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“Alexandria City High School” on Thursday night was unanimously chosen as the new name for T.C. Williams High School. The Alexandria School Board voted for the name change for the city’s only public high school, and the effort took more than a year in the making.

“It’s a big deal and it will mean a lot for our future use,” School Board Chair Meagan Alderton said. “Sometimes it’s good for us to think about the power in reclaiming a name, in changing the name to mean something — other than what we’ve always used it for.”

The new name will be effective at the start of the 2021-22 School Year on July 1, 2021. Additionally, the Board changed the name of Matthew Maury Elementary School to Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School.

School Board Member Ramee Gentry made the motion for “Alexandria City High School”. It was approved unanimously.

I understand both sides of this,” Board member Jacinta Greene said.We have over 50,000 graduates that are very endeared by the name, by the initials T.C. And we have current students that still love being a T.C. Titan…. But not in the name of Thomas Chambliss. It will not mean that anymore.”

T.C. Williams High School is the largest high school in Virginia. It is known around the world for the 2000 movie Remember the Titans, which focused on its 1971 state championship-winning varsity football team that found greatness by working through racial adversity.

T.C. is named after Thomas Chambliss Williams, the superintendent of ACPS for 30 years. He required that all Black students wanting admission to previously all-white schools to go through an application process. Only 75 Black students (about 3%) were allowed to transfer to formerly white schools by the time Williams announced his retirement in 1962, and that was three years after the city officially desegregated schools.

“I had butterflies in my stomach all day just thinking about how long and emotional this journey has been,” said Lorraine Johnson, a student representative on the board. “We can’t forget about our elementary school and middle school students who are coming up before you know it. It’s going to be your time to shine in this high school of endless possibilities, and when it happens, take advantage of every opportunity.”

Gentry did not want the T.C. in another proposal — The City of Alexandria High School.

“You will always be a T.C. Williams High School graduate, and you can wear that with pride,” Gentry said. “But this is the beginning of a new period in history.”

Principal Peter Balas said that “A.C. Titans” is not far from T.C. Titans.

I’m a little concerned about a move to preserve the letters T and C in the name in some way, without having the engagement of our students,” Balas said.

Residents have tried in vain for decades to get the name changed, and many said that the process this time around should have been handled faster.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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Mayor Justin Wilson says that money is no object and that he wants the Alexandria City Public Schools system to fully reopen to in-person instruction as soon as possible.

However, ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. says that in-person instruction won’t be expanded past two days a week at least for the remainder of this school year.

“We need to get our kids back in school full time,” Wilson told ALXnow. “Money will be no object, facilities will be no object. We will make sure that we get our kids back in school, and that that is what I’ve said from the beginning of this effort.”

Hutchings has come under fire for keeping ACPS all-virtual for a week following spring break. Some residents say that the school system is broken and that they are considering moving from the city.

Meanwhile, neighboring jurisdictions are opening up their school systems. Fairfax County Public Schools recently expanded to four days a week for in-person instruction and Falls Church recently returned to five days a week.

ACPS states on its website that it is planning on five-day-a-week in-person instruction this fall. As of the week of March 16, 2021, the school system reported more than 4,000 in-person students two days a week — a quarter of its 16,000-strong student population. Three days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced the recommended distancing in schools from six feet to three feet.

“We are reviewing the revised CDC guidelines to determine how these impact our school division, as our reopening team continues to plan for the 2021-22 school year,” Hutchings wrote parents this week in an email. “We do not plan to adjust the current hybrid learning schedule before the end of the school year, at this time.”

Additionally, Hutchings and School Board Chair Meagan Alderton have been criticized for sending their children to private schools in the city that have three-foot distancing requirements, while the standard at ACPS is six feet. Alderton and Hutchings did not respond to questions on the subject.

ACPS will expand the number of students on April 20, Hutchings said, adding that students are organized via a “instructional prioritization matrix.”

