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Teachers and staff at Gunston Middle School greet students on the first day of school (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington Public Schools is pausing an impending middle school boundary process, citing stable enrollment this fall.

Earlier this year, APS was bracing for overcrowding at a few middle schools. It proposed busing some students from Dorothy Hamm and Swanson to under-capacity Williamsburg Middle School. It also floated moving the Spanish language immersion program from overcrowded Gunston to Kenmore Middle School.

Now, administrators say enrollment needs are not pressing enough to warrant these changes just yet. The Arlington School Board endorsed a plan Tuesday to postpone the process for one year. The changes would now affect students going into grades 6 and 9 in the fall of 2026.

“As of last week at each middle school, only one school exceeds capacity: Gunston has two students beyond its design capacity,” Dept. of Planning and Evaluation Executive Director Lisa Stengle told the board on Tuesday. “Every middle school fits right now. So the urgency that we had to change middle school boundaries may not be as urgent as it was when we started this process.”

She attributed this to the home address confirmation process this summer, when APS changed how it verifies students living in Arlington and unenrolled non-resident fifth and eighth graders.

While this effort was underway, several families were voicing their opposition to the proposed boundary changes. Most vocal were Hamm families opposed to plans to bus students to Williamsburg, who said their children would forfeit the option to walk to school.

School Board members opined that walkability becomes the sticking point of most boundary processes and these efforts prioritize walkability — above other priorities, such as demographic diversity — as a result.

“The knottiest problem here… is the dichotomy between walkability and demographics because they both can’t be achieved at the same time,” School Board member Reid Goldstein said.

“We’ve heard, in the past, that when staff goes out to the community and talks about potential boundary changes, they hear ‘Well, we like walkability,’ and then we we just lean in the direction of walkability, which of course does not enhance demographics at all,” he continued.

APS may still, one day, move the immersion program from Gunston to Kenmore, in an effort to get more secondary students to stick with the program, says Director of Strategic Planning Iliana Gonzales.

Most immersion students live within the boundaries of Kenmore and Thomas Jefferson middle schools and may discontinue the program because of travel distance to Gunston, she said. Last year, a task force convened to develop a vision for the dual-language immersion program recommended moving the program to a more centrally located middle school — a change afforded by the then-forthcoming boundary process.

But School Board members and administrators are also concerned about where to put the program because it may impact the balance of native English and Spanish speakers. Only about a third of immersion students in elementary and middle school were classified as English learners, according to a 2022 report.

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It has been 10 years since Arlington County last put up speed humps to reduce speeding.

Now, they will be coming to streets around a trio of schools where lowering speeds to 20 mph has not stopped drivers from going well past the speed limit.

The humps will be installed this fall near Gunston Middle School and Cardinal and Hoffman-Boston elementary schools. The county will be piloting the humps as part of Vision Zero, the county’s resolution to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030.

“This initiative reintroduces speed humps through a limited pilot focused on reducing speeds in school slow zones where data shows the introduction of 20 mph speed limits has not lowered speeds,” says Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Katie O’Brien.

Arlington County permanently dropped speeds on neighborhood streets within 600 feet of certain school access points to 20 mph. A vehicle going 20 mph has a much lower probability of seriously injuring or killing a pedestrian compared to one going 30 mph, according to government research and an investigative report.

Since the Arlington County Board approved the lower speed limits, signage alerting drivers to the changes has rolled out incrementally: 13 schools in 2022, 14 schools this year, and the remaining 19 school zones set for 2024.

At some of the 13 schools that have had lower speeds for a year, staff noticed the changes did not see slower speeds. They picked the three schools with the highest speeds for the pilot speed humps, O’Brien said.

Drivers can expect to see the humps pop up this fall on S. Lang Street, S. Queen Street and 19th Street N.

Where speed humps are coming to roads by three schools in Arlington (via Arlington County)

“The installation of a speed hump will likely take less than a day,” O’Brien said. “The pilot will use tactical speed humps because they are easy to both install and remove quickly, if needed. They are cost effective, tested for durability, and made from 100% recycled material.”

Staff will monitor the locations and collect data through the winter. O’Brien said they can easily remove them if new safety issues or concerns with the materials arise.

Next spring, there will be public engagement opportunities for people to share their thoughts on the addition of speed humps. Next summer, the county will identify next steps. That could include adding more speed hump sites in other school slow zones.

Speed humps were last installed through a Neighborhood Traffic Calming program, which ended in 2013.

Three years later, the County Board launched a new initiative to update roads: the Neighborhood Complete Streets program. When the program was adopted, “the Board included a moratorium on vertical traffic calming measures for three years,” O’Brien said.

