Arlington, VA

Equity was the buzzword of the night as five Arlington School Board candidates announced their candidacy at an Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting last week.

Two incumbent School Board members, Tannia Talento and Nancy Van Doren, are not running for reelection, leaving two of the five School Board seats open. A video posted by Blue Virginia showed each of the five Democratic candidates running for those two seats making their pitch at last week’s meeting.

(While School Board races in Virginia are nonpartisan, Arlington Democrats hold an endorsement caucus that functions as a defacto primary.)

In speaking order, the candidates were:

Symone Walker: An attorney and parent of two students at Gunston Middle School, Walker’s campaign speech was the first of the evening to focus on equity. Walker said every decision needs to be made “through an equity lens.” Walker also suggested that schools being more adept at handling student trauma, from training administrators to educating parents on ways to handle emotional situations, could help prevent school shootings.

Cristina Díaz-Torres: Díaz-Torres is a former geometry and AP statistics teacher who said her experience in a classroom that had more students than desks helped inform her decision to try to change education administration.

“[Policies] were made and written by folks who were well intentions but had no experience in classroom,” Díaz-Torres said.

During her speech, Díaz-Torres pledged to deliver teacher compensation that would allow educators to live in Arlington and to eliminate what she described as “deceptive” practices in the way the school system presents data and information to the public.

David Priddy: Priddy — who previously ran for School Board — is an Arlington Public Schools graduate and parent to a student in Thomas Jefferson Middle School. He told Democrats that his business experience gave him experience making cuts and difficult decisions that will help bring a sense of fiscal responsibility to the School Board. Like Walker, Priddy said his campaign would center on securing equity between students. Priddy also vowed to revamp the school district’s boundary process.

Sandy Munnell: A retired Washington-Liberty High School teacher, Munnell’s speech focused around achieving competency through teacher retention.

“We are starting to lose teachers to neighboring jurisdictions who offer better support in the classrooms… and yes, better pay,” Munnell said. “That’s a real change for Arlington. If we don’t keep quality teachers in the classrooms, we can’t keep quality results.”

Terron Sims: An Iraq War vet and former County Board candidate, Sims said his military experience taught him lessons about accountability and management that he hopes to bring to the School Board. On Sims’ website, he says his goal is to promote more apprenticeship programs at Arlington Tech and the Career Center and to continue to work on securing more community partnerships to help offer opportunities to students.

After the Democratic endorsement caucus, the date of which has yet to be announced, the two new School Board members will be chosen in the Nov. 3 general election.

File photo. Hat tip to Blue Virginia.

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Wakefield High School students will soon have a new way of getting to and from school: Capital Bikeshare.

A new CaBi station with eleven bike docks was approved unanimously at the Jan. 9 School Board meeting. The station will be placed near the other bicycle racks on the southern side of the school, along S. Dinwiddie Street.

The agreement between Arlington Public Schools and Capital Bikeshare is effective for five years, with an automatic renewal thereafter. The agreement specifies that the Capital Bikeshare is responsible for the costs of setting up the station and maintenance.

There are nearly 100 Capital Bikeshare stations in Arlington, with a number of other stations in the works across the county. There are several stations not far from Wakefield, along Four Mile Run Drive, Columbia Pike, and around Shirlington.

The plans did not include a timeframe for when the new station will be implemented. A school spokesman said the timeline will be determined by the Capital Bikeshare.

Photo via Arlington Public Schools

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(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Interim Superintendent Cintia Johnson is recommending an elementary school swap involving four schools, a more modest of two proposals presented in October.

Both proposals have received considerable pushback from parents, but in a presentation to the Arlington School Board last night administrators said it’s the best option for dealing with projected increased in enrollment in certain parts of the county.

“As we look at our projections and we look at the growth that’s coming along,” a school staffer said, “the area where we see the biggest growth is on the eastern side of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.”

The recommended proposal would make the following changes, starting with the 2021-22 school year:

  • Move most McKinley Elementary students, plus most faculty and the principal, to the new school under construction at the Reed site in Westover.
  • Move students, faculty and the principal of Arlington Traditional School (ATS) — a “choice” school — to the larger McKinley building.
  • Move students, faculty and the principal of Key Elementary, a bilingual English/Spanish immersion program, to the current ATS building.
  • Make the current Key building a new neighborhood elementary school, to support growth in the area.

