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ACPS headquarters and clock (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated 4:15 p.m.) Are there too many Alexandria School Board Members? Should their terms be staggered and should districts be eliminated? The Board wants these questions answered by the time voters cast their ballots in November 2024.

Yesterday (Tuesday), the nine-person Board unanimously agreed to establish a process for asking the public these questions. The answers will inform a Board resolution that is expected to go before the Alexandria City Council next year and the Virginia General Assembly in 2024.

For years, the Board has weighed whether to restructure its composition and change the frequency of elections to try and reduce turnover. Last night, members tied Board turnover to a pattern of superintendent resignations and heightened anxiety among school staff.

“The impact that the Board turnover has on staff is extremely significant,” said Board Member Tammy Ignacio, who was an Alexandria City Public Schools administrator before retiring and running for office last year. “When you have a turnover of the board, you have a turnover of some staff and a turnover of leadership. It causes a lot of stress and anxiety on staff, and when that happens it impacts kids.”

For instance, six new members joined just three incumbents on the School Board after the November 2021 election. Board Members said school leadership suffers when more than half the Board is learning the ropes of the school system at one time.

“I can attest to the to the challenges that happen with with the high level of a learning curve that Board Members have to go through, the impact it has on staff, and in both of those cases we also had superintendents resign,” said Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz, who has served two non-concurrent terms.

There were also five new Board Members elected in the 2018 election, five new Members in the 2015 election and seven new Members in the 2012 election.

School Board terms, and their respective City Council/Boards of Supervisor terms, across the region. (via ACPS)

There have also been three ACPS superintendents in the last decade, with a fourth set to be hired this spring.

“On average in ACPS, Superintendents resign nine months after a new School Board takes office,” notes an ACPS staff report. “Since 1994, four of the five superintendents left when the School Board turnover was five or more members.”

Since their first election in 1994, the city’s nine School Board members have served three-year terms for (three apiece in Districts A, B and C) with their elections and City Council’s held on the same day.

Last night, the Board reviewed some preliminary alternatives to the current election cycle, suggested by ACPS staff. They include:

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

Del. Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45) says that the concept of staggered terms makes sense, but said the option of having more elections for individual districts could confuse voters.

“If a single district was up for election every year as opposed to one seat, that could potentially lead to voter and candidate confusion, as many individuals don’t necessarily know what districts they reside in,” Bennett-Parker advised the Board.

Bennett-Parker serves in the legislature’s County, Cities and Towns Committee, which would would send forward the amendment to the Virginia Charter for the General Assembly for approval.

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Inova Alexandria Hospital celebrated its 150th anniversary on Monday with local elected officials.

The hospital was founded in 1872, in the wake of a typhoid outbreak. It is Virginia’s oldest continuously operating community hospital.

“The city of Alexandria faced a significant health threat,” said Inova Alexandria President Dr. Rina Bansal. “A ship docking in Alexandria’s port had an outbreak of typhoid and everyone in the city fear a wider epidemic was on the way.”

The hospital was founded as the Alexandria Infirmary Association in 1872 by Julia Johns, the daughter of the Episcopal Bishop of Alexandria. Johns called on her charitable friends and formed a board of Lady Managers, who operated the hospital for decades. The first surgery at the hospital was reportedly a leg amputation in 1882, at the first location at the intersection of Duke and Fairfax Streets in Old Town.

The infirmary was also the first nursing school in Virginia. Alexandria Hospital was officially renamed in 1904, and the current 318-bed facility at 4320 Seminary Road has been in use since the 1960s.

“Alexandria residents don’t have to choose between getting world class and health care and getting convenient health care close to home,” said Dr. J. Stephen Jones, president and CEO of the Inova Health System.

The hospital merged with the Inova health system in 1996, and will eventually move to the Landmark area. By 2028, the proposed 675,000 square foot Inova at Landmark project will include a 130,000-square-foot cancer center and 110,000 square-foot specialty outpatient care center.

“You all are not only contributing to the health of our community for the future, but you’re also contributing to the economic health of our community and very much becoming a catalyst for redevelopment at Landmark law and we’re very excited to see that come to fruition,” Mayor Justin Wilson told hospital staff.

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Elizabeth Bennett-Parker casts her vote on primary day, June 8, 2021, at Matthew Maury Elementary School (staff photo by James Cullum)

Alexandria Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker is running for reelection for Virginia’s 45th District, she announced on Wednesday.

