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After Uncovering Key Data Error, APS Unveils New, Last-Minute School Boundary Proposal

Arlington school officials recently realized they made a critical error in calculating school enrollment rates as they prepared a final proposal for the redrawing of attendance boundaries in South Arlington, prompting the last-minute introduction of a new map to correct that snafu.

The School Board is gearing up for a final vote this week on boundary changes at eight elementary schools, which will conclude a lengthy, contentious process stretching over the better part of the last six months. Superintendent Patrick Murphy put forward what was meant to be a final proposal last month, but officials then tinkered with that map to better distribute students across the schools involved and reduce overcrowding.

The school system released the result of some of that work last week, with figures initially showing that the new Alice West Fleet Elementary School would open next fall at close to 100 percent of its planned capacity. The school’s opening helped prompt the boundary adjustment process in the first place, and the school system’s methods for determining which communities will head to Fleet have become particularly controversial in recent weeks.

However, staffers soon discovered they’d erred in counting the number of students set to head to the school. The proposal actually would’ve opened Fleet at about 82 percent of its capacity, far below the standard officials hoped to hit.

Accordingly, the Board convened a new work session for last night (Tuesday) to examine a revised map accounting for that mistake. That new proposal would leave Fleet closer to 90 percent capacity instead, largely by redirecting some students currently attending Long Branch Elementary School to Fleet. The Board will ultimately have a chance to vote to approve this newest map, or any of the other six proposals the school system has worked up thus far.

“We’re trying to be as clear as possible here, and we realize there are ongoing confusions about the data and about the process,” said School Board Chair Reid Goldstein. “Unfortunately, there’s not much time for Board members and the community to absorb all this.”

Lisa Stengle, the APS director of planning and evaluation, told the Board that the change won’t pull all that many students away from Long Branch, a process officials hoped to avoid given the last-minute nature of the change.

Instead, the school system discovered that a variety of students attending the Ft. Myer Cody Child Development Center at Joint Base Myer (some of whom are the children of active duty service members) currently attend Long Branch or even Patrick Henry Elementary after receiving a special waiver to do so. Those students would be sent to Fleet instead for the next two years, Stengle said.

“We just need to give Long Branch a little breathing room,” Stengle said. The school will open at about 101 percent of its capacity under the latest plan, down from its current 113 percent.

School officials were optimistic that the change will work out for the best, filling more of Fleet but still allowing for a little bit of wiggle room at the school moving forward. But, given the acrimony that the boundary process has generated everywhere from the Drew Model School to Abingdon Elementary to Henry, Murphy was also quick to acknowledge that this latest error came at an unfortunate time.

“I think we continue to get better at this,” Murphy said. “And I look forward to continuing to refine things in the future.”

Goldstein was similarly conciliatory, particularly after parents at Henry accused him and other school officials of delivering assurances that their community would move as one to Fleet this year. Drew’s Montessori program is set to move to Henry, forcing current students out of the building, and the school system’s latest plans call for about 20 percent of those students to go to schools other than Fleet.

Parents even dug up emails from years ago featuring Goldstein providing such promises, and he expressed plenty of regret for having done so.

“I wish I could go back and keep my mouth shut at the time when it would’ve been a good idea to do so, but I can’t,” Goldstein said. “I apologize for creating an impression two and half years ago that the future would have ironclad certainty… I’ll be much more circumspect about future events as we go forward.”

Board members also addressed a proposal from some Henry parents to convert Drew into a hybrid neighborhood-option school drawing in students from across the county to its STEAM program. Its backers hoped such a change would help keep the Henry community together and build a strong base of support for Drew, but many in Nauck resisted such an effort.

Board member Monique O’Grady pointed out that part of the intent of moving the Montessori program out of Drew was to “give Drew its neighborhood school back,” and she felt the STEAM proposal ran counter to that purpose.

Goldstein praised the proposal, noting that “some parts of it are very intriguing and some parts are attractive.” But he also agreed with his colleagues that it would be too difficult to manage such a change on such short notice, particularly without consulting with the Drew community first.

“We just wouldn’t be able to do this in two weeks,” Goldstein said. “We don’t know yet how to define a future option program, how to identify where we need it and where the optimal location is.”

Even still, Goldstein and his fellow Board members praised the community for being engaged enough on the issue to come up with such a proposal in the first place. And, with the Board set to approve a final map tomorrow (Thursday), O’Grady urged concerned parents to channel that energy into a positive outlet going forward.

“The desire to stay at your current school doesn’t necessarily mean you’re against another school, just that you’re passionate about where you are,” O’Grady said. “We hope you’ll bring that passion to your new school.”

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Letter to the Editor: Converting Drew into a STEAM Option School is a ‘Ridiculous’ Plan

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Amelia Black, a Nauck resident living within Drew Model School’s attendance boundaries and the mother of two young children.

