Synetic Theater’s premiere of War of Worlds has been delayed after co-founder Paata Tsikurishvili suffered what are described as serious injuries in a vehicle crash.
In an update last Friday, the Crystal City-based theater company said that its co-founder and artistic director Tsikurishvili had been hospitalized for a number of days “as a result of injuries he sustained in a serious car accident.”
The injuries included “several broken bones” but no head trauma, the theater company said. He’s expected to make a full recovery and “is recovering faster than expected” but he is in need of a several-month rehabilitation period, Synetic said.
The crash was first announced in early December, but few details were provided.
“The Tsikurishvili family thanks the many people who reached out with words of support. Those who wish to send good wishes may do so at [email protected],” the update notes.
Due to the co-founder’s need for recovery, the theater’s “largest and most ambitious production in its history” is being pushed back from the spring to the fall.
The Tsikurishvili-directed War of the Worlds was set to debut at Synetic Theater in March but now is planning a fall premiere, per the update:
Prior to the accident, Mr. Tsikurishvili was finishing work on the world premiere of War of the Worlds-Synetic’s largest and most ambitious production in its history-which was scheduled to begin workshopping and rehearsals immediately after the holidays. In order to give him the time and space to focus on his recovery, War of the Worlds, slated to open March 3, 2023, will be postponed until Fall 2023 (precise dates to be announced).”
The production is based on the famed 1897 H.G. Wells story about an alien invasion of Earth and the threat to humankind. The sci-fi tale has been continuously adapted over the last century, including by Steven Spielberg for his 2005 movie starring Tom Cruise. Synetic is now set to adapt it into a physical, wordless stage production.
“In [this] latest iteration, War of the Worlds leaps off the page and onto the stage through Synetic’s wordless Physical Theater style and its signature immersive, multimedia production design,” reads the website’s description.
In the show’s place, a revival of the 2014 production Beauty and the Beast will now take the stage in March. It’s being choreographed by the other half of Synetic’s husband-and-wife founding duo, Irina Tsikurishvili, and directed by managing director Ben Cunis.
The show will run until April 2 and the theater warns the show is for ages seven years or older.
“This production of Beauty and the Beast contains fantasy violence and may be scary to younger children,” the theater warns. “Parental guidance is advised. Please note that this is not the Disney musical.”
Known for its physical and nearly wordless theater, Synetic Theater first moved to Crystal City from Rosslyn in 2010. It nearly lost its lease at 1800 S. Bell Street in 2018 but building owner JBG Smith backtracked and agreed to let them stay. Like many performing arts venues, Synetic ceased live performances for more than a year during the pandemic.
In October, the theater debuted a “bloody” adaption of Dracula. Directed by Tsikurishvili, it turned out to be the last show he will likely direct for at least a year.
Shirlington-based Signature Theatre has announced a slew of new shows and events as part of a season-long tribute to Stephen Sondheim.
Earlier this week, the well-known local theater on Campbell Avenue released its show schedule for the upcoming season. It will feature a season-long tribute to the American musical icon Stephen Sondheim, who died last November.
The theater has produced 31 Sondheim productions in its history, more than any other theater in North America, per a press release from Signature.
“So Many Possibilities: A Season of Sondheim” will include three all-new productions from Signature of Sondheim classics: “Into the Woods,” “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” and “Pacific Overtures,” a rarely-produced musical due to the need for specific casting and production demands.
The addition of three more shows will bring the total of Sondheim shows performed at Signature to 34, a press release notes.
“As the American theater that has produced and championed more of Sondheim’s work than any other, Signature Theatre is proud to present So Many Possibilities in honor of his memory and in celebration of his unparalleled contribution to the American musical theater canon,” Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner said.
Along with three new fully produced musicals, there will also be a number of other events celebrating the lyricist. That includes book signings, sing-alongs, and a collective effort to sing (or speak) every lyric of every Sondheim song called “Sharing Sondheim.”
Signature Theatre opened in Shirlington nearly three decades ago, converting an old auto garage into a theater. In 2007, the theater moved about a quarter of a mile away into a $16 million space that was built in partnership with the county. Signature won the Regional Theatre Tony Award in 2009.
Signature Theatre’s show and event schedule through July 2023, from the press release, is below.
Embracing Arlington Arts has put forward a business plan for a future “Arlington Performing Arts Center.”