Administrators say moving Key to the ATS building would put it closer to more Spanish speakers and “allow for long-term growth in the program.”

A number of parents from each of the potentially affected school spoke out against the swap at the School Board meeting, for a variety of reasons, following the presentation.

The presentation also included discussion of an “alternate scenario,” that would change elementary school boundaries rather than swap schools. The decidedly unpalatable alternative called for about 4,000 students — 38% of the elementary population — to be assigned to a new school. On top of that, it would require more busing.

“To fill schools to manageable capacity, boundaries would require more students to be assigned to schools farther away instead schools closer to where they live,” the superintendent’s presentation said.

Next up in the process, the School Board is expected to hold a public hearing before taking action on the proposal in February.

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A current Washington-Liberty senior experience coordinator and substitute teacher within Arlington Public Schools has announced she will be running for a seat on the Arlington School Board.

With over forty years of experience in education, Sandy Munnel firmly believes “retirement is overrated.”

“I have worked with students and teachers of all grade levels,” Munnel told ARLnow.  “As such, I have a unique perspective that is not currently represented on the School Board and that will enable me to hit the ground running if I am elected.”

Heading into the November 2020 general election, two seats on the School Board are up for grabs, with neither incumbent running for reelection. Board member Nancy Van Doren and Board Chair Tannia Talento both announced they will be retiring after their terms conclude.

Prior to her current role and candidacy, Munnel was the Instructional Technology Coordinator at W-L for fifteen years. In her time there, she served on the Building Level Planning Committee (BLPC) for the 2009 construction of the new W-L complex.

Munnel’s platform for school board emphasizes four “smarts:”

  • Smart capacity planning
  • Smart services planning
  • Smart instructional planning
  • Smart fiscal planning

Addressing the issue of overcrowding, “Arlington will require good data, vision — and some hard decisions,” Munnel said.

“We have empty seats available. But they are not where we need them now. Decisions on where we build new classrooms will be critical,” she says. “My work on the Schools Committee of the Civic Federation convinced me that we have not always used the best data in taking past decisions. I want to make certain that we know what we need to know when we need to know it.”

School Board elections are nonpartisan, however Munnel hopes to receive an endorsement from Arlington Democrats at their July caucus.

Munnel will face off against the other confirmed candidate, Cristina Diaz-Torres, and anyone else who enters the race. Diaz-Torres announced her candidacy in November and is running a platform emphasizing equity and, similarly, data-driven transformation.

Photo via SandyForSchools.com

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(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) A County Board member is running for reelection but will be facing at least one Democratic challenger.

County Board Vice Chair Libby Garvey, and challenger Chanda Choun, made their announcements at last night’s Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting. Also announced: neither School Board member who’s up for reelection will be running again in 2020.

Garvey said she’s “enjoying my work more than ever” and wants to “continue to make Arlington a welcoming, inclusive community where everyone can thrive.”

“In my years on the County Board, I’ve continued to focus on equity and good fiscal management,” Garvey said at the meeting, commenting on how she helped lead the charge to cancel the Columbia Pike streetcar project in her first years on the Board.

County Board Chair Christian Dorsey also spoke on behalf of Garvey, praising her leadership.

“Libby has always proved to be gracious when prevailing, she doesn’t hold grudges, and she’s ready and willing to collaborate,” Dorsey said. “When I introduced equity as a priority for our county government this year, it was Libby who noted that this is a frame and a means to what should be the very purpose to public service.”

Challenging Garvey is Chanda Choun, who lost to fellow Democrat Matt de Ferranti during the 2018 County Board primary. Choun, who lives in the Buckingham neighborhood, said he would push for rent control and greater environmental protections in Arlington as Amazon moves in.

“As the County continues to grow, I am the right representative to be unifying bridge between Arlington’s past and Arlington’s future,” Choun said in his speech.

A Cambodian refugee, Choun highlighted his background as an Army veteran and cybersecurity professional. He stressed the need for bold action to solve difficult problems.

