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ACFD Investigating Smoke in Taylor Elementary School

Arlington County firefighters are investigating light smoke that filled a classroom at Taylor Elementary School around lunchtime today.

A large fire department response was dispatched to the school at 2600 N. Stuart Street. Students and staff have been evacuated, according to scanner traffic.

No fire or flames have been found and firefighters are investigating work on the roof as a possible cause, according to radio traffic. Police are blocking off roads around the school.

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Morning Notes

ACFD Battles Kitchen Fire — Arlington County firefighters last night extinguished a kitchen fire in an apartment building on the 1900 block of N. Calvert Street, just north of Lee Highway and east of Spout Run. No injuries were reported. [Twitter, Twitter]

Taylor P.E. Teacher Pleads to Drug Charge — A second former P.E. teacher at Taylor Elementary School has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a drug bust in December. Michael Diaddigo, 28, will reportedly “serve 1 of a 12-months jail sentence if he follows probation, which includes a $500 fine and substance abuse treatment.” [Twitter]

Central Place Bus Tunnel Still Closed — “A bus tunnel in Rosslyn critical to many commuters — which Metro said more than a year ago would open in days — remains closed due to outstanding construction concerns, WTOP has learned.” [WTOP]

Lanes Closures in Crystal City Tonight — The lanes of certain roads around Crystal City will be closed for about two hours tonight to accommodate the first of the annual Crystal City 5K Friday races. [Arlington County]

Residential Parking Permit Applications — “It is now time to renew your Residential Permit Parking Program permits and passes for the new program fiscal year beginning July 1, 2018. Remember enforcement continues throughout the year, so new passes/permits must be displayed by July 1st, 2018.” [Arlington County]

Actor Says No to WJLA Interview — Amy Schumer has turned down an interview with Arlington-based TV station WJLA (ABC 7) because it is owned by Sinclair, the broadcast station owner under fire for making its anchors read a script denouncing “biased and false news” from other outlets. [Buzzfeed]

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Taylor Elementary Teacher Pleads Guilty to Marijuana Possession

(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) A suspended Taylor Elementary gym teacher, accused of smoking pot in the school, has pleaded guilty to marijuana possession.

Luke Lloyd of Fairfax, Va. entered the plea Tuesday morning before Arlington General District Court Judge Frances O’Brien. He was sentenced to serve 30 days in jail, with 20 days suspended. He was also ordered to complete 100 hours of community service, pay a $500 fine and complete substance abuse treatment, we’re told.

Lloyd began serving the net ten day sentence on Friday. Most first-time marijuana offenders walk free, but Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos said her office pushed for a stiffer sentence.

“It’s typical for a first time possession of marijuana case to result in a deferred disposition,” Stamos said. “My office, however, argued against such an outcome given the particular facts of this case. Those facts include what appears to have been a rather steady course of use, at times at the school, that we learned about from an anonymous tip to ACPD.”

A second Taylor P.E. teacher nabbed by police, Michael Diaddigo, was also facing possession of marijuana charges, which have since been dropped. Stamos, however, said charges against Diaddigo are expected to be filed soon in Arlington County Circuit Court, which typically handles more serious criminal cases. Stamos declined to elaborate on the charges, since the case is pending.

Lloyd and Diaddigo were both suspended without pay by Arlington Public Schools “pending the outcome of the legal case,” a spokesman said. So far, there is no word on Lloyd’s employment status following the plea. A third Taylor P.E. teacher who was accused of smoking marijuana at the school is currently on administrative leave.

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Taylor Elementary P.E. Teachers Accused of Smoking Marijuana in School

Two Taylor Elementary physical education teachers are facing charges and a third is being investigated after a drug bust at the sought-after north Arlington school.

In a letter to parents, school principal Harold Pellegreen said that P.E. teachers Michael Diaddigo and Luke Lloyd have been charged with possession of marijuana and have been suspended from the school. Another has been “placed on administrative leave, pending further investigation by the police.”

TV news reports, citing court documents, said that police were told by an informant that the three teachers regularly smoked pot in their school office. They were also told that Diaddigo distributed marijuana to other teachers on school property. Students were reportedly unaware of the activity.