And it is taking great pains to prove it will survive on private financial support, and won’t take county funds or fizzle out like the county-run Artisphere in Rosslyn, which suffered from ineffective marketing and a relative lack of engagement from Arlington residents and artists.
The arts nonprofit proposes a roughly 14,300-square-foot performing arts space, with a black box main stage theater seating up to 150 people. The center would have four rehearsal studios, dressing rooms, a lobby with a box office, a concession stand, storage, offices and an art gallery wall.
“We are very excited to publish this business plan for a new venue in the County,” Embracing Arlington Arts (EAA) President Janet Kopenhaver said in a statement. “We know this is a challenge, but we also recognize that Arlington is a great County that can be made better with the addition of a performing arts/live music venue.”
Now, the organization said it is looking for the right site, and will announce its pick after consulting with the county. If the Arlington Performing Arts Center (APAC) is built as planned, the facility could cost $8 to $10 million to build, costs the nonprofit aims to cover with corporate and individual donations.
“This plan assumes that EAA will raise funds to support the new venue from investors, corporations, the developer, private individuals, foundations and other entities to cover the capital costs of the building,” the organization’s treasurer, Robert Goler, said in a statement. “Furthermore, this plan assumes no management requirement by the County, no County staff expenses, and all operating expenses being paid by the APAC operating entity.”
EAA already has some support from Amazon, which Kopenhaver thanked for “underwriting the consultant’s fees to research and draft this important document.”
“Our work with Embracing Arlington Arts is a part of our broader support of arts-focused nonprofits across the DMV,” Amazon spokeswoman Hayley Richard tells ARLnow, listing nearly a dozen other arts groups it has supported, including Signature Theatre, Arlington Arts Center and Synetic Theater.
According to the business plan, rent from theater companies and others will not fully cover the APAC’s operating expenses, and the arts booster group will have to raise about $25,000 a year to break even.
Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol has expressed excitement for the proposal.
“The opportunities that a professional mid-size venue will offer in Arlington are tremendous: It will bring high-quality arts experiences to residents and give local arts groups access to professional rehearsals and performances in Arlington,” she said in a statement included in the plan. “It’s exciting to see multiple sectors come together to support this vision, particularly in our current moment, where the arts are essential to help our community make meaning of and heal from the pandemic.”
The nonprofit surveyed residents as part of its research. While much of the feedback was positive, some predicted, according to the business plan, the APAC wouldn’t succeed because the Kennedy Center in D.C. is close by and Arlington already has too many venues.
EAA said APAC would host performances by local groups that would not be able to afford or sell out the Kennedy Center. A more modest theater would keep ticket prices down, expanding the scope of who could attend performances.
As for making do with what’s around, EAA says none of the nearly two dozen venues across the county meet the needs of several professional, local theater organizations.
Schools are too small and lack the ambiance guests expect when going to the theater, per the business plan. Meanwhile, existing privately run spaces like Synetic Theater and county-run spaces like Theatre on the Run wouldn’t be able to provide the flexibility EAA is seeking to host live music, readings, plays, receptions, artist exhibitions, camps and improv nights throughout the week.
Meanwhile, an earlier county plan that would have seen a developer build a Metro-accessible black box theater in the Virginia Square area fell through, leaving it up to private organizations like EAA to envision ways to fill the void.
“Our goal is to have a lively and vibrant facility that also serves as a community partner and good neighbor,” Kopenhaver said.
Within the first five minutes of Netflix’s new series Partner Track, Arlington native and Yorktown High School graduate Alexandra Turshen already has her “boss” moment by telling the new paralegal to get his feet off the desk.
“I would be lying if I said that I didn’t always want to play a fierce Manhattan lawyer,” Turshen told ARLnow, laughing. “The role of Rachel is so aligned with who I am. She’s a boss.”
But before 36-year-old Turshen was starring as “Rachel,” the best friend in a romantic comedy about lawyers climbing the ladder, she was a boss in the Yorktown marching band.
“Your girl was playing cymbals with the best of them,” Turshen said. “We were absolutely the coolest kids in town. I can say with absolute certainty that the best time I had in high school was being part of the symphonic band and marching band.”
From slamming cymbals at Yorktown to being a fictional high-powered attorney on a Netflix show, it’s been a bit of a journey for the hometown actor.
Turshen grew up in the Rock Spring neighborhood of North Arlington, within walking distance of Yorktown High.
