What a hot week in Alexandria.

With temperatures hovering in the mid-90s, the week started with a power outage at a 17-story apartment building in Landmark area. The outage lasted five days and residents had to find accommodations until the building reopened Friday afternoon.

On the coronavirus front, Alexandria experienced a slight uptick, and the health department says unvaccinated residents account for a majority of new cases. There have been 39 new cases reported so far this month in the city, and 13 cases were reported on July 9. That was the biggest single-day jump since May 20, when 18 new cases were reported.

In school news, this week we spoke with Alexandria High School Principal Peter Balas, who said that his staff are ready to fully reopen for full-time in-person instruction when the 2021-2022 school year starts on August 24.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Here’s the plan for Alexandria’s birthday celebration this weekend
  2. City Council approves massive high-rise project without affordable housing near Eisenhower Metro station
  3. ‘Call Your Mother Deli’ signs lease in Old Town
  4. Del. Mark Levine raises eyebrows with letter that passes buck on constituent service
  5. Shortened Alexandria Birthday celebration is still on for July 10
  6. Alexandria City High School is ready to reopen at full capacity next month, principal says
  7. School Board Member Jacinta Greene faces reelection, wants race relations taught in ACPS
  8. Tropical Storm Elsa’s dregs tear through southern Alexandria
  9. Poll: Do you agree with reallocation of school resource officer funding?
  10. West End high-rise apartment building evacuated after power outage
  11. The Alexandria Police, Sheriff’s Office and Fire Department all want raises

Have a safe weekend!

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Summer school is in full swing, and Alexandria City High School Principal Peter Balas says he and his staff will be ready to open to five days a week of in-person instruction when the 2021-2022 school year starts on August 24.

“We’ll be ready on August 24,” Balas told ALXnow. “I’m excited. Anything other than my kitchen table five days a week would be wonderful… I hope we start in August with no masks, no restrictions.”

Wrapping up his fourth year at the helm of the biggest high school in Virginia, Balas isn’t your ordinary principal. On one bicep he has a tattoo of Madonna, on the other a quote by Shakespeare, and on a recent summer day sported a T-shirt that said, “We are on an anti-racist journey!”

It’s more than just a clever shirt, since his school was recently renamed. For 50 years it was T.C. Williams High School, a name that Balas and many of his colleagues didn’t look too far into until last year, when community activists reminded the School Board that Williams — the former superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools for three decades — was a staunch segregationist.

“I remember when I first started teaching here, I had no idea who he was,” Balas said.

Now, with about 630 or so students attending summer school five days a week, Balas is hoping to start the next school year at full capacity — nearly 4,000 students — and to open without restrictions. There will also be security challenges, as the City Council recently voted to eliminate funding for the School Resource Officer program, which takes away the presence of armed police officers at the school, and Balas said the security company that ACPS contracts with does not handle criminal activity.

ACPS is reportedly working with the police department to continue a police presence in schools.

“We do have security officers who are contracted employees who help us ask your kids to class, check passes, clear hallways,” he said. “They help us through hallways and they do help us break up altercations. They are unarmed. They help with security, but they are not the people you call if there’s a crime or if there is suspicion of a crime.”

Balas started his teaching career at the school more than a decade ago, before becoming an assistant principal at T.C. for three years and then principal at Mount Vernon Community School for five years. He tears up at the prospect of returning to full capacity next month, and said his staff will need time to share their stories.

“We probably need some trauma processing time together,” Balas said. “I think [educators] need a chance to process with their colleagues what they’ve been through, what it meant for them, what are they looking forward to and what do they fear going forward.”

He says ACHS will see an impact from learning loss.

“There are certain courses where skills are cascading,” he said. “What our teachers are going to have to do is take a look at and measure what that loss was, and what are the gaps that have to be filled.”

