By Carmen Romero
As a 20+ year resident of Arlington and an affordable housing developer, I am often asked by neighbors, “What does affordable housing mean?” often followed by, “How can we help?”
In stark terms, here’s an example of the “affordable”* housing situation. The average apartment rent in Arlington in 2018 was $1,918 per month.* Yet a minimum-wage working family would need to work 154 hours a week to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Arlington.
Many people in the private and public sectors are putting in the hard work to combat this situation. Unfortunately, we are falling short on own stated community goals of seeing 17% of our housing stock be affordable* by 2040. As of Fiscal Year 2018, we were closer to only 8.8% (or 10,200 units) of our 115,400 housing units being affordable.
So, to the question: how can “we” help? Arlington has the benefit of excellent planning, transportation, a supportive community, and economic prosperity that comes with being one of the nation’s top technology economies. If we harness innovation and hold ourselves accountable, we can pull the pieces together to make it happen.
What do bold steps and innovation look like?
- Approving a one-time bond issue. Bold financial commitments from the local and state level could help capitalize new solutions. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity with the Amazon HQ2 economic engine to create new tools to promote large-scale preservation and new construction. Arlington could choose to fully capitalize our affordable housing plan through a one-time bond issuance supported by some of the economic growth anticipated from the arrival of HQ2. Local government could also reduce the development and operating costs for building affordable homes, including expediting zoning and permitting approvals, reducing real estate property taxes, and streamlining of site plan conditions.
- Rethinking Arlington’s zoning and land use rules. This could help ensure we have the flexibility to create more housing at all levels, but especially for those for whom the rent burden is most acute. Because Arlington is land-scarce, this has often meant more density and height, especially near transit. Given our land scarcity, it is critical to promote non-profit partnerships, such as the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing’s (APAH) partnership with the American Legion Post 139 in Virginia Square to develop affordable housing with a preference for veterans.
- Connecting more low-income and diverse people to our region’s technology and entrepreneurship economy pipeline. This summer, APAH began brainstorming with several local universities and a large technology partner around a vision to create a “resident impact incubator” with onsite technology classes and instructors/mentorships for young children through senior learners. This envisioned the use of technology as a bridge for low-income residents, instead of a divide. APAH recently opened Gilliam Place, an affordable housing development with 173 homes collocated with a ground-floor home for Arlington Presbyterian Church and a café and business incubator with La Cocina, the Zero-Barriers training and entrepreneurship center.
By Karen Darner
Leadership in public service makes a difference. I want to share a true story of the School Board appointments made by the Arlington County Board in 1976. (This was before we returned, in 1994, to electing School Board members.) And then I want to reflect on some challenges facing our leaders today.
In 1976, there were two School Board vacancies to be filled. I was the new president of the educators in the Arlington Education Association, and sent each candidate a questionnaire so a candidate endorsement might be possible.
There were many candidates in this race. I had heard many good things about one candidate, Mary Margaret Whipple. Another candidate was Tom DeScisciolo, father of a Washington-Lee senior. Mr. DeScisciolo worked for the National Labor Relations Board in DC. As Mr. DeScisciolo and I talked one day, I was impressed by his interest in many questions and how we, as educators, developed our own positions on issues. I was a novice on the workings of our collective bargaining agreement with the School Board, but knew it was the cornerstone to discussion and compromise among our members, and eventually with the School Board for our contract.
AEA’s political arm reviewed all candidates’ answers and reached an endorsement decision for the County Board to appoint Mrs. Whipple and Mr. DeScisciolo. When I arrived at the County Board meeting for the decision, I slipped into a seat next to Mr. DeScisciolo and his daughter. He then explained to me how he came to apply to become a School Board member.
Earlier, he had been helping his daughter research the process for becoming a School Board member for a report of one of her classes. He himself became interested in serving, and felt he had the motivation to become a valued member. And now it came to be: The County Board appointed him and Mrs. Whipple to the Arlington School Board.
I am aware of the extraordinary value of Mary Margaret Whipple’s tenure on the School Board, County Board, and eventually the Virginia State Senate on behalf of Arlington and Virginia residents. Her knowledge and integrity are incomparable, and we are very fortunate.