“We must fight for a Green New Deal for Arlington,” Choun said. “Climate change is here, we now face destructive flash floods and 100 degree plus days than ever. We can fight this from the ground up to protect and expand our natural environment.”

In an email to supporters, Garvey said one focus for her in a new term would be to improve Arlington’s public engagement process.

“We must continue to find new ways to include everyone in our public processes, from development, to education, to our public infrastructure,” she wrote. “Good government includes everyone from our newest and youngest residents to our older residents who have helped build our community over decades. Good government is inclusive and transparent.”

In addition to the County Board announcements, School Board member Nancy Van Doren said she would not be seeking reelection this year, following an earlier announcement from School Board member Tannia Talento that she would also not be running for another term.

“I remain committed to the goals and priorities that lead me to serve in 2014 and will work diligently through 2020 to see them through,” Van Doren said, thanking her supporters and family.

During her five years on the School Board, Van Doren says she oversaw over a dozen building and renovation projects, launched the Arlington Tiered System of Support, and invested in the expansion of the number of psychologist and social workers in Arlington Public Schools.

“Going into the next decade, the greatest challenge for Arlington Public Schools will continue to be to prioritize the instruction and well-being of our students in our classrooms while also meeting the unrelenting demand for physical space,” she said.

The 2020 primary in Arlington will be held on June 9, followed by the November 3 general election.

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Morning Notes

Crows Are Swarming Rosslyn at Dusk — “As the sun begins to sink below the horizon, ghostly caws and flapping wings echo through the air. Then, they come in droves. Hundreds, if not thousands, of huge, black birds darken the sky, swooping through buildings and swarming like giant gnats. This Hitchcockian scene is a typical Tuesday in North Rosslyn.” [Washingtonian]

New Candidate for School BoardCristina Diaz-Torres has announced that she is running for Arlington School Board to replace Tannia Talento, who is not seeking a second term. Diaz-Torres is planning a campaign launch event on Columbia Pike this Sunday. [Twitter, Facebook]

Arlington Residents Are Up at All Hours — “The massive Nov. 8 water-main break underneath Chain Bridge Road taught Arlington public-works officials a number of lessons. Among them: Some county residents are up and at ’em in the wee hours of the morning. The county government received its first call complaining of no water at 2:59 a.m., a mere three minutes after the rupture of the 36-inch, 75-year-old pipe.” [InsideNova]

More on GMU Arlington Campus Expansion — “As George Mason University leaders celebrate the 40th anniversary of the school’s Arlington campus, they promise that its Amazon-inspired expansion will be ‘unlike any building ever built’ by a state institution.” [Washington Business Journal]

Upgrades for 911 Call Center — “The County’s 9-1-1 call processing system was upgraded today! Our staff are thrilled to have made the switch to this top of the line system that will allow us to best collaborate with neighboring jurisdictions and serve the community.” [Twitter]

NORAD Exercises Planned Tonight — “Don’t be frightened if you see and hear military aircraft speeding overhead… The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is expected to conduct air exercises over the Washington area from Thursday night into early Friday morning. Flights are scheduled between midnight and 5:30 a.m.” [WTOP]

Five Year Anniversary of Streetcar Cancellation — “Five years ago this week – Nov. 18, 2014 – County Board Chairman Jay Fisette stood somewhat grimly in front of a microphone and TV cameras to announce that Arlington officials were abandoning plans for a streetcar system in the Columbia Pike corridor.” [InsideNova]

Nearby: Food Star to Open in Bailey’s Crossroads — “A Food Star grocery store is opening up in the former Toys R Us building at 5521 Leesburg Pike in Bailey’s Crossroads – possibly by the end of the year.” [Annandale Blog]

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Morning Notes

Scooters Can Officially Ride on Sidewalks, Trails — Details about the new, William Shatner-approved permanent e-scooter and e-bike regulations approved by the County Board over the weekend: “Motorized scooters and skateboards will have a top speed of 15 miles per hour, and e-bicycles will have a top speed of 20 miles per hour on streets and trails. When operating on public sidewalks, the top speed of all the devices is restricted to six miles per hour. The devices will not be allowed to operate on sidewalks where a protected bicycle lane is available and may be prohibited from other sidewalks.” [Arlington County]

