Arlington, VA

(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) The Arlington School Board is nearing consensus on a plan to build 1,050 new seats for high schoolers at the county’s Career Center by 2024, with some, but not all, of the features community members want to see at the site.

At a May 22 work session, the Board expressed broad agreement on changes to Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposed 10-year construction plan, known as the capital improvement plan. School leaders have yet to finalize these decisions, but Board members signaled an increased willingness to embrace a plan that costs roughly $64 million more than the one Murphy proposed.

The Board has spent the last few weeks grappling with how, exactly, they’d execute a plan members agreed to last summer calling for Arlington Public Schools to add more capacity yet avoid building a fourth comprehensive high school, by adding seats to the Career Center (816 S. Walter Reed Drive) and the “Education Center” site adjacent to Washington-Lee High School (1426 N. Quincy Street).

Murphy originally suggested that APS add space for 600 high school students at the Education Center site and 250 at the Career Center by 2021, then tack on 800 more seats at the Career Center in 2026. That construction would also involve the addition of a multi-use gym and “black box” performing arts theater at the Career Center, but would not include the addition of other amenities parents in the area have been demanding.

The Board was previously considering more ambitious plans to outfit the Career Center site with a full complement of athletic fields and performing arts space. But the increased cost of those options, when combined with how the spending would strain APS’ capacity for taking on debt, seems to be scaring off Board members.

“I wanted to know how we could fast track seats and get all the amenities,” said Board member Monique O’Grady. “I think it’s clear that would put us in a situation where it wasn’t affordable.”

The Board is moving closer to embracing a plan that would bump up the construction of 800 additional seats at the Career Center to 2024, but also calls for the addition of a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage to the site.

“It’s very important that we add seats, but also that our seats be high quality,” said Board Chair Barbara Kanninen. “This would be what almost all of our high school students want to see in their school day.”

The Career Center would still not include every possible amenity the community might want to see, like a swimming pool or additional athletic fields, a point the Board repeatedly acknowledged. But Kanninen stressed that students at other county high schools have to travel elsewhere to participate in some sports or specialty classes, and she does not feel that building the Career Center school without those amenities would be inequitable for South Arlington residents.

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Arlington Public Schools is set to add seats for 850 high schoolers by 2021, but the key question for school leaders now is how, exactly, that construction might proceed.

The School Board is gearing up to award a $2.4 million contract for design work at the “Education Center” site adjacent to Washington-Lee High School (1426 N. Quincy Street), where the school system has planned to add space for up to 600 high school students three years from now. Rather than building a fourth comprehensive high school, the Board agreed last summer on a plan to split new seats between the Education Center and the Arlington Career Center just off Columbia Pike (816 S. Walter Reed Drive).

But the Board is also weighing a plan to use the Education Center site for elementary school use instead, while accelerating the construction of new high school seats at the Career Center. Another option would leave high schoolers at the Education Center, but still accelerate the Career Center seats.

Both plans would let APS build additional amenities at the Career Center site, a notable change as parents in the area raise concerns that students there wouldn’t have the same opportunities — a full complement of athletic fields, for instance — as other high schoolers under APS’s current plans.

“We feel like we’re being told we’re asking for too much by simply asking for equality,” Kristi Sawert, president of the Arlington Heights Civic Association, told ARLnow.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy is proposing a 10-year construction plan that broadly follows the outline of the deal the Board hammered out last summer — he’s suggesting that APS add space for 600 high school students at the Education Center site and 250 at the Career Center by 2021, then tack on 800 more seats at the Career Center in 2026.

That construction would also involve the addition of a multi-use gym and “black box” performing arts theater at the Career Center, with plans to build a new elementary school all the way out in 2029.

Yet, at a May 15 work session, county staff presented the Board with two alternatives.

One calls for moving the 800-seat expansion at the Career Center up to 2024, while simultaneously constructing an addition for performing arts programs. Then, a few years later, APS would add a synthetic athletic field on top of an underground parking garage at the site.

That option would reduce the school system’s reliance on trailers at the high school level a bit sooner, but force APS to delay plans to add more middle and elementary school seats, APS planner Robert Ruiz told the Board.

