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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- A leader who builds consensus through collaboration resulting in trust and mutual respect throughout the division and the broader community.
- 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.
- An effective communicator whose vision can be translated into practical terms for all stakeholders in the division and the broader community.
- A leader with the ability to identify staff’s potential and build capacity throughout the organization.
Personal security cameras, speed cameras in school zones, summer youth employment programs and eviction prevention funding are just a few of the final additions included in the fiscal year 2024 budget by the Alexandria City Council on Tuesday.
Council approved funding a $20,000 program to encourage businesses and homeowners with a “small incentive” to set up security cameras to deter crime, as well as increase their coordination with the Alexandria Police Department.
“I like the concept,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “I think we want our residents to partner with us in providing this kind of neighborhood visibility.”
Other additions include $490,000 for five speed cameras at school crossing zones around the city. Last year, Council approved $400,000 for the speed camera program in five school zones.
Not all of the requests made the final cut. Vice Mayor Amy Jackson’s request to give the Alexandria Commission for Women $20,000 for it’s 50th anniversary event failed to gain consensus.
Council also took $657,629 from the budget that was intended for the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center (200 S. Whiting Street), pending proposals from City Manager Jim Parajon to find alternative uses for the facility, pursue regional partnerships for facility use and optimize capacity for the underutilized space.
The full list of additions to the budget are below.
- Out of School Time Program (OSTP) staffing ($200,000) — This increases paid leave and benefits for part-time staffing with the city’s Out of School Time program.
- Fee waiver for OSTP participants ($15,000) — This would fund a waiver for program participants eligible for SNAP and TANF.
- Speed cameras in school zones ($490,000) — This adds five photo speed cameras to school crossing zones prioritized by the city’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services
- Childcare services ($50,000) — This will provide child-minding services at City COuncil town hall events, as well as select board, committee and commission meetings.
- Additional eviction prevention funding ($150,000) — This would increase the current funding level of $100,000, all of which will “reasonably assist 40 households in FY24,” according to the city.
- Central coordinator for immigrant affairs/refugee settlement ($110,000) — This would explore a new position or series of positions that could advance efforts to connect immigrant communities with information, resources and services and address the city’s challenges with immigrant populations.
- RPCA Mental Health Pilot position ($75,000) — These funds would go toward developing a Department of Recreation Parks and Cultural Activities pilot program for youth mental health services.
- Summer youth employment program ($214,943) — This would expand the program by 50%, to serve 255 children (85 more than the current program).
- Study for local housing voucher program ($250,000) — This would add funding for a study on a voucher-like program that stabilizes housing and enables access for low-income housholds across the city’s private rental market.
- City library security ($70,000) — This funding maintains library security staffing at current levels.
- Department of Aging and Adult Services ($19,000) — This fills the gap created by Virginia budget formula changed related to the Older Americans Act.
- DASH service line expansion on Line 33 ($120,000) — This would expand DASH Line 33 service from once every 60 minutes to 30 minutes on Sundays, easing connections to the new Potomac Yard Metro Station.
- Visit Alexandria advertising ($78,000) — This additional funding can be used by Visit Alexandria for any sort of media, online or print advertising, either regionally or nationally at their discretion.
- City Council aide compensation increase ($5,300) — This is a 2% scale compensation adjustment.
- Private security camera incentive program ($20,000)
- Continuation of AEDP economic recovery manager ($147,208) — The ERPM is responsible for creating and administering AEDPs Business Association Grant program, which supports Alexandria business associations as well as other ARDP rogramming to promote economic recovery.
- Rental inspection program enhancement ($136,000) — This allows staff to evaluate non-compliant multi-family rental properties.
The budget will be approved on May 3 and go into effect on July 1.
Adding police presence to high-crime areas, putting more cops in communities and strategically placing mobile camera units are just a few of the initial strategies that the Alexandria Police Department is employing to confront a crime surge.
APD Assistant Chief Easton McDonald briefed City Council on the uptick on Tuesday night, and also said that there is an increase in juvenile crime and crimes being committed by young people.
“There is an uptick with juveniles,” McDonald told Council. “From April 1 to April 23, there have been approximately 27 encounters with juveniles that have either been charged with illegal weapons possession, drugs with the intent to sell, grand larceny of a vehicle where we had four juveniles that (allegedly) stole a vehicle, fled from the vehicle, and there was a weapon inside the vehicle.”