On a staff page that has since been removed, Taylor Elementary’s website said that Diaddigo was new to Taylor after two years of part-time P.E. teaching at Arlington’s Campbell and Tuckahoe elementary schools. Diaddigo is a Loudoun County native while Lloyd attended high school and college in Fairfax County, the page said.

The full letter from Pellegreen to parents is below.

Subject: APS School Talk – A Message from the Principal
A message from TAYLOR ELEMENTARY

Dear Taylor Families:

I wanted to update you on an incident that occurred at school earlier today. Based on information received by the Arlington County Police Department, this morning we cooperated with the police on their investigation into a matter involving three Taylor staff members. As a result of their investigation, Michael Diaddigo and Luke Lloyd have been charged with possession of marijuana and have been suspended. One additional staff member has been placed on administrative leave, pending further investigation by the police.

As educators, we are obviously shocked and dismayed by this news, and our first concern has been for our students. While I can’t share the details about the investigation with you because it is an ongoing personnel and police matter, I want to share how we are rallying to support our children, families and staff:

We believe the investigation is only focused on the adults and does not involve any of their interactions with our children. We met with the Taylor staff this afternoon to share this news, and we all remain committed to maintaining our focus on our primary goal of providing the best academic and personal support for all Taylor
students.

Counselors will visit these classes next week to share with students what has happened in age-appropriate ways, and our counselors will be available to help any students who may have questions or need to
discuss this change.

Our administrative team is working with our Human Resources staff and we are following all APS personnel policies and procedures to deal with this matter appropriately.

We will continue to work to ensure that we have qualified replacements in place for these positions so that instruction can proceed without interruption.

This is a disheartening situation for Taylor and the entire APS community. Please be assured that we will continue to work together to ensure that Taylor’s students, families and staff are supported during this transition.

As always, don’t hesitate to call me if you need to discuss specific concerns about your child.

Sincerely,

Harold Pellegreen
Principal

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Morning Notes

Field Lighting Recommendation Pushed to September — A long-delayed decision on whether to add lights to the athletic fields next to Williamsburg Middle School is getting delayed again: county staff says it will not have a recommendation for the County Board until September. A community work group that spent three years tackling the subject was unable to come to a consensus in its 89-page report. [InsideNova]

VDOT-Maintained Neighborhood Streets Crumbling — VDOT is trying to catch up on its paving of secondary (neighborhood) streets, but in places like Fairfax County many such roads are crumbling. Arlington County paves its own local roads rather than relying on VDOT, though the agency is still responsible for maintaining highways and some primary routes in the county. [WTOP]

School Board to Give Land to County — Despite the current school capacity crunch, the Arlington School Board is expected to deed 4.75 acres of land next to Taylor Elementary School to the county government, which will use it to expand Zachary Taylor Park. The land has been deemed too steep and unsuitable for building new facilities. [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Lisa Novak

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Gunston Middle School Dismissing Early Due to Air Conditioning Issue

Gunston Middle SchoolGunston Middle School students will be dismissed just before noon today due to an air conditioning issue.

School administrators say they are “currently without air conditioning in the majority of our building.” The A/C troubles come as temperatures are expected to reach into the upper 90s today.

Separately, Taylor Elementary School is also reported to be experiencing air conditioning problems.

“There is an issue with the HVAC in three classrooms,” Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia told ARLnow.com. “The problem is intermittent and right now it is on. Maintenance is looking into the problem and we are watching it closely.”

A parent tells us that her daughter’s kindergarten classroom, another classroom and the school’s gym are “a sweatbox.”

“My daughter was talking about fighting to sit by a fan,” the parent said.

The letter from school administrators to Gunston parents, after the jump.

We have experienced an issue with the main air conditioning unit at Gunston.  A repair that was made last week did not hold, and as a result we are currently without air conditioning in the majority of our building.

As a result, Gunston will be releasing students early today, and our dismissal time will be 11:54 a.m. The buses will transport students on their regular routes.  Our Check-In Program will begin at dismissal, and will be open until 6:00 p.m.  The program will move to the part of our building where the air conditioning is working for the afternoon.

We also have modified our schedule to allow time for students to eat at school before dismissal – the AC is working in the cafeteria.  Additionally, with today’s modified schedule, students are able to spend time in the cooler sections of the building.