Tom DeScisciolo’s leadership is less well known, but he stood up for what was right. In January 1977, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the collective bargaining process practiced in Arlington by the County Board and by the School Board was unconstitutional, and was to end. Arlington’s superintendent at the time saw this as an opportunity to break the contract with the educators, and said so publicly.
This is where Tom DeScisciolo’s presence became most valuable. He reminded the Board and Superintendent about collective bargaining, and that all parties had negotiated our contract “in good faith.” I will never forget his passionate message–“‘good faith’ means it is your word.” The School Board voted to reaffirm its contract with its employees.
Sometime afterward, Tom DeScisiolo was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He had completed about 18 months of a 4-year term, yet his Board presence was a gift of “the right person at the right time.”
Today we still need leaders who can make wise decisions–benefitting the whole county–while negotiating the thicket of competing demands. (As a former state legislator, believe me I do understand how hard this is.) We need leaders who can look long-term and not get stuck on what works for just today, or on who yells or lobbies the loudest. I say all this not as a reflection on any particular elected official, but more to guide us all going forward. Leadership in public service makes a difference. And the right kind of leaders especially matters.
Karen Darner served her community as a speech therapist in the Arlington Public Schools for over 35 years and represented part of Arlington in the Virginia General Assembly for 14 years. She loves it here.
Editor’s note: A few Progressive Voice columns will be publishing outside of the new biweekly schedule, following our column changes earlier this fall.
Progressive Voice is a biweekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By Katie Cristol
You don’t have to be a parent of young children to appreciate the value of accessible, affordable and quality childcare.
A healthy childcare market supports families and also supports economic development — for large employers and for the small entrepreneurs behind childcare businesses — and can improve outcomes for young learners. Unfortunately, as community leader Anne O’Brien effectively described in ARLnow a year and a half ago, Arlington County’s supply of childcare, while high-quality, has been scarce and too often inaccessible.
Over the past two years, a coalition of providers, nonprofits, County staff and parents have spent hundreds of hours on the priorities in our Child Care Initiative Action Plan. Our theory is that these steps, such as eliminating zoning ordinance and regulatory barriers to opening and expanding childcare, as well as supporting providers in improving their staffing and training, can increase the supply of quality, affordable and accessible childcare in Arlington.
Making systemic changes to help all people succeed is a core progressive value. Just as important is taking a hard-nosed look at whether those changes are having the desired effect. So how are we doing?
The Childcare Initiative has been anchored in data. We began with a Demographic Risk and Reach study, which found that affordability is a huge concern for middle-class as well as low income families in Arlington. For two children in center-based care, child care expenses are 38% of our median income for a family of four — more than seven times the threshold that the federal government describes as “affordable.”
Supply shortages were worse than we thought: Known capacity is sufficient to serve only 54% of Arlington’s children under five, despite data indicating that most Arlington children live in families where all parents work. These gaps between supply and need were greatest in the 22204 zip code. This is particularly concerning, given that neighborhoods in 22204 are home to Arlington’s most vulnerable children and families.
These data — paired with extensive qualitative data from providers and parents about their greatest needs — were the basis for the policy changes that my County Board colleagues and I adopted this spring and summer.
We have some early indicators that our efforts are starting to work. Arlington saw a net increase of 247 spots in the initial year of the Childcare Initiative, most in South Arlington where they are most needed. Now with the code changes having taken effect July 1, we expect those numbers will increase significantly. Within just a couple of months of the changes, 30 family day care homes had submitted requests to expand. In support of our quality goals, 327 Arlington childcare spots were newly quality- rated in 2018, a 33% increase over the prior year.
As the Childcare Initiative “grows up,” the real measure will be if there are more high-quality spots available to families all over the County.
So, we’re debuting a dashboard to monitor what counts. That includes big-picture measures of availability (total capacity, capacity by ZIP code, and the percent of children in the County that can be served). It also includes progress on accessibility: How many students with special needs are being served? How many low-income families with subsidies are accessing quality care? Is back-up childcare, or childcare during nontraditional hours, increasing?
We won’t transform our childcare landscape overnight. But our childcare reforms are grounded in data, and it is data that will let us know whether these reforms are making a difference that counts.