She penned this note to the Arlington School Board as it weighs a redrawing of South Arlington school boundaries. Parents at Henry Elementary School have proposed converting Drew into a neighborhood school accepting countywide transfers for a “STEAM” program in order to address some of their boundary concerns. The Board has dismissed the possibility of such a proposal, and is set to vote on a final boundary map next month.

My name is Amelia Black, and I am a parent of two children under the age of 5, and I live in the Drew neighborhood walk-zone. The views expressed here are my own.

I am writing because I have been frustrated to learn of the recent proposal by some community members to scrap this whole boundary process and make the new Drew neighborhood school a ‘hybrid option school.’ I thought it was ridiculous on its face, but learned it has been shopped around with all School Board members and even has a full PR campaign complete with ARLnow article and attempts to convince neutral stakeholders like Drew’s principal and PTA president.

I am not sure what you all think about this proposal, but I am hoping it is non-idea for you like it is for me. The school has been an option school for decades and has not had the benefit of a single community rallying around its success like other schools have had. You all know the history of the school, how we all got this point, and I hope that going back now is not considered an option.

I personally support map 6 with some reservation, in particular about filling the school and students not opting out, ultimately delaying Drew congealing into a strong community school. Changes that I hope would be considered 1) all Pre-school seats, including leftover non-VPI seats, should be given to Drew families living in this boundaries so as to encourage families to come into the school 2) Large numbers of students should not be allowed to stay at their former neighborhood school just because it has some extra capacity.

However, I am also formally requesting that you do what you feel is the best long-term solution for all students. The inherent problem with having all us parents constantly engaged in any process like this is that we all would do ANYTHING to prevent real or perceived threats to our children’s’ optimal development.

Parents can pull out charts, spreadsheets, and videos but none of us are objective, and we all want what we feel is the best solution RIGHT THIS MINUTE for our precious children. But often, what is best for those being the loudest right now is not necessarily the best solution for the long-term. We elected you all to gather our input and then make an objective decision that is best for all students, not just the ones who have time and resources to make our voices heard.  I’ve shared my opinion, and I am telling myself I’m objective, but I’m biased like every other parent, and I hope you will each do what you feel is most fair to all involved.

As a final thought, please though there have been many flaws in this process that I hope you will seriously reflect on in making improvements for the future, please do not delay this decision. Please make efforts to pull the band aid off now and make a decision on December 6.  Delaying the decision will only give people more time to creatively combat the inevitably painful acceptance of changes coming next year.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity. 

Photo via Google Maps

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Parents Feel Betrayed By APS Proposal to Send Henry ES Students to Schools Other Than Fleet

(Updated at 9:50 a.m.) Many parents of Patrick Henry Elementary School students have expected, for years, that their community would move as one to Alice West Fleet Elementary when it opens next fall.

They believe Arlington school officials have repeatedly promised them as much over the years, as deliberations have progressed over the best way to build a new South Arlington elementary school, then shift Drew Model School’s Montessori program to Henry’s old building. That’s why so many Henry parents are now furious that Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposal for a redrawing of school boundaries would send more than a fifth of current Henry students to schools other than Fleet.

School leaders, however, argue they’ve never made such promises about keeping the entirety of the Henry community together. The current boundary process is aimed at better spreading out students across eight different South Arlington elementary schools, and officials argue that it’s likely impossible they’ll be able to please every single parent as they look toward the greater good for the whole school system.

But some parents believe there’s a better way to achieve school officials’ stated goals for the boundary process, which simply involves a little bit of creative thinking. They’d much rather see the school system transform Drew into a science and technology-focused program that accepts transfers from across the county, as a way of simultaneously solving overcrowding issues in the area and avoiding a major breach of trust with the community.

“South Arlington has always been on the back end of receiving support for its schools,” Gary Belan, a parent of two current Henry students, told ARLnow. “But this whole process has not only been a disservice to the kids at Henry, but the folks at Drew. It does a minimal amount to set either up for success.”

After releasing a slightly revised version of Murphy’s map and holding a public hearing on the boundary proposals last night (Tuesday), the School Board won’t approve a final map until Dec. 6. Some early proposals would’ve moved all but a small section of the Henry community to Fleet, though some came at the cost of angering parents in Fairlington by moving students from Abingdon to Drew, and Board members stress that all of the draft maps remain on the table for debate.

Yet some parents who’ve spent years working on committees guiding Fleet’s opening have lost faith that the Board will listen to Henry’s concerns. For instance, Joe Everling, who worked on the Building Level Planning Committee for Fleet, believes the Board “wasted my time” and “co-opted me into this flawed process.”

“The ‘Arlington Way’ is often all about asking for feedback and then doing whatever you want anyway, and that’s what’s happening here,” said Everling, the parent of two kids currently at Henry and a third approaching school age. “They’re talking to us like we’re kindergarteners, telling us we didn’t hear what we heard… We’ve been working with them, not fighting with them. But then they reveal something that doesn’t even reflect what they’ve been promising.”

