Arlington, VA

(Updated at 3:55 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools will “likely” start the new 2020-2021 school year with students staying at home, the interim superintendent told families Friday afternoon.

In a School Talk email, Cintia Johnson — who is soon to be succeeded by newly-hired superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán — said that APS is planning for three scenarios to start the fall: in-home distance learning, a return to classrooms, or a hybrid of the two.

Distance learning is “a likely scenario,” Johnson wrote, noting that APS is awaiting expected guidance from the Virginia Dept. of Education next month. A presentation linked in the email describes distance learning, at least to start, as “very probable.”

“Starting the school year with distance learning, should public health officials advise us it is not safe to reopen. Based on current conditions, this is a likely scenario, and we are preparing for a distance learning model that includes synchronous instruction of new content,” wrote Johnson.

By contrast, “reopening schools as normal with in-person instruction… is the least likely scenario.”

ARLnow previously reported that the school system was gearing up to teach new material via online classes in the fall, if need be, after facing criticism over holding off on teaching new things once the pandemic closed schools. One concern that prompted the decision to hold off on teaching new material — that of equitable access — is getting addressed: Arlington County is spending some of its federal grant from the CARES Act to provide free broadband internet access to households that currently lack it.

The new school year is slated to start Aug. 31.

The full email from the interim superintendent is below, after the jump.

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A banner featuring a collage of photos of Yorktown High School seniors was intended to celebrate the class of 2020, but instead it is being decried as racist.

The banner has since been removed and Yorktown’s principal has apologized, after the controversy blew up on social media yesterday. At issue: the banner uses class photos to form an image of the Yorktown logo, but singles out students of color to create the black outline of the logo.

“I thoroughly don’t understand how Yorktown put forth such a racist banner,” said one student in a social media post. “I understand they were trying to do something nice for the seniors, but the execution was horrible. [People of color] shouldn’t be the outline and there are better ways to highlight the Y.”

“They really used us as the shading cmon now,” said another.

An Arlington Public Schools spokesman said the banner was generated by computer software that creates composite images using hundreds of individual photos, grouped to correspond with colors in the background image.

“A computer program grouped and placed senior portraits over an image of the front of the school and the YHS logo,” said Frank Bellavia. “The printer sent a proof to the school by email, so it was difficult to see how the photos were placed to create image.”

Yorktown principal Kevin Clark said in an email to students and parents that “upon realizing our oversight, we immediately removed the banner and notified the printing company of this issue.”

“This banner does not appropriately reflect our graduating class or our values, and we sincerely apologize to any student who felt offended or marginalized,” Clark said. “We do not condone any activity or imagery that offends our students.”

The outgoing co-editor-in-chief of the Yorktown Sentry student newspaper reported on the controversy via Twitter last night.

Yorktown is the least diverse of Arlington’s high schools, with non-white students accounting for about a third of the student body.

The full letter from Clark is below.

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Schools may be closed, but Arlington PTAs have stepped up and supported local families in their school communities through the coronavirus pandemic.

At K.W. Barrett Elementary School in the Buckingham neighborhood, the school PTA has gone through two rounds of grocery gift card distribution to families in need.

“To date, we have distributed a total of $19,500 worth of grocery gift cards for Harris Teeter, Safeway and Giant,” Melanie Jones and Will Le, representing the Barrett PTA, said in an email. “In the first round (in early April), we distributed or mailed out $8,350 in $50 grocery gift cards (128 distributed; 39 mailed to families). In the second round (in early May), we distributed or mailed out $11,150 in $50 grocery gift cards (203 distributed; 20 mailed to families).”

The PTA has also distributed 275 school supply kits, paid from PTA funds totaling $1982.

The pair said in the email the PTA has received a total of $25,235 in donations and gift card contributions from families and friends and through the One Pantry at a Time GoFundMe set up by Arlington teachers.

The PTA’s goal is to do another gift card distribution in early to mid-June.

“Based on our past distribution (and with $5,735 and 40 gift cards to work with) we believe that another round of $50 grocery gift card distribution will require an additional $4,000 of donations,” the pair said.

Additional donations can be made to the PTA’s efforts through:

  • PayPal to [email protected] (with the note “gift cards for Barrett families” and sent as friend and family)
  • Venmo to @Melanie-Jones-10
  • Givebutter, though donations here have a fee
  • Gift cards donated to the Barrett PTA in $50 denominations.

The Barrett parents said the plan is to shift towards the distribution of groceries and other items of need rather than gift cards. This would require more volunteers and logistical support, but Jones and Le said it would be less costly and let the PTA utilize their own funding.