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Morning Notes

Dessert collection of White House Pastry Chef up for auction in Alexandria – “Coming up soon, this fall, The Potomack Company in Alexandria will be auctioning [Roland] Mesnier’s dessert mold collection, which includes molds used to create peach sorbet for Princess Diana in 1985, as well as molds for dessert centerpieces such as a large American bald eagle, the Statue of Liberty, Big Ben, the Queen of England’s coach and many others that honored kings and queens, prime ministers and governors.” [Alexandria Living]

City launches Unified Planning Team — “In one of the first major plan alignment efforts of the city, the leadership of [the Alexandria City Public Schools system, the Health Department and Department of Community and Human Services], with support from the Alexandria City Council and the ACPS School Board, agreed to the establishment of a Unified Planning Team to jointly develop the three plans.” [Zebra]

Centenarian celebration on July 30 — “Know an Alexandria resident who will be 100 years old or older by Dec 31? Alexandria centenarians will be honored and recognized for their lifetime experiences and achievements. The deadline for submissions is July 30.” [Twitter]

Today’s weather — “Partly cloudy early with thunderstorms becoming likely during the afternoon. High 89F. Winds WSW at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 70%… Isolated thunderstorms during the evening, becoming fair overnight. Low 68F. Winds NW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 30%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Ghost tour guide — “US Ghost Adventures, a national tour operation is seeking energetic storytellers to lead 90-minute walking tour groups downtown. This part-time position is ideal for self-motivated candidates looking for a fun way to make extra income in the evenings.” [Indeed]

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Despite a last-minute appeal by the Alexandria School Board to slow down on eliminating the school resource officer program, City Council voted 5-1 on Tuesday in favor of reallocating nearly $800,000 toward mental health resources for school aged children.

Mayor Justin Wilson, who voted in the minority against eliminating SROs in the 4-3 Council vote in May, said that the issue was not handled correctly and that he is “dismayed” by the deteriorated relationship between Council and the Board.

“I don’t think it was the right thing to do,” Wilson said. “I don’t think it was the right way to do it… I’m dismayed by where we’re at with our fellow elected body on the School Board. I don’t think we’re in good spot, and we need to fix that.”

Council’s decision means that police officers stationed inside Alexandria City High School, Francis Hammond Middle School and George Washington Middle School — will no longer have offices in those schools. Alexandria City High School is the largest high school in Virginia, and last month School Board Vice Chair Veronica Nolan warned that the decision leaves the school system vulnerable.

School Board Member Cindy Anderson testified on behalf of the Board, and said that their November 2020 decision to keep SROs was “totally disregarded.”

We can do better than this,” Anderson said. “We simply need to take our time and do it right.”

City Councilman Mo Seifeldein proposed the program’s elimination and asked that Anderson focus on the reallocation.

“Our understanding is these are the most needed resources based on waitlists, based on student needs, based on parent needs and these are supplemental positions to what you guys already provide,” Seifeldein said. “So, this is kind of where the discussion is and if you could focus your answer just on that I would really appreciate it.”

The Board has continually asked Council to respect its decision to keep SROS.

“At this moment, the proposed mental health positions feel like a stab in the dark that have made no genuine effort to get buy-in from the impacted staff, or a true representative sample of our students, their families and community stakeholders,” Anderson said.

Councilwoman Amy Jackson was the lone dissenting vote, and Councilwoman Del Pepper was not able to vote because of a technical issue.

“[The School Board’s decision to keep SROs] was a 6-3 vote, they had gone to their community, their constituents, they had done the vetting process for this entire issue,” Jackson said. “They had community engagement, and then City Council turned around and said, ‘Sorry, we don’t like your answer. This is how it’s going to be.’ That’s bullying. I thought we had an anti-bullying measure here.”

Councilman Canek Aguirre said that ACPS has budgeted $1 million toward private security, and that taking away four-to-five SROs in schools around the city should not have an impact. He also said that the school system missed an opportunity to talk about equity during last year’s increased tensions with police.

“Why are we spending a million dollars on security guards?” Aguirre asked. “If they’re not up to par it is up to the School Board to fix that issue. This has been a long-standing issue. It needs to get fixed.”

Acting Police Chief Don Hayes said that the officers have been put back into patrol operations, and that the schools will be incorporated in patrol beats. He also said that a mentorship program between former SROs at Alexandria City High School soccer players will continue.