Yet Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia insists that moving Henry to Fleet was merely a “general plan” developed as the school system began planning for a new elementary school in 2013, and never an explicit promise.

“When APS began this boundary process, the School Board listed eight schools to be included in this process and none were to be exempt from possible boundary changes,” Bellavia said.

School Board Chair Reid Goldstein was even more emphatic during an Oct. 24 work session, arguing that parents were mistaken in assuming that Henry’s student body would move together to Fleet. He even conceded that some school officials, himself included, might have given parents the wrong impression about the matter, and should’ve expressed more uncertainty about the future.

Goldstein went on to explain that he’d requested a correction to an ARLnow article which reported on APS officials reassuring Henry parents that all students would move to Fleet, after several parents mentioned such assurances at an October School Board meeting. He argued that the article was “inaccurate” and “further inflamed” tensions over the matter.

“Staff has attempted to quell this rumor but, unfortunately, it still persists in some places,” Goldstein said. “I’m addressing it here to hopefully, finally, put it to bed.”

But Everling points to a number of school documents delivered to various committees over the years dubbing Fleet “a new school for Henry Elementary.” The Board’s April 2016 motion approving plans for Fleet even refers to it as such; a January 2018 presentation on the school’s design similarly notes that the Board “identified Patrick Henry Elementary as the school community that will occupy the new elementary school.”

And, in a May 2016 email to Douglas Park Civic Association leaders obtained by ARLnow, Goldstein himself looks to quell what he dubs “rumors” that the Henry community will be split up in the move to Fleet.

“To fill up the new building, we need to move all of the Henry students there,” Goldstein wrote. “Removing current Henry students from that new boundary zone is counter-productive to accomplishing this goal.”

Megan Haydasz, the chair of the Fleet BLPC and another Henry parent, remembers receiving similar assurances from school officials and Board members alike. She recalls hearing that Fleet would be built large enough to accommodate both the entirety of the Henry community and other South Arlington students, which eased plenty of minds as the Fleet design process advanced.

“We’re taking a school and moving it to place with less acreage, but we made that tradeoff because we thought we could keep the community together,” Haydasz said.

Beyond any promises that the school system did or did not make, Haydasz and her fellow Henry parents are concerned that splitting up students would break up an academically thriving school — Henry received a designation as a “National Blue Ribbon” school for its academic performance in 2015, one of just 11 in the state to earn the recognition.

Additionally, the school has one of the more diverse student bodies in the county — as of 2017, Henry had the 11th highest non-white population of students of Arlington’s 23 elementary schools — and parents fear losing some of that diversity under the proposed boundary changes.

“Schools are very rarely as diverse as Henry; most students go to school with kids who look just like them,” said Jennifer Rawlings, the parent of two Henry students. “But removing families south of Columbia Pike will change that completely.”

Murphy’s proposal would indeed move some kids living south of the Pike to Drew, though APS projections suggest that Fleet’s percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunch — a key indicator of a family’s economic means — wouldn’t look substantially different from Henry’s FRL rate under the boundary changes.

However, the Henry parents think they’ve found a way to simultaneously avoid any breakup of the community and help Drew thrive.

Parents at Drew have been similarly frustrated with the boundary process, with some worrying that the changes will leave the school with too large a concentration of students from low-income families. Murphy’s recommendation would reduce the school’s FRL rate slightly from prior boundary proposals, but leave it among the higher rates in the county.

That’s why Christine Brittle, a parent of two Henry students, crunched the numbers and came up with a proposal to transform Drew into a countywide program aimed at solving all of the aforementioned issues.

Brittle found that the eight South Arlington schools included in the boundary process have an unusually high number of students who transfer elsewhere — Drew, for instance, had the sixth highest transfer rate in the county last year. She suspects that’s driven by wealthier families who go in search of countywide “choice” programs, leaving the South Arlington schools with more lopsided demographic mixes and suggesting there’s clear demand for more option programs in the area.

Brittle proposes building on Drew’s existing program focusing on science, technology, engineering, art and math — known by the acronym “STEAM” — to make such a change. She envisions Drew still having neighborhood boundaries, but accepting students from all over the county to build a different kind of community there.

“There’s clearly a strong demand in Arlington for the type of program they’re already creating… and that will only increase with Amazon coming here,” Brittle said. “This is a solution that has a lighter touch on the boundaries… and creates a larger constituency for that school. And it needs a larger community to advocate for it and fight for it.”

She expects the change would mean the county could fill Drew without diverting as many students away from Henry, satisfying her fellow parents, and she says she’s already heard broad support from parents at all manner of schools for the idea. Brittle even brought it to both Drew’s principal and the head of its parent-teacher association and she says both were open to the idea — PTA president Melissa Thierry did not respond to a request for comment.

Brittle says she also presented the idea to all five Board members, though none of them responded to questions about the proposal posed to a Board spokeswoman.

