Press Club
The Arlington School Board during the Nov. 16 meeting (via APS)

The Arlington School Board will vote on boundary changes tomorrow (Thursday) targeting two overcapacity schools in South Arlington.

This fall, Superintendent Francisco Durán launched a “limited” fall 2021 boundary process to relieve overcrowding at Abingdon Elementary School, Gunston Middle School and Wakefield High School.

The newest version of the plan postpones changes to Abingdon, where enrollment is currently manageable for next year, according to Durán. Students would have been moved from the school in Fairlington to Charles R. Drew Elementary School in nearby Green Valley, echoing a similar proposal in 2018 that became controversial.

Gunston and Wakefield are still over-capacity, so some planning units will be moved to Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Washington-Liberty High School.

“The proposed changes are manageable among the identified schools that we’ve talked about and we’ve engaged with. The planning units included in this process should not need to be moved again in the next few years, and this limited process provides some additional to understand enrollment fluctuations we’re seeing caused by the pandemic, and any shifts in projects we may see,” he said during the Nov. 16 School Board meeting.

APS also proposes to change which neighborhood schools feed into Arlington’s Spanish-immersion schools, following previous boundary changes and the relocation of one immersion program, Key School.

“We want to make sure access to immersion schools is convenient to families and students nearest the location,” Durán said.

Relief for Gunston and Wakefield

The boundary changes for Gunston and Jefferson will reassign 140 third- to fifth-graders while the Wakefield and W-L changes will reassign 162 students.

The changes will impact the Penrose, Foxcroft Heights, Arlington View and Columbia Heights neighborhoods.

The proposal to move Wakefield students to W-L comes as the latter is about to unveil a new wing of the school — the former Education Center administrative offices — with room for up to 600 students.

APS says the extra space at the Education Center will provide enrollment relief for Wakefield and cut down on W-L’s waitlist for the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

“The number of applicants to the IB Lottery and number on the waitlist has increased each year over the last four years,” according to the 2021 boundary process website.

APS may consider targeted transfers from Wakefield to Yorktown if forthcoming enrollment projections for 2022-23 suggest unmanageable levels at Wakefield — even with the boundary adjustment.

The new high school boundaries would reverse moves made in 2016 to address overcrowding at W-L, but those who were moved away from W-L in 2017 will not be moved back.

In 2017, APS redirected Boulevard Manor kids from W-L to Yorktown High School. Students say when they graduate from Kenmore Middle School and head to Yorktown, they lose many of their middle school friends. To avoid that, they apply for W-L’s IB program or for a neighborhood transfer.

“I can make new friends, but the point is that it’s completely reasonable that I want to go to high school with my friends — just like all the middle schoolers in Arlington,” said Kenmore eighth-grader Xavier Anderson, during the Nov. 16 meeting.

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(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) Arlington police and firefighters are on scene of a fatal crash involving a motorcyclist and a school bus with children on board.

The crash happened around 2:45 p.m. on S. Kenmore Street in front of Drew Elementary, in the Green Valley neighborhood.

A school bus with 14 students on board struck a man who was riding a motorcycle, according to police. The man, who was reportedly wearing a helmet, was found lying unresponsive in the roadway.

Police have closed S. Kenmore Street, likely for an extended period of time while detectives investigate the crash. The victim remains in the roadway, covered in a white sheet, while police tape has been placed around the crash site.

School counselors are being requested to the scene for the children who were on board the bus at the time of the crash. No physical injuries were reported among the students, who have since been taken off the bus.

Despite the location of the crash, we’re told that that bus came from a school other than Drew.

Witnesses, some of whom were sobbing as they spoke to ARLnow, said the motorcyclist was someone they saw often in the neighborhood. They said he had just driven out of an alley at a high rate of speed and tried to lay down his motorcycle when he saw the bus coming. He “went flying” and was run over by the bus, witnesses said.

The man’s injuries were such that first responders immediately radioed that he was deceased after arriving at the scene and failing to find a pulse.

Neighbors said that numerous kids and adults witnessed the crash, which happened in a busy area next to a park on a sunny, warm autumn day.

The neighbors who spoke to ARLnow said that the deceased man was in his early 20s and worked at a nearby auto rental and repair shop.

“They are good guys,” a neighbor said of the workers at the family-owned shop.

Update on 11/11/21: Arlington County police just issued the following press release about the fatal crash.

The Arlington County Police Department is investigating a fatal motorcycle crash that occurred on the afternoon of November 10, 2021.