Progress on Second Ballston Metro Entrance Plan — “At long last, Arlington seems to be making real progress on building a western entrance to the Ballston Metro station — and that includes finding a path to fund the stalled project. County officials plan to set aside an extra $25 million for the Metro station entrance, then ask for $33.5 million in regional transportation funding for the project.” [Washington Business Journal]

Ballston Harris Teeter Development OKed — “A mixed-use redevelopment approved today by the County Board will replace the Harris Teeter and the American Service Center on N. Glebe Rd. with apartments, a new grocery store, other ground floor retail and a new public open space… community benefits will include a $4.1 million contribution to affordable housing; new public street connections; improvements to the traffic signals at Randolph Street and Glebe Road, and the replacement of a large water main under Glebe Road.” [Arlington County]

Talento Not Seeking Reelection — “I have decided not to seek reelection to my School Board seat. Fulfilling my duties as a public servant take first priority for me and, while it is an honor to serve on the School Board, running a campaign while simultaneously fulfilling these responsibilities is not the best way for me to ensure our students have the future they deserve.” [Blue Virginia]

Jennie Dean Park Project Approved — “The Arlington County Board today approved a $15.5 million contract with MCN Build, Inc. to begin Jennie Dean Park’s long-awaited transformation.” [Arlington County]

Caps Host TAPS Families at Iceplex — “Late Thursday afternoon, family members of fallen soldiers got a chance to skate with Capitals players in Arlington, Virginia. The Capitals hosted the event with an organization called TAPS – the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.” [WJLA]

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(Updated at 10:45 a.m.) Arlington Public Schools may shuffle nearly a quarter of its elementary school students around to combat the county’s persistent overcrowding problems.

During a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, school officials proposed moving the majority of McKinley Elementary School students to the new Reed Elementary School, among other switches.

The Arlington School Board is expected to take action on one of two final proposals during its meeting on February 6, 2020. If approved, it would take effect for the 2021-22 school year, per APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.

“Some of our schools can’t manage the student’s lunch time, we have students who eat lunch as early as 10 a.m. and as late as 2 p.m.,” said Lisa Stengle, executive director for the APS Department of Planning and Evaluation.

“We like to keep kids together. The more we can keep groups of kids together, the better,” she said.

The first proposal idea APS shared with parents would mean:

  • The majority of current McKinley students would move to Reed.
  • The Arlington Traditional School (ATS) program would move to the McKinley building.
  • Key Immersion School would move to the Arlington Traditional School building.
  • The Key building would become a neighborhood school.

According to officials, 40% of McKinley students live in the Reed School walk zone, meaning more students who are currently riding the bus would have the option to walk to school. In addition, it would provide 100 additional seats for new ATS students.

The second proposal calls for the same McKinley, Reed, and ATS switches, plus:

  • Campbell Elementary School moving to the ATS building
  • Key, along with its immersion program, would move to the Carlin Springs Elementary School building
  • The majority of students at Carlin Springs would move to the Campbell Elementary School building
  • Campbell building becomes a neighborhood school
  • The Key building becomes a neighborhood school

Both plans are expected to affect some 20-30% of Arlington elementary school students.

“[Moving schools allows] APS to use all schools to maximum capacity, keep together as many students in each school community as possible, and keep as many students as possible walking to their neighborhood schools,” officials said in a press release.

The proposals are a larger part of the APS Elementary School Planning Project, which calls for the planning of capacity solutions as Arlington’s elementary student population is expected to exceed 30,000 by 2023 — with significant growth in the Rosslyn, Ballston, and Columbia Pike areas.

The fiscal impact of either proposal remains to be determined, according to APS Transportation Planning Director Kristen Haldeman.

Alternatively, per the planning website, if APS chooses to only redraw elementary school zoning districts without moving schools, it would affect up to 41 percent of Arlington’s elementary school population and incur additional transportation costs.

In addition, Spengle noted the county will need to build up to three new elementary schools by 2029 in order to accommodate growth, including in and around Pentagon City.

The school system will spend the next several months collecting community feedback before the School Board makes a final decision, with public meetings on:

  • November 5: An online information session on APS Engage in English and Spanish
  • November 5-24: An online community questionnaire at APS Engage
  • November 15 and 22: “Friday Facebook Live” sessions with new FAQs answered.