Performing arts has always been, quite literally, in her blood. Her mom, who still lives in Arlington, was a music teacher for nearly 50 years working mostly in D.C. and Fairfax County. Her dad was an Arlington attorney. The two met doing community theater at the Hexagon, a long-running political satire musical theater in D.C.
“My family has always this real appreciation and foundation in music and performance,” Turshen said.
And Turshen followed in her family’s musical footsteps, playing the string bass in Yorktown’s symphonic band and cymbals in the marching band.
“The whole band would walk uniformly out to the field to the beat of the drums with the cymbals right in front. It was such a great feeling,” she said.
But Turshen dreamed of dancing. So, she joined a program while at YHS where she left school early for lessons at the Washington Ballet Company. She would wear “leotards and tights” under her clothes at school all day and leave right after band class to make her way downtown. While she loved dancing, her body didn’t.
“As it turns out, my body just kinda gave out. I got injured… the tendons and ligaments started tearing in my feet and they just really couldn’t take the 9 to 5 job as a ballerina,” Turshen said.
So, she went to college in Massachusetts and studied international human rights. But she missed performing, so shortly after graduating she moved to New York to become an actor.
It wasn’t easy, though. There were times when she wanted to give up, but early on she got advice that “perseverance, persistence, and patience” is how one makes in the industry.
For Turshen, that’s held true. She has had plenty of roles over the years, but it’s taken time to build her career.
“It’s so heartbreaking. It’s so brutal. You get so close sometimes and then it just doesn’t go your way and then it can really get you down. After five years, after ten years, or 12 years, it wears on you,” she lamented. “You really have to have a strong sense of purpose, and you have to believe in yourself when others don’t. And that takes practice, especially as the years turn into decades.”
Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are similarities between being a judge in a courtroom and an actor on stage.
“It’s all really about trying to understand that all human beings are complex,” Judge William T. Newman, Jr. tells ARLnow. “They are not all good and they are not all bad.”
Newman is a judge, an actor, and one half of a legit Washington power couple. He’s the long-time Chief Judge of Arlington County Circuit Court who’s presided over some of Arlington’s most well-known cases — as well as a veteran stage actor who’s appeared in several local productions over the years. In his dual roles, he’s known for his authoritativeness, clarity, and booming voice.
But this month the multifaceted Newman is doing something he’s never done before: starring in a one-man show.
The judge is portraying the legendary playwright August Wilson in the autobiographical How I Learned What I Learned. Produced by Arlington’s Avant Bard Theatre and staged at Gunston Arts Center, performances will be running through Dec. 19.
“It’s quite a challenge,” Newman says about being the solo performer on stage. “It’s you just there. It’s the raw essence of who you are up there.”
He notes the difficulty in holding the audience’s attention, avoiding becoming one-dimensional, and being able to shift tone on a dime.
“It’s trying to set different levels. Some of it is funny, some of it is sad,” he says. “You have to be ready to do the next thing, which may be totally the opposite.”
How I Learned What I Learned, published shortly before Wilson’s death in 2005, is an autobiographical look into the writer’s life and what it meant to be a Black artist in the 20th century. Wilson wrote the lead role for himself, which provides another unique challenge for Newman.
“August wasn’t an actor. He was a writer. So, in a sense, it’s trying to do this without overdoing it,” he says. “He’s a story teller and I’m trying to tell his story.”
Despite much of the play taking place in the mid-20th century, there’s plenty in the material that remains very relevant today. Citing the Black Lives Matter movement and last year’s protests over the killing of George Floyd, Newman calls Wilson’s work “prophetic” in that it deals with inequality and the country’s inability to cope with its history.
“August was really talking about how we need to come together as a community, as both Black and white,” he says. “To look at each other and not be as wary of each other.”
Newman notes that he completely agrees with Wilson’s assessment that we are “victims of our history.”
This isn’t Newman’s first show with the three-decade-old Avant Bard Theater (it was previously known as the Washington Shakespeare Company). In 2017, he starred as Oedipus in the theater’s production of The Gospel at Colonus.
This is his first time back on stage in about two years, however. Like it is for many local performing arts organizations, this holiday season is a greatly-anticipated return to performing in front of live audiences.
While Newman is very much looking forward to it, he admits he forgot how much it can take out of him both in terms of time, focus, and energy. Acting is about bringing life experiences to a role, he says, which can be exhausting.
For Newman, some of those life experiences come from the courtroom, where he hears cases and listens to people profess their innocence all day long. He says his acting and engaging in the arts brings “a sense of humanity” to his day job.
