Alexandria, VA

The main signs at T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School will be removed in ceremonies with students during the last week of this school year, according to Alexandria City Public Schools.

After years of community work to change the names, they go into effect on July 1. The front signs will be replaced this summer by two new signs reading Alexandria City High School and Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School.

But far more work will have to be done to rebrand both schools, especially T.C., which is the largest public high school in Virginia.

It will cost an estimated $358,000 to rebrand T.C. and $5,245 to rebrand Maury, according to ACPS. Below are additional costs:

Alexandria City High School rebranding cost estimates:

  • $173,607 for new athletic uniforms
  • $66,828 for equipment, including a $12,000 wrestling competition mat and $7,000 for athletic hurdles
  • $46,642 for facility costs, including $16,000 for outdoor benches
  • $30,303 for signage, including banners, flags and scoreboards
  • $7,125 for office supplies

Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School rebranding cost estimates:

  • $4,885 for signage
  • $360 for office supplies

Meanwhile, today is the deadline for voting on conceptual designs for the new Alexandria City High School logo. Four student designs were selected from 80 submissions.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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What a week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week is on Gregory Elliott, a special education teacher at T.C. Williams High School. Elliot also goes by the name of “Sugar Bear” for the D.C.-based go-go band Experience Unlimited, and their song “Da’ Butt” from the Spike Lee movie “School Daze” was featured at the Oscars, along with actress Glenn Close dancing to it.

This week was full of news.

City Manager Mark Jinks hinted at retiring, there was a chlorine spill at Lake Cook and the Alexandria Fire Department is contending with reports of racism, sexism and favoritism.

Additionally, a cyberattack on a gas pipeline resulted in a state of emergency throughout Virginia. We asked readers about it in our weekly poll, and out of 250 responses only 31% (78 votes) considered making alternate travel plans.

Election stories

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Go-go music star-turned Alexandria teacher ‘Sugar Bear’ in the spotlight after Oscars shoutout
  2. Landmark Mall developers to field public question in forum this week
  3. UPDATE: Woman arrested for firing gun near Alexandria Courthouse in Old Town
  4. AHDC proposes nearly 500 units of affordable housing for Arlandria
  5. ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria
  6. Here’s which City Council candidates signed the new ‘Alexandria Constituents’ Bill of Rights’ pledge
  7. Girlfriend of murder suspect arrested for breaking into home and beating up witness
  8. Election: Stark differences as Wilson and Silberberg face off in mayoral debate
  9. Racism, sexism and favoritism reported within the Alexandria Fire Department
  10. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  11. Wilson and Silberberg clash over new challenges, old wounds, and The Golden Girls

Have a safe weekend!

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The last class to graduate from the school under the name T.C. Williams High School will have their change to gather with their peers and loved ones in person.

At a school board meeting on May 6, a group of seniors from the school led a presentation of a plan they’d put together and run by school staff for how to make in-person graduation happen amid lingering concerns about coronavirus.

The plan is to host an in-person graduation at Chinquapin Park on June 12, starting at 9:30 a.m.

The seniors, led by 2021 senior class president Karam Burjas, detailed some of the preliminary plans for distancing and layout.

According to the seniors, there is space for 945-980 students seated in a spaced-out area, which would accomodate the entire graduating class. The guest maximum is being proposed as two members of the household, for a total of 2,800 attendees, but it was noted that the governor’s guidelines mean that could go up to four guests with a total of 4,725 attendees — well below the 5,000 cap on outdoor activity gatherings set by the state.

It’s down from the nine guests allowed in past years, but seniors said they wanted to ensure that the full graduating class would be together for the ceremony in a single session.

According to ACPS, further details for the event are still being finalized.