The other option APS staff developed calls for moving the Montessori program at Patrick Henry Elementary School to the Education Center instead, then sending 500 high schoolers to Henry by 2021.

By 2024, APS would add 800 seats at the Career Center, which would help replace the Henry seats. That option would also guarantee a full range of amenities at the Career Center by 2026, including two synthetic fields, an underground parking garage, a performing arts addition, a gym and a black box theater. Murphy’s current plan only calls for the gym and theater to be built.

However, it would also be about $10 million more expensive than Murphy’s plan, an unpleasant prospect for Board members after APS narrowly avoided class size increases in its last budget.

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Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Murphy has named a temporary replacement for Patrick Henry Elementary School Principal Annie Turner, following her sudden death last month.

Cameron Snyder, the school’s assistant principal for the last four years, will fill in as acting principal through the end of the school year, APS announced Friday (April 27).

Murphy cited Snyder’s “excellent leadership and support to the Henry community” in the wake of Turner’s death as a factor in his decision.

“Cameron’s knowledge of Henry’s instructional program, operations, staff, students and community make her uniquely qualified to successfully lead the school to the end of the year,” Murphy wrote in a statement.

Snyder previously spent five years at Henry as a teacher, and became the school’s lead math teacher.

Murphy also announced that Elizabeth Walsh, an APS staffer since 2012, will temporarily fill in as assistant principal now that Snyder’s taken the top job at Henry.

Turner had served as the school’s principal since 2014, prior to her sudden passing on March 31. School officials told parents at the time that they did not know how she died.

Photo courtesy of Arlington Public Schools

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(Updated at 3 p.m.) With more school walkouts planned, Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Murphy is drawing the line on excused absences for student protests

Murphy sent an email to parents today, following a walkout by high school students last week to protest gun violence and gun policies. Murphy said APS will allow and grant excused absences for another national walkout planned for March 14, but will mark unexcused any student who walks out for the entire day on April 20, as apparently is being planned, without parental permission in advance.

“While we cannot condone weekly or even monthly occurrences like this, we try to encourage our students’ interest in expressing their ideas and opinions,” Murphy wrote. “Therefore, our secondary schools will support students’ participation in a brief national walkout on March 14, to allow them this one additional time to convey their feelings on school property and without greatly disrupting the school day.”

One parent noted to ARLnow.com that “some students and parents are opting to peacefully protest these walkout days by not going to school that day at all.”

The full letter from Dr. Murphy is below.

Dear APS Families,

Last week, many of our secondary students, in support of their student peers in Florida and throughout the nation, participated in a lunchtime “walkout” to peacefully protest the violence that has occurred in many schools across our nation. School staff and principals learned about these walkouts in advance and provided the students an opportunity to express their views. For the most part, each school’s walkout was very respectful and lasted about 20-30 minutes.

As you may have read or heard, students are calling for a similar, 17-minute national school walkout on Wed, March 14 at 10 a.m., which will mark the one-month anniversary of the tragic shootings that took place at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. As educators, part of our role is to help teach our students how to actively engage in civic conversations and the importance of being engaged in our democratic process.  This happens in many ways – by voting; by writing to or speaking with elected leaders; by joining organizations that hold and advocate for similar ideas or beliefs; and, at times, by participating in peaceful and respectful demonstrations.

While we cannot condone weekly or even monthly occurrences like this, we try to encourage our students’ interest in expressing their ideas and opinions. We have also observed that this response does not reflect any one group’s opinion – its focus has been nonpartisan among students. Therefore, our secondary schools will support students’ participation in a brief national walkout on March 14, to allow them this one additional time to convey their feelings on school property and without greatly disrupting the school day. Students who participate will not be penalized for taking part in their school’s brief demonstration, and we will work to ensure that any students who are not interested in participating will not be pressured to do so.

The event will also allow students to honor the 17 lives lost in Florida as well as the other children and school staff who have been senselessly lost through similar events at other schools. This decision is in keeping with the moment of silence and other commemorations that all APS schools participated in and our community observed immediately after the events of September 11.