A final note, since the policy is personal for Arlington families: If you’re looking for childcare in Arlington, you should know that we also re-launched our online directory, allowing filtering by languages spoken, type of care and subsidy acceptance.
Katie Cristol is a member of the Arlington County Board.
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By Del. Rip Sullivan
If you were to stop the first 100 people you encountered at any Metro station in Arlington and ask their thoughts on the next election, many of them would give a response related to Donald Trump or the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. When our news is saturated with national issues and political rancor, crucial state and local elections can get lost in the mix, even in politically engaged Arlington. But Arlingtonians have two urgent reasons to care about the actual next election — November 5, 2019 — before turning their focus to November 2020.
First, there are contested races in Arlington this year. Democratic voters cannot assume that their preferred state and local candidates will win office even if they voted for the same candidate in a primary or caucus earlier this year. A School Board race came down to just a handful of votes in a general election in Arlington County as recently as 2012. Complacency is not an option in “off off” year elections like 2019.
A progressive voter in Ashlawn precinct, for example, will still need to cast votes for two contested County Board positions and a State Senate seat, or risk losing those critical spots to independent or Republican candidates on the ballot.
The GOP has struggled in recent years to recruit candidates in Arlington, and I sometimes wonder whether, this cycle, the Republicans had hoped to lull Arlington Democrats to sleep by fielding so few candidates. No such luck. When Democratic candidates are on the ballot — with or without opponents — our ability to translate our closely held values into tangible solutions for Arlington County is on the ballot too.
Arlington Democrats are energized, and we simply must finish this year’s races strong and send a clear signal about our priorities before we turn to next year’s challenges and opportunities.
Second, Arlington is dramatically and negatively affected by the GOP’s narrow majority in both chambers of the General Assembly. On November 5, voters across Virginia will determine who controls the House of Delegates for the next two years, and the Senate for the next four. Democrats must win majorities in both (51 seats in the House, 21 in the Senate) if progressive Arlingtonians want to protect and advance their short- and long-term values.
I am glad to report that Democrats have a historic 92 candidates running for the House this year, and the potential to take the majority is tantalizing. Unfortunately, we have no statewide or national election on the ballot that would lead to boosts in turnout. If, for example, the Democratic voters of Stafford and Prince William Counties stay home, Republican candidates who want — on the record — to repeal Medicaid expansion, ban abortion, make it harder to vote, and continue to block the ERA will win and remain in the majority. If swing voters sit this November out, Arlington will continue to be a step behind where we could be if the General Assembly were controlled by Democrats.
No, there has been no lulling Arlington Democrats to sleep this year. Arlingtonians have been exporting themselves–their time, their money — to other parts of the Commonwealth to ensure our impending victory. I urge you to join me in this crucial battle for Virginia.
Vote on November 5 — or before that if you meet the criteria required to vote early–and volunteer if you can. Contact friends and family across the Commonwealth and let them know how high the stakes are. We must do all we can to ensure a strong turnout and send a strong message in every corner of the Commonwealth–for all of us.
Richard C. “Rip” Sullivan, Jr. is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Virginia’s 48th District, which encompasses parts of Arlington and McLean. He practices law in Arlington with Bean Kinney & Korman, P.C.
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By Matt de Ferranti
Last year, Arlington voters gave me the opportunity to serve. I am deeply grateful and am working my heart out. Here’s how:
On January 2, I laid out two issues for my first six months: Amazon and the FY 2020 Budget. I also spoke about my five priorities: growing our economy to benefit all of us, building the schools we need, housing affordability, 100% renewable electricity by 2035, and ending child hunger here by 2022.
I voted for the targeted, performance-based incentive agreement for Amazon. I believed then and now that it will help grow our economy, bring down our office vacancy rate, and help us afford the investments we need. I admit, however, that the housing affordability issues that impact our community will require more commitment and creativity. My thoughts on Amazon: HQ2.
The FY 2020 Budget
I am also proud, on balance, to have voted for the FY 2020 budget. Helping Arlington Public Schools open five new schools this year and investing in the services our community needs via a 2-cent increase in tax rates was the right balance, all priorities and constraints considered.
My Five Priorities from Last Year
I believe we are moving in the right direction on the priorities I promised to work on. The office vacancy rate is down to 16.6% from over 18% last year and, though there are costs, the net additional revenue due to economic growth will make our budgets steadily easier, though by no means a cakewalk.
