Alexandria, VA

The Alexandria City School Board on Thursday (September 17) will consider moving forward with changing the name of Matthew Maury Elementary School, which is named after Confederate leader and noted oceanographer. The placeholder name would be “The Parker-Gray Rosemont School.”

Maury was the first Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory and the first hydrographer of the U.S. Navy. He was also special agent for the Confederacy during the Civil War and has a statue in Richmond. The School Board received a petition from at least 100 signatures from city residents on August 6, less than a month after the board unanimously directed Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., to begin the name change process for T.C. Williams High School.

“Matthew Fontaine Maury was a confederate officer who fought in support of slavery,” states the petition, which was signed by Del. Charniele Herring, Del. Mark Levine, City Councilman Canek Aguirre, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Mo Seifeldein. “While his efforts in oceanography were noteworthy, his actions surrounding the Civil War and slavery were indefensible.”

The petition continues, “He attempted to negotiate a slave trade from the United States to Brazil in order to help his fellow southerners who would lose a great deal of monty if they lost their ability to sell their slaves. He invented an early version of the torpedo which was used by the confederates to sink Union ships. He tried to create a New Virginia Colony in Mexico after the Civil War where slave labor would continue with a new label of indentured servitude. He convinced nearly 4,000 confederate soldiers to defect before his plan was thwarted by unrest in Mexico.”

The T.C. name change will go before the board next spring, and the board will have to decide on a timeline for a public engagement process and a public hearing for the potential Maury name change.

“It looks feasible to run the two processes together (in the spring),” ACPS Executive Director of Communications Helen Lloyd told ALXnow. “However, the board and the superintendent will have make that decision.”

Photo via ACPS

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With kids in virtual classrooms, ALXnow wants to know how the community feels about the school year so far.

The Alexandria City Public School Board voted in July for a virtual school year, and the school system spent considerable time training staff and working with the community in the days leading up the the first day of school on Tuesday, Sept. 8. Students started officially participating in the Virtual+ model with Chromebooks,

The school system released a portal with updates, learning resources, schedules and school services to help families get through the year, and we’d like to hear what you think.

Please fill out the poll below and then expand on your opinion in the comments.

Additionally, if you’d like to share your experience with us personally or share a news tip, feel free to send our editorial team an email.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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It wasn’t your usual first day back to school. Instead of waiting for their students to arrive bright and early, Alexandria City Public Schools started the 2020-2021 school year virtually.

“We are all in the field of education because we love kids, we love people, and going into the virtual plus model is a challenge for us because we primarily we like to make those connections and being face-to-face,” said Dr. Seazante` Oliver, the new principal at George Mason Elementary School. “(W)e won’t be able to get those hugs and those high-fives on the first day of school, and to be able to see those excited faces and smiles standing out front as we greet our families, and having just come to grips with that.”

Thank you to everyone who shared photos of their children for our first day of Virtual PLUS+!

Posted by Alexandria City Public Schools on Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Unlike last spring after in-person school was cancelled due to the pandemic, attendance will be tracked with its VirtualPLUS+ program and students will be graded on their assignments — just like a normal school year.

Oliver, who has worked at George Mason since 2012, is one of four new principals at ACPS, including Loran Brody at Charles Barrett Elementary School, John McCain at Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB School and Penny Hairston at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School.

Hairston, a former assistant principal at James K. Polk Elementary School, considers the her teachers and administrators to be a family of sorts.

“My theme for this year is ‘better together,'” Hairston said. “Even though we’re apart, and it’s kind of cliche, but we are better when we’re working on one accord, and working for the purpose of our children.”

Brody, a former principal at Takoma Education Campus PK3-8 in Washington D.C. for the last five years, said that support from the Barrett community has been strong.

“It’s definitely challenging and it’s definitely different,” Brody said., adding that his school has a testing team to fine tune how tests will be administered to students.

All day, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., jumped around Zoom calls to check in on students.

“We know this year will be different and it does not change the fact that we are all committed to each of you by making sure you are learning and growing, reaching your academic goals, and getting all the support you need to have a successful school year,” Hutchings said on social media.

👋🏿 A message from Dr. Hutchings before #ACPSFirstDay!"Tomorrow is the big day when we get to see you bright and early…

Posted by Alexandria City Public Schools on Monday, September 7, 2020

Photo via T.C. Williams Minnie Howard Campus/Facebook

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Alexandria City Public Schools today cut down a 150-year-old oak tree to make way for a concession stand as part of the renovation of Parker-Gray Stadium at T.C. Williams High School.

“Shame,” Alexandria activist MacArthur Myers told ALXnow. “A crime has been committed.”