In Wilson’s writings, there are plenty of “shady” characters, but Newman knows those characters come from real life.
“There’s a human element to everything that they do… It’s part of what goes on in life,” says Newman. “These are real people, who do these real things, and say these real things.”
How I Learned What I Learned runs Thursdays through Sundays, from Dec. 1-19 at Gunston Arts Center, Theatre Two (2700 S. Lang Street). This article was funded by the ARLnow Press Club and first appeared in Saturday’s club newsletter.
As the region creeps back closer to normal, and with the holiday season now upon us, in-person performing arts are making a comeback.
Local theaters are once again welcoming back audiences for an assortment of concerts and productions.
If you’re interested in seeing a show and gaining some cultural enrichment while sitting among fellow humans, below are a few Arlington options to consider over the next few months.
When: November 2 to January 2, 2022
Where: 4200 Campbell Avenue in Shirlington
Safety Precautions: Proof of vaccinations or a negative test are required to attend a live, indoor performance at Signature Theater. Masks are also required at all times.
Details: In-person theater is back at Signature Theater with an all-new production of the iconic musical Rent.
“RENT is a musical about love, loss and community,” wrote director Matthew Gardiner in the press release. “After this past year where we’ve all felt isolated and disconnected, reopening Signature’s doors with this story about beautiful warriors and agents for change who found each other amidst unimaginable loss feels incredibly resonant.”
With a new artistic director at the helm, the Washington Post called Signature Theater’s production of Rent “gloriously harmonious.”
Encore Stage’s Enchanted Bookshop Christmas
When: November 19-21 & December 3-5
Where: Gunston Arts Center, Theater 1 at 2700 S. Lang Street
Safety Precautions: Masks are required for everyone in the audience, including staff and students, except for children under the age of two. Concessions will only be available by pre-order and patrons must eat and drink outdoors.
Details: A sequel (with a holiday spin) to “Enchanted Bookshop,” which was performed at Encore Stage in 2019. Encore did two drive-by productions prior to moving back inside earlier this fall.
It’s four days before Christmas and a very special present has gone missing. Help come-to-life book characters solve the mystery and save the day. Enchanted Bookshop Christmas for all ages that’s 90 minutes including intermission.
When: November 27 to December 26
Where: 1800 S. Bell Street in Crystal City
Safety Precautions: All audience members over the age of 12 are required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test along with an ID. Children under 12 are not required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative. Masks are required at all times and concessions will not be sold during the performance.
Details: This is a modern re-telling of the classic magical tale of “a striking clock, a glass slipper, and a brave young woman who dares to pursue her wildest dreams.”
Synetic Theater kept active throughout the pandemic by streaming performances and doing outdoor theater earlier this fall.
Known for wordless physical theater, this performance is family-friendly as well as appealing to non-English speakers due to the fact that there’s little dialogue.
Avant Bard Theatre’s How I Learned What I Learned
When: December 1 to 19
Where: Gunston Arts Center, Theater 2 at 2700 S. Lang Street
Safety Precautions: Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test are mandatory for entry. Face coverings must be worn at all times while in the building.
Details: This autobiographical one-man show from one of America’s most acclaimed playwrights, August Wilson, stars William Newman, who some might know as the Chief Judge of Arlington’s Circuit Court. This isn’t Newman’s first starring role on the stage, either.
The performance deals with mature themes and is not suitable for all ages.
When: December 2 to December 5
Where: Kenmore Middle School at 200 S. Carlin Springs Road
Safety Precautions: Attendees 12 years old and over are required to show proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test within the past three days. All attendees are required to wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status. Fully vaccinated dancers over the age of 12 will not be wearing masks while performing.
Details: This BalletNova’s first live, in-person performance in nearly two years. This rendition has all-new choreography, sets, and costumes “that are sure to make this year’s production our most magical yet,” artistic director Matthew Powell writes ARLnow.
“There are also a few fun surprises in store, but we can’t give away all of our secrets,” he notes.
Tickets can be purchased at the door or on the website. The production is suitable for all ages.
National Chamber Ensemble’s Holiday Cheer
When: December 18
Where: Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington at 4444 Arlington Blvd
Safety Precautions: All patrons must be fully vaccinated, wear a mask at all times, and capacity will be less than 50% to allow patrons to spread out.
Details: A holiday concert featuring “star soprano” Sharon Christmann joining the ensemble and performing the favorites.