On 100% renewable electricity by 2035, we voted on September 21, 2019, to put this goal into policy in the Community Energy Plan. I am very proud to have pushed for the strongest plan possible.
On housing affordability, the Housing Grant and Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) investments this past year were a start, but I am eager to follow up and follow through in a thoughtful, equitable way on the ideas that Housing Arlington has and will bring forward. That means finding additional funding to help the 9,000 households in Arlington who live on less than $36,000 a year and addressing missing middle housing types to provide more options for middle-income households.
On building the schools we need to educate every child well, the annual budget plays a role, but next year’s Capital Improvement Budget (CIP) will be critical. I am working on this through the Joint Facilities Advisory Council.
On ending child hunger in Arlington by 2022, I have made the least progress on this important goal. I am hopeful that the Equity Resolution that the Board passed on September 21, 2019, will serve as a catalyst for the work I and we must do to help the more than 4,000 children who face food insecurity.
What’s Next? Stormwater and Housing Affordability
The July 8, 2019 flood brought to light stormwater issues that we must address. Walking through the homes damaged by the worst flood we have seen since 2007 brought tears to my eyes. The flooding was caused by many contributing factors, including the most rainfall ever recorded in Arlington in an hour period; policies from the 1930s through ’80s that undergrounded streams; and, to a lesser extent, recent growth, among other reasons. Two truths drive my thinking: we cannot and will not fix this overnight, and we must work diligently and with urgency to build a better stormwater system.
On housing affordability, we had big challenges before I took office, but the changes to the housing market that Amazon has accentuated cannot be ignored. We must bring forward new, Arlington-specific solutions to help make homeownership affordable and better serve renters in need. Those solutions will require that we evolve and apply our values to this new challenge. But, to be clear, we must and will invest in housing affordability in a smart, fiscally sound way.
As a whole, I am proud of and love the work we are doing together.
Matt de Ferranti was elected to the Arlington County Board in November 2018. He currently works as Senior Legislative Counsel for the National Indian Education Association. Before de Ferranti joined the Board, he served on Arlington’s Housing Commission, as Chair of the APS Budget Advisory Council, and on the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC).
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By Cheryl Moore
After the elections in November 2018, my friend Judy asked me if Virginia employers are required to give their employees time off to vote. A friend of hers had been dismayed that her employer wouldn’t let her leave early so she could get to the polls. An hourly wage earner, she had tried to vote when the polls first opened, but the long lines would have made her late for work.
Arlington has an enviable voter turnout record–82% in the 2016 presidential election and 71% in 2018–but that conversation made me wonder if our elected officials and governments could be doing more to ensure that every eligible voter can exercise her Constitutional right to vote.
Mandate paid time off to vote?Although some states require that employees receive time off to vote, Virginia is not one of them. This puts some potential voters–often hourly workers who do not have much control over their schedule–at a disadvantage.
During Virginia’s 2019 legislative session, Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D-Dale City) introduced HB 2130, to require that employers give their employees two hours of paid time off to vote. Unfortunately, the bill died in the House Commerce & Labor Sub-Committee with a vote along party lines.
Of course, voters may vote absentee by mail if one of several reasons apply, and in Arlington, in-person absentee voting is available before elections. But this doesn’t help someone like Judy’s friend who had fully intended to vote on Election Day and had her plans stymied.
Simplify absentee rules and add voting sites?
The number of Arlingtonians voting absentee in recent elections has risen dramatically. In the November 2018 elections, absentee turnout was the highest ever for a non-presidential election with 20,753 ballots cast (8,198 by mail and 12,555 in-person). With legislation passed in 2019 by the General Assembly, Virginians in 2020 will be able for the first time to vote early–from October 24 through October 31–without needing to provide a reason.
Early and by-mail absentee voting will help reduce lines and crowded parking, which sometimes discourage people from voting on Election Day. Gretchen Reinemeyer, Arlington’s new registrar, told me that her office is already working to improve the absentee in-person voting experience in 2020 by moving the voting machines into a bigger space in the County Government building and adding two additional early-voting sites elsewhere.
Tailor outreach to a changing Arlington population?
