Alexandria, VA

Alexandria City Public Schools promised a group of students inquiring about the upcoming school year that the new format will be smoother and more accessible than the spring and summer classes, whether that’s online-only or a hybrid model.

In a virtual Q&A session, school administrators spoke to elementary, middle and high schoolers about what they can expect in the upcoming school year.

Many of the questions focused around the day to day, like the inclusion of recess in the schedule or how lunches will operate. Terri Mozingo, chief academic officer for ACPS, said that the

“If we go online, we would do something like dance or yoga, so you can still engage in physical online activity,” Mozingo said.

Mozingo also emphasized in the Q&A session that the schools are working to develop some way of setting students up students to be able to converse in small groups easily.

For the school system, however, there are still lingering questions about the logistics of how any potential in-person school system can operate. In an in-person school scenario, students would dine without masks in their cafeterias, but Superintendent Gregory Hutchings noted that some school facilities were already crowded before the six-feet of separation requirement.

The answer to this could be bringing students to school on a rotating schedule. Under this scenario, administrators said Monday would be a workday form home, while one group of students would go to in-person school on Tuesdays and Wednesdays while the others do asynchronous learning at home. The groups would switch off on Thursday and Friday.

“It is not possible for everyone to be back at one time,” Hutchings said. “Many of our schools a little overcrowded already, would not be in our best interest to bring everybody back at once.”

This reduces, but would not eliminate, the challenge of social distancing in the school. School buses, for instance, will require one student per seat with students in every other row, reducing buses to one-quarter of their usual capacity.

ACPS staff told ALXnow they are keenly aware of those problems.

“The logistics around transportation, the size of our classrooms and movement within our facilities are indeed challenging,” said Helen Lloyd, the ACPS director of communications. “These are all areas being considered by the Cross-functional Planning Teams that are working right now on drawing up plans for the fall.”

Some of the students who spoke with administrators had their own concerns about the online side of classes, citing challenges in the spring and summer classes and limited options to speak with teachers or other students. Mozingo said more time for teachers to be available to students is being worked into the schedules.

“What you might have experienced this summer will be very different in terms of 4.0 and that instructional plan,” Mozingo said.

On Friday, Lloyd said ACPS will announce whether there will be any in-person classes in the fall.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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With Fairfax and Arlington’s school systems both announcing that they will be going fully digital in the fall, many parents are turning their attention to Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) to see if they’ll follow suite.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings’ answer: ACPS still doesn’t know.

“In a little over three weeks, on August 14, ACPS will send its reopening proposal to the Virginia Department of Education,” Hutchings said in an email to the ACPS community. “I know that everyone — families, students and staff — are waiting to know what September will bring for the school division. I also know that so much of your lives revolve around the academic year and that means a lot of uncertainty remains until we have answers. This makes planning ahead for both staff and families very difficult indeed. Please know that I hear you and understand.”

As with the recent renaming of T.C. Williams discussion, Hutchings asked that the school community have patience and respect the process.

“I also know that expediting solutions can potentially cause unnecessary missteps and poor planning which is why we have been adamant about taking the methodical and informed approach to make our reopening plan the best for the health and safety of our families and staff, with the best information we have at this time,” Hutchings said. “Our engaged community is encouraging us to do a number of things differently and in a more innovative way. Acting in haste while under pressure may lead to making choices without feedback and input from our students, families and staff, which may need to be reversed and which would find us back at square one.”

The levels of percent positive testing is trending down in Alexandria, but that hasn’t always been consistent. In early July, when the city moved into the third phase of reopening, the city saw a brief uptick in cases. Read More

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Updated at 5:30 p.m. — A previous version of the story said that families and staff made up the 60% who preferred a hybrid model. Staff were reportedly not asked the question

The survey results are in and 60% of Alexandria City Public School families prefer a hybrid model for reopening schools this fall. Only two options were presented to the community in the survey, meaning that when school reopens it will either remain completely virtual or there will be a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning.

“One possibility is that we may remain 100% virtual when school reopens,” ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., said on Thursday. “Another option is to create a hybrid, or what we call a blended model.”