“We’re still going to be there,” Hayes said. “We were there before SROs were there, we’ll be there after SROs are gone.”

The funding will go toward:

  • $567,000 — One therapist supervisor to the Department of Community and Human Services; two licensed mental health professionals; a human services specialist; and a licensed senior therapist for emergency services
  • $122,000 — One new public health nurse at the Minnie Howard campus
  • $101,000 — One new Alexandria Mentoring Partnership coordinator
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It was a quick week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.

With summer in full swing, three Alexandria athletes have made it on the U.S. Olympic Team — sprinter Noah Lyles, high-jumper Tynita Butts-Townsend and boxer Troy Isley.

In other sporting news, Old Town businesses beat Del Ray in a controversial softball game Wednesday, adding fuel to the fire of an intense rivalry.

It’s been super hot out lately, and the City urged caution and reminded residents to take advantage of special cooling centers.

On the COVID front, the city’s DASH bus service announced that one of its drivers passed away from complications from the virus.

Meanwhile, Mayor Justin Wilson believes that the city has met its 80% vaccination threshold, while Virginia Department of Health data says about 65% of residents over the age of 16 are partially vaccinated. The Alexandria Health Department, which just launched a COVID-19 test and vaccine pilot at T.C. Williams High School, says the data does not take into account city residents vaccinated in Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

It’s also July 4 weekend, and in this week’s poll we asked whether readers plan on traveling, with 67% of respondents voting to stay home, 27% opting to travel by car and just 6% traveling by air.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Researchers call out shoddy craftsmanship in buried 18th century Alexandria ship
  2. Man suspected of raping 12-year-old stepdaughter in Landmark area flees to El Salvador
  3. Landmark Mall plan approved as Planning Commission demands better environmental considerations
  4. Alexandria leaders acknowledge serious security issues with elimination of school resource officer funding
  5. Shortened Alexandria Birthday celebration is still on for July 10
  6. Alexandria eyes bus rapid transit and bike lanes for Duke Street
  7. Parker-Gray tiny lot home moves forward with some unique challenges
  8. Alexandria woman dies after veering off road on Interstate 95
  9. City talks strategy on making Chirilagua/Arlandria neighborhood Amazon-proof
  10. UPDATE: Man taken into custody as West End apartment barricade situation ends peacefully
  11. BREAKING: California man arrested for West End murder, indicted with 16 others in massive racketeering conspiracy

Have a safe weekend!

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What was an intense week in Alexandria. Here is the rundown.

History was made, as the new marquees at Alexandria City High School and Naomi L. Brooks Elementary Schools were unveiled this week, and the name changes to T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School will go into effect July 1. It’s a victory for civil rights, as the namesakes of both old schools had backgrounds steeped in racism. Maury was a Confederate leader and Williams was an ACPS superintendent who worked intently against racial integration.

City Manager Mark Jinks on Tuesday also announced his intention to retire at the end of the year. Jinks, who made the announcement to City Council, hinted to ALXnow last month that he was seeking retirement. Today (Friday, June 25) is also the last day for retiring Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown, who will be moving to the West Coast to deal with family matters. Assistant Chief Don Hayes is taking over as acting chief until a national search narrows down a preferred candidate for the job.

Law enforcement events also dominated this week’s coverage. On Tuesday, first responders saved a woman experiencing a mental health crisis who was dangling perilously off the Monroe Avenue Bridge, followed by news Wednesday that a suspect was arrested for a West End murder along with 16 others in a massive racketeering conspiracy. On Thursday, a barricade situation in the West End ended peacefully.

