Alexandria parents are up in arms over a staffing crisis within Alexandria City Public Schools.
Kelly Organek says that her ninth-grade son at Alexandria City High School’s Minnie Howard campus hasn’t had a geometry teacher since school started in August and that he only recently got a new biology teacher.
“We are in a staffing crisis that is not okay for our children,” Organek testified to the School Board last Thursday night (Oct 5). “Since August 21, my son has had to teach himself biology and geometry. We have no way to know if he’s learning the material.”
ACPS staff also provided an update on staffing woes. The school system currently has 55 central office vacancies, as well as more than 100 licensed and non-licensed school-based positions. Just how many teachers are needed is not clear, and ALXnow is awaiting a more comprehensive breakdown of ACPS staffing needs.
“We’re at a point now where people are just looking for bodies to put in classrooms and that makes me so sad,” said Board Member Meagan Alderton. “I think the people on the ground, the HR (human resources) folks, have got to do the work.”
The ACPS employment page lists dozens of vacant positions, including high school science, math and history teacher jobs.
“We do know that the last couple of years have been very challenging for all of our staff,” Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt said.
Margaret Browne, the ACPS director of recruitment and retention, said she is working on streamlining the onboarding process so that applicants can start work faster. She also said that ACPS advertised positions on radio stations, television, newspapers and online media, and that she and her staff conducted 13 job fairs in-house and traveled to 40 career fairs around the country last school year, including to Puerto Rico.
“I anticipated that we were going to do a large number of events last year and I’m ready to set a new record (for job fairs),” Browne said. “We’ll go down the Eastern Seaboard. This time we are going west and we’ll also do Puerto Rico again.”
The school system is also short 15 bus drivers and is offering an additional 5% raise for drivers over the course of the next three years.
Browne said that ACPS will also focus on marketing to people switching careers within associations and military organizations.
David Paladin Fernandez has been an ACPS 6th and 8th grade general education teacher for eight years. He said that his salary has been frozen half that time, and that due to an impasse over collective bargaining that the school system is running short on special education teachers, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, therapists, audiologists and more positions.
He also brought a red velvet cake to the School Board meeting.
“Our district is facing a staffing crisis like we’ve never seen, and our management would rather spin stories than face the reality that their recruiting and retention efforts are simply not enough,” Fernandez said. “School Board members, tonight you have heard and will hear from a number of Alexandria citizens who have been personally impacted by the decisions ACPS management has made under your watch. These citizens come to you asking, nay demanding that you start holding management accountable because the things that they are saying to the public do not match the actions we see. It’s as ridiculous as offering cake at a School Board meeting.”
Rene Pascal, the acting head of human resources for ACPS, said that teachers should feel incentivized to work for ACPS by paying smaller premiums on their health plans (see graph in above gallery).
Alexandria City High School parent Sarah Schultz said that ACPS is not being transparent on staffing woes.
“We’re asking our children to receive instruction without teachers,” ACPS parent Sarah Schultz told the Board. “We feel strongly that ACPS should not take the stance that online classes are a reasonable substitute for in-person instruction, especially for required courses and question the equity of moving groups of students to online while the rest of the students receive in-person instruction.”
Two ACPS recruitment videos made earlier this year are below.
Alexandria City Public Schools says it will not comply with Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s policies restricting transgender services.
School Board Chair Michelle Rief and Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt informed parents of the school system’s stance on Monday. It’s the second straight year that ACPS has refused the policies, which are updated annually and recommend restricting trans bathroom and pronoun use.
Rief and Kay-Wyatt were “dismayed” when the policies were introduced and wrote that ACPS will uphold gender affirming policies that go back to 1996.
“(W)e want to reaffirm our commitment to all students, staff and families, including our LGBTQIA+ community, that ACPS will continue to both implement and develop gender affirming policies for all ACPS students,” they wrote. “School Board Policy JB: Nondiscrimination in Education protects students from discrimination due to gender expression, gender identity, sexual harassment and transgender status.”
The Virginia Department Of Education’s 2023 Model Policies include “clear and useful” suggestions to school systems for preferred pronoun usage, the “maintenance of student records,” the “identification of students,” the “enforcement of sex-based dress codes” and more.
“Practices such as compelling others to use preferred pronouns is premised on the ideological belief that gender is a matter of personal choice or subjective experience, not sex,” according to the model policies. “Virginians reject this belief.”
Not so in Fairfax County and Arlington County, which both rejected the 2023 policies, according to The Washington Post.
Youngkin, a Republican, made waves in 2022 when the Virginia Department of Education first introduced his administration’s model policies, which reversed the more liberally minded policies of former Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam.