The population of potential voters in neighborhoods like Crystal City and Pentagon City is booming, with more high-rise apartments coming on the market and Amazon arriving. Reinemeyer pointed out that many young professionals moving into Arlington are harder to reach via traditional communication methods. “We need to change our messaging to younger voters and make sure they know the options in simple language–in-person, by mail or online–choose your own adventure!” she said.
Make it easier to register and vote?
Los Angeles is making dramatic changes that will take effect in March 2020. Los Angeles County is transitioning from polling places to vote centers, which will allow voters to cast a ballot at any vote center in the county over an 11-day period. Same-day registration will be available.
Allowing same-day registration or shifting from precincts to vote centers would require legislation from the Virginia General Assembly. The same is true for “automatic” registration done when citizens get a driver’s license, so that they must opt out if they do not wish to register. Automatic registration leads to cleaner voter registration rolls because it updates existing registrations with current addresses.
The optionof signing up through DMV is available now in Virginia, but it has been a paper-heavy process that has left room for errors.
Virginia did make some changes in years past, including online registration, with a DMV-issued ID, and pre-registration, which allows individuals younger than 18 to register so they are eligible to vote when they turn 18.
Despite what states and localities can change to improve ease of registration and voting, some people still shrug and say their vote doesn’t make a difference, especially in non-presidential elections. But democracy depends on the willingness of every citizen to express an opinion by voting. If you care about climate change or gun control, local development decisions or school achievement gaps, the time to make voting a habit is now. Let’s keep working to make every step of the process even better.
Cheryl Moore, a Westover resident, has been a faithful voter since she turned 18. She has lived in Arlington for 35 years.
By Anne Vor der Bruegge
Given Arlington’s top national rankings in housing market competitiveness and child care costs, some say our region is destined to become another San Francisco, where affordability challenges have forced lower income people out and led to 2-hour commutes. Yet, we will always need child care workers, office cleaners and other workers whose role you may not have thought about. Virginia Hospital Center, for instance, needs personnel 24/7 to sterilize, process and distribute surgical equipment. But turnover costs are high if those employees are commuting from far suburbs and being tempted to take a position in other hospitals they pass on the way to Arlington.
No one wins if such workers have to commute long hours because living in or near Arlington is unaffordable. Ensuring that people of all economic backgrounds can thrive here is part of assuring Arlington’s vitality. Arlington is at a critical–some would say even risky–juncture as it tries to balance inclusivity with economic growth.
Could you live in Arlington with a family of four if you made less than $35,000 per year? About 9,000 households do, and they are facing increasing challenges to stay here. It will take both the government and private sector to make structural course-corrections to ensure residents of lesser means can continue to contribute to and share in our community’s prosperity.
Increasingly, businesses acknowledge the importance of local economic inclusivity. This means going beyond traditional corporate giving and volunteerism to make systemic community-level changes. Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., points out that Business Roundtable members recognize the priority of “investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term.”
Last spring, the Shared Prosperity Partnership–the Urban Institute, Kresge Foundation, Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, and Living Cities–selected the Arlington Community Foundation (ACF) to convene local large businesses, along with our government and nonprofit partners, to address the displacement of Arlington’s low-income residents. We are examining new practices for workforce development and housing affordability and seeking innovative private investments to help households making under $35,000 stay in Arlington.
What specifically can businesses do to make structural impact? Here are a few examples.
1. Voluntarily offer a living wage. The MIT living wage calculator for Arlington indicates that an individual needs to make $17.44 per hour to cover the most basic expenses, yet the Virginia minimum wage remains $7.25. Companies can voluntarily set living wages for their employees, cleaning contractors and other vendors. For example, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Reagan National and Dulles airports, set annually adjusted wages of nearly $15 per hour for airport vendors and just over $12 per hour for 4,500 support services employees such as baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants. This improves retention in jobs that keep our airports secure and fully functioning.
By Jay Fisette
Seriously? “Clean” Natural Gas? Natural gas is a fossil fuel. This is false advertising and it undermines the message and goals of our Community Energy Plan (“Energy Plan”).
Arlington’s local ART bus system is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Kudos that the ART buses have never been dirty diesel. Arlington’s transportation system overall is outstanding. We set a high bar on reducing vehicle miles traveled and providing a robust array of transportation options. Continuing these efforts is essential…yet insufficient because today 36% of Arlington’s overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions still come from transportation.
