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Map of speed cameras across Alexandria (image via City of Alexandria)

Drivers should always keep it slow in school zones but there’s a new incentive starting today: new speed cameras across Alexandria are issuing warning tickets starting today.

The new cameras have been installed near John Adams Elementary School, Ferdinand Day Elementary School, Francis Hammond Middle School and George Washington Middle School.

Speed cameras are also in use in Arlington, Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax, but these are the first in Alexandria. The cameras will have a “warning period” at first before switching over to issuing full tickets.

Last year, City Council approved the $400,000 speed camera program, after a child was struck and seriously injured at an intersection just outside of Jefferson Houston Elementary School (200 block of North West Street). City Manager Jim Parajon then reduced speed limits in a number of residential, business and school zones from 25 miles per hour to 15 mph.

(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.

ACPS Headquarters in Alexandria (Staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Some big changes are coming to the Alexandria School Board.

Tonight, the Board will conduct a work session on whether to stagger the election cycle for its members, as well as reducing the number of members. There are currently nine Board members serving three-year terms in Districts A, B and C, and their elections run concurrently with City Council.

The Board has talked about staggering terms since 2016, but conversations were halted during the pandemic. Discussions resumed late last year and the Board now plans to present a resolution to City Council by the end of this year, according to information discussed in a joint work session with the Board and City Council on Monday.

“All nine members of the School Board would still be up for office and election in November 2024,” Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz said. “And then whatever model would start from there, would happen in the subsequent years, whether it’s a model where in 2025 someone gets the short straw and they only have a one year term.”

City Council Member Canek Aguirre thinks that the nine-member School Board has too many members.

“Frankly, I’m not really willing to entertain this unless there’s a conversation around reduction in the size (of the Board),” Aguirre said at the work session. “I don’t see the need for it, honestly… Because Falls Church with seven people is a smaller district, Arlington is larger district. They’ve got five (members), we’ve got nine. Loudoun’s got nine — much bigger than us.”

At issue is the high level of turnover that occurs when every Board member is up for reelection at the same time. There were six new members elected in November 2021,  five new members elected in 2018, five new members in 2015 election and seven new members in 2012 election.

Changing the election cycle and/or reducing the size of the Board would take a Board resolution, approval by City Council and then a charter change with the Virginia General Assembly.

“I think the way this is probably going to go down, someone will present that action before the Council,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “At that point hopefully, a majority of the Board is speaking with one voice, and then you guys (the Board/Alexandria City Public Schools) can come in and we can have some dialogue about it and then we’ll take an action. It rolls in with our normal legislative package process, and that’s something that we do in the fall. Then we sit down and have a dialogue with the General Assembly delegation about what we’re requesting.”

A recent ACPS survey with 450 respondents found that 43% strongly agree and 31% “agree” staggered terms would improve the continuity of operations for the school division, versus 13% who strongly disagreed and 4% agreed, while 7% had no opinion and 2% didn’t know. The survey also showed that 31% of respondents strongly agree that a seven-member Board could sufficiently represent Alexandria residents, 14% agreed, 18% strongly disagreed, 16% disagreed, 16% didn’t care, and 5% didn’t know.

Some of the proposed alternatives are below:

  • Three-year Board Member term options — The two members of one district would be up for election every year, starting in 2025, followed by the second district in 2026 and the third district in 2027
  • Four-year Board Member term options — One district would be up for election every year, starting in 2025, followed by the second district in 2026, the third district in 2027 and the fourth in 2028. There would be no election in 2029, and the rotation would begin in 2030
  • Four-year and only at-large positions — There would be five members up for election (selected randomly by the registrar) in 2026, no election in 2027, and the remaining four members up for election in 2028

The Board will discuss the matter in a work session starting at 7 p.m. tonight at ACPS Central Office (1340 Braddock Place).

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.

Alexandria City Hall lit up (staff photo by James Cullum)

Alexandria City Manager Jim Parajon’s $884.3 million fiscal year 2024 budget was unanimously approved by City Council Wednesday night (May 4), backing citywide pay increases, a fully funded school system and collective bargaining agreements with the police and fire departments.

While the real estate tax rate remains unchanged at $1.11 per $100 of assessed value, city residents will have to pay $308.70 annually for the stormwater utility fee — an increase from $294 last year. The budget, which goes into effect July 1, is an increase of 5.4% over last year’s $839.2 million budget. About 47% of it ($398 million) is dedicated to paying the salaries of 2,765 city employees.

