologies such as special microphones and cameras.

For most students, in-person learning will occur only twice a week, and a group of 75 parents, teachers, staff and students have determined ways distance learning could be improved. The group found that teachers and schools could use technology more consistently and students should be encouraged to turn on their cameras.

“When they have their cameras turned off consistently, it’s hard to find their level of engagement and for staff to build a meaningful relationship,” Durán said.

More back-to-school safety tips from the police press release, below.

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Most Arlington students will be heading back to classrooms next month.

Arlington Public Schools announced Tuesday that in-person learning — with students in classrooms two days per week — will resume for all grade levels between March 2 and March 18, with younger students starting earlier. Students who opt out will remain in full-time virtual learning.

The announcement follows prodding by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who last week encouraged school systems to return by March 15.

The news is being met with jubilation from many APS families, but others are not as happy. Many teachers wanted more time for vaccinations, while a contingent of parents think in-person learning should have resumed much earlier.

(Half of APS staff members have received at least one vaccine dose, according to Superintendent Francisco Durán, who cited improving health metrics as an impetus for his return-to-school decision.)

What do you think?

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Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán announced return-to-school dates Tuesday afternoon, nearly 11 months since schools first closed at the outset of the pandemic.

Students will start trickling into their buildings by grade level on Tuesday, March 2. By Tuesday, March 16, all students who have chosen to be in-person will be able to go to school twice a week, either Tuesdays and Wednesdays or Thursdays and Fridays.

Teachers and staff, who have been re-entering their classrooms in phases since last week, will return one week before students, Durán said. This month, APS will end or scale back the programs currently providing some students with limited in-classroom instructional supports.

“I am encouraged by recent improvements in the health metrics, with case positivity rates and other indicators currently decreasing in Arlington and neighboring communities,” Durán told APS families via email. “Over the past two weeks, staff have returned to our buildings to prepare for the upcoming transition and to further strengthen our mitigation efforts.”

The superintendent was set to announce these dates during next week’s School Board meeting, but his plan changed last week, in response to a press conference in which Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam urged school systems to reopen by March 15.

More than half of APS staff members have received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to date, according to Durán, with new appointments being added “all the time.” Staff who received the vaccine in mid-January are now scheduling their second dose appointments, he added.

Durán said families will be receiving further communication from APS regarding in-person days, the instructional model, transportation and any changes to teachers or classroom assignments.

He urged the school community to be “vigilant and work together,” after a year marked by protests and counter-protests over the ongoing closure of Arlington schools. Some APS families and many teachers have opposed the reopening of schools until more vaccinations could be administered.

“Our ability to continue moving ahead depends on all of us wearing masks, staying home when sick, and following all the other mitigation strategies recommended by Public Health to reduce the spread of the virus,” Durán said.

Durán added that he will share more information at the Feb. 18 School Board meeting.

The back-to-school scheduled announced today is below.

March 2-5:

  • PreK-2nd grade students
  • All students enrolled in Countywide Elementary Special Education Programs (PreK-5th grade – mini MIPA, MIPA, Life Skills, Communications and Deaf and Hard of Hearing – in person four days a week, Tues-Fri)
  • Elementary students enrolled in Interlude

March 9-12:

  • 3rd-5th grade students
  • 6th and 9th grade students
  • All students enrolled in Countywide Secondary Special Education Programs (6th-12th grade – MIPA, Life Skills, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Shriver Program – in person four days a week, Tues-Fri)
  • Secondary students enrolled in Interlude and PEP program

March 16-19:

  • 7th-8th grade students
  • 10th-12th grade students

Special programs will end or be scaled back on the following days:

  • Friday, Feb. 19: five-day instructional learning supports for identified students at four elementary schools will switch to Mondays only.
  • Friday, Feb. 19: the seven meal drop-off locations that are not school-based will cease operating.
  • Friday, Feb. 26: the “work space” program for secondary students will stop running.

Image via APS/Twitter

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Nearly one year after Arlington Public Schools closed classrooms, the end of distance learning is in sight for students and teachers.

Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán said today (Friday) that on Tuesday he will announce dates when students can return to their school buildings — with students expected to return by mid-March.

The forthcoming timeline for the announcement is one-and-a-half weeks ahead of Durán’s schedule. The push to announce the phased return dates next week comes in response to a press conference that Gov. Ralph Northam held this morning.

During the School Board meeting last night (Thursday), Durán told board members and listening community members that he would provide dates on Feb. 18. This morning, Northam urged all K-12 school divisions in Virginia to make in-person learning options available to students by March 15.