Since then, DES has made use of other tools to manage speed and reduce accidents: speed feedback indicator signs, pavement markings, curb bump-outs, high visibility markings and protected bike lanes, among others.

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Gunston Middle School (file photo)

Arlington Public Schools is mulling moving the Spanish Immersion Program at Gunston Middle School to Kenmore starting two years from now.

The move would be part of a planned middle school boundary process also set to go into effect the same school year. APS is looking to balance middle school populations, as, without boundary changes, Gunston and Swanson are projected to become overcapacity and Williamsburg and Kenmore are projected to have seats available.

The school system says relocating the immersion program would also bring it to an easier-to-access school. In the Glencarlyn neighborhood, off of Route 50, Kenmore is more centrally located than Gunston, which is near the border with the City of Alexandria.

“We believe that by moving the program to a centrally located school, we will be able to enhance the program’s offerings and create new opportunities for our students to flourish,” staff said in a letter to parents, posted on the DC Urban Moms and Dads forum. “The decision to relocate this program was driven by our commitment to provide the best possible educational experience for our students.”

The change would apply to incoming sixth grade students. APS administrators say they will be spending the summer studying how this would impact students and whether those in grades 7 and 8 can finish their time in the immersion program at Gunston.

“Students who are enrolled in the program at that time will remain in the program and will be transferred to Kenmore when the program relocates to Kenmore,” reads the letter to parents.

Two-thirds of immersion students at Gunston are projected to fall within the new boundaries for Kenmore after a potential boundary process, per a presentation during a recent work session.

“I understand the rationale for wanting to move immersion out of Gunston for a variety of reasons, but what caught my attention is talking about transportation impact and congestion,” School Board member Mary Kadera said during the work session. “This is not meant to throw a total wet blanket over the idea of immersion at Kenmore but I would be interested… to understand congestion on Carlin Springs Road and the Kenmore site specifically.”

As a parent of students who went to Kenmore, she says she can appreciate the congestion on Carlin Springs Road and difficulties getting in and out of the Kenmore parking lot.

“We already have a bit of a knot there,” she said. “I’m concerned about moving an immersion program to that school when we know that a healthy number of immersion students end up being driven by a parent.”

Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Operations Renee Harber agreed that transportation is top-of-mind for staff with this potential change. She projects the total number of buses going to Kenmore would increase from 11 to 19, without any decrease to Gunston, which needs buses for the Montessori program also located there.

“[Transportation] is a concern of ours,” she said during the work session. “We have to really review and study additional transportation demand options for this.”

Cristina Diaz-Torres, who is now the School Board Chair, encouraged families to “poke holes” in the handful of programmatic changes on the table so they can be improved.

“Our doors are open and are going to be open for the entirety of the summer and we really want to hear your thoughts and perspectives now and also in the fall,” she said. “This is not a decision that any of us are going to be taking lightly.”

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Alexandria City High School Principal Peter Balas in 2022 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Arlington Public Schools has hired a well-liked high school principal from Alexandria.

APS announced four new principal appointments last night, after their approval by the Arlington School Board. Among them: Alexandria City High School (ACHS) Principal Peter Balas, who will take over as principal of Wakefield High School in the fall.

Wakefield, which has faced the overdose death of a student as well as threats of violence this year, has its top spot open with Principal Chris Willmore being promoted to Director of Secondary Education at APS.

Balas, who has been with Alexandria City Public Schools for 22 years, took over at then-T.C. Williams High School in 2017. Since then, Balas has navigated the school through Covid, a consequential decision to stick with one large high school for the city, the school’s renaming and issues around violence in and outside of the school.

ACHS saw frequent leadership turnover in the years before Balas took charge and, despite continued turnover at the leadership level in the years that followed, Balas has been a stabilizing force for the school.

“To watch these students grow over time is more rewarding than I ever anticipated,” Balas wrote in announcing his decision to take the Wakefield position. “And, seeing all of my elementary school students now at the high school has given me one of the most unique and special opportunities of my career. My time in ACPS has made me a better teacher, leader and person.”

Balas said he won’t leave until June and will see the school year through until graduation.

Also last night, APS announced a trio of elementary and middle school principal appointments, including Long Branch Elementary Assistant Principal Carolyn Jackson becoming principal of Gunston Middle School.

New Gunston Middle School Principal Carolyn Jackson (photo courtesy APS)

From APS:

At its May 11 meeting, the Arlington School Board appointed Carolyn Jackson as Principal of Gunston Middle School. She currently serves as the Assistant Principal of Long Branch Elementary School.