Bennett-Parker will kick off her campaign formally on Jan. 7.

“It’s been an honor to serve the people of Alexandria and I’m going to work hard for them this session and in the future,” Bennett-Parker told ALXnow. “Among other items, I’m working on bills to increase access to mental health services, enhance gun safety, improve voting access for individuals with disabilities, prevent evictions, protect consumers from deceptive practices, address inland flooding, and support working families.”

Bennett-Parker won her seat in November 2021 by defeating Republican Justin “J.D.” Maddox in the general election and incumbent Democrat Mark Levine in the June primary. She began her political career four years ago when she was elected Alexandria’s vice mayorship in her first-ever campaign for office.

Bennett-Parker is now a substitute teacher for Alexandria City Public Schools and is a former co-leader of Together We Bake, a non-profit job training and personal development program for underserved women.

In her announcement, Bennett-Parker listed a number of endorsements, which are listed below.

  • Congressman Don Beyer
  • State Senator Adam Ebbin
  • Delegate Charniele Herring
  • Mayor Justin Wilson
  • Vice Mayor Amy Jackson
  • Councilman Canek Aguirre
  • Councilmember Sarah Bagley
  • Councilman John Taylor Chapman
  • Councilwoman Alyia Gaskins
  • Councilman Kirk McPike
  • Sheriff Sean Casey
  • Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter
  • Clerk of Court Greg Parks
  • School Board Chair Meagan Alderton
  • School Board Vice Chair Jacinta Greene
  • School Board Member Ashley Simpson Baird
  • School Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz
  • School Board Member Abdel-Rahman Elnoubi
  • School Board Member Christopher Harris
  • School Board Member Michelle Rief
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Old Town just got a little brighter.

On Saturday (Nov. 19), Santa Claus made his way to City Hall on the King Street Trolley to help members of City Council light the holiday tree at Market Square in front of City Hall.

Town Crier Ben Fiore-Walker started things off with a proclamation, followed by speeches by Santa and Mayor Justin Wilson.

There are 40,000 lights on the 40-foot-tall tree at Market Square.

Coming up, the Del Ray holiday tree and Menorah lighting is on Sunday, December 4. Santa is also expected to make an appearance at the annual event.

Photos via Elijah Walter Griffin, Sr./Griffin Vision

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It was crisp, clear on Sunday in Del Ray — perfect for the annual Del Ray Halloween Parade.

Thousands of kids and adults marched in costumes for the event, including members of the Alexandria City Council and the Alexandria City High School ‘Zombie Band’.

It’s Visit Del Ray’s 26th year hosting the fun event, which it started at Mount Vernon Avenue and E. Bellefonte Avenue and ended with live music and prizes at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center athletic fields.

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It moves at a snail’s pace, but Alexandria’s tunnel boring machine is ready to drill through 100-foot-deep soil to prevent millions of gallons of combined sewage from flowing into the Potomac River, Hooffs Run, and Hunting Creek.

On Thursday, Alexandria’s leaders were on-hand for the unveiling and dedication of AlexRenew’s RiverRenew Tunnel Project. The $454.4 million project is the largest infrastructure project in the city’s history, and will result in a 12-foot-wide, two-mile-long waterfront tunnel, which will divert approximately 120 million gallons of sewage every year.

At the dedication, Mayor Justin Wilson lamented the loss of former Mayor Kerry Donley, an AlexRenew Board Member, who died on Wednesday.

“Our hearts are certainly heavy this morning as we gather without Kerry,” Wilson said. “I think if there was ever a more fitting, audacious undertaking as a tribute to Kerry, it’s what we’re doing right here. Kerry always believed that this was a city that could do big things that were audacious, and their impact in their planning and scale. And this certainly is a mind-blowing exercise for this community.”

The tunnel boring machine was built in Schwanau, Germany, and was given the name Hazel, after environmental activist Hazel Johnson.

“Today we honor Hazel Johnson’s dedication to a cleaner, safer environment for future generations through the dedication of this tunnel boring machine, which will build a brighter future for all Alexandria,” said Karen Pallansch, CEO of AlexRenew Enterprises. “This 380-ton custom-built tunnel boring machine will soon begin to dig. How fast does she move? She moves about as fast as a snail creeping along a stick by Hunting Creek, and yet, and yet she’s gonna leave behind a lasting legacy.”