Rief and Kay-Wyatt also wrote that the School Board will discuss the policies at the beginning of the school year.
“ACPS will continue to ensure that its policies are in alignment with the ACPS Strategic Plan while also complying with federal and state laws,” they wrote.
A grassroots social media page at Alexandria City High School, run by students and teachers, is looking for some funding to help make better content for the school.
Alexandria City High School teacher Gabriel Elias was the example in a Washington Post story and a White House briefing in 2020 of teachers adapting to virtual classrooms and connecting with students digitally. Since then, Elias has been working with a volunteer team of students and teachers to make a positive social media hub at the school. Now he’s looking for some help to take the project to the next level.
“Over the past years, I’ve gone from teaching with social media to planning, shooting, editing, and posting for a school of over 4,000,” Elias, a teacher at the school’s International Academy, wrote. “I teach full-time, but I run the successful social media team. The impact of our positive content on struggling students, concerned parents, potential community partners, and inspired teachers is massive. I want to step it up next year!”
The channel includes testimonials from students, coverage of events at the school and more. The Instagram page has roughly 3,233 followers.
So far, the students and teachers have mostly been using personal cellphones since they don’t have access to cameras that record well indoors. Elias is looking for funds to help give the students access to top-of-the-line camera kits, microphones and more to help promote activities and events at the school.
The Donors Choose page — a fundraising platform for teachers — says the goal is $2,922 for better equipment by Nov. 14.
“By last year’s end, we were posting (we are a team of students and teachers– all volunteer) at least ten video segments a week including sports events, clubs like Black Student Union, ceremonies, interviews on safety, and much more,” Elias wrote. “Next year will be even more: People expect a video for everything!”
— Gabriel Elias (@Gabriel3lias) July 20, 2023
There are a number of ways to volunteer in Alexandria this fall.
Art lovers can get their fix by volunteering as gallery guides at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, and sports enthusiasts can become volunteer sport coaches. The Carlyle House also needs a volunteer tour guide.
There are also a number of tutoring and mentoring positions available, in addition to available food distributor and donation sorting positions.
“We need hundreds of people per week,” Volunteer Alexandria Executive Director Marion Brunken told ALXnow. “More people are in need now than ever.”
Here’s a list of Volunteer Alexandria’s new and upcoming opportunities.
- Teach Kids to Read — “Wright to Read is a literacy tutoring-mentoring program that works to match volunteer tutor-mentors with Alexandria City Public School students who need extra support in their literacy skills. Our goal is not only to help give this child support along their reading journey (including access to books, resources, and a larger reading community), but also a mentor through elementary school and beyond.”
- Distribute Food With ALIVE! — “Volunteers are needed to assist with multiple programs relating to their Food Program, ALIVE! House, and Alexandria Eviction Prevention Partnership Program will distribute food at Mobile Pop-ups and Truck to Trunk events, etc.”
- More opportunities at ALIVE! — The nonprofit also needs drivers, a furniture moving attendant, and warehouse volunteers.
- Theater group needs support — Momentum Collective is looking for a new board member, a costume designer and a set builder.
- Youth Sport Coaches — Preside over team activities including all scheduled practices and games. Adhere to RPCA policies, rules and objectives Responsible for maintaining care of all RPCA Sports equipment. Lead by example among team parents to support the responsibilities of the referee and league leadership. Coach an assigned group of children and focus on skill development, safety, fair, play, sportsmanship and fun.”
- 4-H Youth Development Club Volunteers — “We are currently looking for volunteers that would like to build clubs on any topic of interest, such as, dogs, sewing, robotics, or sports.”
- Food Rescuer — “Food rescuers pick up surplus food from food donors in Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia (businesses, restaurants and grocers) and deliver it directly to receiving agencies (community kitchens, food pantries, etc.) that feed our hungry neighbors. In your own vehicle and on your own time, it usually takes only 30 to 60 minutes to complete this incredibly rewarding and essential mission. Get started on the website and app to see the complete schedule of local food rescue opportunities.”
- Arise outreach volunteer — “ARISE is a new guaranteed income pilot program that plans to give $500 a month to 170 City of Alexandria residents for two years. A research team will evaluate the ARISE program outcomes which will inform future efforts and policy decisions.”
- Sexual Assault Center Hotline Advocate — “Volunteers staff the 24-hour hotline on evenings and weekends. Volunteers provide accompaniment, emotional support, crisis intervention, advocacy, and referrals to empower survivors of sexual violence in person at the hospital/police department or over the phone. Volunteers must attend a 40-hour training.”