We must better integrate and embrace energy and climate goals into transportation planning and investments.
Later this month, the County Board will act to update the 2013 Energy Plan. They have already made some important improvements to the staff draft–such as setting a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. What remains weak are the transportation goals.
The County Board needs to direct county staff to develop a plan, by 2021, for the ultimate transition of our county fleet to zero emissions. The ART buses need to move beyond natural gas and transition to electric vehicles (EVs).
Alexandria’s Environmental Action Plan calls for replacing 25% of their municipal fleet with electric vehicles by 2027, and 100% by 2040–with a plan due by 2021. By 2020, they will develop a strategy for a community electric vehicle-charging infrastructure.
Montgomery County has a goal of zero emissions from transportation by 2035. King County/Seattle has a goal of electrifying its entire 1,400-bus fleet by 2040.
At my training with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, I learned the two fundamental changes needed to meet the imperative of climate change are: (1) replacing fossil fuels with renewables, and (2) electrifying transportation.
Arlington’s sustainability story is a source of pride for me and for our community. We pioneered smart growth, and we integrated that land use with a robust transportation system. Now we must fully integrate climate and energy goals into all we do.
Even in Virginia where local government authority is often limited by the state, Arlington has complete authority to electrify public transportation and create a public charging infrastructure for private vehicles.
Our County and Arlington Public Schools (APS) fleet includes sedans (why not start purchasing all electric sedans now?), municipal buses and school buses.
Dominion Energy just launched an ambitious school bus initiative. They will pay the difference between an electric and diesel bus as well as the charging infrastructure for thousands of buses over the next decade. Their goal: all school bus purchases will be electric by 2030. Arlington should sign up early! I hope Dominion will do the same with municipal bus fleets.
Arlington can lead by example to encourage residents, businesses and other localities to buy electric vehicles. We should aggressively engage the region in negotiating with the utilities, explore joint procurement savings, and advocate for needed state policy changes.
The wave has already begun. 17% of the world’s buses are already electric. Many major cities have committed to buy only zero emission buses by 2025 (Aukland, Seattle, Vancouver, Los Angeles, etc.). Shanghai and Shenzhen are already 100% electric.
And all major car manufacturers are designing electric vehicles. In 2018, Volkswagen, GM, BMW, Ford, Fiat, and Volvo all announced $100 billion investments in new electric vehicles. In 2017, Mark Reuss, GM’s EVP for Global Product Development, stated, “GM believes the future is all electric.”
Electric vehicles cost more to buy today, though battery and bus costs are coming down. However, when life cycle costs are considered, the savings on the operation and maintenance of electric vehicles, along with options to lease the battery, are closing the cost differential.
The County needs a long-term transportation plan to create a zero emissions fleet that includes electric vehicles…and should remove the misleading language from our 81 ART buses today.
Jay Fisette served on the County Board from 1998 – 2017 and led the development and adoption of the initial Community Energy Plan.
By Paula Lazor
Ever since middle school, Chloe Pilkerton wanted to become a veterinarian. Thanks to the animal science program at the Arlington Career Center, she was able to get a head start on her dream. In addition to her textbook studies about the anatomy and physiology of animals, she and her classmates had the unique experience of handling, feeding, and observing the behavior of up to 200 species all under one roof.
“Hands-on learning can’t be learned in a textbook,” Pilkerton noted. Nor was it limited to inside the animal science lab. Arlington students have participated in internships at local animal hospitals, nature centers, and the bird house at the National Zoo.
Arlington Public Schools (APS) has laid a firm foundation in career and technical education (CTE), offering more than 20 high school CTE programs at the Career Center. The question is what must APS do now to ensure even more students are well-prepared for post-secondary education or to enter the workforce directly from high school — with the right skills that are useful immediately in the jobs of tomorrow?
There is a huge skills gap in the United States. A recent report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce and JPMorgan Chase found an estimated 30 million jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree. This supports the need for more workforce training in high school. These jobs are available in skilled services industries such as health care, education, finance, leisure and hospitality.