APD reported 11 shooting incidents this month, including three incidents on Monday, April 17. On that day, a clerk at a 7-Eleven was shot in a robbery in the early morning, followed by a shooting in the 1200 block of Madison Street near the Braddock Road Metro station, and then a shooting near a bus stop at the Bradlee Shopping Center. Three males, ages 17, 18, and 19, were arrested in connection to the Old Town incident and an 18-year-old male suspended from Alexandria City High School was arrested for the shooting at Bradlee, McDonald told Council.
McDonald said APD is forming a new community safety stakeholder group made up of local residents and officials to develop solutions, including outreach regarding available youth programs. The stakeholder group is yet to be named and will meet next month at APD headquarters, McDonald said.
“A weapon should not be in the hands of a teenager,” he said. “They should not be held in bookbags, so the stakeholder group is to get back into the communities to let these individuals know that this is not going to be tolerated. This is not something that can continue, and the (city’s) federal partners are going to deal with those individuals who are felons with guns. And we are arresting felons with guns.”
APD is increasing its presence in high-crime areas, such as the West End and Braddock areas, and plans on returning officers to specific beats, McDonald said. The department will also participate in numerous community cookouts and weekly walks through neighborhoods experiencing crime.
“We plan on working with the community to stop this,” McDonald said. “The goal is to reduce this gun violence.”
Mayor Justin Wilson said that APD can be more aggressive around serving warrants.
“We can be more aggressive around warrant service and things like that, where we’re getting out there and going to find people who we know are in the community that we’re looking for and devoting resources to try and to address some of those things,” he said. “If we can get people off the streets that shouldn’t be on the streets who are at risk of committing crimes, I think that’s always going to be a positive.”
Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said that a recent shooting outside a bus stop in the Bradlee Shopping Center brought back bad memories of last year’s murder of 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez in that same shopping center. Jackson said she’s concerned that Alexandria City High School kids will be congregating at the shopping center in greater numbers in the next couple of weeks as they take their Standards Of Learning (SOL) tests.
“The uptick in crime is a major thing,” Jackson said. “We’re coming up on SOL (Standards Of Learning tests) season. SOL means, if the community is not aware, some kids are in school for a couple hours during the day and then they’re in their classrooms and watching movies and studying for other SOL tests. But most of them will be released and they will not get on yellow buses to go home from the schools. They will get on DASH buses that are free fare. What is the plan for Bradlee, because that is happening in the next two weeks?”
McDonald tried to put the three shooting incidents on April 17 into context by saying that APD responds to 400-to-600 calls for service daily.
“The children have an absolute right to walk into those stores and be in those particular areas,” McDonald said. “We are there. Our presence does prevent crime. There’s always going to be a case where that doesn’t work, but we will be there as fast as we can to mitigate what happens.”
A number of shooting incidents occur in the 1200 block of Madison Street in the Braddock neighborhood, in a property managed by the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority. On April 21, there was another shooting on that same block, prompting Wilson to announce the addition of cameras and police foot patrols to the area.
As previously reported, an ARHA resident told ALXnow that he fears for his son’s life.
“I been here three years next month, and counting today I’ve heard at least 160 gunshots,” the man said. “It’s a lot, man. Right outside my back door. I have a four year old son and I had to train him to run upstairs and duck. I’m glad he’s in school right now. I feel like we’re sitting ducks. Something’s got to be done. I’m trying to get out of here. Nobody should have to live like this.”
Kevin Harris is an ARHA board member, and said he’s happy about the plan by APD.
“I’m happy about the measures the city is taking to mitigate violence and crime throughout the city,” Harris said. “Also, I’m pleased with the measures that the residents of the ARHA in partnership with the organization as a whole have been taking for years to keep our kids and families safe. It’s a grave miscalculation and misunderstanding to think that the families of ARHA’s communities are unconcerned or participants in these acts of violence in their communities. These families are just as concerned as their neighbors.”
After a crime wave in 2020, that fall ARHA’s safety committee made the following recommendations to the police department to reduce crime incidents. Many of the recommendations are in line with APDs current strategy to reduce crime.