There were more than 2,850 signatures on a Change.org petition to save the “Witness Tree,” but the school system said that saving the tree was not feasible given site constraints and that 31 trees will be planted along the T.C. property line.

“Happy to report the renovation project is underway this morning at the Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium,” wrote the T.C. Williams High School Football Boosters in a Facebook post. “Thank you Alexandria City Public Schools for making this happen for the students and residents of the city!”

Tree removal marks beginning of the stadium improvement project

Happy to report the renovation project is underway this morning at the Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium. Thank you Alexandria City Public Schools for making this happen for the students and residents of the city! @TCWSports #TitanPride

Posted by T.C. Williams High School Football Boosters on Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Courtesy photos

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Starting September 8, Alexandria City Public Schools will require a new digital meal pass or family pin for anyone picking up meals at its food distribution points around the city.

The school system has given away free food at more than a dozen schools and neighborhood popup locations for months. Up to this point, however, no registration was required and the food was free.

Now only kids on free and reduced lunches will get the meals for free. Students who don’t qualify will have to add funds to their lunch accounts via the online school cafe system, or by giving ACPS a check or money order.

“When you or your student come to pick up school meals in nutrition services staff member will scan your digital meal pass or ask for your family pin number,” according to an instructional video released on social media. “You will receive enough meals, which now include breakfast, lunch, supper and snack for each student in your family.”

Students at Cora Kelly School and William Ramsay Elementary School, which are located in Arlandria and the West End, will automatically receive free school meals, according to ACPS.

https://www.facebook.com/acpsk12/videos/651226948856885/

See all the ACPS food distribution locations below the jump.

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Alexandria City Public Schools said the renaming of T.C. Williams High School is a conversation that must prioritize the school’s Black voices.

At a school board work session last night (Thursday), the board expressed universal approval of the planned vote on a name change for T.C. Williams High School later this year, but also pushed back against the vocal advocates for the change who accuse the school system of dragging its feet.

“There’s a lot of discussion about ‘why can’t we change it now,'” said Superintendent Gregory Hutchings. “What I’m hoping we’re able to do is allow for our community to be educated around who Thomas Chambliss Williams is, and how that makes them feel – and have the Board hear voices of our community to make the decision.”

The meeting also covered other issues of inequality in the school system, some officials argued could prove more impactful long-term for students than a name change, but the discussion about the T.C. Williams High School name was the elephant in the room.

The superintendent also noted that Black students, rather than white supporters within the school and the broader community, should be the more prominent voices in the discussion about the potential name change. Hutchings invited the two student representatives, Lorraine Johnson and Ashley Sanchez-Viafara, to share their views on the issue. Johnson said with the current controversies around the Black Lives Matter protests and the Trump administration, changing the name of the school was one wrong that could be fixed on a local level.

“There are lots of wrongs to right, but changing the name is the first,” Johnson said. “I understand there’s people who want it taken down immediately, but with that much at stake, we have to get this right. Before the name is taken down, we at least need to be on the same page moving forward for what we’re going to name the new high school. We need to be a united front when we go to the public about what we name it.”

 

Johnson also said she supported the students who have been covering up the name of the school on the marquee, an act ACPS and T.C. Principal Peter Balas had previously threatened to pursue legal action over. Johnson said the tarping is partially the result of students not feeling as though they have a day-to-day platform to speak on the issue.

A recurring theme of the discussion was ensuring that white allies don’t override Black voices in the discussion.

“White ally-ship is important, but students of color should be on the front lines of that work,” Johnson said. “This is our fight.”

“When we give black and brown children a platform… the sky is the limit,” said Hutchings. “When the history book is written about this historic moment that I hope happens in December 2020, [I hope is says] that the students at T.C. Williams were the ones that led this. That’s not to say we don’t need everyone else, but our Black and brown students’ voices matter.

School Board members rallied behind the idea that delaying the discussion to December, rather than taking immediate action,

“It’s an understandable frustration,” said School Board member Christopher Suarez, “but at the end of the day it’s important that we go through a process that allows Black and brown students to be heard and allows students who are going to be the future leaders in this high school express their voice.”

Noting that the school board mostly seemed in agreement that the name needed to be changed, Suarez predicted the harder fight ahead will be on what the new name will be.

Photo via ACPS

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Even as Alexandria City Public Schools is preparing for an online start to the school year at T.C. Williams High School, nearby private school started in-person classes again today (Wednesday).

Bishop Ireton High School (201 Cambridge Road) is a private Catholic high school that is reopening today with a mix of in-person classes and online participation.

The school is using a hybrid model similar to the one considered by ACPS before the school decided on an entirely virtual approach. In part, the hybrid model was dismissed due to logistical concerns. This is less of a problem at the Bishop Ireton — which is only 1/5 the size of T.C. Williams High School.