The Virginia General Assembly mandated in 2017 that the project be completed by July 1, 2025. The groundbreaking for the project was held last fall.

“It’s a good day for all of us,” said Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45). “We were able to get $40 million additional dollars in this year’s state budget for this project, which will help us see it to completion.”

The tunnel project is partially funded through a $321 million loan from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act and $50 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.

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With fireworks, cupcakes and music, Alexandria celebrated its 273rd birthday on Sunday, July 10.

Thousands were in attendance for the free party, which also celebrates America’s birthday and was supposed to be held on Saturday (July 9), but was held off due to rain. What resulted was a less crowded event than years past — with performances by Town Crier Ben Fiore-Walker, Poet Laureate Zeina Azzam, and the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra (ASO).

During the fireworks show over the Potomac River, the symphony played the “Superman theme” by John Williams instead of the traditional “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky. ASO Conductor Jim Ross said that it would not be fitting to play music by a Russian composer commemorating Alexandria’s and the country’s birthdays.

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More than a dozen anti-abortion activists were individually led out of Alexandria’s City Council Chambers on Tuesday night (June 28), as Council unanimously approved a resolution to protect access to abortions in the city.

Members of the California-based group Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust sat in Council Chambers holding signs depicting graphic photos and drawings of aborted fetuses. The group spent the last several days demonstrating outside the U.S. Supreme Court leading up to last week’s overturning of Roe v. Wadebanning abortion in more than a dozen states.

Mayor Justin Wilson told the audience repeatedly to quiet down or he’d clear the chamber, and asked police to remove more than a dozen protestors, including A.J. Hurley, national director of the group.

“Bodily autonomy is a basic human right,” Wilson said. “I’m not really fond of resolutions that, you know, take stands on issues that we don’t have a lot of impact on, and this is not one of those. I think the reason this resolution is before us is because it has specific actions that are very much in our purview.”

Hurley is from Los Angeles, California. He said that the mission of the organization is to seek a federal ban on abortion, and doesn’t believe he will see that happen in his lifetime. Hurley was eventually escorted from Council Chambers by police after an outburst. Members of the group also shouted on megaphones and banged on plastic buckets outside City Hall.

“If this city council is going to produce edicts and statements and resolutions moving towards ordinances, they should know the faces of the children that they affect,” Hurley said.

The resolution states that “it is not possible to ban abortion, but only to ban safe and legal abortions,” and asks that the City Manager consider budgetary proposals for the FY 2024 budget to “ensure accessibility of reproductive health services, safe abortion services, accessible maternal and child health services for low-income Alexandria residents.”

The resolution also calls on the City Attorney to join ongoing or future lawsuits “to protect the availability of abortion services in Alexandria,” as well as land use protections for providers.

When told by a protestor that she doesn’t understand the issue because she hasn’t had an abortion, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson asked, “How do you know I haven’t?”

“When we’re talking about personal freedom and women’s health care, it should be the women’s choice, not men,” Jackson said.

Council Member Kirk McPike drafted the resolution. McPike previously expressed regret about City Council withdrawing an earlier proclamation of support.

“Fortunately right now we are in Virginia, and in Virginia abortion remains legal,” McPike said. “There’s nothing we can do from this dais or as City Council to override state law. If that changes, we will not be able to limit that. What we can do is work within the powers that we have as a city body, to ask our city manager in our city attorney to take on active roles in helping us protect this right to reproductive choice here in our city, whether that’s through revising our planning and zoning rules, whether that’s by joining lawsuits, whether that’s by putting language in our legislative packets. “

Council Member Alyia Gaskins, who noted in the meeting that she is pregnant, said that the Supreme Court ruling is an attack on the rights of women and families.

“We must be relentless in protecting the health and wellbeing of our people and the citizens we serve,” Gaskins said.

Council Member Sarah Bagley directly addressed the anti-abortion activists holding signs.

“I look at these photos, I see you pointing at them,” Bagley said. “What I don’t see is the woman whose life was saved because the ectopic pregnancy would have killed her. What I don’t see with these photos is a woman who desperately wanted a child but was told that (with) these fetal abnormalities would never have survived.”

Many residents also sat in Council Chambers holding signs thanking Alexandria for its pro-abortion efforts, including Sandy Marks, chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee.