At the present time all of our APS Facilities and Operations staff are continuing to address this issue and we will provide an update. If you have questions, please feel free to call our Main Office.  We may be reached at 703-228-6900.

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UPDATED: Missing Taylor Elementary Student Found Unharmed

Update at 1:30 p.m. — Arlington Public Schools has released the following update on what happened from Harold Pellegreen, the principal of Taylor Elementary:

Dear Taylor Families:

Earlier today, one of our Taylor students, Aaron Meyerson, went missing before school. Aaron and his parents had been in a meeting with a teacher this morning and he became upset and ran out of the meeting room and school. Aaron’s mother followed him, but he ran into the woods behind Taylor and she lost sight of him. The office was notified and we immediately called 911 for assistance to locate Aaron.

Fortunately, a short time later, Aaron was found safe and, after being checked out by the Arlington County Fire Department as a precaution, he was reunited with his mother. I want to stress that this was never related to the incidents that have occurred in the community recently involving strangers, and we regret if some peopled mistakenly connected today’s incident with those earlier reports. We are relieved that Aaron was found unharmed and has been returned to the care of his family.

I want to thank the Arlington County Police Department for their quick response and the many Taylor families and neighbors who came out to help search for Aaron.

Update at 11:35 a.m. — The child has been found near the school, according to police. He appears to be uninjured but is being evaluated by paramedics, as a precaution, before being reunited with his parents.

Update at 10:45 a.m. — The U.S. Park Police helicopter and a Maryland State Police bloodhound are being brought in to assist with the search, according to scanner traffic.

Police, parents and school personnel are searching the neighborhoods around Taylor Elementary School for a missing student.

Arlington County Police say Aaron Meyerson, 11, walked away from the school this morning and hasn’t been seen since.

According to scanner traffic, the boy is known to climb trees and hang out near the Donaldson Run creek. Police have searched the area in and around the school, the creek, and the houses of the boy’s friends.

The search comes a week after ACPD warned of a man who was trying to lure children into his vehicle. There’s no connection between those incidents and today’s search, police say.

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Yelp CEO’s Tech Career Started With Bike Rides to Ballston Mall

Jeremy StoppelmanJeremy Stoppelman, the CEO and co-founder of Yelp, might not have made it as a tech titan if it wasn’t for bike rides to Ballston Common Mall as a kid.

Stoppelman grew up in Arlington, near Military Road. He attended Taylor Elementary in the 1980s and swam on the Donaldson Run swim team. Though Stoppelman and his family later moved to Great Falls, where he attended Langley High School, it was those early days in Arlington that set him on the path to Silicon Valley stardom.

“I used to ride my bike to Ballston mall to buy video games… they had one of those little video game stores,” he told ARLnow.com in a phone interview. “I was always interested in technology and computers. It probably started early with my love of video games and fascination with how you build them and the machines they run on.”

After high school Stoppelman attended the University of Illinois, where he graduated with a degree in computer engineering in 1999. He would come back to Northern Virginia to intern at UUNET, an early commercial internet service provider, for two summers. After graduation, however, he left the D.C. area behind for the Bay Area, where he would work for @Home Network and Paypal before attending a year of business school and founding Yelp in 2004.

Now 37, Stoppelman is the head of a publicly-traded company, a member of Vanity Fair magazine’s vaunted “New Establishment,” and at last check worth an estimated $222 million. Despite a demanding schedule on the West Coast, he says he’s able to come back to Washington a couple of times a year, sometimes for work — weighing in on legislative issues on Capitol Hill — and sometimes just to visit his mother, who now lives in Reston. (His father died in 1998, according to a San Francisco Chronicle profile.)

Asked about advice he would give to local students hoping for a career in tech, Stoppelman said getting an early start learning computer programming is key.

Welcome to Yelp Lobby“If your school offers something like a computer science course I would definitely take it,” he said. “Just get going, the more you explore and have fun and just follow your interests, the better.”

Stoppelman himself took a Turbo Pascal programming class in high school. He supports efforts to bring more coding classes to students as early as the elementary school level, including online coding lessons from Code.org and Coursera.

“A deeper understanding of technology is good for everyone,” he said.