Instead, Bellavia confirmed that both Murphy and the Board have reviewed the proposal and decided it was “not feasible to implement at this time.”

“There was an extensive visioning process in late 2016 and early 2017 that involved the Drew community as well as surrounding communities,” Bellavia said. “Out of that process came a shared vision for the future of Drew as a neighborhood school with a STEAM focus, but did not include option school elements. Last year, Drew staff began implementing that focus, and will continue, as it transitions into a neighborhood school beginning next fall.”

It’s that sort of response that Everling says has caused him to lose most of his faith in the school system before the process is even officially over. After his experience working on the issue over the last few years, he hopes that parents at the 14 schools set to have their boundaries redrawn in 2020 sit up and take notice.

“Listen up, because these people will lay out a process and then change it at the last minute,” Everling said.

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Parents Urge APS to Keep the Henry Community Together As Part of Move to Fleet

(Updated Wednesday at 4:10 p.m.) As the heated process of setting new boundaries for eight South Arlington elementary schools lurches forward, parents at Patrick Henry Elementary are trying to deliver a single message to school officials: don’t break up the community in the move to Alice West Fleet Elementary.

Fleet’s planned opening next fall precipitated this process of drawing new boundary lines for the schools in the first place, with most Henry students set to move to the new school and the Montessori program currently housed at Drew Model School will move to Henry’s building.

Parents at Henry have long sought reassurances from Arlington Public Schools officials that the community would move as one to Fleet, without any neighborhoods being redirected elsewhere. The school system has released two different maps for public scrutiny over the last few months, and both have so far stuck firm to that request.

That fact was not lost on roughly a dozen parents who testified at the School Board’s meeting last Thursday (Oct. 18). Though the new boundary proposals have stoked outrage among families at Drew and Abingdon alike, they’ve largely satisfied parents with kids set to make the move from Henry, who are urging school leaders to stay the course throughout the remainder of the boundary process.

“We are a community that lives on Columbia Pike,” Melanie Devoe told the Board. “This will keep our students together, as we’ll have students who are learning together in elementary school all stay on the same campus through middle school.”

Erin Wasiak, co-president of the Henry Parent-Teacher Association, similarly praised the Board for keeping families along the Pike together, noting that the road acts as “our ‘Main Street’ and our town square.” Even still, she would note that the school system’s latest proposal would divert a few neighborhoods on the east side of S. Courthouse Road to Hoffman-Boston instead, a change that would only affect a relatively small number of students, but still struck Wasiak as a bit concerning.

“We’re as close or closer to Fleet as we are to the school you want to put us in,” Nicole Hallahan, a parent of a current Henry student set to move to Hoffman-Boston, told the Board.

APS spokesman Frank Bellavia stressed that officials are working to focus on contiguity as part of the process, though he noted that the school system “cannot guarantee that any individual school community will stay together.” As Lisa Stengle, the APS director of planning and evaluation, put it at an Oct. 17 community meeting, “We don’t want islands in places.”

“Boundary proposals align with the policy considerations, reflect what serves all students, and explore how changes to one school affect other schools,” Bellavia wrote in an email. “Change will be continual within APS due to ongoing enrollment growth, and APS is responsible for ensuring equity for all students across schools and programs.”

Nevertheless, between the changes with the Henry boundaries and the proposal to send some South Fairlington students to Drew instead of Abingdon, parents say the county hasn’t always managed to meet that particular goal.

“You just have to look at the map to see it’s oddly gerrymandered,” Claire Kenny, a parent of an Abingdon student, told the Board. “Please don’t punish our children to fix past redistricting efforts, or to fulfill promises to other communities.”

APS planners only proposed those Fairlington changes in the first place to create a more even spread of students eligible for free and reduced price lunch, a measure of their families’ economic means, at schools across South Arlington. Some parents worried too many economically disadvantaged students were being lumped in at Drew, and Henry parents also urged the Board to keep the issue as a prime focus throughout the rest of the boundary-setting process.

“It’s important to have racially and culturally diverse schools that prepare our students to effectively relate with others,” said Megan Haydasz, a parent of a Henry student who’s been active on other school equity issues in South Arlington in the past. “Yet high concentrations of poverty limit a school community’s resources and may unconsciously limit student outcomes compared to other schools.”

