A couple weeks ago, Jesse Mazur stopped his car outside George Washington Middle School and thought about how quickly things changed.
It’s a disorienting feeling for the 44-year-old principal who has — one way or another — been in schools most of his life, and inside the hallways are completely empty. Since March 13, Mazur and his staff have had to adapt to a new normal of remotely teaching more than 1,500 students for the remainder of the year.
“I stopped, and my wife asked me what I was doing and I just felt the need to stop and just look at it,” Mazur told ALXnow. “I’ve been going to school for 18 years of my life as a professional, and, of course, 15 years of my life as an actual student. It’s very disorienting to not be in my office.”
Mazur added, “I’ve missed the camaraderie with my team and I miss teaching and learning. I miss walking through the door of the building and seeing the students. Believe it or not, I miss lunch duty. It’s a really tough transition but what’s sustaining me personally is knowing that we rolled out a good product in terms of getting kids and teachers online, but also recognizing that there’s still opportunities to improve.”
At first, GW eighth grader Yahney-Marie Sangare was excited that school was initially closed until after spring break. Ten days later, on March 23, Governor Northam closed all schools in the state for the remainder of the year, and Sangare felt crestfallen at not being able to graduate from the eighth grade with her friends. Now she spends about four hours a day doing online learning.
“I think it was deeper than just not being in school,” the 12-year-old Sangare said. “It’s just something that challenges your perception of reality. Sometimes you wake up and you just feel like life isn’t really real and it feels like you’re never really going to get the chance to live normally again. And the prospect that things are going to change after this is over is both beautiful and terrifying.”
All students at GW received Chromebooks and instructional packets to take home, and Mazur and his staff combed through school records to reach out to families without the necessary equipment or internet access. Additionally, about 48% of students receive free and reduced lunch, and the synchronous teaching ensures that teachers maintain continual relationships with their kids throughout the shutdown.
“Yes, it’s important, of course, to get the kids engaged in their education, but we also realize for some that the education is the least of their concerns and the least of their worries,” Mazur said. “We just exhausted our internal database of phone numbers and called and called emergency emergency contacts. We did everything we could to try to track down these students and find out what is happening in their lives and how we can support them.”
Mazur conducts a weekly staff meeting every Friday, and is currently working out of the basement of his home, while his wife, a teacher at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School, teaches upstairs. They’re also the parents of a T.C. Williams High School senior and a GW eighth grader.
“It’s very, very unusual to stare at his computer screen all day, and my eyes are suffering,” Mazur said. “I love the energy of a schoolhouse. One of my favorite things to do is to go into gym class and compete with these kids while I’m there.”
Sangare said that she is concerned about the future of the country.
“The president’s actions of cutting funding to the World Health Organization is scary,” she said. “Especially for my generation, we are being affected by these choices. I think that this time to stand together and really look and reflect on our country, how we can help other countries and take what they’re doing right and what they’re doing. And we cannot be targeting anyone any minority group, anything like that. This is the time that we stand together, and we stand up for each other, especially for those who don’t have the resources like we do.”
Staff photo by Jay Westcott
City Faces Dozens of Lawsuits — “Between 2014 and 2019, 101 lawsuits were filed against the city, and 20 of those cases are still active, according to data the Alexandria Times acquired through the city… Over the last six years, the city has faced 37 claims cases, 20 land-use cases, 15 civil rights cases, 12 employment cases, 11 real estate assessment cases, two FOIA cases, two mandamus cases and two procurement cases.” [Alexandria Times]
Restaurants That Locals Still Miss — “When you talk with locals about restaurants they miss, there’s usually at least one place they can name… We’ve received nearly 40 responses covering Old Town and other areas of the city. Places mentioned by multiple people included Austin Grill, Overwood, Mango Mike’s, Flying Fish and Geranio.” [Patch]
New Bank Branch Opens in Carlyle — “Bank of America celebrated its latest Alexandria location with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning inside the newly opened financial center in the heart of Alexandria’s Carlyle neighborhood. The location, at 415 John Carlyle St., is Bank of America’s 10th financial center in the Alexandria/Springfield market and fourth in Alexandria proper.” [Alexandria Living]
GW Middle Students Try Meditation — “Middle school can be a stressful environment, so… at George Washington Middle School, some teachers are starting class with meditation. The lights are dimmed, soothing music is turned on and teachers guide the kids to breathe, settle in and focus on something positive.” [WTOP]
(Updated at 9:40 a.m.) George Washington Middle School has again been evacuated after a report of a gas odor in the school’s auditorium.