We believe that March 14 will present a minimal interruption to our instructional day; however, we also have heard that students are being encouraged to participate in another walkout on April 20 in the morning which includes not returning to school for the remainder of the day. In that case, students would be marked with an unexcused absence unless parents provide written permission in advance of the 20th. We believe that the event in D.C. on Saturday, March 24, will provide ample opportunity for students to participate in a Walk and to exercise their beliefs about gun control without interfering with their responsibility to school and their classroom work.

Finally, some of our families have asked about the involvement of our elementary schools. Elementary principals and teachers will find ways to be responsive to students that are age-appropriate and suitable for their interest in the topic.

If you have questions, I encourage you to speak with your school’s principal.

Sincerely,

Patrick K. Murphy, Ed.D.
​​​​​​​Superintendent

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Class sizes at Arlington Public Schools may increase as the school system continues to see rising enrollment.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy proposed a fiscal year 2019 budget of $636.7 million at Thursday’s School Board meeting. That’s an increase of 3.8 percent from the 2018 budget, lower than the 5.4 percent increase from 2017 in to 2018. Murphy said APS is facing the same budget pressures as the county, which is projecting only a modest increase in tax revenue.

Class sizes will increase slightly under the proposed school budget, with grades four through five seeing the largest increase of an estimated one student per class. Middle schools will see a .75 pupil increase, and high schoolers will see a .5 student increase.

The cost per pupil, as proposed, is down $105, dropping from $19,340 to $19,235.

The budget will again include a step increase in salary for all eligible employees and a further raise for employees, like assistants and bus drivers, who aren’t already earning market rate salaries.

Compensation step increases will cost $9.7 million in 2019, and “salary adjustments” will cost $2.2 million.

The majority of the budget, 77.7 percent, will go toward salaries and benefits. The next largest expenditure will be debt service, at 9.1 percent, as APS continues to build and expand schools to keep up with enrollment. The cost of materials and supplies will take up 3.4 percent of the budget.

Murphy emphasized that as Arlington Public Schools is on pace to grow to 30,000 students by 2021, “we’ve got to begin to think about a sustainable future.”

The schools are projected to add 2,200 children per class year starting in 2019. In 2019, enrollment growth related expenses, like staffing and supplies, will cost $5.82 million. Several new schools on targeted to open for the fall 2019 semester, according to Murphy.

“Many of the decisions that we have made are not my preference, are not where we want to be,” Murphy said before his presentation to the School Board, noting his desire to balance the needs of an increased enrollment with employee compensation and continued funding for 2017 and 2018 initiatives.

“These were tough decisions that we needed to make.”

Projected expenditures initially exceeded projected revenue by $16.5 million. Additional revenue and use of reserve funds scraped together $6.5 million, and expenditure reductions and service changes — like changes in elementary school foreign language programming — brought in an additional $10 million to address the shortfall.

APS also found other creative ways to address its budget gap, including joining an Apple program that will buy back used iPads and laptops, generating about $1 million in revenue.

Among other ways to weigh in on the budget, residents can email Arlington Public Schools ([email protected]) with feedback. The School Board will be holding budget work sessions and hearings in February and March, ahead of its final budget adoption.

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With schools set to welcome students for the new year this coming Tuesday, Arlington Public Schools and the Arlington County Police Department are urging everyone to stay safe on the roads.

Police will conduct highly visible traffic enforcement around county schools starting that day, while electronic message boards placed next to the roads will remind everyone of the start of school.

To ensure everyone’s safety, police reminded drivers to:

  • Obey speed limits which may change during school zone times.
  • Avoid distracted driving and keep your attention on the road.
  • Watch for students walking and riding bikes to school.
  • Don’t pass a stopped school bus loading or unloading passengers.
    • On a two-lane road, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop.
    • On a multi-lane paved across road, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop.
    • On a divided highway, vehicles behind the bus must stop. Vehicles traveling in the opposite direction may proceed with caution.
  • Have all vehicle occupants wear their seat belts.

Students, bicyclists, and pedestrians are reminded to:

  • Cross the street at marked crosswalks and never against a red light.
  • Look before you cross and follow the direction of school crossing guards.
  • Always walk on designated sidewalks or paths, never along the side of a road.