The new structure includes both in-person classes and synchronous remote learning. According to the school’s phased plan document, half the student body will be at school in-person on a rotating schedule of alphabetically grouped students. The students will be at the school for in-person instruction for 2 consecutive week days, while the other half of the student body will be onsite the other two consecutive days.

“This schedule rotation will continue according to the school calendar for as long as we must operate on a reduced number of people onsite,” the school said. “Student groups are determined alphabetically by last name (A-K Group 1, L-Z Group 2). Conditions allowing, three lunch periods will be provided each day in the cafeteria with cleaning and sanitizing in between lunch sessions.”

While ACPS has pursued an option that includes asynchronous learning, Bishop Ireton will require all students to attend classes in real-time whether in-person or working remotely. Read More

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The Alexandria Tutoring Consortium has launched a fundraising campaign to continue a virtual program that teaches young children how to read.

The 24-year-old nonprofit needs $22,000 to fund a leveled reading program that started after its personalized literacy tutoring program was shifted online after the pandemic hit the city in March. So far, Burke and Herbert Bank donated $1,000 to kick things off, and donations can be made on the ATC website.

“This has been a trying time,” said ATC Board Chair Yvonne Folkerts, who is also a former chair of the Alexandria School Board. “Yet despite the challenges, our tutors remained dedicated, the parents supported our virtual needs, our staff stayed true to our mission, and the students have benefitted.”

ATC, which uses a University of Virginia curriculum, was tutoring 128 students in its “Book Buddies” program last March. It was able to connect with 102 of those students when the virtual program started in late April. Now, the nonprofit estimates that 84% of those kindergarten and first graders will be reading on grade level.

With the entire school system going virtual this fall, the leveled readers will replace books that are kept in the classroom.

“Our staff has decided leveled readers are the best choice for a virtual program and therefore we intend to find the resources to provide this literacy tool for these young readers,” Folkerts said.

Photo via ATC/Facebook

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If all goes according to plan, Alexandria City Public Schools will begin a public engagement process in September and October to educate the public on who Thomas Chambliss Williams was, followed by a vote on whether to change the name of T.C. Williams High School.

The actual vote on a new name would be chosen next spring after a vote on whether the name should be changed in December, according to ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., who reported the news to the school board in a virtual retreat on Wednesday.

“People are not really thinking about a name change… they’re reading about the election, they’re reading about COVID,” Hutchings told the Board. “That’s where everybody’s focus is.”

Last month, the board unanimously voted to approve the process for changing the name of T.C. by next spring. T.C. is the largest high school in Virginia and is named after former ACPS Superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams, who was a segregationist and discouraged school integration.

“I think by the spring, if the board approves to change the name of T.C. Williams, then we can use from January to the spring to come up whatever the new name is going to be,” Hutchings said.

Marc Solomon is one of the community leaders behind the group Rename T.C. Williams Now trying to get the name changed. He says that the name should be stricken immediately.

“It’s unfortunate that ACPS is continuing to go down the path of most resistance,” Solomon said. “We hope Dr. Hutchings will reach out to our organization to cooperatively address concerns and retire the name of T.C. Williams immediately, and spend the rest of the time picking a new name.”

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Fall 2020 is going to be an unusual start to the school year for all involved, but ACPS is taking some special precautions to help guide parents and students who have the additional challenge of being new to schools.

Within the Virtual+ model ACPS is pursuing, some specific measures are aimed at the school system’s new Pre-K and Kindergarten families.

For starters, the usual kindergarten prep is being replaced with what ACPS staff described as “kindergarten kickoff.”

“All kindergarten teachers who typically do K-prep are going to be making phone calls and having zoom meetings with families that have signed up for kindergarten,” staff said at a School Board meeting last Friday. “They have quesitons we’re going to ask them, like ‘does your child know their colors’ and ‘have they ever had a vision and hearing screening’ to plan for them.”

Once class lists are assigned, staff said teachers will be calling families individually to welcome them. Teachers will also be available to speak with parents during office hours.

“We’re hopeful we’re able to work this out,” staff said.

The plans for how to proceed with early childhood education recognize a common refrain school administrators have said throughout the planning process: that the online learning program is a necessity that does not reflect the best way to educate children.

“Young children benefit from positive adult-child interactions, a predictable routine, and a play-based approach to learning,” ACPS said in its Virtual+ guidelines. “Teachers support children’s learning through differentiation of instruction and by addressing students’ strengths and needs through flexible grouping, support for social-emotional and self-regulation skills, Guided Language Acquisition Development strategies (PreK-GLAD), and one-on-one instruction.”