At noon today (Friday), the School Board will discuss the latest findings of the community survey on reopening, which was filled out earlier this month by 11,852 families and 2,077 staffers. The school system shut down in March and had to quickly adapt with a virtual-only model for the remainder of the year, and like districts throughout the country was forced to hold a virtual graduation ceremony for T.C. Williams High School in June.

The final plan will be approved by the School Board on Friday, August 7, and it will be sent to the Virginia Department of Education on August 14, Hutchings said.

“It really behooves us to not rush to get our plans out,” he said. “The decisions that we make must be educationally sound and they must be equitable.”

Hutchings also said that staff are reviewing school capacities so that students can appropriately socially distance.

“We’re also looking at multipurpose rooms and gyms to help with social distancing,” Hutchings said.

ACPS will conduct seven community chats from July 20-24 on the matter.

“Our survey has already shown us your preferred options for reopening in the fall,” notes ACPS. “However, ACPS is required to follow the guidelines from the Virginia Department Education and those requirements may limit our options for the reopening of schools on September 8, 2020.”

Photo via T.C. Williams Minnie Howard Campus/Facebook

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Alexandria City Public Schools will not comment on assertions made by the former ACPS Chief Operating Officer Mignon Anthony, who lambasted the school system and the leadership of Superintendent Gregory Huthings, Jr. in a scathing opinion letter published by the Alexandria Times.

Anthony apologized for not fulfilling promises made when she started her job in January 2018, and said that the tide turned against her after raising concerns over de-escalating transportation employee complaints. She also that ACPS leadership is unstable and that it “does not serve our students or educators well.”

“At this critical time, when ACPS needs the voice and solutions of every demonstrated leader and change-agent mind, what you actually have behind the scenes is a hurt and confused, disappointed, insecure, silenced and desperately hard-working staff,” Anthony wrote. “This seems to be the ACPS legacy.”

Helen Lloyd, the ACPS director of communications, told ALX now that it is a personnel matter and that she could not comment on it.

ALXnow also reached out to School Board Chair Cindy Anderson but did not receive a reply.

Anthony said Hutchings’ ACPS restructuring plan was hastily done and that ACPS leadership is now short staffed.

“On July 1, 2020, in one fell swoop, ACPS is beginning a new fiscal year without a chief  operating officer, chief human resources officer, director of transportation, director of safety and security as well as the director of procurement, who recently resigned,” Anthony wrote. “I fear others may be contemplating escape or a protective posture – meaning, only do what you are told.”

Mayor Justin Wilson wrote on Facebook that he is aware of much of the issues raised by Anthony.

“There is a lot in that letter that concerns me,” Wilson said. “Much of it, I am aware of. I have expressed those concerns to those who can address the concerns.”

The school board has two public hearings this week on the potential reopening of the school system this fall.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Morning Notes

Former ACPS Chief Executive Officer Decries School System Leadership — “Some ACPS leadership and staff recognized a downward shift in my influence about a year ago. I remained focused. Then, this past December, after a disagreement about how to de-escalate transportation employee complaints, my position of chief operating officer, among other positions, was eliminated by the school board as part of what came off as a hastily generated restructuring plan by Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings Jr., Ed.D.” [Alex Times]

City Buys 10K Face Masks for Local Nonprofits — “This week, Griffin, Jenelle, and Caroline helped bag some of the 10,000 masks purchased by the City of Alexandria for distribution to local nonprofits!” [Facebook]

Sears at Landmark Mall Closing — “For many decades Sears has been a fixture of Landmark Mall. When the mall closed in 2017 for eventual redevelopment and stores closed inside one by one, somehow Sears remained.” [Zebra]

Hookah Lounge Opening in West End — “The Double Apple Lounge will be opening this coming Tuesday, July 7 in Alexandria’s West End. The restaurant, lounge and hookah bar is at 5101 Seminary Road, just west of the intersection at North Beauregard Street with indoor and outdoor seating and plenty of parking.” [Alexandria Living]

New Job: Pantry Team Member — “This position directly supports the food operations for United Community. The food operations consists of; A Monday-Friday Pantry where the area’s under served population, if registered, can come in and pick up food for themselves and their family, both shelf stable and fresh products.” [Indeed]

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T.C. Williams High School held a graduation ceremony like no other on Saturday, with world champion sprinter Noah Lyles, members of the student body, the superintendent and principal — while most of the school’s 865 graduates never left the comfort of their homes.