“Given Governor Northam’s press conference this morning, I will announce the dates in my Return-to-School Update this coming Tuesday,” Durán said in an APS School Talk update sent this afternoon. “Our timeline aligns with the Governor’s guidance.”

Principals and school staff have been preparing for student returns in March, he said.

Arlington teachers and staff have been re-entering their classrooms in phases since last week. Durán came under fire last night for not following other Virginia school divisions, which have announced firm return dates.

“I’m certainly aware of the announcements of other divisions in Northern Virginia and others that are moving forward, but we are taking the time to do what is asked… to make sure we’re safe and ready to go back in person,” he said during last night’s meeting. “I’m going to continue to make decisions to best serve the needs of students in Arlington while ensuring the health and safety of everyone.”

Student groups will return in this order:

  1. Preschool through 2nd grade students and countywide elementary special education students
  2. Grades 3-5
  3. Grades 6-12

Students from grades 3-12 will learn via “concurrent instruction” models. They will remain in their current classes, with their current teachers, regardless of whether they are in-person part-time or fully virtual. Teachers will instruct both online and in-person students whether they are in the classroom or working remotely.

On Wednesday, students enrolled in select technical education courses, from cosmetology to auto collision repairs, were able to return to their classrooms at the Arlington Career Center, Durán said. Students with disabilities who need in-person supports were the first to return on Nov. 4.

This week, APS launched a health screening application for teachers and staff to use daily, providing the school system with information on who tests positive, experiences symptoms or comes in contact with coronavirus-positive people, he said. The app will be available to students and families on Feb. 18.

Meanwhile, Durán said in-person instruction and support are having a “moderate” impact on reports of positive cases and close contacts with sick individuals. He cited the following statistics on positive cases and reports of close contacts among staff and students:

This morning, Northam also encouraged school divisions to offer summer school for families who want their children to make up for any loss of learning incurred during this school year.

“The health and safety of students, educators, school personnel, and communities continues to be our top priority,” Northam said. “We know that children learn better in classrooms and that going to school is vital for their social-emotional needs and for receiving critical services like meals. It is also important for our youngest learners, students with disabilities, and those with limited access to technology who have struggled most with remote learning. By focusing on mitigation measures, we can provide our kids with safe and equitable learning environments.”

Responding to early signs of falling grades during distance learning, two former School Board members indicated their interest in summer school options in December.

Photo via Arlington Public Schools Twitter

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Morning Notes

No APS Return Dates Yet — “Alexandria City Public Schools this week joined a flood of Northern Virginia school systems in setting firm timelines for reopening classrooms, vowing to welcome all students back for in-person learning by mid-March. But in Arlington, school officials aren’t committing to return dates just yet.” [Washington Post]

Summer School Appears Likely — “Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday will announce a plan to extend the school year into summer to allow students to catch up. The announcement will come during an 11 a.m. news conference, Northam said during a Thursday morning interview with Washington Post Live. No details have yet been released. ‘We’re working with our teachers, our school boards, our superintendents. It has to be a top priority,’ he said.” [InsideNova]

Karantonis Running for Reelection — “Although his announcement was temporarily derailed by a snafu too common in the Zoom era, Arlington County Board member Takis Karantonis on Feb. 3 formally kicked off his bid for re-election with comments before the Arlington County Democratic Committee.” [InsideNova]

Napoli Salumeria’s D.C. Location Closing — “The restaurant has decided not to renew their lease at their current location, so they are temporarily closing their Columbia Heights doors as they search for a new DC location. In the meantime, guests can still get the full Napoli Pasta Bar menu at Napoli Salumeria in Arlington starting next week (including dine-in). Napoli Pasta Bar will also offer free delivery for DC residents within a certain radius from Napoli Salumeria.” [PoPville]

Marymount Announces Commencement Speakers — “In mid-May, approximately 975 students will receive their degrees over the course of three days during Marymount University’s 70th annual commencement ceremonies. The newest graduates of the mission-based Catholic university will hear from three distinguished commencement speakers – influential Virginian James Dyke, Jr., entrepreneur and philanthropist Sheila Johnson and business leader Donald Graham.” [Marymount University]

Editorial: No Counterbalance Against Tax Increases — “The government’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission effectively has been gelded; the Arlington County Civic Federation is trying to keep up but is not the budget-watching powerhouse it once was; the Arlington County Taxpayers Association effectively died with its leader, Tim Wise; and serious budget discussions almost never even come up within the intra-Democratic nomination contests that determine who will hold elected office.” [InsideNova]