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Morning Notes

ACPS enrollment goes down — “In September 2020 — the start of this school year — enrollment was at just 15,588, a decrease of 3 percent. Since September, ACPS has gained about 300 students, but had ACPS enrollment continued at its average growth rate of 2.86 percent per year (since 2014), enrollment would have been 16,521 students this academic year.” [Alexandria Living]

Goodwin House and George Mason University partner for memory study — “The study will involve Goodwin House Alexandria and Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads residents, as well as seniors who participate in Goodwin House at Home.” [Zebra]

Simon Pearce Store to open in Alexandria — “Vermont-based glassware-maker Simon Pearce is opening a store at 721 King St., according to signs posted on the building. The space was formerly home to Papyrus, the greeting cards and gift wrap store.” [Alexandria Living]

Today’s weather — “Partly cloudy skies in the morning will give way to cloudy skies during the afternoon. High 69F. Winds WNW at 10 to 15 mph… Cloudy skies early (in the evening), followed by partial clearing. Low near 45F. Winds NNW at 10 to 15 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Tour Guide — “The George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia, is seeking a Tour Guide. The Memorial is a National Historic Landmark and one of the region’s most memorable museums. Our tours are one hour in length, and explore the many rooms and galleries of the museum while explaining important aspects of George Washington’s history and the American Masonic heritage. Tours are learned from a script, so memory skills are important. Also essential are good customer service skills, comfort speaking before large groups, and cash register skills. The shift is 8:30 to 5:30 with a half hour lunch break. Both weekday and weekend shifts are available.” [Indeed]

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Stark differences were on full display Saturday night, as Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg sparred in a contentious debate on local issues.

Wilson defended his record since taking the mayorship from Silberberg in 2018. Silberberg, however, said she wants to restore the public trust, and that the city is at an inflection point.

“We’ve seen in the last couple of years certain decisions and policies that have been decided that really put our city at risk in many ways,” Silberberg said. “Our visions for the city are different. And our city is at an inflection point… It saddens me to hear so many residents express a profound loss of confidence and trust in our local government. As your mayor, I would certainly be very focused on transparency, and rebuilding the public trust.”

The hour-long debate was hosted by the Alexandria Democratic Committee, and moderated by Robert McCartney, a senior regional correspondent for The Washington Post. Wilson currently leads in fundraising and endorsements, and the debate comes on the heels of Wilsons’ endorsement by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.

Silberberg presented herself as an environmentalist in favor of “smart growth,” while Wilson said that the city needs to match growth with transportation infrastructure.

“I’m inspired to turn what I’ve learned about our city’s resilience over the last year into a mission for our city’s future,” Wilson said. “I know that by investing in our kids, investing in our basic infrastructure, and making sure that we have an economy that can support the services that our residents expect and demand, Alexandria cannot only survive in the aftermath of this pandemic, but we can thrive.”

Silberberg’s tenure as mayor was plagued by lone 6-1 votes, and Wilson said that she voted against a number of important issues, including a controversial 5.7 cent tax hike in 2017 that resulted in significant capital improvement funding.

“I speak out for the people and I listen to our residents,” Silberberg said. “I’m certainly in favor of transit oriented development, that has been what we’ve all supported across the many years. But what I’m really for is smart growth. And what that means really, is that you don’t have unabashed out of scale overbuilding on every square inch, that you do keep some open space, which helps with the flooding.”

Silberberg criticized Wilson’s handling of COVID-19, and said that the city’s face mask ordinance needed to be passed sooner that the fall of 2020.

“It’s been a harrowing year for all of us,” she said. “I know a number of folks who have had COVID, and I’ve lost some friends. I don’t think we should have waited till October 1 with the outdoor mask order. Cities all across the country were helping restaurants, but the restaurants in the Bradley Center in the middle of the city and on the West End weren’t helped as much as other places, so we need to look at that across the board.”

Wilson said that the mask ordinance was the first adopted in Virginia, and was replicated by Northam in his statewide executive order. He also said that the city’s vaccination rate for Latinos is higher than for white residents, a result of “aggressive outreach” to the city’s nonprofits.