“We expect to begin welcoming more students to in-person learning starting on April 20, and will soon share more information with families of the students who will be able to join the hybrid program later this month,” Hutchings wrote parents.

One parent said he is considering moving from the city.

“The latest email from the Superintendent laid bare the harsh reality that we do not have the will in our community or school leadership to do what is right for our public school kids,” the parent said. “It’s shocking that in a city concerned with equity, we have a different set of standards for those whose children attend public school.”

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In an effort of minimize COVID-19, Alexandria City Public Schools will reopen for in-person classes one full week after Spring Break, which runs from April 5-9.

ACPS announced on Thursday (March 25) that all students will go back to virtual learning until in-person classes resume on Tuesday, April 13. The announcement also said that community transmission for the week ending March 20, 2021 has increased to a “high level from last week’s substantial level.”

“After review of current community health metrics and our desire to limit a potential community spread within our school buildings, we have decided to continue to follow our proactive approach of prioritizing health and safety, and transition to virtual learning for all students for the week after Spring Break, April 5-9,” ACPS said in a release.

ACPS continued, “With members of our school community potentially traveling outside of the National Capital Region, transitioning temporarily to virtual learning is a precautionary step to protect against COVID-19 transmission in our school buildings after Spring Break.”

The move angered a number of parents.

“This is an absolute joke,” one parent wrote in the Open ACPS Facebook group. “The fact that this was a unilateral decision on (Superintendent Gregory) Hutchings’ part, not raised at the most recent school board meeting, and out of step with other jurisdictions is just asinine.”

ACPS also said that it is working to expand its hybrid learning to accommodate more students starting on April 20.

“We understand and share the desire of many families to welcome back our students who would like to be part of hybrid learning,” ACPS said. “More information will be shared soon with families of the students who will be able to join the hybrid program according to an instructional prioritization matrix.”

ACPS is also asking anyone who travels to self-quarantine to get a COVID-19 test after returning and then self-quarantine for a week. Those who choose not to get a test are advised to quarantine for 10 days.

“Our success in keeping school buildings open and safe depends on all students, families and staff being extra vigilant about implementing mitigating measures and following the health guidelines,” ACPS said.

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

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Alexandria City Public Schools plan on opening for five-day instruction this fall, Superintendent gregory Hutchings, Jr. reported to the School Board on Thursday night.

Hutchings said that the transition back to in-person hybrid instruction on March 2, March 9 and March 16, has been “seamless,” and that the Board will receive a logistical update in April.

“We’re planning to come back to five days a week,” Hutchings told the Board. “We’re looking at the CDC guidelines that, hopefully, will allow us to do that with no guidelines. We’re also working to plan for five days a week, if we have three-foot social distancing and if we have six feet social distancing (as well as no restrictions).”

Today (Friday), the CDC shortened its distancing guidelines for kids in schools with face masks to three feet, a move that the school system anticipated.

Hutchings said that the school system will continue hybrid instruction next fall.

“We also understand that some of our families are still going to want in the fall their children to be a part of some type of virtual experience,” he said. “They still may not be comfortable, or may not be able for their children to return back into an in-person learning setting, and we are planning to develop our virtual curriculumvery different from the curriculum that we currently have in place, but a true virtual curriculum for students who may not return into our school buildings so that we can still provide a rigorous and engaging virtual learning experience.”

Some parents want in-person instruction five days a week starting now.

“We are thrilled our kinder student us back in school, even though it is only two days a week,” said Bill Blackburn, whose son attends Mount Vernon Community School in Del Ray. “My son’s only complaint was not being able to talk while eating lunch. All things considered, things went well for us and we hope to see more kids and more teachers back in person sooner rather than later.”

Governor Ralph Northam was in Alexandria in January to see some ACPS staff get their first round of inoculations. As previously reported, around half of the school staff were uncomfortable returning to work when surveyed last fall, and Hutchings has been concerned with capacity and staffing issues.