Several community forums are also scheduled for December, plus a School Board public hearing on January 30 at 7 p.m. in the Syphax Education Center.

The discussions come after APS redrew the boundaries of eight elementary schools last year in order to accommodate the opening of Alice West Fleet Elementary School.

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(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools has established separate review and planning committees to kick off the design phase of its $185 million Arlington Career Center expansion project.

The Building Level Planning Committee (BLPC) and the Public Facilities Review Committee (PFRC) will meet ten times before March 2020, when the Arlington School Board is set to act on a concept design.

The expansion is slated to create 800 new high school seats at the Career Center by 2025, plus an additional 250 Arlington Tech seats — for a total of 600 seats at the high school program — by Sept. 2021. The Career Center will go from 1,100 seats now to to 1,900 seats by 2025, according to APS.

After years of deliberation from the School Board and the County Board, the completed Career Center will include:

  • A high school-sized gym/assembly space
  • A Performing Arts Center complete with a theater, black box theater, and music classroom
  • A cafeteria and multi-use space
  • A multi-use outdoor synthetic turf field
  • A 400 to 500 space parking garage
  • The replacement, enhancement and/or expansion of existing Career Technical Education programs

The athletic field and parking is projected to be complete by the 2023-24 school year, while the performing arts center should be finished by 2025-26 school year. Despite the large increase in its student body, which will help to alleviate a capacity crunch at Arlington’s high schools, the Arlington Career Center will be an option school and not a comprehensive high school.

Total cost for the Career Center expansion is budgeted at $185 million, plus an additional $13 million for the Arlington Tech expansion.

The BLPC will serve as the primary line of communication between community stakeholders and the School Board. During a project update during Tuesday’s County Board meeting, Board member Katie Cristol said that the School Board has asked BLPC to look for low-cost construction alternatives during the design process.

Meanwhile, the mission of the PFRC is to ensure the project properly utilizes the limited available land at the Career Center site near Columbia Pike, working as a direct line of advice and input with the County Board and County Manager.

The two committees held an introductory meeting on September 17, with the next scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 2.

“This has a very significant budgetary implication in the Arlington Public Schools Capital Improvement Plan, and it’s because of the number of amenities that are coming along with these seats,” said Cristol.

Construction will not impede on the adjacent, recently-opened Montessori Public School of Arlington — formerly home to Patrick Henry Elementary — according to an APS spokesman Frank Bellavia. A member from the Montessori school will serve on the BPLC.

The Career Center recently moved eight new trailers onto its grounds to accommodate more than 150 new students who joined for the 2019-20 school year. Contrary to initial reports, the trailers do not intrude on the space used for the Career Center’s Animal Science Program, Bellavia said.

An open community meeting is scheduled to review the new, proposed Career Center designs. The meeting is set to take place on January 22, 2020, in the Arlington Career Center Commons (816 S. Walter Reed Drive) beginning at 7 p.m.

Photo via Google Maps. In-text photo via Arlington County

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Morning Notes

Rep. Beyer Talks Impeachment — “Phones have been ringing all day with constituents calling to tell me they support impeachment, particularly following the President’s corrupt dealings with Ukraine. They are right.” [Twitter]

Westover School Project Moving Forward — “There will be no stay of execution for any of the trees on the chopping block as the Arlington school system moves forward with a new elementary school in Westover. School Board members on Sept. 19 voted to approve a construction contract for the $55 million project, which will drop a 725-student facility adjacent to Westover Library on North McKinley Road near Washington Boulevard.” [InsideNova]

It’s Rabies Awareness Week — “September 23-29 is Rabies Awareness Week in Virginia. Follow these five tips to help ensure you and your family are protected. 1. Get Pets Vaccinated… 2. Stay Away from Wild Animals… 3. Keep Pets Leashed… 4. Seek Medical Care Immediately if Bitten… 5. Report Animal Bites and Strange Behavior.” [Arlington County]