Other school PTAs have been organizing similar efforts.

The PTA for Abingdon Elementary School in Fairlington has raised over $14,000 for rent relief to help 34 local families. The goal is an additional $28,000 to help cover the families’ rent.

“We have heard that families are being threatened with eviction, despite the governor’s stay on evictions,” the PTA said on the donation page. “Our goal is to have rent covered for these families through June. We would like to provide rent relief for families as soon as possible.   When you pledge to make a contribution, a volunteer will get in touch with you via email within 24 hours regarding details. Checks will be written directly to property managers or landlords.

Emily Vincent, Vice President for Communications for the County Council of PTAs in Arlington, said these PTAs are continuing their missions to help their communities despite school being closed for the rest of the academic year. Such efforts are on top of Arlington Public Schools’ meal distribution program for families in need.

“Despite Arlington County’s wealth, a significant portion of our families experience economic difficulties,” Vincent noted in an emailed statement to ARLnow. “As of October 2019, 8,083 students (29% of the APS student body) qualified for free or reduced meals (FARM). Of those, 6,376 qualified for free meals, which means that their family is living on less than $36,000 a year.”

Vincent’s full statement is below.

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A new Arlington Public Schools budget passed late last week will increase class sizes by one student at all grade levels, starting in the fall.

The $670 million budget largely follows Interim Superintendent Cintia Johnson’s revised budget proposal, which included $54 million in cuts to her original budget, due to a projected downturn in revenue attributable to the pandemic.

The School Board voted to nix about $3 million in cuts, eliminating a proposed staff furlough day, adding back a few administrative positions, and restoring crew and band transportation, among other things.

More from an APS press release:

At its May 7 meeting, the School Board unanimously approved its Fiscal Year 2021 Arlington Public Schools (APS) Budget to fund operations for the 2020-21 school year. The FY 2021 budget totals $670,274,629.

The School Board’s FY 2021 budget requires an on-going County Transfer of $524,628,986, a beginning balance or carry forward of $3,500,000, and funding from Reserves of $16,476,194.  The School Board previously restored several items that were listed as reductions in the Interim Superintendent’s Revised Proposed Budget when they adopted their FY 2021 Proposed Budget on April 23.

These changes, totaling $3,047,119, include:

  • Eliminating a one-day furlough for all staff, resulting in no furlough days for staff during FY21
  • Restoring crew transportation;
  • Restoring the Adobe Creative Suite license renewal (for Career and Technical Education (CTE) students as well as staff use);
  • Restoring band transportation;
  • Restoring Humanities Project funding;
  • Restoring half of the proposed cut for the non-renewal Communities in Schools contract;
  • Restoring the 3.4 Attendance Specialist positions; and
  • Restoring the 1.0 administrative assistant for the Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office.

“From the start, this has been a difficult budget year and has become even more so because of the current economic crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic,” said School Board Chair Tannia Talento. “This budget balances a revised gap of $53 million with increased class sizes of one student at every level, budget cuts to our operating budget, and cuts to baseline additions that were meant to support our growth. We worked hard to prioritize restoring some items that directly support our teachers and staff, items that sustain funding for after-school activities and other student services, and items that continue our focus and commitment to eliminating opportunity gaps.”

During budget deliberation, the Interim Superintendent shared that APS will work with the vendor to ensure Smart Notebook access for teachers for the FY 2021 budget.  In addition, the School Board directed the Interim Superintendent to establish user fees to recover operations and maintenance costs for community use of APS-owned aquatics facilities, increasing user fees by 5% for FY 2021, and continue to discount and reduce user fees according to current practice.

The Board also directed the Superintendent to prepare a fee bracket structure similar to that for the Montessori program for Extended Day fees that would take effect in FY 2022.

APS also recently announced that it would be adding two new grab-and-go meal distribution sites to its existing seven, starting this past Monday: Glebe Elementary (1770 N. Glebe Road) and Barcroft Elementary (625 S. Wakefield Street).

File photo

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Arlington Public Schools is preparing for the possibility that in-person classes will not, in fact, resume in the fall.

There are new questions about when students will be returning to physical classrooms, following today’s Congressional testimony by Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a Senate panel today it’s unlikely that a vaccine or a highly effective treatment will be ready for use by the time the new school year starts.

APS said last week that is it considering ending the current school year early, in part to make time for staff training that will “focus on planning for the return to physical school with an emphasis on social emotional support for students.” But should coronavirus continue some baseline of local spread over the summer, that might lead to tough questions about whether students should remain at home rather than gathering by the hundreds or thousands in a school setting.