The incident happened around 9 a.m. today (Thursday). Firefighters responded to the school to investigate the odor, but initial reports suggest nothing hazardous was found. Students were expected to return to classrooms after about 20-30 minutes outside in the cold.
“The smell was caused by a rooftop heating unit that was installed in the summer and still requires some adjustments,” Principal Jesse Mazur wrote. “We are working with the contractors who installed these new units to resolve some of the ongoing issues we have been experiencing with them since November.”
GW Middle has also been dealing with other maintenance problems, including water quality issues. As ALXnow reported last week, testing revealed relatively high levels of copper and lead from a number of water outlets at the school. On Tuesday the school told families that it aerating, flushing and re-testing the water outlets, which were being kept off line during the process.
2/20/2020 9:29 a.m. George Washington Middle School cleared for re-entry following evacuation due to a smell of gas. Updates: https://t.co/SmBx3a2R2z
— Alexandria City Public Schools (@ACPSk12) February 20, 2020
Old Town Theater Sign May Be Removed — “The Board of Architectural Review is set to consider allowing the removal and relocation of the Old Town Theater sign and other exterior changes as the space is set to become a Patagonia retail store. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Council Chamber at Alexandria City Hall.” [Patch]
APD Investigates Gunshots in Landmark — “The Alexandria Police Department is investigating a ‘shots fired’ call for service in the 200 block of South Whiting Street. Expect police activity in the area.” [Twitter]
‘Normal Weekday’ on Seminary Road — Has the Seminary Road Diet produced a rush hour traffic nightmare, as some insist? Or is it just producing modest peak period delays, as data seems to show? Video posted by a local cycling advocate, shot shortly after 8 a.m. on a recent weekday, shows free-flowing traffic and no delays, though photos posted by road diet critics show backups at intersections. [Twitter, YouTube]
Students Write, Perform Play at Kennedy Center — “Two talented eighth grade students from George Washington Middle School had the experience of a lifetime when they wrote and performed in a play at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts earlier this month. Yahney-Marie Sangare and Sydney Payne were part of a team of young playwrights and actors who produced The Day Nothing Happened, a play about the desegregation of Stratford Middle School in Arlington.” [ACPS]
A survey of Alexandria City Public Schools’ drinking water sources has come back with relatively high levels of copper and lead in George Washington Middle School (1005 Mount Vernon Avenue).
Many of the schools had no outlets or very few that tested above action levels — amounts that require equipment replacement — for copper or lead. The EPA’s action levels for copper are 1.3 mg/L and much lower for lead, 0.015 mg/L. At T.C. Williams High School, 259 samples were collected and only four tested above actionable levels.
At George Washington Middle school, however, 15 of the 132 samples tested high for either copper or lead.
ECS Mid-Atlantic, which tested the water supplies, noted that efforts were made to collect a sample from every sink, water fountain, bottle refilling station and water fountain in the building.
“Some areas within the building were locked,” the report said. “ECS was informed by an ACPS representative that sinks were not located in the locked areas. Please note that ECS observed a sink in a locked closet in the cafeteria that was unable to be sampled.”
A map of the samples collected around George Washington Middle School shows that the samples with elevated lead were from across the school, though eight of them concentrated around the gym area. The report suggest that, going forward, the building be checked periodically, at a minimum of every three years.
It’s been a rough year for safety issues at George Washington Middle School, with a series of fire alarm incidents last fall and a student-led fight to prove the school still had a mold problem. The school was evacuated two weeks ago because of a gas smell, though the principal said there was ultimately no danger.
Francis C. Hammond Middle School didn’t fare much better in the water testing, with 7 of the 72 samples tested showing elevated levels of lead.
All of the high copper and lead water sources in both schools were in sinks, as were most across the other schools. The following schools had high levels of copper or lead in water fountains, though only generally in one per school.
- Early Childhood Center
- Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology
- John Adams Elementary School
- Matthew Maury Elementary School
- Mount Vernon Community School
- Patrick Henry K-8
Full reports on each school, and the final reports for each location, are available online.