ARLnow Reporters Splashed — “A large pleasure boat flying a Trump flag and operating at what appeared to be higher-than-permitted speed came so close to a water taxi bound for the Wharf Sunday that many passengers were soaked when the water taxi crossed its wake. A representative for the Potomac RiverBoat Company was not able to confirm the incident over the phone but, this is Washington, and there were at least two reporters aboard the water taxi.” [Washingtonian]

‘Candi-dating’ Forum Planned — “The League of Women Voters of Arlington is partnering with a number of other organizations on a “candi-dating” forum. The event, to be held on Sunday, Oct. 6 at Walter Reed Community Center, is akin to speed-dating: Attendees will have 10 minutes to meet with candidates running for office from Arlington and Alexandria.” [InsideNova]

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Arlington Public Schools has a new interim superintendent for the new school year.

Cintia Johnson, who first joined APS in 1986 and is currently Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services, will serve as interim superintendent starting Sept. 1. The Arlington School Board unanimously approved her appointment at a special meeting Tuesday evening.

Johnson will serve until a permanent superintendent is selected. The School Board “expects to have a search firm hired by early fall.”

“Johnson earned numerous awards throughout her tenure,” an APS press release noted, “including Principal of the Year while at Patrick Henry Elementary in 1999 and Teacher of the Year while at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in 1992.”

The full press release is below.

The Arlington School Board today appointed Cintia Johnson as the Interim Superintendent for Arlington Public Schools, effective September 1, 2019, at a special meeting held Tuesday, July 30. Johnson is currently the Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services, a position she has held since 2012. Members of the School Board made the appointment with a unanimous vote of 5-0.

As Interim Superintendent, Johnson will replace Superintendent Dr. Patrick K. Murphy, who will retire from APS on September 1, 2019. Johnson’s contract begins on August 1, 2019 and extends through June 30, 2020, or until a permanent superintendent is hired. This will allow for transition time during the month of August. Johnson’s appointment to Interim Superintendent will be effective on September 1, 2019.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have found a leader who has spent her career serving Arlington Public Schools, who embodies the skills and leadership qualities our community values, who knows our school system, understands our priorities for this year, and has the trust and respect of her colleagues and our staff,” said School Board Chair Tannia Talento. “Ms. Johnson is the right person to lead APS during this important time of change, and I am confident that her skills and experience will allow for a seamless transition as we open new schools, advance the work of our strategic plan, and prepare for a future leader in the months ahead.”

Johnson, a bilingual educator for more than 35 years, has served APS in a variety of instructional, management and leadership roles since 1986, including most recently as assistant superintendent for administrative services. In this role, Johnson works collaboratively with school principals and staff across APS to enhance operations, strengthen schools and promote student success and achievement. She has also served as the Superintendent’s designee throughout his tenure when he has been away from the office.

“I am absolutely honored and humbled to take on this role. Serving our students and supporting their education has been my life’s work, and I look forward to continuing that work in a new capacity,” Johnson said in her remarks during the meeting. “We are successful in Arlington because of the quality and dedication of our incredible staff, and I am confident that together we will continue to do great things for all our students.”

Johnson began her career in APS in 1986 as a 4th grade teacher at Patrick Henry Elementary and then taught 6th grade at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. She was a teacher for nearly 20 years before starting her administrative career as assistant principal of Randolph Elementary.

In 2002, Johnson, who is fluent in Spanish, helped open and establish Arlington’s second dual-language immersion elementary school, Claremont Immersion, where she was principal for ten years until 2012. She also served as principal of Patrick Henry Elementary for eight years.

Johnson earned numerous awards throughout her tenure, including Principal of the Year while at Patrick Henry Elementary in 1999 and Teacher of the Year while at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in 1992.

She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Early Childhood Education and Spanish from Rutgers University and has a master’s degree in linguistics. She later earned her educational leadership licensure from George Mason University.

The terms of her contract include an annualized $224,796 salary, a $3,000 monthly contribution to a retirement account and a $400 monthly car allowance. The School Board continues to move forward on the hiring process for the new superintendent.

A Request for Proposal (RFP) will be issued in August, and the Board expects to have a search firm hired by early fall. Once the firm is in place, the process will include input from staff, families and the community. APS will share a timeline and updates on the search process via a dedicated page on the Engage with APS! webpage by the first of August.

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