“I’m very proud of that ordinance,” he said. “Alexandria led the way in providing new small business flexibility using outdoor spaces, sidewalks, closing streets, parking lots and everything to help keep our businesses afloat. I worked with the mayor of Richmond to go down to the General Assembly and ultimately get the governor to include an executive order that allowed carry-out cocktails, which has helped keep our restaurants a floating all around our city. We spent millions of dollars a small business assistance again leading the way in the region, and helping our small businesses providing grants to small businesses all around our city.”

Silberberg also said that she would reverse the Seminary Road Diet, which she said is a transparency issue.

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Morning Notes

Old Hat Bar to open soon in Old Town — “Gastropub opening May 21 in Old Town may teach some new dogs in the hospitality industry some old tricks.” [Alexandria Living]

ACPS opens summer/fall learning choice form on Tuesday — “The decision you make now is important to our comprehensive planning. The Learning Choice Form will be sent to families by email on May 11, 2021. May 24, 2021 is the last day for families to inform ACPS of your selection for the 2021-22 school year. If a family does not make a selection before the deadline, then their child will automatically be enrolled in in-person learning for the first quarter of the school year.” [ACPS]

American Rescue Plan meeting tonight — “The City of Alexandria is seeking community input as we prepare for the upcoming receipt of federal funding as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP). This meeting will provide an opportunity for staff to answer questions and to hear from the community about proposed spending opportunities to help with COVID-19 recovery efforts.” [City of Alexandria]

Mayoral debate on Wednesday — “The Del Ray Business Association will host an Alexandria Mayoral Democratic Primary Debate on Wed., May 12, moderated by NBC News 4 Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey. The debate will take place from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. via Zoom. Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson and former Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg have both confirmed that they will participate.” [Visit Del Ray]

Today’s weather — “Intervals of clouds and sunshine (during the day). Slight chance of a rain shower. High 67F. Winds NNW at 10 to 20 mph… Clear skies with a few passing clouds (in the evening). Low 48F. Winds NNW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Right-uppercut associate — “The Right-Uppercut Associate is a key position and must be filled with a high-energy, passionate, and creative person who will continue to fuel the trajectory of this brand toward being the premier fitness franchise in the world.” [Indeed]

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What a week in Alexandria. Here are some of the highlights.

The Alexandria City Council on Wednesday approved its Fiscal Year 2022 $770.7 million budget on Wednesday, and it includes a 2 cent real estate tax reduction. It’s the first time that’s happened in 15 years, and the budget also fully funds Alexandria City Public Schools’ request and includes a 1% raise for city and state employees.

But perhaps the biggest news of the week came with City Councilman Mo Seifeldein’s proposal to eliminate School Resource Officer funding from the budget. The effort was supported along by Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilman Canek Aguirre and Councilman John Taylor Chapman, who voted along with the group after failing to save the program in a last-minute effort.

Crime stories dominated many headlines, and Police Chief Michael Brown spoke with us this week about his department’s efforts to reduce destructive elements throughout the city. More from that interview will be published next week.

In this week’s poll, we asked about the importance of political endorsements for local candidates. Out of 222 responses, 48% (107 votes) don’t consider endorsements while voting; 39% (86 votes) said endorsements influence their decision; and 14% (29 votes) feel that endorsements hold a lot of sway.

Election stories

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Parking issues plague Potomac Yard, city looks to create residential parking district
  2. Knife pulled on woman who chases would-be thieves in Old Town
  3. D.C. man arrested after 130 mph chase leads to crash on Interstate 495
  4. Police: Armed robberies occur minutes apart in Del Ray and Arlandria
  5. Two injured in hit-and-run in Old Town, driver leaves car and flees on foot
  6. Too noisy? City Council is considering revising Alexandria’s noise ordinance
  7. Alexandria City Council to end School Resource Officer program at Alexandria City Public Schools
  8. Alexandria man arrested for firing gun at 7-Eleven door near Braddock Road Metro station
  9. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  10. JUST IN: Power outages across Alexandria as strong winds hit the city
  11. What’s next for GenOn and the rest of Old Town North?