The virtual ceremony was the first of its kind in the history of the Alexandria City Public School system, as all schools throughout Virginia were shut down in March for the remainder of a school year that would also be defined by the state of race relations in the country. The graduating class of 2020 was also the largest in T.C. history, according to ACPS.

Lyles, a 2016 graduate of T.C., said that his life was also filled with adversity and that he is a lifelong asthmatic who was bullied in high school and is dyslexic.

“Facing those adversities are what got me here today,” Lyles said. “You need to know that you can make it through, because just this time period of 2020 will not be your last, and you can make it to the next one, and the next one and the one after that, and you will look back on the times of 2020 and say, ‘I got through that, and I came out stronger than ever.'”

Class President Amiya Chisolm said that she and her classmates faced a school year full of uncertainty and that it will make them stronger in the future.

“Right about now we had envisioned going to our prom, senior cookout, walking around the hallways of our elementary and middle schools and even hearing our names celebrated as we walk across the stage at (George Mason University),” Chisolm said. “Instead, we were unexpectedly hit with a pandemic that not only took away our plans — and some of our loved ones — but also blurred our futures. In addition to this pandemic, we have also witnessed multiple murders in the black community at the hands of police brutality.”

Posted by Alexandria City Public Schools on Monday, June 15, 2020

Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr., said that the class made history with its virtual graduation, and that it will be defined by righting societal wrongs.

“These are times when we can actually collectively feel the uncertainty, the stress, the anxiety as individuals, as families as a school division and as a nation,” Hutchings said. “Class of 2020, we must advocate for social justice and anti-racism in America, regardless of your race, regardless of your background. This is a new time in all of our lives when all lives must matter and we must rethink our priorities, our values and reinvent a new normal.”

T.C. Principal Peter Balas said that the class of 2020 was one of the most special he has ever led, and challenged the graduates to lead the way in the future.

“I challenge you to lead the way and to be the change that you want to see in the world,” Balas said. “And to accept nothing less, because your futures matter. I can promise you that the class of 2020 will always be remembered.”

https://www.facebook.com/acpsk12/videos/304725407199397/?__xts__[0]=68.ARAsbRe8VyP2ncLA2_J1k6lH3AaPI6ygQCfN0wrkLl7ZwL3DlT8-3DTUQnTB8gnUOpP5tuINP6Guu0yxwGCQ2x3EsfZnxDkXVfNVkzNccLQIjg_fW-IiTlH_ONy5Gn7ciqdeulYRDObGN0L4SnHSbnI3OTEo214vlaI206vsslhIfV0KIUXjGAy79wUshyIw3Z0r4uRSQKk0JrL0ha8Urz6CAq5XvWUUTUZ69iMyA1gLr1J9lzpjR27-BdPnh2usBHstFH_mCH5cnLvMuKXgRBrC53iABl2V390tYGjwxmwqtwZRL2ySzEVWt6ifLp5AMLie-wszVaCleu2J_56BlbmuZ7Vmt5qxzR8&__tn__=-R

Images via ACPS/Facebook

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After some initial confusion on whether students would be required to participate in the upcoming summer school program, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) clarified in a School Board meeting last Friday that the summer learning program is “expected but not mandatory.”

School officials said they hoped to clear the air and emphasize the flexibility of the program. Gerald Mann, executive director of elementary and secondary instruction, said families traveling over the summer or students who tend to not wake up in the morning over summer can still be accommodated in the new schedule.

“The summer program lets people do this wherever they like,” Mann said. “We’ve tried to make one-stop-shop. If you [to participate] later on do not want to start at 9 a.m., you can start at 9 p.m. All videos will be recorded.”