“You’re seeing some some very historically significant investments in public safety,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “This budget is the first that is informed by the results of two very large collective bargaining agreements.”

City Council Member Kirk McPike said that funding the collective bargaining agreements will help the city fight rising crime.

“Our public safety officers should feel confident that this council has their backs and will continue to invest in these important services,” McPike said. “Those in our city who are worried about the recent rise in certain types of crime (should) take heart that we hear and share your concerns. We’re putting financial resources into ensuring that our police department has the officers and equipment it needs to address this challenge.”

The budget provides:

  • A 7% market rate adjustment for sworn fire, medics and fire marshals
  • A 6% market rate adjustment for sworn police and Sheriff’s Deputies
  • A 2% increase in General Schedule and Sheriff’s Deputy pay scales
  • A $4.5% market rate adjustment for non-public safety personnel
  • Three new steps in the general pay scale, which is a 7% increase in salary potential
  • 25 SAFER grant-funded firefighters
  • Funding for Commonwealth’s Attorney staffing for more than $600,000 toward the APD body worn camera program, which launched in April

Parajon faced a $17 million budget shortfall when he started crafting the budget, but it was wiped away by unexpectedly high real estate assessments and $4.6 million in citywide efficiency reductions. He asked all departments for 1.5%-to-2% in budget reductions, with efficiencies like the outsourcing of city employee leave of absence reviews, benefits consulting, and city vehicle fleet repair.

“This adopted budget invests in helping our residents and businesses become more prosperous, safer, more engaged while investing in the infrastructure of our City, and investing in our future with climate action, education, housing and our youth,” Parajon said.

City Council Member Alyia Gaskins says that the budget sends a message to first responders and residents.

“I believe that we are saying to our staff in our fire and police departments that you matter to us,” she said. “We’re saying to our residents that we are committed to recruiting and retaining the best talent to keep you safe through fully funding the operating budget for our schools, and increasing investments in our summer youth employment program, as well as finding ways to waive summer fees for our lowest income residents at our rec centers. We are saying to our young people that you matter to us and we are committed to doing all we can to help you thrive.”

The budget also fully funds the Alexandria City Public Schools $258.7 million operating funds budget request, which will provide 2,600 ACPS employees with a 3% step increase. The request is a 4% increase ($9.9 million) over the FY 2023 budget.

“We have stretched the dollar and been able to keep our tax rate level,” Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said. “Close to a third of our budget is dedicated to our schools.”

Parajon’s budget also provides $2.4 billion in funding for the 2024-2033 Capital Improvement Program, of which $360,788,867 is dedicated for FY 2024.

Funded capital projects this next fiscal year include:

Wilson said he’s in favor of a shorter budget process. This year, the City Manager presented his budget proposal in February, followed by two-and-a-half months of City Council work sessions and meetings.

“I will note this was a shorter process,” Wilson said. “Nobody seemed to miss the extra weeks that were part of the process. So, it might give us a path to even further shorten it in the future.”

2023 Theogony Editors.
Front Row L to R: Zoe Sermons, James Libresco, Ermila Mazariegos, Casey Donahue.
Back Row L to R: Chloe Yokitis and Yahney-Marie Sangare

With the 2022-2023 school year coming to a close next month, it’s been another banner year for Alexandria City High School (ACHS) student newspaper Theogony.

In recent years the student newspaper has been at the forefront of stories about ACHS, from breaking the story about former Superintendent Gregory Hutchins Jr. sending one of his children to a private school rather than ACHS to publishing a study about phosphorus levels in nearby Taylor Run.

This year, the student newspaper reported extensively on issues around a program called Lunch and Learn. Lunch and Learn allowed students to use their lunch block to meet with clubs and teachers. It was shelved with the understanding it would be replaced by a new program called Titan Lunch — essentially Lunch and Learn but with more oversight and structure — but ACHS Principal Peter Balas told the community that Titan Lunch would not be implemented in the 2022-2023 school year.

The move prompted a walk-out protest by students and Theogony staff said articles about Lunch and Learn were some of the most widely read of the last year.

Theogony editor Nora Malone, who has been with the student newspaper for three years with two of those as editor, provided a look back at this year at Theogony:

ALXnow: What are some of the main “beats” at Theogony, the main issues that are of interest to the student body?