The Virtual+ model outlined how Kindergarten and Pre-K instructors are expected to handle instruction without being able to communicate with students in-person.

“Evidence-based instructional practices will include actionable feedback, non-linguistic representations, cooperative learning, and work samples,” ACPS said. “Pictures, visuals, real objects, and physical movement will be embedded into the learning. Learning will be synchronous and asynchronous, and access to these opportunities will be facilitated by the district’s provision of tablets for each of our youngest learners. Preschool families will receive a choice board activity packet and materials kit to support and supplement teacher instruction.”

ACPS also announced as part of the changes to Pre-K care, the school system will also expand its technological distribution services to:

  • Ensure each student has a device issued to them, and that these devices will work on private and public as well as school Wi-Fi when available and if needed due to special circumstances ACPS supplied hotspot.
  • Provide PreK through 1st grade students tablets and 2nd grade through 12th grade students with chromebooks.
  • Select a central facility to streamline activities and serve as our main storage and distribution hub. Other satellite and pop-up sites will be made available for support.
  • Provide Wi-Fi and Internet Access so that families have the access that they need.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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Alexandria City Public Schools is preparing to go back to school with an all-online model, school administrators are working to adapt the school systems’ athletics program to a new, condensed schedule.

James Parker, Director of Athletics and Student Activities, said that like the rest of the state, Alexandria sports will have a modified schedule with sporting events currently planned to start again in January.

“The winter season will start on the 1st of the year, then the fall season after that, in February or March,” Parker said.

All sports teams will play 60 percent of their regular seasons. So if there are ten football games in a season, the Titans will only play six of them. Parker said ACPS is still working with the Virginia High School League to figure out how playoffs would be run, if at all.

Parker said many students who were likely to get scholarships were already being scouted in their junior years, but that it could be late spring or early summer before some get their offers. The only concern is that they won’t have any information on whether some of the athletes improved, meaning some students who have outstanding seasons their senior year might not be recognized for that in scholarships. Parker said there will be a lot of college coaches taking the word of high school coaches this year.

The bigger concern, Parker said, is a backlog at the college level as students who would have graduated from the colleges are allowed to finish out their seasons the coming year.

“Lets say there’s 50 kids on a football team and ten leave,” Parker said. “If we don’t have football this year, those kids will get to stay. But what happens to the ten kids who were going to move up? They’re going to have to expand rosters, possibly, or sit out for a year.”

In the meantime, Parker said athletics programs are still planning to do no-contact conditioning days.

“That means nothing with shared equipment, so no tackling dummies or helmets,” Parker said. “So it’s more about conditioning and running. It’s like a camp.”

If the students are able to meet again in person this year, Parker said one of the lessons from the spring would be having senior night as soon as possible in case there’s a second wave.

“If we’re able to start, knowing that things can be automatically shut down, we would do Senior Nights at the beginning,” Parker said. “We would move those up, just in the event that things happen and we have to go back to shutdown, so at least those kids get recognized.”

ACPS’ Virtual Plus+ plan was submitted to the Virginia Department of Education for review today (Friday).

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Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC, though the school also calls itself NOVA), which has a campus in Alexandria’s West End at 5000 Dawes Avenue, has announced that there will be some in-person classes this fall when classes resume on Monday, August 24.

“While much remains uncertain about the future impacts of COVID-19, NOVA has outlined safety considerations for limited on-site instruction, services and operations during the fall semester,” the school announced on its website. “This plan is grounded in a commitment to follow all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Virginia Department of Health (VDH) guidelines for COVID-19 safety.”

Alexandria City Public Schools has put forward a plan to go online-only, with few exceptions, and NVCC said the majority of its classes will be virtual as well. Computer labs, libraries, bookstores, the business office and parking will remain open, but with limited capacity.

Some classes, like, will require in-person instruction. According to NVCC, these include:

  • Automotive Technology
  • Dental Hygiene
  • Engineering Technology
  • HVAC
  • Nursing
  • Workforce Development

“For more hands-on classes that require a physical presence at NOVA, the College is using an individualized approach to identifying and implementing safety controls in a deliberate and sensible manner,” NVCC said. “Safety planning surveys were used to gather detail of what instruction or service will occur in each classroom or area and any unique dynamics or considerations involved. CDC and VDH guidance for physical distancing, the College evaluated each space, measured distance between seats, reviewed instructional areas and prepared plans and configurations to maximize a six-foot distance, to the extent possible.”

The school is requiring that students, faculty and staff complete an online training module that includes information about COVID-19.

Campus events and meetings have also been cancelled, as is the school’s fall athletic season.

Photo via NVCC

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