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Last week, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) was blasted by parents and teachers at a School Board meeting over a decision to spread specialist teachers across multiple schools.

Music, art and physical education teachers are classified as encore teachers in ACPS. Currently, those teachers are assigned to individual schools, but under the new system some of those teachers could be made to float between different schools.

ACPS Executive Director of School Leadership Pierrette Finney and Executive Director of Instructional Support Carmen Sanders told ALXnow in an email the decision was based on declining enrollment at schools.

“The changes were made due to current enrollment numbers for this school year and the actual school enrollment numbers for next year,” the email said. “Currently, during this school year, some encore teachers across the division are not teaching full teaching assignments in their area of certification, while others are doing so. To ensure that all schools equally receive the benefit of encore instruction, some, but not all, encore staff will be shared with one other school.”

Enrollment has stagnated at ACPS over the last few years since the Covid pandemic and projections indicate that trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Finney and Sanders said in the email that this is a “typical practice to ensure full-time employment” when teachers do not have a full teaching assignment. The email said teachers affected by the change will share their time between two schools and more than half of ACPS’ encore teachers will work in one school for the whole school day.

Teachers that travel between schools will be financially reimbursed, ACPS leadership said. The email said a review of enrollment led to a conclusion that some less populated schools were overstaffed while more populated schools were understaffed.

At the meeting last week, teachers said the change would mean many teachers who lead after-school activities for students would have to cut those programs under the new schedule. Others noted that, even when the teachers aren’t leading classes, they are assisting in other classrooms to help fill in the gaps, but ACPS said those roles are secondary considerations.

“The non-instructional duties of encore staff do not supersede their instructional obligations,” the email said, “and it was important to ensure that all ACPS students across all schools within our division have access to high quality encore instruction during the school day.”

Another issue with the change that came under fire from the community was the timing. The change was announced just days before teachers were supposed to receive new contracts for the upcoming year and the decision occurred with no public meetings or School Board discussion.

According to the email:

The timing of staff notification was contingent upon when principals conveyed the information and shared the one additional teaching location to their encore staff. Principals are in the best position to support staff questions and any potential concerns that can be expected when a change is made in schools. In keeping with our current practice of notifying staff of any changes prior to sharing with families, principals shared adjustments with affected staff. Typically, staff adjustments are confirmed over the summer and this year we took a proactive approach to inform teachers prior to contract distribution and the end of the school year.

The full response from ACPS is posted below the jump:

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It’s a day of happiness in Alexandria, as more than 900 Alexandria City High School seniors graduated this morning at George Mason University’s EagleBank Arena.

Perhaps student speaker Lenhle Vilakati put it best when she said: “Today we finally break apart and become our own people. Today we finally have to go off into bigger things and be amazing.”

Alexandria City High School is the largest public high school in Virginia.

Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt praised the 905 graduates, and said they are ready to take their next steps.

“This class of Titans is more than ready to do great things to the next chapter of their lives,” Kay-Wyatt said.

Outgoing Principal Peter Balas received a standing ovation, and tearfully thanked the audience of students, families, ACPS staff and city leaders.

“This is the most meaningful part of being a principal and your class will be one that I will always remember and hold close to my heart,” Balas said. “Today, you’re all experiencing a major life-changing event. Graduation brings to an end the last 13 years of schooling as you know it, that has been structured and supported by so many loved ones who helped you be successful. A change like this can be scary, but it is often through change that you become the best version of yourself.”

ACPS headquarters and clock (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated 6/5) Parents and teachers at a School Board meeting last night said the rollout of a new plan to split specialist teachers across schools has been an unmitigated disaster.

The change affects Alexandria City Public Schools’ (ACPS) encore teachers: teachers who run classes like music, art and physical education. A new change announced in an email earlier this week, without public discussion or meetings, would split these teachers across multiple schools throughout the district.

The Washington Post also noted that the change came just days before teachers were supposed to receive contracts for the upcoming school year.

“Taking us away to go to other schools is going to dramatically change the situation at our school,” said Luisa Tio, an art teacher at Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School. “We just found out 48 hours ago that this was going to happen. None of this was in our contract. All of this is a complete shock to us.”