Malone: This year, of course, a lot of focus has been on Lunch and Learn, and the discussions surrounding it. But anything of that genre, big changes within the school is always a good story. We also focus on sports games a lot, especially photos from them. Spotlights on clubs and teachers are also great stories, and there’s always something new happening.

ALXnow: Are there any particular stories that have really sparked the interest or discussion within ACHS?

Malone: We’ve had a few big stories this year, one of them was about Youngkin’s new rules regarding trans students and that was one that got a lot of response, mostly positive. And anything we wrote regarding Lunch and Learn would get a lot of traction. Theogony was actually lucky enough to break the news via Twitter that Lunch and Learn was officially not coming back and that sparked lots of discussion and interaction between students, teachers, and parents.

ALXnow: Do students respond more to coverage of stories within ACHS and Alexandria or are they more interested in Theogony’s coverage or takes on events outside of ACHS?

Malone: We don’t do a lot of news that is not locally based, or if we do it’s about how it affects Alexandria or ACHS. But we know we aren’t a lot of people’s first news source, so we try to provide unique takes and information when we discuss national events.

ALXnow: Even more so than other news media, reporters at Theogony are writing about their peers. Do you find that adds an extra challenge to the job or more opportunities? I imagine it can be awkward to go to class when you’ve written something critical of an organization or an administrator.

Malone: The most difficult thing is making sure people don’t write about clubs or events they’re involved in. People often reach for topics they feel comfortable with, or people they already know, but as a newspaper that’s already full of student leaders, it’s important to not include any more bias.

ALXnow: Do you have any favorite stories that you worked on that you think highlight the role of student journalism?

Malone: We’ve had some amazing stories this year. Personally I worked on an article surrounding the walkout that took place because of the removal of Lunch and Learn. We recently published an article about the introduction of metal detectors in the school, which is another relevant topic in the school system. And of course one of the best parts of student journalism is showing the hard work of the students. We’ve had articles discussing shows from our theater department, events by our clubs, and highlights reflecting our multicultural student body identity.

ACPS headquarters and clock (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The permanent superintendent of Alexandria City Public  Schools will be announced by the School Board on Thursday night, ACPS announced today.

While their identity has not been revealed, the successful candidate was chosen after a national search that started last November in consultation with Nebraska-based McPherson & Jacobson, L.L.C Executive Recruitment and Development, according to ACPS.

The announcement will be made at 6:30 p.m.

Alexandria’s 16,000 student-strong school system has been led by interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt since the beginning of this school year. Kay-Wyatt took over after the resignation of Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., and she managed ACPS through post-pandemic educational issues, an increase in juvenile crime and the ACPS budget process.

Alexandria has seen more than a handful of superintendents over the last 15 years. Prior to Hutchings, Lois Berlin was the interim superintendent for a year. Berlin took the helm after the retirement of Superintendent Alvin Crawley, who had the job from 2013 to 2017. Crawley took over after Superintendent Morton Sherman, who led ACPS for five years after the departure of Superintendent Rebecca Perry in 2008.

“The Board wants the successful candidate to assume the responsibilities of the position on or before July 1, 2023,” according to the job posting by McPherson & Jacobson.

The closing date to apply for the position was in February and the School Board conducted interviews in March.

The qualifications for the position, according to the job posting, are below:

The candidate must have the background, skills, and abilities essential for excellence in educational leadership to include high expectations, being data driven and maintaining a culture of accountability throughout the division.

Experience as a superintendent or in a central office leadership position in a diverse, suburban/urban district to include classroom teaching experience is required.

Doctorate and Virginia Superintendent certification – or eligibility for it – are required as is a preference for living in the city of Alexandria.

The Board is seeking a candidate with the following desired characteristics:

  1. An educational leader with a proven track record of leading teams to implement equitable practices that result in improved academic achievement in a suburban/urban school division.
  2. A leader with experience in the successful development and implementation of a division-wide strategic plan with the understanding that the current plan must continue to be implemented with fidelity through 2025.
  3. A leader who builds consensus through collaboration resulting in trust and mutual respect throughout the division and the broader community.
  4. A steward of public resources with expertise in budget development, the ability to foster positive relationships with the city government officials and experience in carrying out capital projects.
  5. An effective communicator whose vision can be translated into practical terms for all stakeholders in the division and the broader community.
  6. A leader with the ability to identify staff’s potential and build capacity throughout the organization.

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