A streaming option will be available for those who don’t feel comfortable attending in person. This performance is family-friendly.
The Arlington Players’ A Midsummer’s Night Dream
When: January 15 to 30, 2022
Where: Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre at 125 S. Old Glebe Road
Safety Precautions: Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID test within the last 72 hours. Audience members must wear masks at all times as required by Arlington County.
Details: For the long-running community theater company, this William Shakespeare comedy is its first show back at Thomas Jefferson Community Theater. This past fall, the Arlington Players had an in-person, outdoor performance at Lubber Run Amphitheater.
A Midnight Summer’s Dream is family-friendly and open to all ages.
Know of any other upcoming performing arts shows in the area worth considering? Let us know in the comments.
(updated at 1:10 p.m.) Gateway Park in Rosslyn will be transformed into a concert venue for three musical performances this month.
Rosslyn LIVE!, a new neighborhood event hosted by the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, will feature Broadway, pop and drag performances. The D.C.-based American Pops Orchestra will play all concerts alongside different featured performers every Thursday night this month outdoors at the 1300 Lee Highway park.
For the first concert, Broadway performers Mary Michael Patterson and Vishal Vaidya will sing show tunes, accompanied by the orchestra. The show will be next Thursday. Tickets are available now online.
The following Thursday, July 22, the orchestra will accompany singers Rayshun LaMarr, Hilary Morrow and Kevin Rose, who will be performing ’90s music. Tickets went on sale yesterday (Tuesday).
The last concert will be a drag performance on Thursday, July 29 with tickets available next Tuesday (July 13). The BID has yet to decide who the featured performers will be for this show.
Gateway Park will open each Thursday for concert-goers at 6:30 p.m. and performances will begin at 8 p.m.
Wine, beer and sangria will be available for purchase at $6 a glass. Kona Ice trucks will also be at the event to pick up frozen treats from, said a spokeswoman for the Rosslyn BID.
General admission standing room tickets cost $5. For $20, concert-goers can purchase a bundle that includes a spot on the lawn and a picnic blanket for two people. $20 can also buy a balcony seat.
A portion of ticket sales will be donated to the high school choir programs at Arlington Public Schools, according to the event page. Some of the proceeds will also go towards improvements at Gateway Park.
Arlington County’s annual tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is moving online this year, forgoing all in-person experiences due to COVID-19.
This 52-year tradition was first organized in 1969, about ten months after King’s assassination, by local community members and county staff.
This year’s edition honoring the civil rights leader life and legacy will be held on Sunday, January 17 at 5 p.m. It will include a collection of online performances, music, spoken word, and dialogue that participants will be able to select from.
The tribute is being produced in partnership with Encore Stage & Studio.
All videos and content will go live at 5 p.m on the event’s website, but will continue to be available on the site into the coming months.
In addition, Volunteer Arlington’s annual MLK Day of Service will also be online this year. On Monday, January 18, starting at 9:30 a.m., residents can participate in 12 different service opportunities, engage in volunteer trainings, or learn more about their community.
There will also be collection sites for the Arlington Food Assistance Center outside of eleven community and fitness centers.
The current schedule of programming for Arlington’s MLK Day tribute is below:
At 5 p.m. on Sun., Jan. 17, visit the MLK Tribute webpage for a dynamic experience that allows the user to select the content they wish to view. The content will remain online for the coming months.
Specific program elements will include content sections with videos from past MLK Tributes and never-before-seen works:
A video compilation highlighting clips of music, dance, spoken word and dialogue from recent MLK Tributes, including:
- Duke Ellington School of the Arts Show Choir’s renditions of The Best Is Yet to Come and Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around
- Original work by spoken word artist Kim B. Miller, Your Calling
- Motherless Child and I’ll Rise Up, performed by the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Dance Ensemble
- Scene from the 51st MLK Tribute, performed by actor Deshawn Harris (as MLK) and Yancy Langston (voice of Benjamin Mays)
- Arlington native Joy Gardner solo rendition of A Change is Gonna Come
- Remarks from Arlington resident Joan Mulholland, activist and educator
- Lift Every Voice and Sing, produced by Balm in Gilead, Inc.