Mann said the emphasis on choice means families will be able to choose what types of classes students can opt-out of. The schools will also be offering to mail learning kits to homes with materials like science experiments of books.

A summer education program that would be available to all students has been a goal under Superintendent Gregory Hutchings a few years, Mann said, but the pandemic has finally given the schools the opportunity to try to implement that.

Terri Mozingo, chief academic officer for ACPS, said the goal is to get students who have been out of school for months even before summer started to be ready to move to the next grade level.

“[The goal is] to engage, to enrich, and prepare the students,” said Mozingo. “We’re trying to mitigate and minimize summer loss and getting students to grade-level content.”

So far, 495 families have opted out of the program. While the School Board agreed with the goals of the program, there were still some lingering concerns about the implementation.

“Unless people are digging into the Q&A, I’m sure there are a lot of questions out there,” said School Board member Michelle Rief. “At the beginning of most years, families receive a letter, but this process is different. I’m concerned if there’s going to be individual, tailored outreach.”

Hutchings said the idea behind making the default an opt-in was making sure no families that wanted to join were left out and figured that the new system would be easier to manage. Mann added that having students be automatically included would help give a better idea of how many students would be in classes.

Hutchings acknowledged that the rollout of the program could have been done better and that one of the lessons learned is that if school staff need more time to put the program together they should tell the community.

Mann also noted that the new summer program includes no longer charging for course credit recovery for students.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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Morning Notes

City Leaders Participating in Town Hall to Discuss Race Relations — “Tuesday’s town hall (at 7 p.m.) will feature a range of speakers including Councilman John Chapman and School Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings Jr, Chief of Police Michael Brown and the City’s Race and Social Equity Officer, Jaqueline Tucker. There will also be opportunities for small group conversations and for participants to weigh in on the topics for future town halls.” [ALX Community]

Local Company Sees Strong Sales After May 1 ‘Shark Tank’ Appearance — “It really was a huge blessing because we just can’t be in stores right now, and we understand that, so we’re really grateful for the ‘Shark Tank’ episode to give us that push on e-commerce.” [Washington Business Journal]

Emergency Rent Assistance Applications Available Until Friday — “Funds in the amount of $600/month for up to three months will be provided directly to property owners on behalf of eligible tenants. Financial assistance will be provided regardless of citizenship status. Applications received through Friday, May 29 will be reviewed as part of the first application cycle, with priority given to applicants in the Tier 1 income range. Applications received after May 29 will be reviewed on a rolling basis contingent on funding availability.” [Facebook]

Councilman Chapman Decries Racist Emails from Public — “I wish someone would FOIA the city council for all of the racist emails and messages we get and post them publicly. Hell, if you don’t live in Alexandria, you should do that for your elected officials of color… cause we all have them.” [Facebook]

Alexandria to Distantly Honor of Class of 2020 Graduates — “On Saturday, June 13, 2020, residents of the most wonderful City of Alexandria will light up their homes in red, white and blue to support the graduating Class of 2020 from T.C. Williams High School. The George Washington Masonic Temple will be illuminated in red, white and blue on June 13 in recognition of our graduates. Let’s light up the whole city! Do your part, as best you can, to light up your home in red, white and blue to honor our graduates!” [Facebook]

AWLA Gives Away 5,000 Pounds of Pet Supplies — “The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria stepped up for pet parents in need, providing more than 5,000 lbs. of pet supplies to Alexandria residents in need since mid-March.” [Alexandria Living]

ACPS Provides Updates on Food Distribution — “ACPS has multiple distribution meal site locations throughout Alexandria for all ACPS students and children over the age of two.” [ACPS]

Parking Lots, Restrooms Reopening at Parks Along GW Parkway — “Parking lots and restrooms at parks along the George Washington Parkway in Virginia will reopen on Wednesday, June 3, after being closed to help slow the spread of coronavirus.” [WTOP]