To further students’ skills for tomorrow’s jobs, Arlington could focus on three areas:
First, we could boost our valuable work-based learning (WBL) internships, which are performed in partnership with local businesses and organizations. The Career Center’s auto technology program, for example, long ago established successful partnerships with local dealerships. Several auto tech and collision repair students participate in paid internships with dealers every summer.
Through Career Center partnerships with local hospitals, emergency medical technician students participate in clinical rotations visiting patients, ambulance ride-alongs, and emergency room visits. And the early childhood education program partners with the Career Center’s infant care center and preschool program and will provide field experience for students at the new Montessori Public School of Arlington. APS has made good headway in WBL internships and can do more.
Second, make CTE courses accessible to more high school students. Some students cannot take CTE courses at the Career Center because they conflict with the class schedule at their home school. To remove this obstacle, APS could better publicize a school policy provision that permits students to earn high school and college credits simultaneously at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). In some instances, taking dual enrollment courses on the NOVA campus could free up a student’s schedule to take the desired CTE course at the Career Center.
APS should also ensure CTE class availability so that every student who wants to enroll can do so, despite challenges posed by school construction projects affecting capacity at the Career Center, a situation that arose earlier this year.
Third, NOVA and Amazon Web Services recently partnered to establish an apprenticeship program to train military veterans to be Associate Cloud Consultants. It would be a wise move for APS to explore opening the Amazon-NOVA apprenticeship program to high school students who want to pursue advanced training in cloud support.
Having real-world, work-based experiences gives students a chance to test-drive a potential career and, in the process, determine what might or might not be the right fit. Too often, the CTE path is viewed as an either-or choice when, in fact, career and technical education prepares students to be ready for both, and to be ready to ensure their financial footing as young adults.
Paula Lazor is the author of Beyond the Box: How Hands-on Learning Can Transform a Child and Reform Our Schools. She is the host and producer of “Education Innovations” on WERA 96.7 FM and has been a parent advocate for nearly 20 years. Paula and her husband have been Arlington residents since 1981 and love walking and biking along the W&OD Trail. They have two adult children who have benefited from an APS education.
By Claire Noakes
Vacationing families expect a line at the funnel cake stand on the boardwalk, but they shouldn’t be surprised if there’s also a line at the monkey bars back at the schoolyard for the foreseeable future.
The latest Arlington Public School (APS) projected enrollment figures anticipate that a decade from now demand for elementary school seats will outstrip the planned supply by 2,472 seats — roughly 19% of the current amount. Meanwhile, development has reduced the availability of acreage for new school construction, especially along Columbia Pike and near Metro stations, where the housing pipeline growth is most concentrated. And parents continue to clamor for walkable neighborhood elementary schools. How will we resolve these competing pressures?
APS commits resources to keep elementary class size hovering around 21 kids, but classroom size doesn’t tell the whole story. The average number of kids attending an Arlington elementary school last year was 619, and planning efforts assume that future elementary schools will consist of 725 seats each, resulting in nearly three dozen classes at one location.
Yet much of the elementary school day occurs outside of the classroom — on bus rides, in the cafeteria, and at recess. Three dozen classes have to cycle through lunchtime — packed into a chaotic cafeteria, with shortened lunch periods that start at 10:45 a.m. Three dozen classes have to share recess space, and crowd control measures like banning games of tag are implemented. Class size can be exemplary, yet students may be miserable — one child at my son’s school would become tearful whenever the cafeteria noise level became too loud.
An elementary school is expected to house six grades (plus pre-school in some cases), but why are we packing these grades into one building, other than tradition? The youngest grades need close chaperoning during the school day, but don’t need the dedicated space for band or theater. Older grades access many resources electronically and need teachers to prepare them for standardized tests. We shouldn’t automatically conflate the different needs of these grades and then replicate the current model to address the upcoming 2,742-seat deficit.
Imagine instead if elementary school was sub-divided, with K-2 incubated at new, smaller scale schools, embedded in residential neighborhoods. Bus traffic might be minimal if the entire boundary had a walkable radius. Physical space could focus on social development and emotional wellness. APS might have better luck with acquiring contiguous residential parcels, rather than competing to find 6-acre lots or upgrading commercial space. Meanwhile, existing elementary schools could be repurposed to hold grades 3-5, or add grade 6, or converted to a middle school as needs dictate.