ACPS will also open a poll on March 22 to see how many staffers have been vaccinated. The employees will have the following choices:

  • Choose not to disclose vaccination status
  • Declining vaccination
  • Waiting for first vaccination appointment
  • Received first dose, waiting to receive second dose
  • Completely vaccinated
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The Alexandria School Board on Thursday, March 18, will conduct a public hearing on the proposed new names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.

The 5 p.m. public hearing will allow testimony from residents on what they think about proposals by Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings to respectively rename them “Alexandria High School” and “Naomi Brooks Elementary School”. The two finalist names were chosen from a list that ACPS released last month.

While efforts to rename T.C. Williams High School began in the 1990s, a renewed push this year was tied in with nationwide discussions about renaming honors to the Confederacy and other symbols of racial oppression.

Thomas Chambliss Williams was an avowed segregationist who worked to limit the number of Black students in segregated schools. Matthew Fontaine Maury, who was a pioneering oceanographer during the 19th century, was also a leader in the Confederacy during the Civil War.

A recent ALXnow poll on the issue found that, out of more than 800 respondents, 67% liked the high school name but not the elementary school name; 20% were happy with both names; 8% didn’t like either name; and 5% liked the elementary school name but not the high school name.

https://twitter.com/ACPSk12/status/1371493556528025602

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What a busy week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week was on Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Old Town shop fibre space on March 3. It was Harris’ first official visit outside of the White House since she was inaugurated, and she spoke about the American Rescue Plan with shop owner Danielle Romanetti.

Alexandria City Public Schools reopened for hybrid instruction this week, the first time since all school facilities were shut down on March 13. The school system reportedly welcomed back 1,200 special needs students in kindergarten through fifth grade. ACPS will open on March 9 for special education students, and then fully reopen its doors to hybrid learning for students on March 16.

On the coronavirus front, the number  of deaths due to the virus has climbed to 123, and cases are at 10,404 since the first case was reported on March 11, 2020. Mayor Justin Wilson says the city is doing well keeping the numbers down, although with a vaccine waiting list exceeding 45,000 and 3,000 vaccine doses being given out weekly, distribution will continue to be slow.

More than 550 people responded to this week’s poll on the proposed new names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School. About 60% of respondents said they were happy with Alexandria High School, but not with Naomi Brooks Elementary School; 25% said they liked both names; 8% didn’t like either name; and 6% didn’t like the high school name and were happy with the elementary school name.

In case you missed them, here are some other important stories:

Here are our most-read posts this week:

  1. Just In: Vice President Visits Old Town Shop Fibre Space
  2. Alexandria Wants Feedback on Building Spray Park in Del Ray
  3. El Chapo’s Wife to be Isolated in Alexandria Jail for One Month Per COVID-19 Distancing Rules
  4. Consultant Proposes Replacing Community Shelter with Mixed-Use Development
  5. Alexandria Advocacy Facebook Group Parodied in New Blog
  6. Superintendent Proposes New Names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary
  7. Patrick Moran, Son of Former Congressman Jim Moran, is Running for City Council
  8. ACPS Reopens its Doors and Evaluating Grading System for Traumatized Students
  9. Man Arrested for High-Speed Vehicle Race on I-495
  10. Meronne Teklu Enters City Council Race
  11. Neighborhood Spotlight: Old Town is the New Town

Have a safe weekend!

Photo via Peter Velz/Twitter 

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Alexandria City Councilwoman Amy Jackson argued with members of the School Board and Alexandria City Public Schools staff at a budget meeting last night (Wednesday) over construction of the new Douglas MacArthur Elementary School.

Jackson, who is running for reelection, lambasted the school system earlier this week on Facebook with a one minute video. In the video, Jackson stands outside MacArthur wearing a face mask with the words “Your Vote Matters” printed on it, raises her left hand questioningly and then says: “March 1, 2021. Almost a year and no construction has started at MacArthur. When is it going to happen?”