Jackson earned a Bachelor of Science from North Carolina A & T State University, a master’s from George Washington University and George Mason University and is currently working on a Doctor of Education from William and Mary.

Jackson has been an educator serving Arlington Public Schools in a variety of roles for 23 years. Throughout her career, she has served in different capacities at Gunston Middle School, including teacher, activities director, Director of Counseling Services and Assistant Principal. Jackson also served as a counselor at Claremont Immersion School, Assistant Principal at Nottingham Elementary School and a Supervisor in the Office of Equity and Excellence.

Rounding out the appointments are new Hoffman-Boston Elementary Principal Helena Payne Chauvenet and new Carlin Springs Elementary Principal Carmen De La Cruz Scales. Payne Chauvenet is another external hire — she is currently principal of Maury Elementary School in D.C. — while De La Cruz Scales is an assistant principal at Arlington’s Washington-Liberty High School.

The hiring of Balas, meanwhile, is reverberating around Arlington’s southern neighbor, with many on social media lamenting a titanic loss at a time of transition for Alexandria’s school system.

Vernon Miles contributed to this report

Gunston Middle School (file photo)

A student at Gunston Middle School was found in possession of two bullets today.

The Thursday morning discovery prompted a call to police amid concern for student safety. However, an investigation ultimately found “no imminent threat to the safety of the school community.”

Gunston was locked down last month after administrators “located a message written inside a restroom stall referencing gun violence.”

More, below, from an email sent to Gunston families by the middle school’s principal.

Dear Gunston Families,

I am writing to inform you that the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) was onsite at Gunston today to assist with an investigation. In the search of a student for tobacco paraphernalia, we found the student in possession of two bullets.

The ACPD was immediately contacted, and the items were confiscated and removed from school grounds. We conducted a threat assessment, determining no imminent threat to the safety of the school community. In addition, appropriate disciplinary action is being taken, in accordance with our policies.

Students are reminded that bringing any form of ammunition or weapons of any kind into the school is against the law and will result in disciplinary action as well as a referral to ACPD. Again, please be assured that we always take these incidents seriously. The safety of our students and staff is our top priority.

Please remind your students that if they hear or see something that concerns them, they should let me, or a member of our Gunston staff know immediately.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call me directly.


Dr. Lori Wiggins

Gunston Middle School Principal Lori Wiggins (left) and Wakefield High School Principal Chris Willmore (right)

Last Thursday, the Arlington School Board promoted two veteran secondary school principals to new positions.

Wakefield High School Principal Chris Willmore will become Director of Secondary Education while Gunston Middle School Principal Lori Wiggins will lead Arlington Community High School.

Their appointments are effective July 1.

Willmore began his career at APS in 1995 as a teacher at the Spanish immersion school Escuela Key. After briefly leaving the school system, he returned in 1999 as a teacher in the Gunston’s immersion program. Willmore became an assistant principal at Wakefield High School in 2002 and eight years later, was named principal.

“I have loved my time at Wakefield and I am very proud of what the Wakefield community has accomplished and what the Wakefield student body and community represents,” Willmore told the School Board during last Thursday’s meeting. “As I hear time and time again, Wakefield is what the world will look like and our students at Wakefield get to experience that now, every day that they come to school.”

In an email to the school community, shared with ARLnow, Willmore said he poured his heart and soul into his work “because I feel strongly that that is the bare minimum of what our incredible students and staff deserve.”

After a 13-year tenure, which he described as an anomaly, he said he asked Superintendent Francisco Durán about changing jobs.

“This was a difficult decision for me to come to, but I feel that this is the right path forward for me and ultimately for Wakefield,” he continued.

The high school experienced difficult times earlier this year after a 14-year-old overdosed in a school bathroom and later died at the hospital, prompting the School Board to act and teachers to voice their fears this could happen again if protocols did not change. In late February, the school launched a confidential online form for people to report unsafe situations concerning a student.

Wiggins, meanwhile, has been with APS since 2012, serving as the principal of Gunston Middle School for the last 11 years.

Before coming to Arlington Public Schools, Wiggins worked in West Virginia as the executive director of the Office of Professional Preparation in the state Department of Education. In West Virginia, she also served as a middle school principal and assistant high school principal. She got her start teaching Spanish in East New York, Brooklyn.

Wiggins earned her bachelor’s degree from Messiah College, her master’s from California State University, Northridge, and her doctorate from West Virginia University.