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Morning Notes

FBI Renews Search for Hotel Rapist — A cold case is getting hotter as the FBI steps up the search for a man who raped hotel employees in the D.C. area, including in Arlington, between 1998 and 2006. Authorities still don’t know who the suspect is, but in a first for the region, the man’s DNA profile has been indicted for the crime. [FBI, NBC Washington, WTOP]

‘Unaccompanied Minors’ Housed at Local Facility? — “The feds may use a local juvenile detention center to house some of the nearly 2,000 children they’ve separated from their parents at the Mexican border. Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg said she’s expressed ‘strong concerns’ with the board that runs the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center, which has a contract to hold as many as 30 unaccompanied minors. The detention center is jointly run by Alexandria and Arlington.” [WUSA 9]

ACPD Helps Kid’s Dream Come True — “After over 900 days in foster care, Cameron’s wish came true when he found his forever family. During last week’s @Capitals visit, we were able to help him with his 2nd wish-touching the #StanleyCup! Today he stopped by to thank Officer Rihl for helping make his dream a reality!” [Twitter]

Local Tech Firm Signs Rosslyn Lease — As expected after being selected for a $60,000 Gazelle grant from Arlington County earlier this year, local tech firm Higher logic has signed a lease and is moving employees into a new 31,000 square foot headquarters space at Waterview Tower (1919 N. Lynn Street) in Rosslyn. The company, which makes community engagement software, acquired four companies last year. The new office offers “floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Potomac River, an open, collaborative environment, and much needed room to expand.” [Washington Business Journal]

Firefighters Help Cool Kids Down — Earlier this week, with sweltering temperatures putting a damper on outdoor activities, an Arlington County fire engine helped Patrick Henry Elementary students cool down during their field day. [Twitter]

ACFD Trains for Water Rescues — The Arlington County Fire Department has a water rescue team, and before yesterday’s rains the team was training in the rapids at Great Falls. [Twitter]

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Parents Planning Protest, Lobbying Effort to Reverse School Board’s Career Center Plans

A group of parents who could someday send their kids to a new high school program at the Arlington Career Center remain frustrated by the school system’s plans for the site, and they’re planning a new effort to make their voices heard.

Concerned parents, largely hailing from the Arlington Heights neighborhood around Columbia Pike, are banding together to form a new nonprofit called “Citizens for Arlington School Equality.” The organization, which will lobby the School Board to include a broader range of amenities at the school site, is planning to kick off its efforts with a march from Patrick Henry Elementary School to the Board’s meeting tonight (June 7) at the Syphax Education Center (2110 Washington Blvd), with a rally to follow.

The Board has yet to finalize just how it will build 1,050 new high school seats at the Career Center, but it is nearing a consensus on a new Capital Improvement Plan that would dictate how the construction proceeds over the next decade. A final vote on the plan is set for June 21, but the Board seems to be nearing agreement on a proposal to build the seats by 2024. Under the proposal, amenities at the site would include a multi-use gym, a “black box” theater, a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage, all to be added by 2026.

Yet that plan has done little to satisfy some Arlington Heights parents, who are concerned that the Career Center site wouldn’t offer the same features as the county’s other comprehensive high schools. They’re particularly concerned that the Board’s proposed design would fundamentally disadvantage students who live near the Career Center in South Arlington and are most likely to attend the new program.

“I want this for my kids, but I want to make sure I live in a county that cares about the education of all kids equally,” Jennifer Milder, the parent of two students attending Henry right now and one of the new group’s organizers, told ARLnow. “And the needle has moved very little on the inequality spectrum so far. There are still not adequate fields, still not adequate parking, or an adequate gym.”

Board members have spent plenty of time wrestling with how they can beef up amenities at the site, and examined several plans that would’ve added more amenities to the program and sped up their construction so they were available as the facility opened its doors.

But all of those proposals would have put a serious strain on the school system’s finances and were ultimately cast aside. Even the Board’s current plans will strain Arlington Public Schools’ borrowing capacity, and the county’s similarly challenging financial picture means the County Board may not be able to help, either.

Yet Milder and some her fellow parents believe both boards should view fully funding amenities at the Career Center site as a priority important enough to force a re-ordering of the county’s long-term construction plans.

“The county is doing all these things to attract businesses and people to Arlington, then not backing it up by supporting students they’re bringing here,” said Megan Haydasz, another Arlington Heights parent involved with the new group.

Haydasz suggested her new group could even pursue legal action against the school system if the Board opts to pursue its current plans at the Career Center. She’s hoping the new group will be able to start accepting donations soon, and will be able to fund all manner of advocacy work.

“Families with the resources to get their students out of this situation will do so, and that will leave behind families who can’t,” Milder said. “It’d be a sad state of affairs.”

That’s why Milder and Haydasz hope to use their new group to convince the county raise taxes next year — a distinct possibility, County Manager Mark Schwartz has repeatedly warned — and use that money to better fund the school system. If the county fails to do so, the parents worry how the neighborhood might change in response.

“I’ve talked to several people already reconsidering adding onto their houses, or are even thinking about putting their homes up for sale already,” Haydasz said. “The uncertainty is too much for them. They wanted to be in the South Arlington community, but they can’t gamble with their kids.”

The group will begin its march from Henry at 5 p.m., and plans to arrive at the Syphax Center for a rally by 5:15 p.m. The Board meeting starts at 6 p.m.