- Increase police presence in high crime areas by stationing officers in cars in areas that are known for a high volume of loitering to deter criminal activity (specifically for its Samuel Madden, Cameron Valley, and Andrew Adkins properties)
- Increase presence by random community walks multiple times per week (specifically Samuel Madden, Cameron Valley, and Andrew Adkins)
- Increase positive community engagement such as events for the youth, neighborhood educational workshops (knowing your rights, tips on police engagement, how broken laws affect the community), etc. to build a positive rapport with the community
- Improve community relations by door knocking and having informal “meet and greets” with people in the community
- Meet with the Safety Committee and provide training and insight on how to report a crime (develop a special way for safety committee members to contact law enforcement)
- Create a standing monthly meeting between the Chief of Police and the Chairman of the Safety Committee and/or the leaders of the Safety Committee
- Create a police liaison who will act as a bridge between the Safety Committee and APD
- Enforce disturbing of the peace after certain hours to limit the late-night partying and drinking that could lead to violence and crime
- Provide diversity training for officers with the intent and purpose for them to learn how to police different demographics
- Reevaluate tactics for obtaining crime tips (never approach people at home, meet privately away from the community, and create and/or educate people on a discreet way for people to report crimes)
- Be more responsive to calls directly from ARHA communities
- Create a means to hold Resident Police Officers accountable for properly policing their assigned communities
- Create a Citizen’s Police Review Board with representation from various communities throughout the City of Alexandria with at least one representative from the Safety Committee appointed on the board. Sincerely, Loren Depina, Chairperson of the ARHA Resident Association Safety Committee
A new report indicated Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) enrollment could stagnate over the next few years.
In a meeting of the City Council and the School Board yesterday, it was clear that stagnation is causing some in city leadership to look skeptically at some of the school district’s ambitious capacity-increasing programs planned over the next few years — the modernization of George Mason Elementary School in particular getting name-dropped.
In a joint presentation, the City’s Director of Planning Karl Moritz and ACPS’ Executive Director of Facilities Erika Gulick said that baseline enrollment — that’s enrollment without new development factored in — shows ACPS population peaking around FY 2025 with 15,668 students.
“[One] of the major [factors] we haven’t seen bounce back from Covid is birth rate,” said Gulick. “That continues to decline over time. With lower numbers of babies, we’re anticipating lower numbers of kindergarten enrollment.”
Gulick said the decline in birth rate has stuck around long enough that it’s no longer an anomaly: it’s a trend.
Even so, Gulick noted that the numbers that factor in children expected to come into Alexandria with new development projects show some continued student enrollment increases.
“Based on that projection, we’re losing close to a thousand kids over the next ten years,” Gulick said. “We don’t actually think that’s going to happen given the amount of affordable housing development that the city is focused on, because we do tend to have a lot more students that live in affordable units… I don’t want people thinking ACPS is losing a thousand students; we generally think we’ve hit our peak and we’re going to plateau.”
Once new development is factored in, that projected stagnation isn’t as intense and peaks in 2029 at 16,404 students. Even so, those projections show as many years where enrollment declines as there are years where it increases.
Mayor Justin Wilson noted that the plateauing of student enrollment in ACPS could have a significant impact on what capacity projects move forward.
“This is really interesting information,” Wilson said. “[It’s] a little bit of narrative busting here in a lot of ways. Like you said, it is a projection and we have to be careful not to read too much into it, but we’re looking at a projection that shows with the impacts of development we get back to pre-pandemic levels within a decade. That’s a pretty provocative projection. And without them: a significant enrollment decline.”
Wilson said in elementary schools the drop is particularly significant.
“If you look at baseline projections, not with development, we’re looking at elementary going from 8,000 to bottoming out in 2030 at less than 7,500.,” Wilson said. “That’s without development.”
Wilson said the drop in enrollment seems at odds with some of ACPS’ modernization plans.
“Our next priority is George Mason, which is seeing the largest drop,” Wilson said, and noted that George Mason has little by way of major developments planned nearby. “That means that most of those kids are coming out of a school like that… I’m not saying not to do Mason, but I want to make sure we’re looking at the big picture.”
Four male juveniles were arrested after a brief chase from a stolen car in the West End on Tuesday afternoon, prompting four schools to go on lockdown, according to the Alexandria Police Department.