- Shelter Supervisors with Alexandria Domestic Violence Program — “As a program that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, volunteers play a key role in providing services to those affected by domestic violence. Volunteers with our program interact personally with individuals in need–an opportunity that many find extremely fulfilling.”
- Alexandria Library opportunities — The Alexandria Library needs a volunteer to run a games program for seniors, a volunteer with the Trash Trekkers program, a Knit Night volunteer, a computer class volunteer, and gardening support.
- Tour Guide at Carlyle House Historic Park — “Looking for a fun and relaxing volunteer opportunity? Carlyle House Historic Park, a colonial house museum in Old Town Alexandria, seeks volunteer docents to give public tours of this historic building. Carlyle House, built in 1753, interprets the home and family of John Carlyle, a merchant and town founder.”
- Sixth Annual Spooky Science Expo — “The Watergate at Landmark Youth Committee will be holding its sixth annual science event (Spooky Mad Science Expo) for kids and teens (October 15). The event will celebrate science and Halloween… As in every year, we are looking for volunteers to help us plan and run the event.”
- Casa Chirilagua Volunteers — Casa Chirilagua is looking for one-on-one mentoring, their kids club, a volunteer to oversee the teen study hall, help with the high school program, a volunteer for teen bible study, and assistance with their middle school program.
- Dog adoption event needs volunteers — “Lucky Dog Animal Rescue has an adoption event the FIRST Sunday of every month at the Potomac Yard PetSmart – 3351 Richmond Hwy, Alexandria, VA 22305. Come spend the afternoon with a Lucky Dog!”
- Torpedo Factory Gallery Guide — “Gallery Guides must feel comfortable interacting with the public about the work at the exhibition with potentially sensitive content and handling artwork sale inquiries. Gallery Guides must be at least 18 years of age or older.”
- Food and grocery volunteer — “For over 15+ years, as part of its Outreach Ministry, the Meade Memorial Episcopal Church has been committed to the Emergency Food Assistance Ministry, to help transform our community, our neighbors, and ourselves. The church provides lunches to residents from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. We need help to setup tables and distribute lunches every weekday, except on certain holidays. We are asking all volunteers to arrive at 11: 15 a.m.”
Updated 8/5 — The Feathers Bilingual Academy is opening at the Fairlington Presbyterian Church at the same site, not at The Waypoint at Fairlington
A new daycare center called Feathers Bilingual Academy has submitted an application to open at Fairlington Presbyterian Church (3846 King Street) near The Waypoint at Fairlington, a new 81-unit affordable housing development set to open this fall.
The application said the center focuses on early education for children ages 16 months to 5 years old.
Feathers Bilingual Academy will have a capacity for 52 children with approximately eight teachers. There have already been some job postings for positions like pre-school teacher and bilingual toddler lead teacher.
Alexandria School Board members say they want to keep in-person instruction going, but amidst a surge in Covid cases the Alexandria City Public Schools system now has an official plan to revert to virtual learning on a school-by-school basis.
“There may be cases in the future where we have to transition into a virtual learning setting due to that and we want to just prepare for that,” Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., told the Board Thursday night.
The ACPS Protocol for Transitioning to Virtual Instruction is a roadmap for how schools will operate based on COVID infections within a particular school. Like stoplights, the plan is broken up into three zones — green for in-person instruction; yellow for the consideration to transition to virtual learning; and the full-blown transition to virtual learning.
More than 15,000 ACPS students haven’t been back to school since Friday, Dec. 17. This week’s snowstorm prompted ACPS to take immediate action by reverting to virtual learning, like a test run in case schools have to do the same thing because of a rise in Covid infections.
“The decision to transition temporarily to virtual learning will be made after careful consideration of the factors that impact instruction and operations at each school on a daily basis as conditions warrant,” ACPS said. “Note that regardless of the instructional plan, all students will bring home their devices at the end of every school day.”
With Covid numbers surging since Thanksgiving, the Health Department expected cases to rise again after the winter break. That break was extended, so to speak, after in-person classes were switched to virtual all week after Monday’s snowstorm. Just prior to the winter break, 174 reported cases within the school system in December alone. There have been 411 positive cases reported within ACPS since school began in August.
“I strongly believe that it is of the utmost importance to keep our schools open for in-person learning,” Vice Chair Jacinta Greene told ACPS staff at the meeting. “But there are segments of our community that are truly afraid right now to send their their kids to school. And many we’re not going to send them back this week. You know, had we not had snow they weren’t going to send the kids back because of the extreme surge and Omicron cases.”