City Advises Preparedness as Hurricane Season Begins — “June 1 marks the start of Hurricane season. Alexandria can be impacted by strong winds, heavy rain and flooding from tropical storms and hurricanes. Be Prepared: visit ready.gov/Hurricanes to learn how, sign up at alexandriava.gov/eNews for notifications and be #WeatherAware.” [Twitter]

Old Town Crier Prints June Issue on Wrong Paper — “Well….when it rains it pours! Just picked up the June issue at the printer and they printed the entire issue on the WRONG DAMN PAPER! No time to have it reprinted soooo….this issue is a throw back to the late 90’s!!” [Facebook]

New Job: Contact Tracer — “The Contact Tracer is an entry level public health professional responsible for identifying and contacting individuals who may have come in contact with persons recently diagnosed with an infectious disease associated with an outbreak or pandemic.” [Indeed]

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Many teachers in Alexandria public schools are finding that students have not been as engaged in the learning from home process as many would have hoped, according to Superintendent Gregory Hutchings.

In an ACPS survey of families, students and staff, over half of the teachers said that they were having difficulty getting their students to participate in online learning. The results come as the school system recently unveiled its summer learning program.

“There are valid concerns from teachers about levels of student engagement that we must address as well,” said Hutchings in a newsletter. “According to our data, 53% of teachers said that less than half of their students engaged in learning the week before the survey.”

All students are expected to participate in summer school, but “any family who does not wish for their student to participate can opt-out,” according to ACPS.

The newsletter also noted that just over half of teachers agreed that students are making academic progress, compared with 84% of students and 78% of parents.

As learning from home is a vital part of the school division’s continuity of learning plans, Hutchings said that ACPS will need to look more into why students aren’t participating.

“We will dig deeper into this data over the coming weeks and pinpoint, where we can, patterns that may provide us with insight on how we can improve this data,” Hutchings said. “If students aren’t engaged with asynchronous and/or synchronous learning, then we need to determine why and do our best to reach those individuals as we begin our summer learning through engagement and enrichment with our Continuity of Learning Plan 3.0.”

The survey wasn’t all bad news:

  • Parents (83%), students (88%) and staff (84%) reported a high level of satisfaction with instructional and academic support.
  • The majority of parents (81%), students (78%), and staff (82%) were also satisfied with social and emotional support.
  • High percentages of parents (86%) and staff (82%) feel well-informed about decisions made by ACPS.

“The overall take-away was certainly a positive one and we are ecstatic to hear that we are meeting the mark in many ways,” Hutchings said. “This is great news for all of those who have worked so hard within ACPS to establish and execute a virtual curriculum during these unprecedented times.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

 

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In a video posted yesterday, Alexandria Superintendent Gregory Hutchings described the school’s approach to educating students at home and how those plans have evolved and will evolve throughout the pandemic.

“Our continuity of learning plan is how we teach and learn from home,” Hutchings said. “It ensures all our students are learning while we’re at home. The plan was initially meant to take us through spring break, but as you know… [Gov. Northam] decided all schools will remain closed through the academic year.”

Hutchings said the school is currently in the middle of what he called Continuity of Learning Plan 2.0, a plan that includes both synchronous — video classes between teachers and students — and asynchronous education — lessons students can pursue on a timeline that works for individual families.

“There are a lot of younger students are involved with [asynchronous learning],” Hutchings said. “They might check in with the teacher, it might be one-on-one, or might see a lesson on TV or online at a time convenient for the family. That’s important because all of our schedules are different.”

Hutchings said his own family was no different, saying he was trying to find a time to record the video in a house full of family members using zoom for various meetings and lessons at all hours of the day.

Moving forward, Hutchings said Plan 3.0 focuses on summer academic support.

“We’re going to be sharing that with staff and families on May 22,” Hutchings said, so families can have a better understanding of what summer will look like for students.”

The final (for now) version of the continuity of learning plan — 4.0 — is about preparing for reopening schools for the next academic year.

“More information on that will be coming soon,” Hutchings said. “We’ll be releasing that at the end of June, on June 26. That will provide and opportunity for family and staff to understand the multiple plans for opening schools in the fall. There may be multiple scenarios.”