Asked about the possibility of not being able to return to school in the fall, APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said it’s one of the scenarios for which administrators are preparing.

“We are preparing for all possible scenarios for both summer school and the fall, as we await school reopening guidance from state officials and the Virginia Department of Education,” Bellavia. “Teachers and staff are participating in planning and professional development to prepare for the delivery of virtual classroom instruction, in the event schools cannot reopen or if a hybrid in-person and virtual learning model is necessary.”

Though APS has — controversially — punted the last couple months of curricula to the fall, opting instead to reinforce teaching from before schools closed in March, Bellavia said new material will be taught in the fall regardless.

“If classes are held virtually in the fall, new material will be taught,” he told ARLnow.

The new school year is set to start on Aug. 31.

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Arlington Public Schools is considering ending the school year a week early.

The proposal was announced at the School Board meeting Thursday night, in which APS also announced its new superintendent.

The plan, if approved at a May 21 School Board meeting, would set June 12 as the last day for all grade levels. The current 2019-2020 school calendar lists June 17 as the last day for high schools and June 19 as the last day for middle and elementary schools.

The plan also proposes virtual graduations for Arlington’s comprehensive high schools on Thursday, June 18.

APS has refrained from teaching new material since schools closed in mid-March and were later ordered closed through the end of the academic year. The use of online learning to reinforce existing material, rather than teach new material, has proven controversial.

In a press release, below, APS said the extra week of staff time would be used to prepare for an assumed resumption of in-person schooling in the fall. The press release also addresses the possibility of summer school classes being held online.

At last night’s School Board meeting, APS announced a proposed modification to the end of year calendar for 2019-20. The proposed last date is June 12. The School Board is expected to take action on May 21.

Ending instruction on June 12 will allow APS teachers and staff to engage in professional development during the week of June 15 to prepare for a strong re-entry to school in fall 2020. Required virtual staff training will focus on planning for the return to physical school with an emphasis on social emotional support for students; distance learning best practices; preparing to teach 4th quarter content and pacing the rest of the school year; and planning for the possible expansion of continuous learning in the event that schools cannot reopen.

Key dates for students and families:

  • Friday, June 5 – Last day for Seniors (no change)
  • Thursday, June 11 – Virtual Graduation for Arlington Career Center
  • Friday, June 12 – Last day for Elementary, Middle and High School; Virtual Shriver Graduation
  • Wednesday, June 17 – Virtual Middle School Promotions; H-B Woodlawn Virtual Graduation
  • Thursday, June 18 – Virtual Graduation for Washington-Liberty, Wakefield and Yorktown
  • Friday, June 19 – Virtual Graduation for Arlington Community High School and Langston High School Continuation

In June, staff and families will be given time to retrieve items from schools, and 5th, 8th and 12th grade students will be able to return devices. Additional end-of-year guidance for families will be shared soon.

Summer School Plans
APS is also currently developing contingency plans for Summer School based on multiple factors, including guidance from state officials. Plans under consideration include:

  • In-person Summer School in August, if social distancing requirements have been lifted and schools can safely open; or
  • Hybrid in-person and online Summer School in August, if schools can safely open with multiple contingencies to maintain social distancing (e.g. rotating live and online instruction, offering staggered morning and afternoon sessions, doubling sites to allow for social distancing); or
  • Online Summer School in July, if stay-at-home orders persist or if conditions are still unclear in early June, when the decision needs to be made.

“We are committed to offering a modified summer school program for students who need it most, either in person or online,” said Bridget Loft, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning.

At the elementary level, summer school would be available for students who are below grade level in reading or math. At the secondary level, summer school would available be for students who have a final grade of D or E in any class and a documented reason for not being able to access Canvas during the final quarter of the school year. Additionally, New Work for Credit courses would be offered for high school students.

Summer School would be free to those students who are recommended to take a course. Students taking New Work for Credit would pay for the class they enroll in.The School Board will take action on the school year calendar change at the May 21 School Board meeting. APS expects to make a final decision on Summer School in early June, based on guidance from state officials and the best available information at that time. Community members can submit questions regarding the calendar changes through APS Engage at [email protected].

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Arlington Public Schools has a new superintendent.

At its meeting Thursday night, the School Board announced that it has hired Dr. Francisco Durán for the school system’s top job, following a national search. Durán comes from Fairfax County Public Schools, where he has served as Chief Academic and Equity Officer since 2015.

The announcement of Durán’s appointment follows a letter to families from interim superintendent Cintia Johnson on Monday, in which she said she decided not to apply for the permanent position.