“I am excited about this opportunity,” she told the School Board. “I’m looking forward to being able to grow, being able to bring lessons learned from my 11 years at Gunston, a passion for school leadership, a relentless drive to improve outcomes… and to work with a community that is highly mission driven.”

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Gunston Middle School (file photo)

(Updated at 8:40 p.m.) Gunston Middle School was locked down this afternoon due to a threat.

Arlington County police said the discovery of a “written threat” prompted the lockdown and investigation. The exact nature of the threat was not given.

The school at 2700 S. Lang Street had a “controlled dismissal,” assisted by police, according to ACPD.

The department issued the following press release about the incident Friday evening.

The Arlington County Police Department is investigating a written threat at Gunston Middle School, located at 2700 S. Lang Street.

At approximately 1:07 p.m. on March 10, police were dispatched to the report of a threat after school administration located a message written inside a restroom stall referencing gun violence. Prior to police arrival, the school was placed on lockdown. The investigation did not reveal an active threat to the safety of students or staff. Police assisted with a controlled dismissal of students and the lockdown was lifted. No injuries were reported during the incident.

This remains an active investigation and anyone with information related to this incident is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Tip Line 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).

Gunston Middle School (file photo)

Gunston Middle School’s eighth grade dance, planned for tonight, has been cancelled due to threats.

In a message to families sent around 12:30 p.m. today, Gunston Principal Dr. Lori Wiggins said that the decision was made as a result of “possible messages circulating in the community referencing individuals interrupting and potentially causing violence” at the dance.

That comes after a two-week stretch that has seen a spate of mass shootings nationwide, including the shooting at a Texas elementary school that killed 19 students and 2 teachers.

The email to families is below.

Greetings Gunston Eighth-Grade Families:

The Arlington County Police Department received information regarding possible messages circulating in the community referencing individuals interrupting and potentially causing violence at tonight’s eighth-grade dance. Based on the information available to us at this time, the decision was made to cancel tonight’s dance out of an abundance of caution. I write this with a heavy heart, as I know that our students were looking forward to this event. While this is a difficult decision, the safety of our students and staff is my top priority.

At this time, the threat is isolated to the dance. APS continues to work with the ACPD to address the information pertaining to this threat and will put additional resources in place as needed. We will share more specifics with students on Monday about refunds for tickets purchased to the dance. I created a video message for students about the decision to cancel that was shared during TA. I know that students will be upset with this decision, but again, it was made out of an abundance of caution. I am upset with the situation. But your child’s safety is the priority.

I want to thank the individuals that shared this information. Please remind and stress the importance to your children that if they hear or see something to talk to a trusted adult.


Dr. Wiggins

Gunston Bubble, deflated (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

The Arlington County Board is likely to vote this weekend on providing another $140,000 to fix the Gunston sports “bubble” due to issues related to the soil beneath the structure.

Renovations started last year on the Gunston Bubble, the covered, all-season county synthetic athletic field at Gunston Park behind the middle school of the same name. The two-decade-old bubble had reached “the end of its useful lifespan,” reads a county report, and needed to “be constantly monitored and inflated.”

During the summer, the bubble would sometimes get overly hot while, in the winter, snow would build up on top. Both situations were considered hazardous enough that the bubble would have to close on numerous occasions.

Work on the bubble began last year with the renovation project calling for a new frame-supported fabric structure that would make the bubble functional in any weather. Plus, ceiling fans, vents, and LED light fixtures will make it more “more energy efficient and reliable.”

The project was initially set to cost $867,000 and be completed in the second quarter of this year.

But issues arose almost immediately after work began in January, notes a County Board agenda report, due to the soil.

“Upon commencement of the work, the Contractor encountered unsuitable soil conditions that were not known at the time of design and need to be remediated, for proper installation of the building footings. Based on recommendations from the County third-party Geotechnical Contractor, Hillis Carnes, a series of additional undercuts are required to remove the unsuitable soil and bring in new material for the base foundation. This work is critical to ensure the structural stability of the new fabric structure.”

To complete the needed work, contractors IMEC Group, LLC are requesting an additional $140,000.

At the meeting this Saturday, the County Board is likely to vote on if it will allow for an amendment to the original contract that authorizes this extra money.

County officials that if the $140,000 is approved, the Gunston Bubble renovations should be completed later this year.

“We are excited to be updating the Gunston Bubble so that it will be able to support our community year-round with a strong frame structure to keep it open in the winter, and enhanced ventilation to make it more comfortable in the summer,” a county spokesperson tells ARLnow. “We noticed issues in the soil in January and are mitigating the issues. The work will cost us a bit more than expected and will delay the project.  We should have it all ready no later than early fall or sooner. When complete this will be a much better indoor experience than before.”