The incident occurred at around noon near the 1400 block of N. Beauregard Street. Police recovered a handgun from one of the suspects, according to dispatch reports.
“While conducting the traffic stop, all individuals from the vehicle fled,” APD said in a release. “Additional Officers were dispatched to the area to locate the suspects. During the search, APD Officers found four juvenile male suspects and took them into custody. APD recovered one weapon.”
The charges against the minors include drug possession with intent to sale, a concealed weapons charge, illegal weapons possession, and other weapon offenses, according to APD.
Anyone with information about this incident can call the APD non-emergency number at 703-746-4444. Callers can remain anonymous.
The incident prompted four nearby schools to go into “secure the building” mode. Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School (1701 N. Beauregard Street), William Ramsay Elementary School (5700 Sanger Avenue), John Adams Elementary School (5651 Rayburn Avenue) and the Early Childhood Center (5651 Rayburn Avenue) went into “secure the building” from 12:15 to 12:35 p.m.
On Monday afternoon, three juveniles were arrested after an estimated 40 shots were fired. The shots were fired in an alleyway in the 1200 block of Madison Street, a block away from the Braddock Road Metro station, and no one was injured. Also that day, shots were fired at a Bradlee Shopping Center bus stop, which is near Alexandria City High School.
News Release:: The Alexandria Police Department Makes Arrest in Stolen Auto Case
On Tuesday, April 18, APD Officers attempted to make a traffic stop on a stolen vehicle from Fairfax County near the 1400 block of N. Beauregard Street.
Read more : https://t.co/OjySFEPAsi
— Alexandria Police (@AlexandriaVAPD) April 20, 2023
Image via Google Maps
A water main break has shut down three Alexandria schools today.
Douglas MacArthur (4633 Taney Avenue), James K. Polk (5000 Polk Avenue) and Patrick Henry Elementary (4643 Taney Avenue) Schools have been closed, according to Alexandria City Public Schools.
“At this time, we do not have an estimated timeframe for restoration,” Alicia Hart, the ACPS chief of facilities and operations, wrote parents in an email this morning. “ACPS is working closely with Virginia American Water and will provide an update to families when more information is available.”
Hart said ACPS will let parents know when normal operations can resume in the three affected schools.
“We will inform families when water service has been restored and normal operations can be resumed in each school,” Hart said.
Hart said that students who arrived by bus to Patrick Henry have been redirected to Francis C. Hammond Middle School (4646 Seminary Road), where they will stay until their families can pick them up.
Notification:: Due to a water main break, the intersection of Taney Avenue and North Pelham Street is temporarily closed to through traffic. This was done as a safety precaution. Please avoid the area if possible. pic.twitter.com/Oa4AFpET4h
— Alexandria Police (@AlexandriaVAPD) April 18, 2023
4/18/23, Tues.–Patrick Henry PreK-8 School is closed today due to lack of water service https://t.co/z7m4yAEjLG
— Patrick Henry School ACPS (@PHSchoolACPS) April 18, 2023
4/18/23, Tues.–Douglas MacArthur & Polk Elementary Schools closed today due to lack of water service https://t.co/mrhcc9fGHt
— JamesKPolkElementary (@JKPolkACPS) April 18, 2023
Via Google Maps
It’s a beautiful spring morning in Alexandria!
Today’s weather: Mostly sunny with a high of 72 degrees during the day, and cloudy with a low of 56 degrees tonight.
🚨 You need to know
Alexandria has been named one of the best places to visit, Patch first reported.
Money Magazine listed the city as a top destination, and called the city a “lux jumping-off point for D.C.-area visits.“
According to Money Magazine:
Along the King Street Mile in Old Town, you’ll find charming cobblestone streets lined with lanterns, outdoor cafes, Instagram-worthy murals and trendy bars. There’s also a vibrant art community — explore the many galleries or peek in at artists at work at the Torpedo Factory Art Center.
Other local coverage
- Custodian ‘Heart And Soul’ Of Alexandria Schools For 42 Years
Patch (Friday at 12;57 p.m.)
- PHOTOS: 180 Alexandria Schoolkids Play to Sell-Out Crowd in Annual ‘Night of Stars’ Talent Show
Zebra (Monday @ 10 a.m.)
- The Crazy Mason Milkshake Bar is coming to Alexandria VA this Summer
Zebra (Sunday at 2 p.m.)