“I have been pleased and honored to serve Arlington in the interim superintendent role during the 2019-20 school year,” Johnson said. “While I gladly accepted this challenge, it was never my intent to seek the permanent superintendent position. I look forward to the possibilities to come for our school division and will give my full support to the new superintendent.”

Durán will take over at Superintendent on June 1.

The full press release from Arlington Public Schools is below.

At tonight’s School Board meeting, the Arlington School Board named Dr. Francisco Durán as the new Superintendent of Arlington Public Schools (APS). The School Board unanimously approved the appointment following a five-month nationwide search that included 39 applicants and a strong pool of candidates. The selection was informed by community feedback collected in focus groups, community forums and an online survey.

Dr. Durán will formally assume the role of Superintendent on June 1, 2020.

Dr. Durán joins APS from Fairfax County Public Schools where he has served as Chief Academic and Equity Officer since 2015. He has a diverse background in education spanning 26 years, including top-level leadership and superintendent experience in a variety of large urban school divisions with culturally diverse populations. He has served in various roles as a teacher, director, principal, administrator and superintendent. In 2018, Dr. Durán was appointed to the Virginia State Board of Education where he played a key role in the adoption of the new Standards of Quality for Virginia.

Dr. Durán has a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of New Mexico, a master’s degree in educational administration from San Francisco State University, and a master’s degree and doctorate in organization and leadership from Columbia University.

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Arlington Public Schools is adjusting the schedule for distributing meals to family in need, starting next week.

The school system will go from offering grab-and-go meals five days per week to three days per week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The change is being made to mitigate potential coronavirus exposure.

“Five days of meals will still be available each week, but families will no longer need to come to the meal sites daily,” APS said in an email to parents Thursday afternoon. “APS is making this schedule change based on feedback to make meal pickup more convenient for families and to limit the exposure to families and staff.  “

More from a press release:

Beginning May 4, the grab-and-go meals, for all children aged 2-18, can be picked up at the following locations on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

  • Barrett Elementary School — 4401 N. Henderson Rd.
  • Campbell Elementary School — 737 S. Carlin Springs Rd.
  • Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School — 3500 S. 23rd St.
  • Hoffman-Boston Elementary School — 1415 S. Queen St.
  • Key Elementary School – 2300 Key Blvd.
  • Kenmore Middle School — 200 S. Carlin Springs Rd.
  • Randolph Elementary School — 1306 S. Quincy St.

Families can pick up meals at the grab-and-go site closest to them.

APS reminds the community that meal pickup is safe and there are procedures in place to ensure there is no contact during meal preparation or pickup. APS Food and Nutrition Services staff are taking every precaution to provide a safe environment for families picking up meals. Staff are wearing the proper PPE (masks and gloves) and social distancing measures are in place for staff and families. Surfaces are cleaned frequently and bags of food are placed on tables for families to pick up, limiting contact.

Families who are unable to get to the meal sites can also designate a neighbor or family member to pick up food for their child(ren) by providing the name(s) and student ID number(s) for their child(ren) as well as the location they will pick up their meal from in advance. Families can either email this information to [email protected] or call 703-228-2129. The same procedure applies for families wishing to pick up meals without children present. Families need only email or call one time.

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While they can’t meet in person, the five candidates vying for the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s School Board endorsement will meet virtually tomorrow (Tuesday) for a debate.

There are two spots opening on the School Board, with incumbents Tannia Talento and Nancy Van Doren not running for reelection. The candidates seeking the Democratic endorsement are Steven KriegerCristina Diaz-TorresDavid PriddySandy Munnell, and Terron Sims. A sixth candidate, Symone Walker, is no longer seeking the Democratic endorsement and is instead running as an independent.

The debate will be streamed on Facebook Live on the Arlington Young Democrats page starting at 7 p.m., according to the event listing.

Questions for the forum should be sent in advance online.

“We are excited to be hosting a forum along with Arlington Dems before the deadline to request a School Board caucus ballot,” Arlington Young Democrats said on the event page. “Arlington registered voters may request a ballot by (a) completing and submitting an online ballot request form or (b) downloading and mailing a PDF version of the ballot request form. (We also are happy to provide a hard copy printout of the ballot request form to anyone who needs one.)”

To vote in the caucus, ballots must be received by May 7.

Image via Arlington Young Democrats/Facebook

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(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools is holding off on teaching new material until the fall, a decision that has raised the ire of some parents — and now one candidate for School Board.

APS made the announcement over spring break that fourth quarter material would be held until September, “as part of our commitment to ensuring equity of access to new learning for all students.” Instead, following the closure of all Virginia schools for the remainder of the academic year, students are engaging in distance learning that reinforces existing concepts.