Have a safe weekend!

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The Alexandria City Council unanimously adopted its $770.7 million fiscal year 2022 budget on Wednesday night, and it includes the first tax real estate tax reduction in 15 years.

Retiring Councilwoman Del Pepper made the motion to pass the budget, her last after 35 years on Council.

“This budget is filled with some good things that will be helpful to our citizens, and for me that is what counts,” Pepper said. “It is an opportunity to really move the city forward, and that’s really what’s important. I’m very pleased with the things that are in this budget, and I know that the staff has worked very hard.”

The motion was seconded by Councilman John Taylor Chapman.

It has been a tough past fiscal year for all of us across the city and for businesses,” Chapman said. “I look forward to the future, to the growth that we can start to achieve.”

The upcoming fiscal year (an election year) will see real estate tax bills decrease from $1.13 to $1.11 per $100 of assessed value. At the same time, there is a $24.22 increase in the residential refuse collection fee, from $460 to $484.22.

All city and state employees will also get a 1% raise, and City Manager Mark Jinks said that $12 million, or a 2.3% reduction from last year’s budget, was made without impacting programs or services.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that city staff prepared a high quality budget during a period of incredible uncertainty. That uncertainty is eased, however, since the city will be getting approximately $59.4 million American Rescue Plan funds.

“We have only been successful this last year in getting through this moment because of our incredibly dedicated staff, in many cases doing jobs at physical risk to themselves and physical risk to their families,” Wilson said. “While we can never completely repay folks for that commitment and dedication, I think we were doing what we can in this in this environment.”

Councilwoman Amy Jackson thanked Jinks and staff for including the tax reduction into the budget.

“This is the year that is most needed,” Jackson said.When our residents are looking at other avenues of how they are going to save money, how they’re going to pay their bills, how they’re going to feed their families and continue their jobs.”

Council also unanimously approved the 10-year $2.7 billion Capital Improvement Program, which includes $293 million in investments for schools, transportation, sewers, stormwater management, public buildings and facilities, and information technology.

“We are making some very significant investments in our infrastructure,” Wilson said. “I’m pleased to see that in this in this budget.”

Additionally, nearly $800,000 in Alexandria Police Department funding for School Resource Officers at Alexandria City Public Schools was “temporarily reallocated” to contingent reserves until the school system presents a proposal this summer on using the funds to provide mental health resources for school-age children, the Teen Wellness Center, and the hiring of an additional Behavioral Health Specialist for the Alexandria Crisis Intervention and Co-responding Program (ACORP). The proposal will have to be presented to City Council before their summer recess.

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ACPS could be adjusting its grading scale in recognition of the additional challenges posed for students by COVID-19.

In a report to the Alexandria City School Board scheduled for the meeting tomorrow (Thursday), staff is recommending that some exam grades be dropped and students be given additional changes to repeat assignments for a higher grade.

“In response to the unprecedented challenges faced by students during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, staff recommends adjusting secondary grading practices as follows for the 2020-2021 school year,” staff said in a memo. “As these adjustments in implementation do not alter IKC-R’s (Regulations Governing the Grading Policy) current provisions, School Board action is not required. These proposals continue to be shared with school and administrative staff to obtain additional insight.”

The memo is authored by Gerald Mann, Jr., executive director of instructional support for ACPS, T.C. Williams High School Principal Peter Balas, and others in ACPS administration.

The report said the adjusted grating will omit final exams if that the student would have otherwise passed the course  — reflecting that the situation for many of those students had changed.

“Schools will review grades from courses that ended at the first semester to determine whether omitting the student’s final exam would have resulted in a higher grade,” staff recommended for High School grades from the first semester. “If so, the final exam grade will be deleted, the final grade recalculated, and a grade change completed.”