In this week’s poll, when asked whether transit improvements would make residents more likely to take the bus, 48% said they don’t take the bus often and won’t likely change their habits; 38% said they don’t often take the bus, although transit improvements might change that; and 14% said that they already frequent the Metro and DASH bus systems.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Alexandria woman dies after veering off road on Interstate 95
  2. Man suspected of raping 12-year-old stepdaughter in Landmark area flees to El Salvador
  3. JUST IN: Thieves break into more than 60 vehicles in West End
  4. JUST IN: Rarity as American Viper Rattlesnake found in Old Town
  5. Massive redevelopment of West End apartment building has neighbors worried about street parking impact
  6. UPDATE: Alexandria first responders save suicidal woman on Monroe Avenue Bridge
  7. City Council emphasizes marketing funding for Alexandria’s ‘Hot Girl Summer’
  8. Mother and boyfriend allegedly beaten by knife-wielding ex in Old Town North
  9. With eviction moratorium expiring, city pushes renters and landlords toward rental assistance
  10. Shortened Alexandria Birthday celebration is still on for July 10
  11. BREAKING: California man arrested for West End murder, indicted with 16 others in massive racketeering conspiracy

Have a safe weekend!

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Morning Notes

Council defers on School Resource Officer funding reallocation — “On Tuesday, Alexandria City Council deferred a decision on releasing funding for school resource officers for other positions at Alexandria City Public Schools. The decision is scheduled for a July 6 public hearing.” [Patch]

Levine agrees to pay for primary mailer on House letterhead — “Levine, who lost both his primary contests, said in an interview he saw the mailing as an “informational letter” explaining the unique circumstances of why he was appearing on the ballot twice. He said he still doesn’t think it clearly qualified as campaign advertising, but agreed to reimburse the clerk’s office to clear up the matter after others complained.” [Virginia Mercury]

Paving wrapping up on Commonwealth Avenue — “Commonwealth Ave should be finished by the end of the week (striping and speed cushions to follow) Paving continues on West Glebe Rd.” [Twitter]

Injured Titan soccer player makes $5,000 GoFundMe goal — “Mahmoud is a goalie and was playing a soccer game when he collided with someone, he got 2 fractures in the lower jaw, dislocated TM joint, and he lost 2 teeth with damaged gums. The surgical procedure required 6 screws and wiring to hold the jaw together, he won’t be able to eat or talk for 6 weeks to heal. The donation would help a lot with the medical bills.” [GoFundMe]

Alexandria Aces return — “The COVID-19 pandemic may have resulted in empty stands and untouched uniforms last year, but the Alexandria Aces are finally back for their 13th season in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League – with a few adjustments.” [Alex Times]

Today’s weather — “Intervals of clouds and sunshine (during the day). High 83F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph… Partly cloudy skies during the evening will give way to cloudy skies overnight. Low 71F. Winds SSE at 10 to 15 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Multiple positions available at the Chart House — “$500 Sign-On Bonus – $100 once training is complete and $100 every 30 days for 4 months. This isn’t just your next job – it’s your opportunity to be part of an amazing team that delivers on our promise to meet and exceed our guest’s experience the moment they walk through our doors!” [Indeed]

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In a victory for civil rights, the marquee for Alexandria City High School was unveiled Wednesday morning, replacing the old sign bearing the name of T.C. Williams High School.

It’s been nearly a year since the effort to change the name of Virginia’s largest high school began. The new name will go into effect July 1, as will the official renaming of Matthew Maury Elementary School to Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School.

“I think this is a great step towards equity,” rising junior Miracle Gross said. “This year more than any I learned what he really stood for and why our community is against it.”

T.C. Williams High School gained international fame for the ‘Remember The Titans‘ film, which depicted the newly integrated Alexandria football players winning the 1971 state championship by bridging racial divides. Ironically, the school itself was named after a staunch racist superintendent who spent years actively working against integrating the school system.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said that the day would go down in history, and that the school mascot will remain the Titans.

“Once a Titan always a Titan,” Hutchings told the audience of students, administrators, parents and former graduates. “We are proud of our diversity and we realize that that name, Thomas Chambliss Williams, did not deserve to be honored on our only high school in the city of Alexandria.”

Wednesday was also the last day of school, and for the next three months ACPS will work to replace all of the markers with the name T.C. Williams.

“We already started to order the uniforms,” Hutchings said. “It’s going to take us some time to get through all of our marquees as well as all of the signage within the school building.”

School Board Vice Chair Veronica Nolan said that it’s also a somber day.

“Systemic racism is something that was created with purpose and with resources attached to it,” she said. “And the staff at T.C. Williams fights it every single day.”