- Foody Newz To Look Forward to In Alexandria This April 2023
Zebra (Monday @ 8 a.m.)
- Del Ray Farmers’ Market Announces Monthly Kids’ Club
Zebra (Monday at 8 a.m.)
Tweets of note
#Spring is in full bloom and so are the cherry blossoms. Now until April 16 enjoy a direct water taxi from Old Town to The Wharf development in Washington D.C. to see the blossoms in all their glory. Learn more from @AlexandriaVA: https://t.co/Xpk5SeJ5Du #ALXVActivities pic.twitter.com/L0JVFvabEQ
— AlexandriaVAGov (@AlexandriaVAGov) April 2, 2023
On this date in 1928, Alexandria legend Earl Lloyd was born. He is best remembered for breaking the NBA color barrier. We remember and honor Lloyd's legacy every day, but especially on his birthday. #ACPSBlackHistory #ACPSLegends pic.twitter.com/dFCTKJkee3
— Alexandria City Public Schools (@ACPSk12) April 3, 2023
Four Alexandria school zones have been selected for a pilot program to install speed cameras, according to a presentation prepared for a joint City Council and School Board meeting.
This is the first time Alexandria will use speed cameras, and the following locations were agreed upon by Alexandria City Public Schools, the police department and the Department of Transportation & Environmental Services:
- Francis Hammond Middle School (Seminary Road, between Kenmore Avenue and North Jordan Street)
- John Adams Elementary School and Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School (North Beauregard Street, between North Highview Lane and Reading Avenue)
- George Washington Middle School (Mount Vernon Avenue, between Braddock Road and Luray Avenue)
“The cameras are expected to be installed this spring, after which the program will undergo a testing period,” city staff said in a report. “The program is expected to be fully active for the 2023-24 school year. The City will advertise the camera locations to the public over the next several months in advance of the program going live.”
The areas are all within 15 mile-per-hour school zones.
Reviewing the proposed school zone speed cameras is on the agenda for a meeting of the City Council and School Board this afternoon (Monday) at 5 p.m. in City Hall (301 King Street).
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.
Virginia authorized the use of speed cameras in 2020, and they are currently used in Arlington, Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax.
The tense discussions between Alexandria’s City Council and School Board came to a head over Alexandria City High School’s Chance for Change Academy.
The joint work sessions are a chance for the school and city leaders to close the $7.5 million gap between the School Board’s $58.7 million request and the City Manager’s proposed $51.3 funding to the schools in the fiscal year 2024 Capital Improvement Program (CIP). But while both sides agreed relations between the two bodies are better than they’ve been in the past, the conversation still reopened old wounds between the two leadership teams.
Among the items discussed was $2 million in improvements to Chance for Change, listed on the Alexandria City Public Schools’ (ACPS) website as “a temporary placement for students whose matriculation in the traditional setting had been disrupted by various circumstances and also, based on a case-by-case basis.”
“I am not recommending we fund Ferdinand Day’s 5th and 6th-floor renovation. I’m not recommending the capacity for the [Chance for Change] lease space,” said City Manager Jim Parajon. “Those are two projects that are $7.5 million dollars. By my estimation, while they are important and needed, there are other considerations in the capital budget that we must do.”
Alicia Hart, chief of facilities and operations at ACPS, said the Chance for Change Academy cannot grow in the confines of its current space, citing a lack of Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, parking issues, and a lack of outdoor space.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about whether or not we can expand alternative education programs, we cannot do that in our current space,” said Hart. “Every project we put forward in the CIP, from a school standpoint, is a priority.”
The comment sparked an intense back-and-forth between City and ACPS leadership.
“Every project being a priority doesn’t work in a CIP that has to be sustained,” said Parajon. “The bottom line is we have to make choices. I have 20-something departments and everyone is a priority, but it doesn’t work that way. It’s really important that we start to readjust how we think about what is the highest priority: because that’s the thing that has to get funded.”
Parajon noted that the Chance for Change funding was not included in the previous CIP.
“I’m not debating the need, what I’m saying is when we sit down — this is where it has to be a common thought process — it has to be an urgent need when in 2025 we have the largest potential debt service we have to incur,” Parajon said. “We can’t just add to that because there’s no fiscal ability to manage that.”