With talk of a new tech bubble and an ever-growing list of “unicorns” — startups that have attained the previously-rare valuation of $1 billion — the temptation might be there for young D.C. area entrepreneurs to decamp to Silicon Valley in search of ultra-quick riches. Stoppelman, who guided Yelp’s growth for eight years before taking it public, cautioned against the myth that there’s easy success to be had in tech, particularly in the local space.

“I think in a lot of cases it looks like there’s easy bucks but there’s often an easy story,” he said. “For a lot of companies, the ‘overnight success’ was four or five years in the making, where they struggled with a bunch of different ideas and things that didn’t work and one day they were finally able to get something to click.”

“Doing something in local generally means going deep in a lot of geographies, which takes a freaking long time,” he continued. “So we always had a long-term mentality.”

Stoppelman’s success is a case study in not selling out too early. Shortly after Yelp’s founding, he said he held an “M&A discussion” with Friendster, the early social network that was later overtaken in popularity by Facebook. In 2010, he famously received a phone call from the late Apple founder Steve Jobs, urging him not to sell the company to Google. (He didn’t.)

Such decisions are difficult and aren’t for every company founder, he said.

“It depends on what you want to do and your tolerance for continued risk,” said Stoppelman. “For us, as the opportunity arose to sell, we’d come back to the idea that we were just spreading our wings, just getting started. It didn’t make the decision easy, but it did give us the confidence.”

He added: “I definitely don’t look down at people that got something off the ground and sold quickly, I think it’s a very tough decision and it’s very personal.”

Yelp, by its nature as a review site, can be both a boon to local businesses and the bane of their existence. Businesses with glowing reviews often see a boost in business. But bad reviews can sting and some business owners take them personally. Some have even accused Yelp itself of shady sales practices like offering to hide bad reviews if a business advertises with the site.

Stoppelman, however, sees Yelp as a neutral platform for consumers to share their experiences with other consumers — and for businesses to allow themselves to be discovered by new customers.

“Yelp is word of mouth, brought online and amplified… it’s a big megaphone,” Stoppelman said. “Delighted customers are going to talk to you on Yelp. Before it was hard for some people to know you exist.”

He said businesses can use the negative reviews to improve their business and to try to make things right with dissatisfied customers who might have otherwise simply never returned. He also suggested that owners shouldn’t necessarily sweat the couple of negative reviews that might be mixed in with good reviews.

“A lot of folks do make the mistake of taking an individual negative review and focusing in on that, and that’s necessarily constructive,” he said. “Don’t focus on just the one negative review, focus on the larger picture.”

“Before Yelp there was no real reliable way to see feedback one way or another. So maybe you had a problem or something that was really irritating your customers and you didn’t necessarily know. Now, for better or for worse, that information is out there and you can do something about it. I think that’s really empowering to local businesses that understand the value of that [information].”

As for what’s next for Yelp, Stoppelman said the company is focused on being a platform for booking services and local transactions. Yelp currently has 15 platform partners, offering everything from hotel bookings to golf tee times to tables at Las Vegas nightclubs. The company also just acquired Eat24, a food delivery app that’s known locally for its cable TV ads featuring Snoop Dogg and Gilbert Gottfried and mean words about kale.

“I’m a fan of kale but that’s been a popular discussion point for kale fans and those who do not like kale… Eat24 sparked an interesting conversation,” Stoppelman said, laughing, when asked about the anti-kale commercials.

Kale aside, Stoppelman also mentioned something new the company just rolled out this month that he’s excited about — that tech-savvy Arlington residents might already be using: an Apple Watch app.

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North Arlington School Boundaries Could Change Again

APS Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy's proposed boundary changes(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) Just 18 months after Arlington’s School Board approved a new elementary school boundary plan for North Arlington, an influx of more new students is prompting the Board to reconsider those plans.

Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia says 652 additional Pre-K and elementary students came to the district this year, outpacing APS’s growth projections by 52. That, along with variances on a school-by-school basis, has caused APS to explore “possible refinements to the boundaries.”

Following a series of three community meetings, the School Board is scheduled to fast-track a vote on a new boundary map for the 2015-2016 school year in January.

The process for determining the new school boundaries will begin with a community meeting at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 17, at Williamsburg Middle School. There, APS staff will present data showing the need for the boundary change, demonstrate the online tool that parents can use to recommend their boundary maps and “begin work with the community to refine boundary options,” according to an APS press release.