And for general safety, students and parents are reminded to:

  • Ensure students know their address and phone number.
  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Whenever possible, walk or bike with another person. Stay in well-lit areas.
  • Limit the use of devices that may distract you.
  • Avoid engaging with or answering questions from strangers.
  • If something occurs that makes you feel unsafe, report the incident immediately to an adult such as a parent, guardian, principal, teacher or school resource officer.
  • Parents and guardians are encouraged to roleplay possible situations with students and discuss personal safety and awareness tips.

In a video (below) released by APS, Superintendent Patrick Murphy, Police Chief Jay Farr and School Resource Officer supervisor Lt. Susan Noack, the three urge being safe, like staying within speed limits, avoiding distracted driving and looking out for students on bicycles or on foot.

The trio also encouraged parents practice looking both ways at crosswalks before crossing the street, as well as having a buddy to walk with.

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Morning Notes

Superintendent Gets New Contract — Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Murphy has received a new four-year contract after a 3-2 vote by the Arlington School Board on Thursday. “We need stability and strength,” said School Board Chair Nancy Van Doren, who voted ‘yes’ with James Lander and Tannia Talento. “We have a lot of issues we have to deal with. Dr. Murphy has gotten the job done.” [InsideNova]

APS Medicaid Reimbursement — Arlington Public Schools received a much lower reimbursement from Medicaid for the 2015-2016 school year than neighboring jurisdictions like Alexandria and Fairfax County. [Arlington County Taxpayers Association]

Fisette: Schools Are Not the Only Priority — Last week, at his final State of the County address and during a work session, retiring Arlington County Board member addressed the capacity crunch facing Arlington Public Schools. Fisette suggested predictions of the student population reaching 40,000 are “not accurate,” said APS needs to find ways to trim per-student spending and said APS priorities must be weighed with the needs of other interest groups. [InsideNova]

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The Arlington School Board will consider a new contract for Superintendent Patrick Murphy, one year before his current deal expires.

According to a memo sent to her colleagues on the School Board by chair Nancy Van Doren, Murphy has requested a new four-year contract, effective July 1.

At tonight’s meeting, the Board will vote on whether to advance a notice of intent to renew Murphy’s contract as part of its consent items. If it passes, the contract would then likely be debated at the Board’s June 29 meeting.

Van Doren’s May 18 memo reads:

The Superintendent has requested that his contract be replaced with a new four-year term, with some modifications, effective as of July 1, 2017. This memorandum provides notice to the Board, pursuant to Va. Code 22.1-60(C), that the Board may act upon this request at its June 29, 2017 meeting or thereafter, and a vote is tentatively planned for that purpose.

An Arlington Public Schools spokeswoman declined to comment further on the new contract and those modifications, except to say that the Board is “considering the renewal.”

“I know that the procedures for contracts of any type (personnel, construction, equipment, contractors, etc.) are private until the contract has been finalized and approved, so terms of this (or any other) contract would not be public until it is finalized and approved by the Board at some point in the future,” the spokeswoman said.

Murphy’s current contract, which expires at the end of the 2018 school year, provides an annual salary of $223,242.50. He has been superintendent since 2009.

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Morning Notes

High School Proposals on the Table in June — A pair of proposals for adding high school seats are on the table at Arlington School Board meetings next month. The board is expected to approve a $3.6 million construction contract for adding 300 seats to Wakefield High School, while Superintendent Patrick Murphy will recommend the board approve a “hybrid” option for adding another 1,300 seats, with 600 seats at the Education Center site near Washington-Lee and 700 at the Arlington Career Center. Despite the added capacity, Murphy expects that it will eventually be necessary to build a new 2,200 seat comprehensive high school to keep up with rising enrollment. [InsideNova, InsideNova]

Marriott’s Longest-Standing Employee Is in Crystal City — Cecil Exum, a 79-year-old omelette maker at the Crystal Gateway Marriott, is Marriott’s longest-standing employee. He’s been with the company for 61 years, since the Marriott family ran a “Hot Shoppes” root beer stand and opened its first hotel, the Twin Bridges Motor Hotel in Arlington. [Washington Post]