Jackson wrote that the project is a ticking clock for the community, that Council was told demolition would start last month, and then made impassioned comments at Wednesday night’s joint City Council/School Board meeting on the budget. She said it’s up to the school board and ACPS to field concerns from the community on social media, and that she’s tired of answering their questions on the issue.

“My issue is the communication,” Jackson said. “That’s it. That’s my issue, the communication because whatever your answer is, it cannot be any worse than not hearing anything at all.”

While the project is in development, MacArthur students are using the old Patrick Henry Elementary School as swing space.

School Board Chair Meagan Alderton said she did not appreciate Jackson’s comments, and said that she does not engage on social media because it is not the “real world”.

“Maybe we all need to reconsider how we behave as elected officials on social media,” Alderton said. “You all have direct channels to the School Board. You have access that other people do not have. Use that, as opposed to blasting our staff and our School Board on social media. I don’t find it appropriate, and I don’t find it fair.”

Alderton continued, “Unfortunately, this was a budget session about the combined funds budget, which is focused on social, emotional and academic learning. And we had to deal with this. That’s a problem for me.”

ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., said despite delays over easement concerns with Dominion Energy, that construction is on schedule to open the school in Jan. 2023. Fence panels were erected this week at the property, and ACPS staff will have its pre-construction meeting with the city on Friday. Additionally, asbestos abatement at MacArthur starts next week, and clearing the building is a process that can take weeks before demolition can happen.

Hutchings also said that ACPS communicated project updates to the MacArthur community in a Jan. 26 school advisory group meeting, and on Feb. 11 in a school-wide newsletter.

“When we talk about being on time, we’re talking about the delivery of the new school,” Hutchings said. “That is the main concern that we had from the school’s point of view. And that’s been the main concern of the community thus far. With all the work that we’ve done with having our swing space at the old Patrick Henry location, we know we have to be out of that space for students to arrive in January of 2023.”

A member of the advisory committee, however, told ALXnow that it has not met with ACPS since late last year and that the Jan. 26 meeting did not happen. Still, the representative said that the group was aware of the 2023 completion date.

“We’ve been provided many dates throughout this process,” the member told us. “The advisory group requested updates via email multiple times over the last six months and those requests went unanswered for weeks or longer.”

The member continued, “And since the school email update was drafted by a principal, not the central office, it was only distributed to parents who receive school communications. It did not go to those signed up for ACPS updates related to this project or to the advisory group who was simultaneously requesting updates.”

School Board member Ramee Gentry said it was important to keep misinformation from being spread.

“The other issue I have and I think we have to be cautious of is spreading misinformation as (elected officials),” Gentry said. “The information that was shared (by Jackson) was not accurate.”

School Board Vice Chair Veronica Nolan said that Facebook is a tool used by upper middle class residents, and that it fosters inequity.

“One third of our students’ parents do not speak English, and 63% of our parents are from low income backgrounds,” Nolan said. “Should I as an elected be jumping every time an upper middle class person wants to speak? Am I supposed to be a slave to the tool? Instead I want everyone to have access, and that is (through) public hearings, transparent meetings that are recorded such as this one, the website, newsletters (and) the ACPS blast.”

Photo via Amy Jackson/Facebook

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After months of community discussions following the School Board vote in November, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings is recommending that T.C. Williams High School be renamed Alexandria High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School be renamed Naomi Brooks Elementary School.

The choices split the difference between those who wanted to see the schools renamed after specific people and those who wanted to play it safe with area or neighborhood school names.

Alexandria High School was chosen over “Titan Community High School” — which would have kept the T.C. initials — and “Ruth Bader Ginsberg High School”.

Meanwhile Naomi Brooks Elementary School, named in honor of longtime local teacher Naomi Brooks who died last year, was chosen over names like “Rosemont Elementary School”.

The new names will be reviewed at a School Board meeting tonight (Thursday).

In an earlier poll, most of those who voted were in favor of Alexandria High School.