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Following Sudden Death of Patrick Henry Elementary Principal, Temporary Replacement Named

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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Elementary School Principal Dies Unexpectedly

The principal of Patrick Henry Elementary School died unexpectedly over the weekend.

Parents were informed this morning of Annie Turner’s passing. The cause of death “is unknown at this time,” according to the email.

“This morning, a support team of administrators, psychologists, counselors, and social workers from Arlington Public Schools joined our Henry team to provide counseling and support to the staff and students,” the email noted. “Counselors will be available today and throughout the days ahead for those who need additional support with this news.”

Turner, who has degrees from the University of Virginia and George Mason University, first joined Arlington Public Schools as a physical education teacher at Jamestown Elementary in 1986, according to her school biography. She became principal of Patrick Henry in 2014.

Turner is married and enjoyed “vacationing, exercising and walking together and attending sporting events and concerts” with her husband, the biography said.

The letter to parents and school staff is below.

Dear Henry Students, Staff and Families:

It is with great sadness that we are writing to let you know that Annie Turner, principal of Patrick Henry Elementary School, died unexpectedly on Saturday morning.  The exact cause is unknown at this time.

We know that this is a shock for everyone in our school and the community, and ask that you join us to remember and celebrate Annie’s life. On behalf of the Turner family, we also ask that you to respect their privacy during this difficult time as they grieve their sudden loss.

It is very difficult for all of us to face the death of anyone close to us. This morning, a support team of administrators, psychologists, counselors, and social workers from Arlington Public Schools joined our Henry team to provide counseling and support to the staff and students. Counselors will be available today and throughout the days ahead for those who need additional support with this news.

Your child may be coming home with questions and worries about this loss. Although we cannot predict how any child may react, we will work to be sensitive and aware of the common reactions experienced by grieving children. We also are enclosing some suggestions that may be helpful to you as you discuss Ms. Turner’s death in the days ahead. Please feel free to contact the school if you have an issue you would like to discuss.

I know you join us in extending our heartfelt sympathy to Annie Turner’s family. When we receive word about funeral arrangements, we will share the information with you. […]

Sincerely,

Cameron Snyder, Assistant Principal
Dr. Patrick Murphy, Superintendent

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Patrick Henry Principal Kisses Pig At Read-A-Thon Celebrations

Patrick Henry Elementary School principal Annie Turner kissed a pig Tuesday to mark the end of a successful Read-A-Thon at the school.

Turner had promised the students at the school at 701 S. Highland Street that if 300 or more of them turned in reading logs and had read for 500 minutes or more, she would kiss the pig at their final assembly before Thanksgiving.

And the students far exceeded that goal. Patrick Henry parent Christine Brittle, who coordinated the Read-A-Thon, said 360 students turned in reading logs and they exceeded their goal of 500 minutes reading each.

The school’s PTA sponsors the annual Read-A-Thon, which kicked off just over a month ago. Students are challenged to read at least 500 minutes, about 40 minutes a day, and earn prizes for fundraising.

The students read for 263,211 minutes altogether, the equivalent of about 4,388 hours or 182 days.

“I set a really ambitious goal, because we had a really awesome prize and I thought you all could do it,” Brittle told the students.

And so Turner puckered up with Roscoe, a pig that lives in nearby Penrose, to whoops and cheers from the more-than 400 students who assembled in the school’s gymnasium.

The Read-A-Thon also raised more than $22,000 for the school, to be spent on field trips among other things.

“I am so proud of you all for reading so much,” Turner told the students after her encounter with Roscoe. “I hope you continue to read all year and the rest of your lives.”

https://twitter.com/clasedivertida/status/933074210259423233

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Schools Plan to Expand Using Temporary Classrooms, Interior Modifications

Arlington Public Schools will look to temporarily add more space to try to cope with its rising enrollment by adding temporary classrooms and making interior adjustments at several schools.

The Arlington County Board is expected to vote on a slew of proposals across eight schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels at its meeting Saturday (July 15). The temporary solutions are all recommended for approval by county staff, as “student enrollment is growing at a faster rate than APS can provide new schools and classrooms.”

Some are looking to add more temporary, trailer classrooms — known in APS parlance as “relocatables” — while others will make interior adjustments to add more space.