Meg Ziemann, PTA secretary at Cora Kely School for Math, Science and Technology, said the change was alarming both for how it would affect teachers and for the way it was handled:

No public comment was sought [and] the School Board did not have an opportunity to vote on these changes… The clandestine nature of this decision-making process, the fact that parents have not been alerted, and the fact that there is no mention of the significant staffing changes anywhere on the ACPS website raises major concerns about district communications, transparency, and erodes trust between the district and the community they serve. The impact of this adminsitrative decision cannot be understated.

Ashley Bender, the ACPS 2020 Teacher of the Year, said the change was heartbreaking.

“I stand before you today completely torn apart because of the trust and love that has led myself and encore teachers through the hardest parts of education,” Bender said, “not just by the decision to reallocate encore teachers, but consistent disappointments from ACPS leaders on the day-to-day scenarios in schools.”

Bender said the changes impacting already overworked teachers will have a significant impact on the quality of education for students.

“At our title one school there is a student that needs are because they cannot speak English,” Bender said. “There is a student that needs music because their trauma causes a loss for words, and there is a student that needs physical education because they’ve never had a pair of sneakers.”

ACPS leaders said the change will expand the reach of encore teachers to new and underserved schools. School Board member Ashley Simpson Baird said on social media (there was no discussion of the topic at the meeting) there has been public misinformation about the change to encore teachers. As of 1:20 p.m. on Friday, there remains no official information about the change on any ACPS website or social media channels.

ACPS headquarters and clock (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

It might take some time, but Alexandria City Public Schools has opened the door to collective bargaining with its employees.

On Thursday, the School Board conducted its first work session on the topic, and Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt says it could be two years before the issue comes to the Board for a vote. The Board has to develop a collective bargaining resolution (CBR) with staff representatives, who will iron out wage and other potential increases through a long process.

“It depends on how fast we adopt our CBR,” Kay-Wyatt said. “It could be a year, it could be a year-and-a-half, but I think we have to also watch the budget timeline. It could be two years. We hope that’s not the case.”

It took Alexandria nearly two years to negotiate collective bargaining for police and firefighters, who both saw increases in pay budgeted into the city’s recently approved fiscal year 2024 budget. Alexandria was first Northern Virginia jurisdiction to pass the measures for employee rights and wages in 2021, after former Governor Ralph Northam announced statewide implementation of the law in 2020.

“I’m really glad that we are getting ourselves moving on this conversation,” Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz said. “It is long overdue.”

ACPS approved funds to develop an official ACPS plan and policy for collective bargaining with employees in its recently approved budget.

“The first thing to do is identify who are the interested parties and stakeholders in this whole endeavor,” said Steve Ray, an attorney with Isler Dare, P.C. who is advising ACPS. “The CBR is going to need to address what are the rights and authorities of ACPS… the rights of the employees’ exclusive representative, the scope of the bargaining, and how to resolve impasses, resolutions, and procedures.”

Dawn Lucas, president of the Education Association of Alexandria, said that she’s been looking to start this work for a long time.

“We look forward to working collaboratively with ACPS as it establishes collective bargaining rights.,” Lucas said. “We want the opportunity to collectively bargain for working conditions, forced labor, and things of that nature.”

(Left to right) Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Strange, Police Chief Don Hayes, Jennifer Borbach and retired Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, Agenda Alexandria’s May panel discussing crime in the city, May 22, 2023 at the Lyceum (staff photo by James Cullum)

Amid a crime surge, Alexandria Police Chief Don Hayes said Monday night that the police force is seeing a “plethora” of guns out on the streets.

Alexandria’s gun-related crime jumped 100% in 2022 over 2021, and Hayes says that overall crime is up 27% for the year.

“I can tell you there are a plethora of guns out on the street,” Hayes said at an Agenda Alexandria panel on the crime surge. “I just read the last four daily watch reports that we have. There was one where officers stopped the car and they arrested the individual for having burglary tools in the car and also there was a gun there. Your officers made an arrest of a stolen car the other day, and in the stolen car there was a stolen gun. One of the shootings that happened about probably three weeks ago, up off of Madison Street, everyone one of the three (suspected) individuals that were stopped all had guns.”