Parajon and city leadership faced some rebuke from ACPS leaders who said the city wasn’t putting the needs of students first.
“What we’re talking about with Chance for Change is children’s lives and children’s educational needs,” said Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt. “Pushing those down the road is going to further impact academic achievement and social-emotional growth, and I think that needs to be seen very differently than maybe another infrastructure like office space. We’re talking about children who are in need of services… Putting that off a year is going to further put them behind.”
School Board chair Meagan Alderton said that while not funding the expansion doesn’t mean the program will go away, it still keeps the program from being what ACPS has in mind.
“Is it going away if we don’t do something?” Alderton said. “I think the answer to that is no, not immediately. Is it meeting the needs for what we want Chance for Change to be? No, it doesn’t. I think it’s a two-sided question.”
But Alexandria City leadership stuck to Parajon and pointed the finger back at ACPS for ignoring the realities of budget crafting. According to Mayor Justin Wilson:
I’m inclined to agree with everything you said. The problem is I just heard it for the first time a couple minutes ago. [Kay-Wyatt] and I meet monthly… this has never been placed on the agenda. I’ve read through the entire operating proposal: there’s a couple glancing mentions of Chance for Change. I can’t even find on your website how many kids are at Chance for Change right now, and trust me I’ve searched and I know your website pretty darn well.
If there is a story to be told about alternative education and a change in policy and a different direction that requires significant capital investment: last time I checked I’m the Mayor of the city and I don’t know anything about it.
This is a conversation we need to have collectively and jointly before something just shows up in a CIP proposal and we’re told tonight horrible things are going to happen to kids if this proposal doesn’t get funded. That should not be the case and that says something is broken in the process.
The argument came at the end of a nearly three-hour meeting where City Council members repeatedly highlighted areas where there had been insufficient progress on long-term planning collaboration.
From ACPS having better access to the permitting facility to ACPS and City of Alexandria staff potentially sharing office space, City leaders said there are opportunities for greater efficiency that have been woefully underexplored. While ACPS staff said progress is being made, City Council members say it’s time to start seeing results.
“I’ve been around too long to say ‘we have the ability to wait,'” said City Council member John Chapman. “I’m very interested in seeing what we can get done in the next three months and the next six months.”
Chapman said that could involve more meetings or more retreats for City and ACPS leadership to hammer out issues together.
“I do think there are still opportunities for us to have bigger retreat-style conversations,” Chapman said. “We’ve tried that in the past and it’s worked. We need to build that in until we’re marching to the same beat. If we think about sports practice or band practice, if they’re not marching to the same beat, the band director is going to make them practice together, and that’s the way we have to look at it.”
At the end of the meeting, Alderton expressed concerns that the discussions between City leadership and the School Board have focused too much on bureaucracy and not enough on improving the quality of education for Alexandria’s student body:
What is being relayed here tonight — should it have been relayed sooner or later — is that that is a facility and only an example of one of many that is not meeting the actual needs of what we would like Chance for Change to be.
If we’re going to be candid, I think a lot of times we talk about a lot of things other than the actual education of the kids. Maybe a solution we need to get to is all of us, every single one of us, talking more about the education of the kids because we get bogged down in so many different things. If we don’t talk about that, I don’t know how that’s going to change. We get bogged down in facilities we get bogged down in philosophies, but we got to understand the educational needs of these kids and I will tear up right here because of it.
You know one thing I always say: what is the number one thing that the slave master wanted to keep away from the slave? A book. The ability to read. We have fought in this community about everything other than that. What I would say is: yes, let’s talk about all the things, but we gotta figure this out.
For Alexandria City Council members, though, the counterpoint is that bureaucracy is what holds the rest of the system together. According to Chapman:
I appreciate your words, I appreciate your passion: the focus has never changed.
The stark reality is: how we’ve been operating is not necessarily tenable into the near future. It’s not sustainable.
After this meeting, I need how to figure out how to fund what ACPS does, but also what DASH does, how to make sure we can have people of different incomes and different age groups in this community. I don’t want you or anyone to think I’m dismissing what you said. It’s powerful and it’s necessary… but I need to make sure that you have the resources… We’re not going to be able to build what we want without good planning and resources.
The FY 2024 budget is scheduled for adoption on May 3.