Of course, building smaller K-2 schools would require a re-think of assumptions for meal preparation, libraries, administrative staffing costs, and after-school activities. Given the shortage of land for building new elementary schools, however, planners should put all options on the table for consideration.
And Arlington wouldn’t be a trailblazer if we subdivided our elementary schools. Five years ago, Fairfax split Bailey’s Elementary School into two campuses, grades K-2 and 3-5. The location for the older kids had challenges — it lacked a playground and is located in a renovated commercial space. Still, we could draw lessons from their experience and emulate what works. Arlington must be nimble–and perhaps think smaller–to address our upcoming elementary school needs.
Claire Noakes serves on Arlington’s Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC). Her own elementary school experience involved lengthy bus rides, portables (as relocatables were called), and nacho cheese on everything, so things could be worse.
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.
By Krysta Jones
It’s been about seven months since Virginia and the nation were stunned by the revelations that Gov. Ralph Northam “may have” posed in blackface or Ku Klux Klan uniform. In the subsequent days, Attorney General Mark Herring also admitted to posing in blackface.
A flurry of elected officials, leaders and organizations called for their resignations. Others took a more tempered approach and saw it as a moment of racial healing and atonement. Since then, the Northam administration has made several policy announcements that would impact minority communities. They are:
- Hiring a new top diversity officer to develop a sustainable framework for the continued promotion of inclusive practices across Virginia state government.
- Creating a Virginia African American Advisory Board. The authorizing legislation was signed into law shortly after the incident and could empower commission members to press for a more prominent role than originally laid out to address racial equity issues.
- Announcing intentions to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Black people are more likely to do jail time for marijuana.
While there may be a reconciliation tour and conversations done out of the public eye, we have not used this opportunity to take bolder steps for racial healing. At the very least, the incidents encouraged conversation. After my last post, “We Know How You Can Cure White Guilt,” I received both positive and negative feedback.
One comment especially resonated with me. An older white gentleman, who has been intentional about using his “privilege” to help the less fortunate, wanted more tangible recommendations for racial healing.
Advocating for new policies is only one way to affect change. Other ideas to make real progress with racial healing include:
Recognize where you are and how you got there. Take personal stock of what you and others have observed about your sensitivities or lack thereof. It’s hard to see your blind spot, but after some thought, you may notice areas for improvement.
Listen.It may seem like a simple act but it is often hard to do. After the Northam incident, online and in-person conversations surged about a possible way forward. I witnessed some hurt feelings by African Americans who felt they were not being heard, and subsequently withdrew from what could have been worthwhile efforts.
Be conscious that groups are rarely monolithic. I attended the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival in August and viewed an interesting short film called “Four Points” by R. Cadell Cook. The film highlighted differences of opinion within the Black community. It was an important reminder that in politics — and in life — we can’t assume someone’s beliefs based on how they look.
Call out the lack of diversity. Catherine Read, an activist and fundraising and PR strategist, notes that when she observes a homogenous slate of panelists at conferences, she brings it to their attention. It is something to consider when organizing and attending presentations.
Do intentional outreach. I served on the steering committee for the June 2019 Network NOVA Women’s Summit. This Summit brought together over 900 attendees to learn, connect and strategize about progressive issues. The organizers recognized the lack of diversity at previous conferences and invited me to serve because of my work in the Black community. Don’t be afraid to find people with connections to certain communities and invite them to lead. As we recruited diverse presenters and attendees, it was critical because of their expertise, not their “difference.” Recruiting diverse leaders does not mean sacrificing quality or experience.
As I have spoken with people and navigated my personal journey toward greater diversity and inclusion, what is very clear to me is that this is not easy. To be successful, we have to come to terms with some of our past mistakes, experiences, and in some cases trauma. It requires that we ALL leave our comfort zone and have difficult conversations — not just white people. When we discuss this incident 20 years from now, let’s be able to say that it was a turning point in our history. Despite what the government did, as individuals we listened, grew, cried, learned and laughed toward equality — together. That is real progress.
Krysta Jones is founder and CEO of Vote Lead Impact, Inc., and a graduate of Leadership Arlington, the Sorenson Institute of Political Leadership, and the Women’s Campaign School at Yale.