Virginia May Abolish Death Penalty — “Virginia is poised to become the first state in the South to abolish the death penalty, a sign of ascendant liberal political power in a state that has executed more people since the 1970s than any other except Texas.” [New York Times]

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Morning Notes

Snow Removal Ordinance in Effect — “A recent weather event has concluded and deposited snow/ice accumulations of less than 6 inches. Arlington’s sidewalk snow removal ordinance requires residents and businesses to clear adjacent public sidewalks of snow and ice by 1:00 PM on Wednesday, February 3.” [Arlington County]

More Back-to-School Dates Expected Soon — “We look forward to welcoming Level 2 Career & Technical Education students to the Arlington Career Center for hybrid/in-person instruction starting [today]. We continue to assess additional student return dates… The next group to return will be Level 2, PreK through second grade and countywide elementary special education students. Return dates for this group will be communicated at the Feb. 18 School Board meeting.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Arlington Rent Declines Slowing — “Arlington’s COVID- and shutdown-caused drop in apartment rents appears to be hitting bottom for now, according to new data from Apartment List, but the county’s rental market is still significantly more affordable than before the pandemic. For the year ending in January, rents in Arlington were down 14 percent from a year before… the drop from December to January was just 0.5 percent, lower than in preceding months.” [InsideNova]

Arlington Ranks No. 14 in ‘Walk-Friendly’ List — “About 30 years ago, Arlington took the lead in suburban redevelopment in Virginia, creating walkable urban areas around the metro system. Now that momentum has pushed Arlington (and its most walkable neighborhoods of Clarendon-Courthouse, Ballston-Virginia Square, and Lyon Village) into the top walkable cities — something we can expect to continue when Amazon moves in.” [MSN]

Hope’s Prison Oversight Bill Dies — From Del. Patrick Hope (D): “This is not the end — only the beginning. Every agency in Va must be transparent and accountable to the public which they serve. We will regroup and come back next session with a bill that prioritizes [Virginia Dept. of Corrections] oversight.” [Twitter]

Case of the Stray Hockey Sticks — A shipment of hockey sticks destined for the Washington Capitals practice facility in Ballston, to be used by new Caps acquisition Zdeno Chara, was apparently mis-delivered to a random New Jersey man’s home. [ESPN, Barstool Sports]

Bezos Relinquishing CEO Role at Amazon — “Jeff Bezos said Tuesday that he will step down as chief executive of Amazon, leaving the helm of the company he founded 27 years ago. Bezos will transition to the role of executive chair in the third quarter of this year, which starts July 1, the company said. Andy Jassy, the chief executive of Amazon Web Services, will take over as CEO of Amazon.” The company yesterday revealed designs for the second phase of its Arlington HQ2. [NBC News]

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Morning Notes

Still No Back to School Date Set — From Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán: “Return dates for additional student groups have not been set yet… I am committed to making these transitions as soon as it is safe enough to do so — looking not only at the health metrics, but all available information regarding health and safety, mitigation, instruction and operations — knowing that there are risks in every scenario.” [Arlington Public Schools]

N. Va. Leaders Call for Vaccine Changes — “A coalition of local governments in Northern Virginia is calling on Gov. Ralph Northam to streamline the release of COVID-19 vaccine doses and provide more transparency and equity into the process. The letter signed by 14 local government leaders was sent by the Northern Virginia Regional Commission to Northam on Sunday.” [InsideNova, Twitter]

More Buzz for Local Fried Chicken Sandwich — “A local chef is getting a lot of attention for his fried chicken sandwich… Rock Harper is the owner and chef of Queen Mother’s restaurant in Arlington, Virginia. ‘To fry chicken better than me you gotta be a woman, at least 67, and have a lace apron, if you don’t at least meet that criteria you can’t deal with me,’ Harper says.” [WJLA]

Car Flips on GW Parkway — From Tuesday afternoon: “ACFD is on scene with a crash involving an overturned vehicle on the northbound GW Parkway near Key Bridge. An additional ambulance has been requested to the scene.” [Twitter]

New Arlington Police Recruit Class — “ACPD’s 23 recruit officers in Session 144 at the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy started their journey to become police officers today with the commencement of classes. Best of luck Session 144!” [Twitter]

Preservation of Rouse Estate Still a Long Shot — “Even if Arlington government leaders get behind the effort – and that remains a big ‘if’ – efforts by preservationists to save the Rouse estate on Wilson Boulevard from the wrecking ball may simply run out of time. ‘What you have going on is a race,’ County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac told County Board members on Jan. 23, a race between owners of the estate demanding the county government approve a demolition permit on the one hand, and preservationists seeking to have the site designated a local historic district on the other.” [InsideNova]

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