Specific Music Options
- I’ve Been Buked and Scorned, soloist James Gibson
- I Know I’ve Been Changed, soloist Karen D. Archer
- You’re All I Need To Get By, duet with Duke Ellington School of the Arts students Kianna Kelly-Futch and Kyree Allen
- Is My Living in Vain performed by local quartet The Four
- The Wall Between Us, performed by Kimberly D. Gordon and written by Anne Smith
- Arlington native Joy Gardner solo rendition of A Change is Gonna Come
Specific Dance Options
- Chains, performed by Worship Without Words
- Precious Lord Take My Hand and Glory, performed by the Inspire Arts Collective
- If I Could, performed by Kailah Doles
- Motherless Child and I’ll Rise Up, performed by the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Dance Ensemble
Specific Spoken Word Options
- New original work from spoken word artist Kim B. Miller
- Reflections from Encore Stage & Studio students
- Original work by spoken word artist Kim B. Miller, Break the Chains
- Original work, Stand, by Outspoken Poetress Audrey Perkins
Other options include historical footage and a presentation by Samia Byrd, Chief Race and Equity Officer for Arlington County.
About the Program
Arlington’s first tribute to Dr. King was in 1969, the year after his assassination. The goal of this program is to bring people together (virtually or in-person) to support the community’s vision of social justice and community. This year’s program is produced in partnership with Encore Stage & Studio.
Virtual Day of Service
Volunteer Arlington’s annual MLK Day of Service program has also pivoted to be online. On Mon., Jan. 18, from 9:30 a.m.-noon. Online volunteer opportunities include service projects, advocacy panels and volunteer trainings. Learn more and register by Thurs., Jan. 14. by visiting https://volunteer.leadercenter.org/mlk-day-service.
Food Donation Collection
Food donations to benefit Arlington Food Assistance Center clients will be collected outside at the centers below from Jan. 15-18.
- Arlington Mill
- Aurora Hills
- Barcroft Sports & Fitness Center
- Lubber Run
- Thomas Jefferson
- Walter Reed
Learn more about the 2021 MLK Tribute event at https://parks.arlingtonva.us/mlk-tribute/
Photo via Adam Fagen/Flickr
(Updated at 4:55 p.m.) In addition to elementary students, more middle- and high-school students in Arlington Public Schools are struggling to make passing grades this year, according to a new APS report.
Black and Hispanic students, English-language learning students, and students with disabilities are experiencing the deepest drops.
“We knew that we might see some degradation in scores, and this is helpful to understand exactly where we are seeing some deep drops,” School Board Chair Monique O’Grady said during the School Board meeting on Thursday night.
The new report builds on data released earlier this month, and follows on requests from School Board members for more precise data the impact distance learning is having on different groups of students. Fairfax County Public Schools released a similar report last month.
Overall, Es — failing grades — account for 2.1% of all middle school grades this year, up from 0.7% last year. This year, 5.4% of high school grades are Es, up from 4.3% last year.
The full report separates data for middle and high school, but during the meeting, Superintendent Francisco Durán presented overall trends for specific student groups.
This year, the percentage of English-language learners and students with disabilities earning Es increased by 11 and 6.2 percentage points, respectively, he said.
Among racial and ethnic groups, the percentage of Hispanic and Black English-language learners in secondary grades earning Es increased by 15 and 7 percentage points, respectively, he said.
Economically-disadvantaged students were also hard-hit, according to the report. Last year, 10.3% of economically disadvantaged high schoolers received Es, compared with 17.5% this year. In middle school, the percentage grew from 4% last year to 11% this year.
Meanwhile, white children registered smaller increases in failing grades: 1.4% of middle-schoolers earned Es this year, compared to 0.6% last year, while 3% of high-schoolers earned Es this year, compared to 1.6% last year, according to the report.
In-person learning supports — such as “work space” programs, where kids can get out of the house and study quietly at school — are being rolled out at the Arlington Career Center, H-B Woodlawn, and at Wakefield, Washington-Liberty, Yorktown high schools. Other programs are scheduled to begin at middle schools after the winter break.
Outgoing School Board member Tannia Talento said more needs to be done to support students, even if larger groups of students start returning to classrooms early next year.
“I just want to remind the community that this isn’t just about reopening schools to support these needs and growing gaps,” she said during the meeting. “We are going to have to do this for groups who choose to stay home.”
Talento asked the school system to dig deeper and find out why grades are dropping — for instance, if students are generally dropping one letter grade due to instructional quality, or if generally good students are dropping dramatically in response to factors like a mental health crisis, or a death or job loss in the family.
In addition to disparities in letter grades, Black and Hispanic students are reading at lower proficiency levels, literacy test results show — an issue existed before distance learning. APS has started working on ways to address, through instruction and extra supports, the persistent literacy problems in the system, Durán said.