At approximately 2:49 p.m., police were dispatched to the 3500 block of 23rd Street S. for the report of a vehicle crash with injuries involving a school bus and motorcycle. Upon arrival, officers located the unresponsive motorcyclist partially under the school bus. He had succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced deceased on scene. The school bus had fourteen students onboard at the time of the crash. The students safely exited the bus, were evaluated by medics and no additional injuries were reported.

The preliminary investigation indicates the motorcyclist was traveling at a high rate of speed from an alley on 23rd Street S. onto S. Kenmore Street. He tried to avoid the oncoming school bus by laying down the motorcycle and ultimately ended up partially under the bus. The deceased has been identified as Stevan Zikic, 26, of Alexandria, VA.

This crash remains under investigation. Anyone with information related to this incident is asked to contact Detective L. Lugasi at [email protected] or 703-228-4054. Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

Matt Blitz contributed to this report.

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Students at the inaugural session of the Dyslexic Edge Academy at Drew Elementary School (Photo courtesy of Krista Gauthier)

(Updated, 2:50 p.m.) A new, free literacy program has come to Drew Elementary School thanks to the local non-profit Sliding Doors, Virginia Tech, and the local NAACP branch.

The Dyslexic Edge Academy launched this week with 11 first graders at Drew Elementary in Green Valley. The goal is to help those students who struggle with reading by focusing on their strengths.

“People with dyslexia tend to gravitate to and be very good in STEM fields; science, technology, engineering and math,” Krista Gauthier, executive director of Merrifield-based Sliding Doors, tells ARLnow.”What we want to do is not only make sure that kids receive the evidence-based instruction that they need, but also play on their strengths. To us, confidence is as important as reading.”

The students meet with instructors after school in a group setting twice a week for 90 minutes. Half of the session is spent with one-on-one tutoring using the Orton-Gillingham approach, which breaks down reading and spelling using multisensory skills like sounds and hand motions. The other half of the session is spent on STEM-related projects.

The STEM activities include everything from kitchen chemistry to rocketry to robotics to coding,” says Gauthier.

That could mean making slime, building model rockets, or operating an underwater robot, she says. It’s hoped that field trips to the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and the Smithsonian could be part of the curriculum in the future as well.

While the program is starting with 11 students, the expectation is that it will have 20 students by early next year. The pilot program will run until at least May 2023.

About 20% of the population has some form of dyslexia, according to statistics from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. Yet, many school systems haven’t adapted to help these students and private tutoring can be prohibitively expensive, explains Symone Walker, co-chair of the Arlington Branch NAACP Education Committee.

She believes this is a big reason why there’s such an opportunity gap at some Arlington schools, including Drew Elementary.

“We really wanted to target a population that has been disproportionately impacted by the achievement gap,” says Walker. “We’re very familiar with how Drew has been historically passed over, looked over in the community, and we wanted to give back where we saw the greatest need.”

Both Walker and Gauthier say that the opportunity and achievement gaps that exist in county schools have a lot to do with reading scores and how schools are teaching literacy.

The Dyslexic Edge Academy will use the multisensory Orton-Gillingham approach to teach reading, as opposed to the balanced literacy approach that’s currently being taught in Arlington public schools.

“When we talk about multisensory, we’re talking about big motions,” says Gauthier. “We actually use something called ‘skywriting,’ which is as the child is actually forming the letter in the air… they’re actually saying the letter, repeating the letter, attaching the sound to the letter.”

What’s more, by bringing cool STEM-related projects into the learning, it helps students gain confidence.

“They really begin to associate something they struggle with, with something they love,” says Gauthier. “It really actually plays into them wanting to read as well.”

As Walker points out, a lot of NASA employees have some form of dyslexia. In fact, that includes more than half of NASA employees, according to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.

“We want to produce more Arlingtonians who work for NASA,” she said.

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Arlington Public Schools is preparing to redraw boundaries for a half-dozen schools to relieve high enrollment and over-capacity at three of them.

The boundary process, which will go into effect next fall, is “limited in scope” and will target Abingdon Elementary School, Gunston Middle School and Wakefield High School.

“The boundary process will bring enrollment at these three schools to more manageable levels for the 2022-23 school year by re-assigning some planning units to neighboring schools with capacity to accommodate additional students,” APS said in a School Talk update to parents last week.

For each school, staff will focus on planning units where neither school is in walking distance, according to APS’s 2021 boundary process webpage.