Monday’s panel was held at The Lyceum, and included retired Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, Alexandria City High School parent Jennifer Rohrbach and Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Strange. It was moderated by Agenda Alexandria chair Rod Kuckro.

Rohrbach witnessed two fights outside Alexandria City High School last year when she went to pick up her child, prompting her to begin advocating for student safety.

“I witnessed two fights in front of the school picking my daughter up on different days,” she said. “And then a student was arrested with a loaded glock very close to the classroom at the front door. So what I did is I started getting involved in online groups and one thing led to another and so here I am advocating for safety in the city and for our kids.”

Hayes said that a lot of the uptick in gun violence is attributable to “crews” of violent youth and stopped short of calling them gangs. He also said that the guns seized are a mix of legal and illegal weapons.

“It’s the beefs that are going on between the crews, some from down Route 1, some from Woodbridge, some from Alexandria, and there is no one particular reason why it’s happening.” Hayes said. “I just think that things have changed and hopefully this is not going to be a norm, we can get a handle on this, and get them to do some other things that are constructive. But I will say this: that it’s been happening a lot, just not the same characters.”

The department’s strategy so far is to add police presence to high-crime areas, putting more cops in communities with public events and the strategically placement of mobile camera units. Hayes also said that his office is in constant communication with neighboring law enforcement agencies, as crime is up regionally and nationally.

Lawhorne, who served as sheriff from 2006 to 2021, said that there need to be harsher punishments for such offenses.

“These notification of shots fired, most are if Rod does something to make me mad, I drive over to his house, I stick my gun out the window, and I discharge it about 12 times with shell casings around the street,” Lawhorne said. “Rod’s going to return the favor. He’s going to drive back to my house and he’s going to do the same thing. That’s a simple explanation of kind of what’s going on… However, it’s done to intimidate others, but it is terrorizing neighborhoods and it’s unnacceptable.”

Lawhorne said that underage possession of a firearm is a class one misdemeanor, as is public discharge of a firearm.

“Unfortunately, sometimes those bullets hit property, or sometimes people, but let me say the majority they’re shooting in the air to intimidate somebody,” Lawhorne said. “Unless I hit somebody or their property it’s a class one misdemeanor. There needs to be harsher penalties for this reckless behavior.”

Hayes also said that the department is also short-staffed, and that significant resources are devoted to an increase in mental health-related calls for service.

“It’s a significant drain on our resources, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight,” Hayes said.


Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) said long lines to get into Alexandria City High School (ACHS) are part of the growing pains as the system adjusts to new security measures.

Earlier this year, ACPS approved new security measures including metal detectors and handheld wand devices. The security measures were in response to several security issues at the school in recent years. Earlier this year, a teacher at ACHS’ Minnie Howard Campus seized a handgun from a student.

But the installation of new security measures at ACHS and the school district’s two middle schools led to long lines to get into the building.

In a statement, ACPS leadership said the school district saw similar lines with student IDs last fall, but that the process will get more refined with time.

According to Alicia Hart, ACPS Chief of Facilities & Operations:

We sent a communication to staff and families yesterday regarding some adjustments to the screening process that we will be implementing to minimize wait time. As we anticipated, with any new process, adjustments and revamping may take place as we refine the process. As an example, we had a similar experience with lines when we launched the student ID process this past fall. Within a few weeks, the process improved and the length of time to get through the ID process diminished.

Below is the message sent to the ACHS community:

Greetings ACPS Middle and High School Staff and Families,

We shared last week that Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) was officially launching the weapons screening pilot program at Alexandria City High School (ACHS) – King Street campus on Mon., May 15, 2023. In today’s launch, we were able to screen most students (not including late arrivals) within a 75-minute timeframe. As we anticipated, with any new process, adjustments and revamping may take place as we refine the process. As an example, we had a similar experience with lines when we launched the student ID process this past fall. Within a few weeks, the process improved and the length of time to get through the ID process diminished.