The following schools are applying to add relocatables:

The following schools will look to make interior adjustments and modifications:

Photos Nos. 6, 7 and 8 via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

FBI Seeking Man Who Touched Girl at Cemetery — The FBI’s Washington Field Office is searching for a man who “inappropriately touched a girl as the two stood in a crowd during a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day.” [NBC Washington]

Task Force Recommends ‘Fleet Elementary’ — The task force charged with recommending a name for the new elementary school being built next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School has settled its choice: “Alice West Fleet Elementary.” Fleet was the first African-American reading teacher in Arlington’s public school system. The task force did not recommend transferring the name of Patrick Henry, a slave owner, from the current school, which will be transferring its students to new new school when it is complete. [InsideNova]

Bicyclist Group Calls Out Biking Bullies — In a blog post, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association is calling out aggressive male riders who yelled insults at a female bike commuter on two separate occasions on the Mt. Vernon Trail. “This sort of behavior is totally unacceptable,” the group said. [WABA]

Mt. Vernon Trail Upgrade Complete — The National Park Service has completed an upgrade to a portion of the Mt. Vernon Trail that runs through the Theodore Roosevelt Island parking lot. The upgrade includes a new crossing and speed table across the parking lot and the widening of the trail. [Greater Greater Washington]

Arlington Sells Bonds at Low Interest Rate — Arlington County solds $185 million in bonds at a relatively low 2.5 percent interest rate. “The interest rate we received today is one of the lowest we’ve ever received,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said in a press release. “However, it is slightly higher than the rate we received last year.” [Arlington County]

Tight Race in Va. Gov. Primary — The two candidates battling it out in the Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary are in the midst of a tight race. The race between Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello is being portrayed as a contest between an establishment figure (Northam) and a progressive darling (Perriello). Primary voters will go to the polls on Tuesday, June 13. [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Names for New Elementary School Narrowed to Five Options

Parents and community members are being asked to help choose the name of the new elementary school that’s being built next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

A naming committee has narrowed down the choices, which included suggestions submitted via an online survey, to five. The finalists, each with an explanation from the naming committee, are below.

  1. Alice West Fleet Elementary School — “A native Virginian, a granddaughter of slaves, and a long-time Arlington teacher, resident, community activist and leader… she broke down racial barriers, serving as the first black reading teacher in Arlington and the first black teacher to teach in an all-white school in Arlington.”
  2. Grace Hopper Elementary School — “Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper was an acclaimed computer scientist, professor, and long-time Arlington resident… Ms. Hopper was key to the development of COBOL, a computer programming language that helped make coding more accessible.”
  3. Journey Elementary School — “The new elementary school building is designed with different levels and sections representing different biospheres… The name ‘Journey’ was recommended through the Community Input Form and represents the students’ journey through the building as they explore our diverse world as well as the educational journey that students and their families experience.”
  4. Liberty Elementary School — “The name ‘Liberty’ is a tribute both to Patrick Henry’s famous ‘Give me liberty, or give me death!’ speech and to his support of the Bill of Rights. This option represents a name change that maintains a connection to the school’s existing name.”
  5. Patrick Henry Elementary School — “Patrick Henry Elementary School was given its name in 1925, renaming the original school name, Columbia Elementary School. Patrick Henry was a lawyer, orator, and statesman who served as the first and sixth governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. He was also a slave owner.”

The new school is expected to open in September 2019. Students and staff will be moving from the existing Patrick Henry Elementary, near the Columbia Pike Branch Library, to the new school.

The naming committee says it received input on both sides of the debate over the current school’s name.

The committee heard compelling arguments both for keeping and for changing the name of the school. Some felt that keeping the name would provide continuity and maintain a connection to the school’s history, while continuing to honor one of our nation’s founding fathers. Others thought that the school name should be changed in order to avoid confusion between the new and existing school, or to reflect the creative design of the new building. Some also felt that Patrick Henry’s name should no longer be used since he owned slaves.

The committee says it received more than 500 survey responses via its online form. Among the serious suggestions were at least a few from pranksters, we’re told; other name suggestions included Howard Stern Elementary and Pokemon Elementary.

This time around, the committee is hoping to only receive input from Patrick Henry Elementary and Jefferson Middle School parents, students, staff and nearby neighbors.

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School Naming Process Underway for Patrick Henry Elementary Replacement

A naming process is underway for a new elementary school being built next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

The new school will be home to students of what is now Patrick Henry Elementary, which will in turn house the Montessori program currently at Drew Model School.

While Patrick Henry is being considered for the name of the new elementary school, which is set to open in September 2019, Arlington Public Schools has formed a naming committee to consider other name recommendations.

The committee is encouraging stakeholders to weigh in on the name via an online Community Input Form, which was published late last week.

“We are asking each Patrick Henry Elementary School parent and staff to fill out the appropriate survey,” a page on the Patrick Henry PTA website says. “Our timeline is short, so we hope you can do it soon. It should not take more than 5 minutes.”

The survey notes that while Patrick Henry was a Founding Father and Virginia’s first (and sixth) governor — remembered for his “Give me liberty, or give me death!” speech — he was also a plantation owner and slave owner.

It asks respondents to consider the importance of “maintaining the current name in recognition of Patrick Henry” or, alternatively, “selecting a new name that reflects the diversity of the student body,” among other questions.

The committee is expected to submit its naming recommendation to Arlington Public Schools later this spring.

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Immigration Rally Planned in Arlington Next Week

Nearly a thousand people march through Arlington to support immigration reform (file photo)Immigrants are “under attack” during this presidential election year. That’s according to the organizers of a rally and citizenship clinic planned in Arlington next week.

Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of the immigrant advocacy and services organization CASA, says anti-immigrant rhetoric is prompting anxiety in the immigrant community and an increase in naturalization applications. His group is encouraging eligible Virginia residents to follow that trend and naturalize in time to vote this November.

CASA and Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) are joining forces next Wednesday, May 18, for an event that will be part rally, part clinic “where CASA staff will advise potential citizenship seekers on the viability of their application.” The event will take place at Patrick Henry Elementary School (701 S. Highland Street) at 7:30 p.m.

“There is something unique and significant going on in immigrant communities,” Gutiérrez said in a media advisory about the event (below). “Wherever I travel in the U.S. these days, I see large numbers of eligible immigrants coming forward to apply for naturalization. When there is anxiety about what appears to be rising xenophobia, that always motivates people who can seek citizenship to do so and motivates citizens to become voters.”

The full advisory, after the jump.

CASA and Congressman Luis Gutiérrez are teaming up to urge eligible Virginians to become citizens at a clinic and rally at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 18, at Patrick Henry Elementary School, 701 S. Highland St., Arlington, VA 22204.

“At a time when immigrants are under attack, it is even more important to have those people who are eligible to become part of the political process,” said CASA’s Executive Director Gustavo Torres. “And to have Congressman Gutiérrez here solidifies our efforts.”

Rep. Gutiérrez, D-Ill., has been a tireless advocate on behalf of immigrants. In addition to his work in the Congress, he joined the “Stand Up to Hate” tour, which aims to sign up one million new citizens before the end of the year. Congressman Gutiérrez has participated in more than a dozen workshops throughout the country including Colorado, New York, Nevada and Illinois.

“There is something unique and significant going on in immigrant communities,” Rep. Gutiérrez said.  “Wherever I travel in the U.S. these days, I see large numbers of eligible immigrants coming forward to apply for naturalization. When there is anxiety about what appears to be rising xenophobia, that always motivates people who can seek citizenship to do so and motivates citizens to become voters.”

Over all, naturalization applications increased by 11 percent in the 2015 fiscal year over the year before, and jumped 14 percent during the six months ending in January, according to a March New York Times article.

Experts say this sharp increase is due to anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from some presidential candidates.

The event will also include a citizenship clinic where CASA staff will advise potential citizenship seekers on the viability of their application.

“Many people are eligible to become citizens for years before taking that final step,” said Pablo Blank, CASA’s citizenship program manager. “We are here to help them through the process.”

File photo

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Patrick Henry Elementary Named Blue Ribbon School

Patrick Henry Elementary School has been recognized as a 2015 National Blue Ribbon School, the only public elementary school in Northern Virginia to receive the honor this year.

Arlington Public School officials announced its Blue Ribbon status today in front of the student body, teachers, parents and members of the Arlington School Board. Children and faculty wore blue ribbons to mark the occasion.

“We are very proud of you [the students], of the teachers, of the staff members,” said School Board Chair Emma Violand-Sánchez. “And I wanted to tell the teachers and the staff that you are making a different in the children’s lives.”

Patrick Henry joins 334 other schools receiving Blue Ribbon status in 2015, including 11 schools — six public, five private — in Virginia.

“I am so excited that our students, staff, and families are being recognized for their hard work and dedication to academic excellence,” said Andrea Frye, who has been the principal of Patrick Henry for two years. “Our Patrick Henry team and students are living the school motto of doing their personal best all year and I am so proud that they are being honored for those efforts by being selected as a National Blue Ribbon school.”

The school received the Blue Ribbon in the category of high performance, Frye said. To be chosen as a Blue Ribbon school for high performance, Patrick Henry had to be in Virginia’s top 15 percent of elementary schools, based on test scores.

“One thing we know about Patrick Henry is they have consistently high academic performance, and that tells me one thing. You are working very hard, and that is excellent quality I want you to build on. This school is consistent, teachers and staff, thank you for that,” said Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Murphy.

Frye said she thinks the school was chosen as a Blue Ribbon school because of its teachers, who work together to help students develop as individuals, instead of focusing solely on academically.

“I think the adult-child relationship that happens at Patrick Henry is unique,” Frye said.

Teachers at the school are kind and make learning fun, said a group of fourth graders, with one adding that they never give out homework that is too long.

“All the teachers are nice, but at the same time, the teachers want us to learn,” said fourth-grader Colby Ames.

The school will display two banners to mark the achievement — the official Blue Ribbon banner from Department of Education and one that celebrates everyone who helped make the school Blue Ribbon worthy, Frye said. Children and teachers will be putting their names on cut-out blue handprints that will hang around the second banner, she added.

Patrick Henry is located at 701 S. Highland Street, near Columbia Pike. The school is diverse from a socioeconomic standpoint, with about 37 percent of the student body receiving free or reduced-cost lunches.

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