The bubble isn’t the only thing at Gunston Middle School that is set to being renovated. Earlier this month, the Arlington School Board approved $1.6 million in safety upgrades to the entrance of the school. The work includes moving the main school entrance and office closer to S. Lang Street. That project is expected to start in June and be complete by mid-August, right before the start of the new school year.

Gunston Middle School (file photo)

The Arlington School Board is set to consider a $1.6 million contract for safety upgrades to the entrance of Gunston Middle School.

At its meeting on Thursday, Board members will also consider approving a preliminary budget of $2.7 million for three other entrance projects.

In 2020, Arlington voters gave the thumbs up to safety renovations for five schools: Gunston, Thomas Jefferson and Williamsburg middle schools, Taylor Elementary School and Wakefield High School.

Construction at Gunston would start in June and be completed in mid-August before school starts on Aug. 29.

Work includes moving the main school entrance and office closer to S. Lang Street, which will require two science rooms to be relocated. The entrance will feature a vestibule where visitors will check in with office staff.

Planned Gunston entrance change (via APS)

The project scope has also expanded to remediate structural issues related to how the building has settled into the ground over time. APS is budgeting $2.5 million, including contingencies, for the Gunston project and any unspent funds will be used for other capital projects.

This summer, APS will also be making upgrades to Wakefield’s entrance. This project will not have to go out to bid and the school system can move forward without School Board approval.

Design and Construction Director Jeffrey Chambers says the Taylor and Williamsburg projects, meanwhile, have fallen behind. Design work is currently just over halfway complete and staff aim to find a contractor this fall and start work next summer.

“We’re very concerned putting those out to bid or getting pricing or trying to get them constructed this summer because… both from references from our consultants and our experience with regard to projects we’ve recently finished, there are some serious issues still in the supply chain,” he told the School Board last month. “We don’t want to start projects, especially with administrative offices, and not be able to finish them.”

APS staff are recommending that work at Jefferson be deferred until APS is ready to make substantial renovations to the school.

“It was going to require a lot more renovations to that building than what we had budgeted for,” he said. “We felt it was better to defer that to a future, larger project.”

The public schools system is staggering these projects, all part of the adopted FY 2021 Capital Improvement Plan, because “rapid construction price escalation and supply chain delays [have] impacted the anticipated construction cost and completion,” according to the presentation.

APS has made security upgrades to more than half of its school buildings and aims to complete this work “within the next few years,” Chambers said.

Screenshot from video of a fight at a cafeteria in Arlington Public Schools (courtesy anonymous)

Over the last four days, fights involving kids and weapons broke out near Gunston and Thomas Jefferson middle schools, while Wakefield High School had multiple trash cans set on fire.

Those are the most recent incidents in what some parents — mostly to middle schoolers — say is a rash of fights, threats of violence and other concerning behaviors happening in the public school system.

Earlier this month, for example, a mother told the School Board her daughter at Gunston Middle School was attacked by other students.

“My daughter’s eye is messed up,” Shana Robertson told the Arlington School Board on March 10. “She was jumped by two boys and two girls, and nothing has been done.”

A parent, Shayna Robertson, speaks out about unsafe conditions in Arlington Public Schools (via APS)

ARLnow spoke to multiple parents who say these issues are happening across the school system. We also reviewed several videos of brawls on school grounds, or near them, recorded by students this year.

Arlington Public Schools confirms to ARLnow that the school system has, in fact, noticed an increase in the number of reported fights and incidents this school year.

“This rise in concerning behaviors follows the national trend that is not unique to Arlington, as students re-acclimate to being back in school and face increased stress and anxiety, as well as other mental health and social-emotional challenges due to COVID and the trauma students experienced as a result,” APS spokesman Andrew Robinson said.

The trend has prompted some parents to call for more disciplinary actions for students and a renewed conversation about whether to reinstall Arlington County Police Department School Resource Officers, who were removed over the summer out of concern for racial disparities in juvenile arrests.

Opinions on reinstalling SROs are mixed. Some say this would help keep students in line and some say they may help — but they will not address the root cause. Others say SROs would not only fail to address the root cause, but they would also needlessly drive up the number of arrests.

“This is happening across the country, even at schools with police officers,” says Symone Walker, a member of the Arlington branch of the NAACP’s education committee and a former ARLnow columnist. “You really have to start addressing the emotional needs, the physical needs, the academic needs. Of course, there’s stuff going on at homes where families are stressed. Parents are angry and the kids are soaking it all up — it’s a much deeper problem.”

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