APS says it will move some planning units from Abingdon to Drew Elementary School, which is two miles away. As of Sept. 30, Abingdon has 688 students and a projected capacity utilization rate of 119%, compared to the 433 students and use rate of 76% at Drew.

This direct step to balance enrollment comes on the heels of a less successful attempt to alleviate the overcrowding without redrawing boundaries. During the 2020-21 school year, APS set up a program encouraging families zoned for Abingdon to choose to send their children to Drew, with transportation provided.

Only 12 students took the “targeted transfer” option. School Board members said a dozen students would not make a dent in the schools’ enrollment imbalance and predicted the need for a boundary process.

“[The option] did not come out with numbers that were able to solve the problem,” Board Member Monique O’Grady said during an Aug. 26 School Board meeting. “I did want to point out that we have given the community the choice to go to what I think is a phenomenal school. After trying that, I think we’re at a different point in time, where we maybe need to take more intentional action.”

The renewed focus on Abingdon and Drew also comes three years after another boundary process that would have moved students at both Abingdon and Henry elementary schools to Drew proved controversial.

Some Gunston planning units will be moved to to Thomas Jefferson Middle School, but current Gunston students will not be affected. Gunston has 1,109 students and a projected capacity rate of 112%, compared to Jefferson’s 849 students and 101% use rate.

APS intends to move some planning units from Wakefield to Washington-Liberty High School, but the moves will not impact current Wakefield students. Enrollment and capacity rate margins are closer for the schools: 2,241 versus 2,174 students, and 108% versus 102%, respectively.

APS says the move will also make better use of the additional 500 or so seats at the former Arlington Education Center (1426 N. Quincy Street), which is set to open September 2022.

Despite the limited success of targeted transfers at the elementary level, APS plans to offer them so that current Wakefield students can opt to attend W-L next fall.

During the same August meeting, Executive Director of Planning and Evaluation Lisa Stengle said APS is offering the option because she’s “not sure moving ninth graders will be enough” to balance out Wakefield’s rising enrollment.

“With boundaries we want to be cautious, because we may have to come back and make changes in the future, and we don’t want to have to redo things,” Stengle said. “This way, it’s a choice.”

Community engagement sessions on the boundary process will begin with a virtual meeting on Saturday, Oct. 16. Engagement will run through the end of October.

Superintendent Francisco Durán will propose a more detailed plan during a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 16. Two weeks later, on Tuesday, Nov. 30, there will be a public hearing. The School Board is expected to vote on his proposal on Thursday, Dec. 2.

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Arlington police are investigating more gunfire on the same block near Drew Elementary as another shots fired incident this past weekend.

The shots were fired around 12:30 a.m. this morning, on the 3200 block of 24th Street S., police say. Officers responded to the area and found evidence of gunfire but no one who was shot.

“Responding officers canvassed the area and recovered evidence confirming shots had been fired,” said ACPD. “At this time, no injuries or property damage have been reported.”

A shots fired call on the same block Saturday night also didn’t immediately turn up any victims — but eventually police found someone with a gunshot wound. An arrest in that shooting was made Tuesday and announced yesterday.

The Green Valley neighborhood saw two reported incidents of shots being fired over the summer, including one that took place in the Drew Elementary parking lot.

Police are asking for the public’s help in finding this morning’s shooter.

“Anyone with information or home surveillance that may assist with the investigation is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit at 703-228-4180 or [email protected],” said the police department. “Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).”

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For the second month in a row, police are investigating early morning gunshots in the Green Valley neighborhood.

No one was hurt, but a resident found a bullet hole in her home’s door, according to the Arlington County Police Department. The gunshots were reported around 4:45 a.m. Sunday on the 3500 block of 22nd Street S.

Like the June 6 gunfire incident, the shots were apparently fired near Drew Elementary School.

“Responding officers made contact with the victim and observed that a glass door in her residence in the 3200 block of 24th Street S. was shattered and had a bullet hole in the glass,” said an ACPD press release this morning. “While searching the area, officers located an additional shattered window in a construction site across from the residence. No injuries have been reported.”

“There is no suspect(s) description at this time,” the press release continued. “This remains an active criminal investigation. Anyone with information or home surveillance that may assist with the investigation is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit at 703-228-4180 or [email protected] Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).”

A neighbor, who wished to remain anonymous, told ARLnow that if the gunfire continues it’s only a matter of time until someone — either the intended shooting target or a sleeping local resident — is hurt.