In an email to supporters, School Board candidate Steven Krieger said that’s the wrong move.

The APS decision to stop teaching new content for most courses for the remainder of the school year and propose a vastly diminished schedule for younger students was provided without adequate justification.

APS rationalized this decision by claiming it will ensure equitable learning outcomes. Why does APS believe that “equitable” means settling for no new instructional content? Our schools should be focused on finding opportunities and solutions for ALL of our students to excel through distance learning — including students with disabilities and English Language Learners. Teaching nothing new to all students is equal, but not equitable.

Instead of following the guidance of the Virginia Department of Education and exploring every possible innovation and solution to offer an equitable learning experience to all students, regardless of their needs, the school district decided not to introduce any new material.

I wholeheartedly commend our dedicated teachers who are ready to teach our children new material. We shouldn’t punish their hard work by forcing them to spend valuable time next school year making up for lost time now. We shouldn’t add to student stress by forcing them to learn more content in less time next year.

Schools across the country are teaching new material. Arlington should be more transparent about why we cannot do the same or find a way to provide equitable education to all students instead of using equity as an excuse to avoid introducing new material.

Among nearby school systems, Alexandria worked to ensure that all secondary students have laptops and school-provided wireless internet access, if they didn’t already have internet access at home, to make sure they could participate in online classes.

Fairfax County attempted a more robust distance learning curriculum, but major technical and security problems resulted in a fiasco and yesterday’s resignation of a top school official.

Contacted by ARLnow, the four other candidates for the Democratic School Board endorsement, now being conducted via mail, were more understanding of the APS decision.

“Arlington Public Schools’ decision to not introduce new material this quarter aligns with recommended best practice and is what most districts are doing across the country,” wrote Cristina Diaz-Torres. “This choice allows teachers and staff time to build the foundational skills necessary for students to recover and thrive next year while avoiding placing additional stress on students and families.”

“That said, I believe now is the best time to build the district’s capacity to deliver quality distance instruction that is equitable and at scale for the fall,” she added, hinting at worries that students may not be able to return to classrooms in the fall should a second wave of infections happen.

“As we can observe from the experiences in Fairfax County, this isn’t easy,” said another candidate, Sandy Munnell, a long-time APS teacher. “Teachers, students and families each need training, practice and facilities to make distance learning on this scale successful. Presentation of content is different than in a classroom, pacing of instruction is different, feedback and interaction is different — everything is at least a little unfamiliar for everyone. So there is a certain logic to starting with the familiar.”

“I know that APS’ decision to not teach new material via its distance learning program was not an easy one,” said Terron Sims, adding that he believes technological access played a role in the decision. “There was no plan for a crisis of this magnitude, and to be fair, how could there have been.”

“Keep in mind that students in our community have different access, learn in different ways, and have different levels of parent involvement depending upon their work situation,” echoed David Priddy. “As a parent, I also understand our collective desire to keep our children’s education moving forward. However, it is important that we are flexible, patient and continue to communicate as we figure out our ‘new normal.'”

Krieger, meanwhile, said that the APS decision is emblematic of what he wants to change in the school system.

“It is decisions like this and the lack of transparency which motivated me to run for School Board,” he said. “APS routinely makes decisions which neither prioritize our most vulnerable students nor serve as pragmatic solutions for the school system.”

The full responses from the other School Board candidates are below, after the jump.

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Hundreds of Washington-Liberty High School students woke up Tuesday morning in Arlington to find their front lawns adorned with congratulatory messages.

Principal Gregg Robertson said administrators and faculty at the school missed their students and were heartbroken that seniors didn’t get to experience their full senior year due to the coronavirus closure.

Robertson and other administrators at Washington-Liberty divvied up 500 addresses provided by Arlington Public Schools administrators to travel around the county and post signs.

“Congratulations seniors on your upcoming graduation,” the signs said on the side facing the student’s home. “From your W-L family.”

On the street-facing side it said: “Washington-Liberty High School Class of 2020. Home of a General!”

“One police officer did stop to see what we were doing,” Robertson said, “but once we told him what we were he stopped to take a selfie.”

After waking up Tuesday morning, students and parents shared photos of the signs on social media and with Robertson.

A senior picnic was delayed until August, which Robertson said should give seniors at W-L a chance to reconnect before they go off to college.

Robertson said the school is also trying to figure out how to host the graduating students at the school one last time, but in the meantime school staff wanted students to know they weren’t forgotten and were valued.

Photo contributed

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