Hutchings said the other question he hears a lot is whether students will be penalized for not completing their assignments from home.

“If students don’t do the assignments will they be held back?” Hutchings said. “Students won’t be penalized, but students grades 6-12 will have the opportunity to improve their grade if they do their assignments.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Alexandria City Public Schools will distribute food on a modified schedule to families during spring break next week, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. announced on Thursday.

“We have been able to partner with the city, which I’m really excited about, to continue to have our grab-and-go meal distribution on next week,” Hutchings said in his daily video. “It will not be at all of our sites, though. It will only be at T.C. Williams  next week.”

The grab-and-go meals will be available next week on the Chinquapin Park and Recreation Center side of T.C. Williams High School on Wednesday, April 8, and Friday, April 10, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

“We will resume our normal scheduling of our meal distributions at all of our sites as well as our mobile pop-up sites when we return back on April 13, so there is a modified meal distribution next week but we will still have meals, and I’m really excited about the fact that we will still be able to provide meals for all of our families,” Hutchings said.

Spring break ends on Monday, April 13 and students will be expected to resume their studies on Tuesday, April 14.

In the meantime, ACPS is partnering with ALIVE! to provide families with up to four bags of groceries on Saturday, from 8:30 to 11 a.m. in the John Adams Elementary School parking lot [5651 Rayburn Avenue] and at the Leonard “Chick” Armstrong Recreation Center [25 W Reed Avenue].

Otherwise, Hutchings said that he was looking forward to having downtime and not responding to emails for a week.

“I know I’m not going anywhere but in the house, but I’m looking forward to just unplugging and not doing the videos and not responding to emails all day,” he said. “Just taking some downtime that is well needed, and I hope that you all will do the same, that you’ll get some rest.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced T.C. Williams High School to not have a traditional prom or graduation this year, and Alexandria City Public Schools are working on alternatives.

Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. and T.C. Principal Peter Balas broke the news to more than 700 graduating seniors last week that the ceremony at George Mason University’s Eagle Bank Arena on June 13 has been canceled.

“Graduation… is not going to happen as it traditionally does because of the large gatherings that graduation or a commencement ceremony requires,” Hutchins said in one of his daily videos. “But we are still working with our seniors and also with our staff members to develop an innovative approach to actually have some form of a commencement ceremony or graduation ceremony for the class of 2020 and we’re going to have more information for you all about that soon.”

The 2020 yearbooks are also nearly complete and will be sent to students.

T.C. senior Peter Moser told Theogony, the school newspaper, that while it’s disappointing to miss prom and graduation, “I would rather have my grandparents alive.”

“There’s a huge risk to having both of those events, so canceling them was the right choice,” Moser said. “Hopefully, we will still be able to have a graduation ceremony in the summer or something.”

Governor Ralph Northam on March 23 ordered all schools to be closed for the remainder of the year. Alexandria’s public schools were already shut down until the end of spring break, and ACPS staff are currently working on a continuity plan for the rest of the year.

“We’re working right now with the Virginia Department of Education,” Hutchings said. “They will be submitting a waiver to the U.S. Department of Education to waive some of the graduation requirements, so that we can ensure students are not penalized for the school closures that will occur for the remainder of this year.”

The state department of education is also submitting an application to the U.S. Department of Education to wave requirements for students who still need to take standards of learning exams or earn industry credentials.

“Once that application is approved, we will be able to still have our seniors, graduate with a standard or an advanced diploma from TC Williams,” Hutchings said.

T.C. will also not have its traditional National Decision Day, where seniors commit to colleges with letters of intent.

Balas sent a letter to students informing them of the decisions and said that advanced placement exams will still be taking place, but will be shorter and online. The exam schedule will be available on April 3 from the College Board.

“I know this is going to be hard on you,” Balas wrote. “These events are rites of passage as you complete your senior year at T.C. Although we know we won’t be able to recreate the experience in the traditional manners, I plan to work with my Titans to come up with alternatives. Our students have been sending me some great ideas about how we can still celebrate this time in your lives.”

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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