“At approximately 4:43 this morning my husband and I woke up to the sound of several gunshots,” she recounted. “We immediately called 911 and saw police respond. ACPD called back around 5:15 and asked for someone to come out and speak to them. My husband walked down at that time and the police reported that bullets had gone through a bedroom window at the Shelton and a parked vehicle.”

In a home surveillance video reviewed by ARLnow, three shots can be heard in quick succession.

“We have seen stepped up police enforcement since the large shooting in June,” she added. “However, we are barely one month out since that time and we already have another incident. This morning’s shooting could have struck an innocent victim sleeping in their residence.”

The resident called for authorities “to take increasingly aggressive steps to deter further gun incidents.”

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Police are investigating gunshots heard early this morning in Arlington’s Green Valley neighborhood.

The gunfire was reported to 911 dispatchers by multiple callers. It happened shortly after 2 a.m. on the 3500 block of 23rd Street S., in the area of Drew Elementary School.

“Arriving officers located evidence confirming multiple shots had been fired in the area of the school parking lot and field,” the Arlington County Police Department said Sunday afternoon. “The preliminary investigation indicates that a large group had been congregating in the parking lot and immediately fled the area following the incident. No injuries or property damage have been reported.”

A resident told ARLnow they heard the shots.

“We called 911, and were on hold for about three minutes before we made it through to report the incident,” the resident said. “It sounded like at least two guns were fired. Multiple cars and individuals immediately fled the area in vehicles and on foot.”

“Police responded and canvased the area for a long time and called back to speak to individuals who had witnessed the incident or called it in,” the resident added. “They said they found shell casings from at least two guns.”

The police department is now seeking more information on the incident.

This remains an active criminal investigation. Anyone with information or home surveillance that may assist with the investigation is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit at 703-228-4180 or [email protected] Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

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An attempt by Arlington Public Schools to balance enrollment without resorting to a boundary change did not go as planned.

This year, the school system encouraged families to apply to transfer from Abingdon Elementary School in Fairlington, which is projected to be at 119% capacity this fall, to Drew Elementary School in Green Valley, which is projected to be at 76% capacity. The schools are about two miles apart.

The application window closed two weeks ago, and so far, only 12 students are taking the “targeted transfer” option, which includes transportation to the new school, APS project planner Sarah Johnson said during last week’s School Board meeting.

Families can still apply and the school will admit families on a case-by-case basis, administrators said. If the option does not yield more transfers, APS will likely begin discussions this fall to modify the two schools’ boundaries, said Gladis Bourdouane, another project planner with APS.

These changes would come on the heels of the smaller-scale boundary process the board approved in December and ahead of a projected, larger-scale boundary process planned for as early as 2022.

In 2018, another boundary process proved controversial after parents at Abingdon and Henry elementary schools objected to proposed boundaries that would have sent some students at both schools to Drew.

Responding to the lack of interest in transferring this time around, School Board members urged administrators to review the voluntary transfer effort. They were divided, however, over whether this option could work in the future.

“I find this targeted transfer thing wholly inadequate,” Board Member Reid Goldstein said, adding that as far as he is concerned, it has “fallen on its face.”

Goldstein said he was “extremely distressed” when the boundary process last fall did not include Abingdon, despite being overcrowded for years. Instead, he said, the boundary changes last fall mostly adjusted neighborhood schools in the northern half of the county and did not take into account overcrowded schools in South Arlington.

“Twelve students are not going to go a long way toward balancing the huge overcapacity at Abingdon and the under-capacity at Drew,” he said. “I’m going to ask you, [Superintendent Francisco] Durán, to try and put some more aggressive measures in place to try and beef up only 12 students who are going from our most overcrowded school to our least crowded school, and not wait another two years before they get relief.”

As of now, administrators have no plans to keep advertising the transfer option, said Lisa Stengle, the executive director of planning and evaluation for APS.

The school system’s marketing efforts included setting up a website and releasing School Talk messages, while the two schools published information on their websites and mentioned the option during back-to-school events, Johnson said.

“We did make significant outreaches to the Abingdon families,” she said.

Despite the closed application window, APS is still encouraging families to apply. Whether students are accepted will depend on school capacity, staffing and finances, and not every family who applied thus far was eligible, she said.

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(Updated at 5:20 p.m.) A wanted man fled from police on foot and caused a brief scare at an elementary school this morning.

The incident started around 7:30 a.m. in the Barcroft neighborhood, amid reports of a domestic dispute.