“Our council is entirely unshaken,” Marks said. “There have been a few interruptions, business is moving smoothly. They’re attempting to make noise outside, but our good governance is not going to be disrupted by a small number of out of town visitors that are here to try to obstruct a meeting that is going very smoothly.”

Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45) also sat in the audience.

“I’m here because I believe everyone should be able to access safe abortions,” Bennett-Parker said. “I’m here today to support City Council and this resolution to protect abortion access in Alexandria and Virginia. I’m here because people should be able to make decisions about their own body, their own future and their own lives.”

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Douglass Cemetery has been damaged in recent flooding, photo courtesy Michael Johnson

Alexandria has had a few promising starts so far in the 2022 legislative session, with preliminary funding and authority granted on some key issues.

In a legislative update to the City Council last night (Tuesday), Legislative Director Sarah Graham Taylor outlined some of the early successes.

Taylor said Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker has been spearheading legislation that would allow localities to continue with greater virtual representation in public meetings even after the pandemic.

“[A bill to] increase opportunities for electronic participation in public meetings… passed out of the general laws subcommittee today unopposed,” Taylor said. “We’re eally excited to see that bill move forward. It’s something the city has been really focused on both as vice mayor and now as a delegate. [We’re] really pleased to be a part of that and see that move forward. It’s something that will be incredibly valuable to our boards and commissions; to be able to operate in a virtual environment even outside of a declared emergency or pandemic.”

Taylor said the pandemic has been a sort of pilot for virtual engagement.

“It’s really been an opportunity for us to learn how best to not only put our public engagement out into the universe but to create opportunities to create two-way engagement with our public bodies,” Taylor said. “This bill goes a long way to creating more opportunities.”

Another preliminary success has been funding to restore the Douglass Memorial Cemetery, a historic Black cemetery in Alexandria under threat of being washed away by recent flooding. The outgoing governor’s budget includes $500,000 for the restoration of the cemetery, and State Senator Adam Ebbin has put in a request for an additional $500,000.

“[The project cost is] estimated at $2 million, would put state investment at 50%,” Taylor said. “[We’re] discussing it not only as preservation of a historic African-American cemetery but also a flooding issue, which is something very front and center in the discussion this session.”

The outgoing budget also includes $40 million for the city’s combined sewer overhaul (CSO) project, but Taylor said there’s some concern that CSO funding could get more scarce as Richmond is pushed to move up its CSO timeline.

“The city’s name has come up quite a bit this week in relation to Richmond’s CSO project, and while it’s always lovely to hear Alexandria as an example of what a city can do when its feet are held to the fire, it’s been brought up in relation to Richmond’s CSO deadline,” Taylor said. “You might see Alexandria used as an example of why to push Richmond on their CSO deadline.”

But Taylor said the city’s concern is that if Richmond’s CSO timetable is moved up, it could put the two cities in a battle royale for a limited annual pot of funding.

“If Richmond is accelerated, that puts us in competition for resources,” Taylor said. “We want to a timeline [where] everyone can have access to resources, not all competing for a limited pot.”

Crossover, the last day for the legislative houses to act on legislation, is on Tuesday, Feb. 15. The last day for bill approval is March 10 and the Governor is required to take action on bills by April 11.

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It was election week in Alexandria, so congratulations and/or condolences.

Alexandria Democrats managed to hold onto all of the City Council seats. Mayor Justin Wilson won reelection and Elizabeth Bennett-Parker was elected to the 45th District House of Delegates seat. But any local Democrat euphoria was dampened by statewide losses that Wilson warned could reverse recent local wins on some issues.

Here were the most-read stories around ALXnow this week:

  1. Developer reopens abandoned Alexandria power plant for tours later this month
  2. Cut-through traffic protections along Duke Street could go into effect early next year
  3. Man arrested for DWI, smashing cars and leaving scene while parking in Old Town
  4. BREAKING: Alexandria School Board election results
  5. Georgetown tearoom relocating to Alexandria waterfront
  6. Retail, residential, and music venue could replace North Old Town office park
  7. City Council to step up fight against Comcast internet monopoly next week
  8. BREAKING: Bennett-Parker declares victory in 45th District seat in Virginia House of Delegates
  9. Alexandria man arrested for stealing packages outside homes in Old Town
  10. Silver Parrot Jewelry permanently closing at end of year in Old Town
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