Greene asked about the possibility of hybrid learning (both virtual and in-person instruction) for families who are concerned about exposing their children by sending them back to school. Hutchings said that the hybrid model, which ACPS used in the fall of 2020, was not successful.
“The hybrid model, it was just not the best practice,” Hutchings said. “It was not providing for our students who are home, a lot of times (teachers) couldn’t engage with the students who were in class.”
ACPS also reported to the Board that, upon returning to school, all students and staff will get brand new N95 surgical masks.
“I am so exhausted by Covid,” said Board Chair Meagan Alderton. “I just look forward to this being over. I can’t emphasize enough the effect that this has had on our education system. It’s almost dumbfounding at times. I feel like I don’t have words anymore, but I just appreciate everyone for digging in. I appreciate families as well. The uncertainty causes a lot of anxiety, and you know the more that we are all in this together the end will come hopefully sooner rather than later.”
The full ACPS description of the plan is below the jump.
The Alexandria Tutoring Consortium has chipped away at its $25,000 goal set in August, and can now offer literacy tutoring to students in 11 of the city’s 14 elementary schools for the remainder of the school year.
The most recent donation was made by the AT&T foundation for $16,000, which will help fund one-on-one “Book Buddies” tutoring sessions for 30 first graders at John Adams and Ferdinand T. Day Elementary Schools.
“After a year-and-a-half of interrupted learning, we’re seeing more demand for reading tutoring than ever before,” said ATC Executive Director Lisa Jacobs. “We’re trying to help more kids this year, and it’s donations by community supporters like the AT&T Foundation that put us in a position to run our programming now through May. We could not be more grateful for this investment in Alexandria’s children.”
During the 2020-2021 school year with kids studying attending virtual schooling, there were more than 7,600 “Book Buddies” tutoring sessions.
“We are delighted to be able to support ATC in its efforts to teach Alexandria’s kids to read,” Garrett McGuire, regional director of external and legislative affairs at AT&T, said in a statement. “Getting students on grade level before third grade has been shown to result in better graduation rates and a better chance for lifelong success.”
Northern Virginia Community College wants to close the achievement gap, and its new vice president of academic affairs and chief academic officer has a plan.
Eun-Woo Chang started work in July by visiting all six campuses and meeting with staff. His job is to take charge of NOVA’s academic initiatives, and says that the college’s ADVANCE program, which allows for a smooth transition to a four-year degree at George Mason University, will be expanded with advisors to help Hispanic students.
“This is going to be a model,” Chang told ALXnow in a recent interview. “If we are successful, we are going to implement this to the other ethnic groups, as time goes.”
Grant funding will help, Chang said, as NOVA has secured millions in grants for the project from the U.S. Department of Education and the Association of American Colleges and Universities. NOVA has also received $40 million from the Virginia legislature to expand its health and trades programs.
With 72,000 students spread across its campuses, NOVA was forced to up its online offerings during the pandemic. In-person classes resumed in August 2020, and a lesson learned from the experience, Chang said, was to increase availability for Zoom classes.
“Forty percent of our classes are in person, 40% of percent of our classes are in a Zoom environment, and virtual classes make up 20% right now,” he said. “We anticipate that virtual online format is going to grow even more.”
All of this is part of NOVA’s adherence to the Virginia Community College System’s Opportunity 2027 Strategic Plan. NOVA’s graduation rate last year was 29%, a 2.6% increase over year before. Approximately 64% of students in NOVA are minorities.
Chang, who was previously in academic leadership at Ashland University in Ohio and Mercer County Community College in New Jersey, moved to the area in 2008 when he was hired as a program director in the Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation.
He also says that having First Lady Dr. Jill Biden teaching at NOVA helps the school’s profile.
“It’s an honor for us to have her as a faculty member here,” he said.
Chang says longevity is the key to his success.
“As long as they don’t kick me out, I’ll stay here,” he said. “The longest serving provost has been here more than 15 years. And then the shortest serving provost is five or six years. So, there is a longevity, and that’s why we are successful.”
Photo via NVCC
If you’re looking to stay busy for a good cause, there are dozens of available volunteer opportunities in Alexandria.
Here’s Volunteer Alexandria’s list of new and upcoming opportunities.
- Active Shooter Training — Be prepared for the unthinkable by learning the “Run, Hide, Fight” model of an active shooter emergency. Lt. John M. Weinstein of Northern Virginia Community College will provide basic instruction on how to protect yourself and your loved ones if you are ever in this situation. Tuesday, September 28, 7:00 – 8:00 p.m at the Northern VA Community College – Alexandria Campus. Click HERE to sign-up.