The memo also included calculations for how grades will be measured if no final exam is given.

For assignments from the third quarter of the school year, staff is recommending that students be allowed to complete any reassessments for up to a maximum revised grade of 80% and makeup work without penalty. Students will be provided an automatic opportunity for reassessment on any assessment for which a grade of D or less was earned in the third of fourth quarters of the school year.

The memo is supported by Superintendent Gregory Hutchings.

By adjusting implementation of secondary grading practices (Regulation IKC-R) for the 2020- 2021 school year, ACPS will:

  • Recognize the ongoing impact of providing new instruction to students remotely and to address learning loss due to the spring 2020 school closures
  • Align with the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE’s) return to school plan implementing Virginia’s phased reopening of K-12 schools during the COVID-19 pandemic; and
  • Ensure maximum flexibility and benefit for ACPS students while maintaining opportunities for mastery of content standards.

If approved the changes would go into effect for grading practices in the 2020-2021 school year.

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(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Only three sitting members of the Alexandria School Board have filed to run for reelection, and four newcomers have entered the race.

The last three years have been a contentious period, and the school system has been under intense scrutiny throughout the pandemic.

So far, only Board Chair Meagan Alderton (District C), Member Michelle Rief and Member Jacinta Greene (both in District A) have filed to run.

“It’s important to have ACPS parents like myself on the School Board because our families are the ones directly impacted by the board’s decisions,” Rief told ALXnow. “We need to return students to full in-person learning, fix old schools and build new ones to solve overcrowding, and provide consistent academic and mental health supports for students.”

Greene said that those incumbents who are running are resilient.

“It is extremely important to have continuity and experience on our school board,” she said. “We owe it to school system to continue to execute our strategic plan centered around providing an equitable education for all students.  I will continue to work tirelessly to make this happen.”

Board member Heather Thornton is on the fence.

“I have not yet made or announced a decision regarding running for reelection,” Thornton told ALXnow.

Board Member Margaret Lorber is not running for reelection.

“Just wanted to confirm that I’m not running for reelection to the school board,” Lorber said. “I had always planned to step down after two terms.”

Member Ramee Gentry is also not running.

“I am not running for reelection. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve Alexandria for six years,” Gentry said. “I’m pleased that some of my colleagues are running again. I believe that the most effective elected bodies are made up of returning and new members, because it ensures a mix of continuity and new perspectives.”

School Board Vice Chair Veronica Nolan and Board Members Cindy Anderson and Christopher Suarez have also not filed and did not respond to ALXnow’s questions. Suarez announced last month on Facebook that he is not seeking another term.

The nine-member body is made up of three members from three districts, and the new candidates include Deborah Ash, former ACPS Principal of the Year Preenann Johnson and Open ACPS! member Bridget Shea Westfall in District B, as well as Abdel-Rahman Elnoubi in District C.

That still leaves two open slots, and candidates have until June 8 to file. If not enough candidates file by the deadline, voters will have the option to write-in up to three candidates on election day in November.

Last month, Board members and Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. participated in a retreat where institutional continuity was presented as a major issue. A majority of Board members want staggered terms, since all nine seats are up for grabs every three years, setting up the potential to push back the public school system for an extended period if a newly elected body is made up of new members.

The last election brought five new members to the Board — Suarez, Thornton, Greene, Rief and Alderton.

Mayor Justin Wilson says that institutional instability is a concern.

“Institutional instability is always a concern, whether for the City Council or the School Board,” Wilson said. “It takes a while to learn your role as an elected official and understand how to be effective. Hopefully we have good folks in the community willing to step up to serve. Our students need a strong, committed School Board.”

City Councilman John Taylor Chapman agreed.

“It takes time for everyone to get up to speed,” Chapman said. “It takes a couple years to understand who the players are and the nuts and bolts of the budget process.”

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