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“Alexandria High School” and “Naomi Brooks Elementary School”.

These could be the new names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School, and they are Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr.’s recommendation to the School Board.

The names will be presented at tonight’s (Thursday) School Board meeting. The school board voted last year to rename them after an extensive community review process.

The renaming of T.C. Williams High School — which honors a superintendent who was a vocal advocate for segregation — takes the relatively safe approach of changing the school name to honor the place rather than a person. The name beat “Titan Community High School” and “Ruth Bader Ginsberg High School” in a poll.

“Haven’t we learned that history has different perspectives, that no person is without fault and you can’t please everyone?” one student asked in the Alexandria City Public Schools presentation. “Naming schools, streets, bridges, parks and stadiums after historical figures is not necessary to preserve history. Let’s preserve the history of the place by naming the only high school in our city ‘Alexandria High School’. Let’s give recognition to the city where we live, work and grow. Root the identity of the school in the area it represents.”

Naomi Brooks Elementary School would honor Naomi Brooks, a beloved local teacher who attended segregated schools in Alexandria who later worked in those schools. Brooks died last year, meeting the eligibility requirement that schools cannot be named after current ACPS employees.

According to the Identity Project:

Brooks was raised attending segregated schools in Alexandria. Her strong desire to learn and share that with children was strong. She earned a degree in elementary education from Virginia State College and began her teaching career in 1955 in Alexandria–committed to educating all students. She was a beloved teacher at Charles Houston Elementary School and Cora Kelly Elementary School.

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Nine-year-old Luis Aleman had a hard time learning at home, and was happy to be back at Mount Vernon Community School on Tuesday.

It was a far from ordinary school day for the fourth grader, with plexiglass screens at desks that are spread apart, kids distancing from each other, and even walking a socially distant mile for recess instead of playing on the monkey bars.

Aleman said learning at home was tough with two siblings, and that he was glad to go back to school and see his teachers in person.

“It was tough,” Aleman told ALXnow. “When you have siblings, it’s tough, because they mess around with you.”

On Tuesday, Aleman joined about 1,200 special needs students in kindergarten through fifth grade in going back to Alexandria City Public Schools, marking the first time that in-person public instruction has been allowed since March 13, 2020.

“Now, every desk is six feet apart, and we have to be six feet apart, and we have to wash our hands every time we touch,” Aleman said.

About 60% of ACPS staff have been able to go back to school for in-person learning, although not all of them have been vaccinated.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. could not confirm the number of staffers who have been completely vaccinated, but said that vaccination is not a prerequisite to go back to work. He recently got his second vaccine dose, and said that the side effects temporarily left him with flu-like symptoms.

“We’re back. I’m glad that we finally got to this part, honestly,” Hutchings said outside MVCS on Tuesday. “I want to thank our team for all their hard work that they’ve done over the past year to prepare for this moment. And, it’s showtime.”

MVCS Principal Liza Burrell-Aldana said that the school can handle unforeseen emergencies.

“We have a 63% of our staff who are returning hybrid,” Burrell-Aldana said. “If we have to an emergency happen, we need supervision last minute, we’re gonna just go in there and do what we do.”

Hutchings said that ACPS is evaluating grading practices for students who may have been traumatized by the pandemic.

“We have a grading committee that is looking at our grading practices, which need to be revamped,” Hutchings said. “This has been a traumatic experience for kids, and we have to take that into account.”

ACPS will open on March 9 for special education students, and then fully reopen its doors to hybrid learning for students on March 16.

Hutchings said that the school system will continue to monitor the situation in individual schools to determine if they will stay open. In the meantime, he said that it looks like students will go back to in-person schooling for two days a week for the rest of the year.

“We will be working through each individual school, monitoring how many cases, and when you get to a spread that’s more than two within a building and following what the guidance from the Alexandra Health Department and looking at our contact tracing to determine if we need to remain open or closed, but we’re going to use those metrics just like we were using before we opened our doors,” Hutchings said.

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