- Alzheimer’s Association – Walk to End Alzheimer’s at National Harbor and the National Mall — Volunteers are needed on the day of the events to help with set up, sign placement, information services, promise flower distribution, cheerleaders, and route monitors. To learn more and register, click HERE for the September 25 Walk at National Harbor and click HERE for October 9 Walk on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
- Crossing guards needed help children get to school and home safely — ACPS need your help getting our kids to and from school safely. Volunteers will control traffic at already designated crosswalks to allow families to cross streets safely to and from school. Times would be 7:15 a.m. to 8:10 a.m. and 2:25 p.m. to 3:05 p.m. at various schools across the city. Click Here to sign-up.
- Deliver Meals to ACPS School Children — Senior Services of Alexandria is looking for volunteers to support school lunch delivery to families who have children learning virtually this fall. Volunteers are needed to pick up and deliver meals on Mondays and Wednesdays. Car and valid driver’s license required. Click HERE to express interest.
- Event support needed for Living Legends of Alexandria reception honoring volunteers — Living Legends of Alexandria is seeking volunteers for the event. Tasks may include assisting with live screening set up, crowd control, parking lot assistance for anyone needing help, and much more. The event is at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 30. Click HERE to sign up.
- Help with a 5K race — Run! Geek! Run! is a 5K race held each year with the proceeds going to the Child and Family Network Centers. Ironisitic is looking for volunteers to help our runners, assist with the water station, support the finish line, register individuals, cheer our runners along on the route, and clean-up after the race on Saturday, September 26. Click Here to sign-up.
- Help Beautify a Church – Meade Memorial Church is looking for someone to help maintain church grounds by cutting grass, trimming bushes and hedges, and pulling weeds. Hours are flexible and supplies are provided. Click Here to sign up.
- Kids games and card making for first responders – Join us at Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library on Saturday, September 25 from 10 a.m. to noon to make cards for first responders, police officers, and firefighters. We will also be playing a few games to learn about fire and earthquake safety! Click HERE to sign up.
- Teach a Child How to Read – Wright to Read volunteers work one-on-one, either virtually or in-person at a public space, with a student to improve their literacy skills for an hour a week. Wright to Read has been serving Alexandria’s children for over 40 years by providing one-on-one literacy tutoring and mentoring to Alexandria City Public Schools students. An online information session takes place on Thursday, September 30th at 6:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.
- Until Help Arrives – This virtual class will teach you how to recognize violent activities, respond safely, provide immediate rescue tactics to the injured, and report them to 9-1-1 efficiently. These are transferable skills are applicable to countless situations involving traumatic injury (e.g. car accident, household injury, or an active shooter). The next class will be held on Monday, November 1. Click here to sign up.
Kristin Carpenter’s services are in demand.
This month, she and her team opened The Linder Academy at the corner of S. Washington and Gibbon Streets in Old Town, joining their smaller McLean location, which opened in January.
Right now, she’s got 24 students in McLean and 52 at the Alexandria campus, and when the latter is built out it will have 13 classrooms and be able to hold just over 100 students.
“I never thought I would want to run a private school,” Carpenter told ALXnow. “But as a research specialist and a teacher, it was nice that there was no bureaucracy and we could just teach the kids. We don’t have curriculum contracts, so we could just pick the best materials and the best methods and teach with super small class sizes and problem-based learning — things that just aren’t options at big schools, and we really had a great time with it.”
Still under construction, the Old Town school is located at 601, 607 and 609 S. Washington Street and 710 Gibbon Street. New murals of famous authors and civil rights icons with quotes have been painted on the exterior walls to show the essence of the school’s philosophy.
Carpenter launched Linder Educational Coaching in Arlington in 2008, and focused mainly on interventions outside of school with tutoring and after-school programs.
“But when COVID hit, we just realized there were a lot of parents that needed support,” she said. “My biggest concern was early childhood literacy. Even with the best teacher in the world, you’re just not going to learn on an iPad.”
The school, which costs more than $28,000 a year in tuition, specializes in working with students who struggle with learning disabilities and traditional school settings. Children spend the early part of the day with the most cognitively demanding classes, like math and English, and they day becomes less regulated in the afternoon for electives.
There are six-t0-nine students in each class, Carpenter said.
“I would say weaknesses in social skills is one of the biggest things that we are seeing,” she said. “Outside of that, I think overall that their writing skills are very weak, and that wasn’t helped by being able to type or do voice-to-text this past school year. You know, the actual act of being able to write is important.”
Carpenter said she had no plans to open additional schools in the future.
“God, no,” she said. “I can’t think about it right now. I’m very tired. I just want to sleep for years.”