The schools whose boundaries will come under review are the under-construction elementary school next to Williamsburg Middle School, Glebe Elementary, Tuckahoe, Ashlawn, Nottingham, Taylor, Jamestown and McKinley.

The approved boundary change from May of last year reassigned 900 students and resulted in five schools — Taylor, Glebe, Tuckahoe, McKinley and Nottingham — sitting at more than 100 percent capacity, but no school above 105.1 percent capacity. The decision was reached after an eight-month community process, and previous boundary realignments have resulted in tension among parents.

The boundary revision process, from the first School Board information session to its scheduled adoption, will take two and a half months.

“After we received updated enrollment projections based on Sept. 30 enrollment numbers, the Superintendent directed staff to begin looking at refinement of the 2015-16 boundaries,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia told ARLnow.com in an email. “The projections confirmed that we will have enrollment imbalances within the those schools and there is a need to do boundary refinements for a relatively small number of families.”

At tomorrow night’s School Board meeting, APS staff will present their newest school population projections and outline the need to revising the boundaries. From Nov. 18 to Dec. 5, parents and community members will be able to go online and submit their boundary recommendations for staff to consider. Staff will review those recommendations at another community meeting Tuesday, Dec. 9, in the Williamsburg auditorium.

The community meetings will provide an opportunity for the families that may potentially be impacted to work with staff to develop recommended adjustments using the Online Boundary Tool originally introduced in the boundary process two years ago,” APS said in a press release. “Individuals will be able to see the possible moves that can help to further balance enrollment for these schools. Information shared at all community meetings will help shape the discussion and prepare individuals to use the Online Boundary Tool.”

In January, the School Board will take up the issue. First, with a work session on Jan. 5, then with an information item on Jan. 8, when Superintendent Patrick Murphy presents his recommendation. On Jan. 15, the Board will hold a public meeting on the issue before voting on a new boundary alignment on Jan. 22. All of the School Board meetings will be at 7:30 p.m. at 1426 N. Quincy Street.

File photo via APS

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Indecent Exposure Near Taylor Elementary

Taylor Elementary School (photo via Arlington Public Schools)An alert parent at Taylor Elementary School (2600 N. Stuart Street) called police on Monday upon spotting a half naked man near the school.

A mother saw the man sitting in a van near the school’s bus stop on N. 31st Street around 8:20 yesterday morning. When she noticed that he was naked from the waist down, she called police.

The person is described as a white male with dark hair, in his mid to late 40s. At the time of the incident he was in a white Chevrolet Astro van that had ladders on the roof.

Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said the mother did exactly what she should have in this type of incident.

“If something doesn’t feel right, it’s better to alert police and let them investigate,” Sternbeck said. “The ACPD is following up on the incident and will have an increased presence in the area.”

If found, the man could be charged with indecent exposure.

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Ragnar Relay to Crisscross Through Arlington

Next week, nearly 3,400 relay runners will weave through portions of Arlington as part of their nearly 200 mile trek.

Ragnar Relay Washington DC takes place Friday, September 21 and Saturday, September 22, starting at Rocky Gap State Park in Maryland and ending at National Harbor in Maryland. Runners are expected to make their way into Arlington on Saturday morning.

After entering Arlington via Chain Bridge Road, runners will encounter a baton exchange point at Taylor Elementary School (2600 N. Stuart Street). They’ll continue along the Custis Trail until they reach the Key Bridge Marriott (1401 Lee Highway), which is another exchange point. The race continues south on the Mount Vernon Trail past Reagan National Airport, and then participants exit into Crystal City. The final baton exchange point in Arlington will be set up at the Crystal City Water Park on Crystal Drive. After that, the race heads back to the Mount Vernon Trail and south into Alexandria. The full course map and information about each leg of the race can be viewed online. The Arlington legs are 31-34.

Race organizers ask local residents to be extra cautious of the runners on the side of the road, especially because the relay requires them to race at all hours of the day, including at night. Those who are running in the dark will be wearing reflective clothing and headlamps.

Police say they will not be closing roads due to how long the race is and how spread out the runners are by the time they get to Arlington.

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