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Alexandria City Public Schools won’t be looking for classroom space in recreation centers.

That’s according to last week’s virtual meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission, which looked over a slew of updates for various projects throughout the city.

The Commission, like most city bodies, will start going back to in-person meetings starting next month. It was an issue that has caused a mini-controversy within the city’s boards and commissions.

The state-level ordinance allowing local in-person meetings doesn’t expire until September, but the city has been encouraging commissions to start resume in July. Gina Baum, chair of the Commission, said there had been pushback both from the Planning Commission and Waterfront Commission, but that the city hasn’t budged yet.

Recreation Services Division Chief Margaret Orlando said that an Alexandria City Public Schools’ survey of families found that 93% of students plan to returning to in-person teaching, which will be so many students that the schools wouldn’t be able to accommodate social distancing in recreation centers as per an earlier proposal.

“Schools can’t do that with distancing, so they’ve pretty much said everyone is coming back, so they’re not going to use recreation center space for potentially classroom space or school space,” Orlando said.

But the city’s recreation centers still face their own challenges, particularly with low staffing.

“Our challenge right now is staffing,” Orlando said. “We’ve lost a lot of staff. We’re just not getting applications. We’ll keep recruiting through the summer, but may not be able to start with highest enrollment numbers in the fall. We may have to scale back. It won’t be numbers we had this summer because we won’t have to do distancing, but won’t be full enrollment like we’ve had in the past.”

Currently, Orlando said the city’s summer camps are currently full, with some small waitlists.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to pull everyone off of those waitlists,” Orlando said. “We’ve started pre-registration for the fall for people who need financial assistance.”

Meanwhile, the commission looked at a few other projects:

Joseph Hensley Park

The Parks and Recreation Commission approved the redesign of one of the baseball diamonds at Joseph Hensley Park as a synthetic turf field, the first in what will be a handful of synthetic baseball fields around the city.

“This should be exciting because it’s our first one,” said Baum. “All I hear from baseball is that it’s delayed or cancelled because of rain. It’s about all I know about our baseball situation here.”

Staff said funding for the project is scheduled to become available next month, with work beginning on the park early next year.

Jack Browand, Acting Deputy Director for Parks and Recreation, said within the next three years the city should have three or four synthetic baseball fields.

Flooding Damage

The city is also on a similar timeframe for fixing some of the city’s severe flooding damage to trails near waterways. Browand said the city is likely three years away from fixing the main damaged areas along Holmes Run, but other areas of lighter damage could be fixed by the end of this year.

“We’re hopeful the area behind 4600 Duke [Street] can get back online sometime later this calendar year,” Browand said.

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(Updated 6/23) Alexandria greeted a new marquee at the newly named Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School on Tuesday, as the old name of Matthew Maury Elementary will be officially retired on July 1.

Also, the school’s mascot is now the bee and the official school colors are green and blue.

Brooks, a beloved teacher for decades at Charles Houston Elementary School and Cora Kelly Elementary School, passed away last year. Accepting the recognition in her honor were her husband, former Philadelphia City Manager and retired U.S. Army Major Gen. Leo Brooks, Sr., and her son, U.S. Army Major Gen. Leo Brooks, Jr. (Ret.) Brooks’ other son, U.S. Army General Vincent K. Brooks, was not in attendance.

“This is indeed a day to remember,” Brooks, Sr. said, adding that he hoped the school’s new name will inspire students. “Her loss is difficult for all of us, and she’s come and gone and set an example for all of us to follow.”

The school was named Matthew Maury Elementary School for nearly a century, after the Confederate leader and noted oceanographer. The School Board voted for the name change in April after a long community campaign, which also resulted in a new name for T.C. Williams High School, which is named after a racist former superintendent who worked intently against integration. The marquee at T.C. will be removed and the Alexandria City High School name and logo will be unveiled on Wednesday morning, June 23.

“I also think this is a day of reflection,” School Board Vice Chair Veronica Nolan said. “I think we want to give some thought today as to why is there a name change and that we must remember that systemic racism was done by design and impacts so many of our students.”

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