Images via Arlington Public Schools
Arlington Public Schools is preparing data that will compare students’ grades this fall, during distance learning, with pre-pandemic grades in the fall of 2019.
Superintendent Francisco Durán will present the highlights of this report at the Dec. 17 School Board meeting, APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said.
“We are in the process of producing a report showing a comparison of current first quarter grades for secondary students to previous years,” Bellavia said in an email. “The analysis will include a breakdown of student grades by sub-groups, such as English Learners, Students with Disabilities and economically disadvantaged students.”
Last week, Fairfax County Public Schools published data showing the number of middle school and high school students earning failing grades in at least two classes jumped from 6% to 11%. Those who are struggling the most are English-language learners, 35% of whom have at least two Fs, and students with disabilities, 19% of whom have at least two Fs.
In response to the numbers, FCPS school board members discussed extending the school year.
There is similar interest in a report for Arlington. After Durán presented some preliminary data on grades in November, school board member Nancy Van Doren indicated she wanted to see a comparison of 2019 and 2020 first quarter grades. Meanwhile, member Tannia Talento said she would like kids to have extended school year options to make up failing grades.
“Do we have a plan in place? Can we make a summer school plan to be proactive versus reactive?” Talento asked.
The early data only looks at grades from the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year. During his presentation, Durán said elementary students are more consistently meeting expectations in math, while there is a wider variety of results for reading.
In the early grades, especially first- and second-grader, “students are not making expected progress and need supports now and in the long term,” Durán told the School Board, about reading-related achievement.
At the high school level, freshmen had the highest share of failing grades, 10.1%, in the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year, according to APS data. Following behind them were sophomores and juniors, where failing grades — Es, on the APS grading scale — make up 8.4% of grades; for seniors, that number is 6.8%.
The percentage of Es among middle schoolers is much lower, hovering between 4 and 5%, APS data shows.
It was not immediately clear how this year’s rates of failing grades compared to the previous year, during standard in-person learning.
Durán told the School Board that APS formed focus groups to examine student progress. The system will be looking at grades, social-emotional learning and the impact of interventions on achievement.
“We’ve heard from many students and families that they are making profess that they are successful and we received many emails that they are not,” Durán said. “We need to understand that this is not a one-size fits all.”
This column is written and sponsored by Arlington Arts/Arlington Cultural Affairs, a division of Arlington Economic Development.
The COVID-19 pandemic has all of us adapting to new ways of spending our free time. Arlington’s artistic community has stepped up to the plate to offer a broad range of activities to help you manage the stresses of social distancing.
Arlington Arts has showcased many of these on our ARLINGTON ARTS AT HOME webpage. Some are free, others offer you a way to support a local small-business while engaging in healthy and positive activities at-home! Here’s a small sampling:
Bowen McCauley Dance
Arlington dancer Lucy Bowen-McCauley developed a unique stretching technique that was officially adopted by U.S. Olympians such as Dominique Dawes. You can avail yourself of her expertise in virtual stretch classes on Mondays and Saturdays. The Company also is offering a range of movement classes for those with Parkinson’s Disease on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. For details, email: [email protected] or visit www.bmdc.org
Encore Stage & Studio
From stretching and storytelling, to structured classes in theater and dance, Encore has a wide range of Zoom-based offerings for everyone from toddlers to teens. (Some Free. Some Fees Apply). More Info.
Jane Franklin Dance
Keep it moving with free online dance classes occurring daily. Learn different approaches to movement from different instructors each day in genres ranging from ballet and jazz, to clogging and improv. Classes are live-streamed and are not recorded. More Info.
Stay connected to your favorite Signature performers every week with Signature Strong — Live! Join the weekly Facebook Live conversation with Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer and celebrated guests as they chat about musicals, sing a few songs, answer your questions and more. Tuesdays at 8 p.m. More Info.
From fitness classes by their award-winning movement-based performers, to storytelling for children, the award-winning Synetic Theater has much to offer that you can now enjoy right at home. This includes live-streaming of past shows, such as Sleeping Beauty (thru May 25) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (extended thru May 10). More Info.
In addition to programs by the above organizations, Arlington Arts also has assembled a range of art activities you can partake of drawing upon past programs.
Everything from art-making projects to self-guided tours of our internationally acclaimed Public Art Collection. For more info, visit the Arlington Arts at Home webpage.