POTUS at ANC on Memorial Day — “President Donald Trump honored those who lost their lives serving the nation as he participated in a solemn wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery Monday and told emotional stories of just a few who perished.” [Daily Mail]

Cars Towed During Clarendon Memorial Day Ceremony — Some veterans attending the annual Memorial Day ceremony at the war memorial in Clarendon reportedly had their cars towed from a bank parking lot nearby. Del. Patrick Hope (D) tweeted photos of the cars being towed and called it “disgusting.” He directed the tweet at Del. Tim Hugo (R), the sponsor of the bill (now law) that blocked Arlington County from enforcing a “second signature” requirement for certain trespass tows. [Twitter]

Photo courtesy Peter Golkin

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Williamsburg Middle School (photo via APS)After his whereabouts became a source of gossip among parents, Arlington Public Schools announced Monday that Gordon Laurie, principal of Williamsburg Middle School, has resigned.

Tipsters reported that Laurie had not been seen in school since February 24, and that earlier this morning they spotted that his office had been cleaned out. The tipsters mentioned that rumors were swirling about the reason for his departure.

In a letter this afternoon to Williamsburg parents, students and staff, Superintendent Patrick Murphy said Laurie has resigned for personal reasons after 15 years with APS. An APS spokesman did not elaborate on the exact reasons behind Laurie’s resignation.

“After working closely with the exceptional and dedicated Williamsburg Middle School staff to put programs in place that helped students reach new levels of achievement, I am excited about completing my dissertation in pursuit of my doctoral degree,” Laurie wrote in a letter to parents.

Connie Skelton, a retired superintendent of instruction at APS and former Williamsburg teacher, will fill in as acting principal for the rest of the school year. Murphy and APS staff will begin the search for a new principal in the near future.

“Connie is an exceptional school leader who is very familiar with our instructional and administrative framework, and will work closely with the Williamsburg team to ensure a smooth transition in leadership while continuing to provide excellent support for the students, families and staff,” Murphy wrote.

Murphy’s full letter is below:

Dear Williamsburg Families, Students and Staff,

I am writing to share with you that Mr. Gordon Laurie, Williamsburg Middle School Principal, has resigned from the Arlington Public Schools for personal reasons.  In his letter Mr. Laurie wrote, “After working closely with the exceptional and dedicated Williamsburg Middle School Staff to put programs in place that helped students reach new levels of achievement, I am excited about completing my dissertation in pursuit of my doctoral degree.”

I want to thank Mr. Laurie for his 15 years of service to APS and wish him the best in his academic and future professional pursuits.

For the balance of the 2016-17 school year, Connie Skelton, retired APS assistant superintendent of Instruction and a former Williamsburg teacher, has agreed to fill in as the acting principal for the remainder of the school year. Connie is an exceptional school leader who is very familiar with our instructional and administrative framework, and will work closely with the Williamsburg team to ensure a smooth transition in leadership while continuing to provide excellent support for the students, families and staff.

We know that changes in the middle of a school year can be challenging so all of us are committed to providing any added support that may be needed, and we will work to make this change as smooth as possible for everyone in the school community. In the coming weeks, Dr. Kristi Murphy, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, will join me to begin a process to select another strong leader for the school community.  I look forward to your participation in that effort.

Thank you for your continued support.

Sincerely,

Patrick K. Murphy, Ed.D.
Superintendent

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Morning Notes

Christmas lights at Penrose Square (Flickr pool photo by Bekah Richards)

Earlier School Closing Decisions — Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy says the school system will try to make school closing decisions earlier this year, preferably the night before a snow or ice event. [InsideNova]

Remy Has Role in New Netflix Series — “Arlington Rap” guy Remy Munasifi has a prominent role in the new Netflix comedy series Brown Nation. [IMDB, Mashable]

Arlington Company Gets $1 Billion Investment — Rosslyn-based satellite internet company OneWeb has received a $1 billion investment from SoftBank. The Japanese company said it’s the “first step” in its $50 billion commitment to President-elect Donald Trump to create jobs in the U.S. [Reuters]

Flickr pool photo by Bekah Richards

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