Today’s weapons screening launch provided additional insight into the process and how to make the screening process more efficient for the remainder of the rollout. Please see the insights below:

In addition to Chromebooks/laptops, it was discovered that a small percentage of eyeglass cases (lined with metal), certain umbrellas and large three-ring binders may cause the system to falsely alert. To this end, we asked students to have these items outside of their belongings prior to walking through the system

Cell phones, coins, ear pods, spiral notebooks, keys, wallets, lunch containers, etc. do not need to be removed. Students can keep these items on their person as they walk through the equipment

We will have bus drivers remind students to remove the requested items from their belongings prior to exiting the bus to the extent possible. This should help in reducing lines

We are also asking administrators to remind students, via SEAL lessons and announcements, of the process

At the onset of introducing this pilot program, we noted that students would not have to remove items from their personal belongings. However, as we learned that certain components within select items may create false alerts, we decided to proactively ask for those items to be removed. The intent in doing so is to minimize students having to go through the secondary search process for items that we know are not weapons.

We would like to thank all of the students for their patience and grace this morning as we introduced this process. We would also like to thank families for your understanding as we continue to work through the process and logistics of this system. Lastly, we would like to thank staff for supporting the screening process today. The end goal is a smooth, seamless process for students while reducing the likelihood of weapons in our facilities.

We will provide more updates if we discover additional adjustments are necessary as we continue the roll out this week.Sincerely,

Dr. Alicia Hart

Chief of Facilities & Operations

Alexandria City High School Principal Peter Balas speaks at the commemoration of Noah and Josephus Lyles at Market Square in Old Town, October 10, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

Alexandria City High School (ACHS) Principal Peter Balas announced that, after graduation in June, he’s heading north to become the new principal at Arlington’s Wakefield High School.

Balas, who has been with Alexandria City Public Schools for 22 years, took over at then-T.C. Williams High School in 2017. Since then, Balas has navigated the school through Covid, the “One T.C.” decision, the school renaming and issues around violence in the school.

ACHS saw frequent leadership turnover in the years before Balas took charge and, though continued turnover at the leadership level in the years that followed, Balas has been a stabilizing force for the school.

“To watch these students grow over time is more rewarding than I ever anticipated,” Balas wrote. “And, seeing all of my elementary school students now at the high school has given me one of the most unique and special opportunities of my career. My time in ACPS has made me a better teacher, leader and person.”

Balas said he won’t leave until June to see the school year through until graduation.

Balas full letter is below: Read More

Alexandria police at Alexandria City High School’s Minnie Howard Campus on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 (staff photo by James Cullum)

After years in development, a new agreement was released between Alexandria City Public Schools and the Alexandria Police Department to provide school resource officers (SROs) at the city’s high school and middle schools.

The new memorandum of understanding between ACPS and APD has been a long time coming. SROs were defunded by the City Council in last year’s budget, and Alexandria City Public Schools spent the first few months of the 2021-2022 school year without the officers in its high school and middle schools. The officers were returned after ACPS pleaded with Council for their return in the wake of multiple incidents with weapons in schools.

“You will see that a lot of the MOU remains unchanged,” Alicia Hart, the ACPS chief of facilities and operations, told the School Board last Thursday night. “The areas where substantial updates and additions were added include the addition of the use of shared technology resources section, which speaks to the ways in which this partnership may transcend into the joint use of technology resources to support safety.”

Many updated are based on recommendations by the School Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) Advisory Group, which formed last fall.

Those changes include police providing quarterly statistical reports with metrics to measure the effectiveness of their work, that school administrators complete ACPS Law Enforcement Occurrence Report forms, and that the school system meet with police quarterly to review SRO performance and data.

With juvenile crime is on the rise, the school system also plans to roll out a metal detector program this month.

There were 188 incidents requiring a police response within Alexandria City Public Schools in the first two quarters of the current school year, according to a school safety report. Seventeen Alexandria City Public School students were arrested. There were also 15 weapons-related incidents, 41 students injured, 44 fights/assaults and a report of sexual misconduct.

In March, an Alexandria City High School teacher confiscated handgun from a student and in April a suspended student was arrested for allegedly firing a gun near a bus stop at the Bradlee Shopping Center.

The current MOU expires on June 30.

City Council will discuss the matter with the School Board on May 15 (Monday), and the School Board will hold a public hearing and vote on it on May 18 (Thursday). If approved, the MOU will go into effect on July 1 and be renewed in 2025.