“At approximately 7:33 a.m. on April 6, police were dispatched to the 900 block of S. Buchanan Street for the report of a dispute between known individuals,” Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage tells ARLnow. “During the course of the investigation, it was determined that one of the involved subjects was wanted by another jurisdiction.”

Police patrolling the area later located the man in the Green Valley neighborhood, where he led officers on a chase that ended near Drew Elementary School.

“Following a short foot pursuit, the subject was taken into custody,” Savage said.

Later, after an investigation, it was determined that the 19-year-old suspect had thrown a rock through the victim’s window. He is facing a local charge related to that, as well the warrant for his arrest from another jurisdiction.

A witness to the arrest said the man was arrested in a field near the school amid a large emergency response. An Arlington Public Schools spokesman confirmed to ARLnow that Drew Elementary was placed in “secure the school” mode — a step just short of a full lockdown — between 9:30-9:40 a.m. due to the incident.

Separately this morning, another suspect led police on another chase, a couple of blocks from the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Glebe Road, after a report of a man trespassing at an under-construction property.

“At approximately 9:46 a.m. on April 6, police were dispatched to the 1100 block of S. Highland Street for the report of a trespassing,” Savage said. “Upon observing the arrival of the responding officer, the subject fled the scene on foot. Officers located the subject and following a short foot pursuit, he was taken into custody. The investigation determined the subject was related to a destruction of property incident reported yesterday at this location where the side mirrors of two vehicles were damaged.”

A 29-year-old man from Annandale was arrested and charged with Destruction of Property and Trespassing.

Courtesy photos

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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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The Drew Model School in Nauck will soon get a new name as the school undergoes a bit of a transformation — but one key part of the building’s moniker won’t be going anywhere.

The elementary school is named after Charles Drew, a groundbreaking surgeon who grew up in Arlington. He was the first black man to hold a variety of prominent positions in the medical community, and is widely credited with establishing new storage techniques to set up lifesaving blood banks during World War II.

Drew’s family home in the Penrose neighborhood won a designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and both a park and community center in Nauck also bear his name.

But the school named after the surgeon, who died in 1950, seemed set for a bit of a change after the School Board convened a committee to pick out a new name for the building earlier this month. The school system is shifting the county’s Montessori program out of the building next year, prompting the latest in a series of recent debates over a new school name.

That will make the school a full “neighborhood” program, drawing students only from homes surrounding the school. The Montessori program will move to what was Patrick Henry Elementary, while many (but not all) Henry students will move to the new Alice West Fleet Elementary, in what became a contentious process that angered many parents.

Yet, as the Drew naming committee gathered to begin its work last week, school officials told the group that it shouldn’t plan on making too many substantial changes. According to notes from the Jan. 22 meeting, Superintendent Patrick Murphy himself told the committee that the naming process is designed to “build culture and community rather than to eliminate the recognition of Dr. Drew’s legacy, who was a preeminent scientist and wonderful role model from Arlington.”

The notes show that some committee members questioned why the group was even convened if Drew’s name wouldn’t be changed, while others said they sought to join the committee specifically to advocate for the retention of the school’s name.

But Murphy stressed that he did not believe the Board ever intended to see Drew’s name removed from the building, a point he reiterated at the Board’s meeting Thursday (Jan. 24) — the Board did not deliver a specific charge in kicking off the group’s work, unlike when it stipulated that a naming committee should not consider the prospect of retaining the original name of Washington-Lee High School.

The committee is still in the early stages of its deliberations, but the meeting notes show that it’s already considering several options that could honor the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) program that just started up at the school. Options the group has proposed so far include “Drew Science Focus School,” “Charles Drew Inspiration School,” “Charles Drew Science Academy” and “”The Charles Drew Academy.”

The committee also discussed the prospect of simply adding “of South Arlington” to the building’s current name, or perhaps adding a prominent artist’s name to the building alongside Drew’s.

The group broadly agreed to focus on priorities like “adding instructional focus,” “adding a second name to Drew,” “adding a descriptive designation such as academy” and tacking on a “geographic component” in settling on a new name. Members now plan to survey the school’s community for their preferences as well.

The committee is set to meet several more times between now and April, and the Board is planning a final vote on an updated name for Drew in May.

The Board also agreed at its Jan. 24 meeting to spend $1.8 million in capital reserve funding to speed up renovation work at both Drew and Henry to “refresh” both buildings ahead of next fall’s changes.

File photo

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