According to the proposed MOU:

  • Police will provide quarterly statistical reports with metrics to measure the effectiveness of the ACPS/APD partnership
  • School administrators must fill out an ACPS Law Enforcement Occurrence Report form within 24 hours of a law enforcement action at a school. Those actions may include assisting administrators as requested, investigations, referrals, and arrests
  • ACPS will participate in law enforcement sponsored/related educational activities and seminars
  • ACPS will handle discipline within schools and SROs should not be involved with enforcement of school rules or disciplinary infractions that are not violations of the law
  • APD must meet with APD in August, November, February and May of each school year to review SRO performance and discuss reporting data. The meetings will include daily SRO attendance, calls for assistance, incident reporting and educational activities with students
  • Each principal with an SRO must complete quarterly assessment forms
  • Principals will permit the SROs to complete an educational activity at their assigned school with a goal of one activity per quarter. Such an activity could include classroom briefings, student council briefings and other presentations
  • SROs may intervene to de-escalate situations. However, an SRO should not be involved in the physical restraint of a stuent unless there is imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others
ACPS interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt at the deed signing ceremony for the Winkler Botanical Preserve, September 15, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

It’s been a busy week in Alexandria.

City Council unanimously approved City Manager Jim Parajon’s $884.3 million fiscal year 2024 budget, funding citywide pay increases, a fully funded school system and collective bargaining agreements with the police and fire departments.

On Thursday night, the School Board announced that Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt has been promoted to superintendent. Kay-Wyatt has led Alexandria’s 16,000 student-strong school system since the beginning of this school year after the resignation of Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. So far, she’s managed ACPS through post-pandemic educational issues, an increase in juvenile crime and the ACPS budget process. Her four-year contract ends on June 30, 2027, and her annual salary is $265,000.

Much of the week was punctuated by crime incidents, including a gunfire incidents in Landmark, an attempted carjacking on Duke Street and another shots fired incident near the Braddock Road Metro station.

  1. New tool maps out income and racial inequality across Alexandria
  2. Fairfax County man sentenced 10 years for 110-mph Duke Street crash that killed man
  3. Teen arrested for attempted carjacking on Duke Street
  4. Carjacking suspect arrested after midnight pursuit on King Street
  5. JUST IN: Police investigating shots fired incident near Braddock Road Metro station
  6. JUST IN: ACPS to announce new superintendent on Thursday
  7. Fundraiser established for family of the ACHS student who died this week
  8. Brothers want Tex-Mex restaurant ‘Dos Hermanos’ to open in Del Ray in June
  9. Mount Vernon Avenue closed near George Washington Middle School due to gas leak
  10. No arrest after shots fired in Landmark area Sunday morning
  11. Upcoming free tour explores the hidden history of Alexandria’s Parker-Gray neighborhood

Have a safe weekend!


Good Friday morning, Alexandria!

🌥 Today’s weather: Cloudy. Mild. High of 69 and low of 51.
🌥 Tomorrow: Cloudy. Mild. High of 72 and low of 52. Sunrise at 6:05 am and sunset at 8:04 pm.

🚨 You need to know

More gunfire was reported near the Braddock Road Metro station yesterday afternoon, prompting the Alexandria Police Department to tweet that it’s “determined” to solve recent crime issues.

“APD has taken action by installing cameras and increasing police presence in the area to ensure everyone’s safety,” APD tweeted. “No one has been hurt, but we’re determined to prevent any potential harm by keeping a police presence there until we resolve this violence.”

Thursday’s incident occurred in the same block as a number of recent shootings. The city is experiencing a crime surge, and police are fighting it by increasing patrols in high-crime areas, installing mobile camera units and hosting community events.

📈 Thursday’s most read

The following are the most-read ALXnow articles for May 4, 2023.

  1. JUST IN: Police investigating shots fired incident near Braddock Road Metro station (1834 views)
  2. Fundraiser established for family of the ACHS student who died this week (1203 views)
  3. Notes: Alexandria driver killed in hit-and-run in D.C. | ALXnow (727 views)
  4. JUST IN: Melanie Kay-Wyatt announced as Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent (516 views)

🗞 Other local coverage

📅 Upcoming events

Here is what’s going on today and this weekend in Alexandria, from our event calendar.


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