According to the school website:
Any outlets with higher than usual levels have already been taken out of use and will continue to remain out of use until the issue has been fixed. Parts of the units will be replaced and/or the lines flushed. Once this work has been completed, the water will be retested and ACPS will collect follow up samples to ensure it remains within safe limits in the future.
Higher than normal levels of lead or copper in an outlet can be caused by deterioration of the pipes or from the faucet itself. Lead was sometimes used in metal alloys to make fixtures prior to 1987. It is anticipated that the replacement and/or repair of the outlets will quickly solve this issue.
ACPS is working closely with the Alexandria Health Department on this issue. Water testing will continue to be carried out throughout the school division and all reports made public on the ACPS website.
ACPS advised that parents concerned about their child’s exposure to lead should have them tested at a pediatrician or family doctor.
“If you do not have a pediatrician or family doctor, call Neighborhood Health at 703-535-5568 to make an appointment,” ACPS said on the website.
Image via Alexandria City Public Schools
The principal at George Washington Middle School says there is no danger to students after the smell of gas again prompted a school-wide evacuation on Thursday.
Principal Jesse Mazur notified parents after the incident that the smell was caused by a rooftop heating unit that was installed last summer. It was the second evacuation at the school since a gas odor was detected on Nov. 21, 2019.
“The smell was caused by a rooftop heating unit that was installed in the summer and still requires some adjustments,” Mazur wrote. “We are working with the contractors who installed these new units to resolve some of the ongoing issues we have been experiencing with them since November.”
Mazur said that all students and staff were accounted for and that Washington Gas inspected the unit in question and determined there to be no gas issue.
GW has experienced more than its share of facilities issues. A fire alarm at the school did not sound during a fire drill on Nov. 11, 2019. Three days later the alarm did not automatically sound when a poster was set on fire. On Nov. 18, an “intrusion alarm” signaling the opening of an emergency door unexpectedly went off in the front office. Three days later, on Nov. 21, the school was evacuated due to the smell of gas and the fire alarm failed to properly function.
1/30/2020 12:02 p.m. GW Middle School is being evacuated due to the smell of gas. Updates: https://t.co/SmBx3a2R2z
— Alexandria City Public Schools (@ACPSk12) January 30, 2020
It’s been a rough couple months for George Washington Middle School.
First, an old mold problem at the school resurfaced. Then there was the series of fire-related incidents at the school. School administration is hoping an environmental test can help provide a light at the end of the tunnel.
In a message sent to parents, school officials said mold was found in a number of classrooms in late 2018 and early 2019, but the issues were resolved when the school worked to fix its water intrusion issues. The issue made headlines when students at the school took the initiative and collected samples, had them analyzed, and were able to prove that there was mold growing in the classrooms.
Since then, the school has been working through various projects aimed at eliminating leaks in the school.
“Over the summer 2019, eight rooftop HVAC units that had been leaking above the auditorium and adjacent classrooms were replaced,” school administration said. “ACPS also carried out extensive roof repairs and sealed areas around windows that were found to be leaking.”
Now, ACPS is commissioning independent environmental testing at the school this month in hopes that it will show the repair work has paid off and solved the school’s mold issue.
“The entire school, including all classrooms in all wings of the building and all offices, will be tested to confirm that the building repairs and replacements have remedied our mold issues,” the school said. “The results of the tests will be shared in January 2020.”
Going forward, ACPS said it would provide the GW community with updates every quarter on projects at the school.
“While nothing can totally eliminate mold altogether, we believe that the necessary actions that have been taken over the past year have gone a long way to prevent water from entering the building and causing additional mold growth,” ACPS said.
Not only did the fire alarms go off several times in November at the school, but during one incident where there was a fire — when a poster was set on fire on Nov. 14 but was quickly extinguished — concerns were raised that no alarm went off.
Also, on Nov. 21, the school was evacuated due to the smell of gas. The fire alarm went off during that incident, but firefighters had trouble turning the alarm off, according to scanner traffic.
At a school board meeting last week, parent Kevin Jahns raised the issue of the fire alarms, saying that it seemed like the alarms went off at times when there wasn’t a fire but when there was one, later on, some of the alarms didn’t go off. Concerns about the fire system were repeated throughout the meeting.
“If the fire alarms don’t work in the building, don’t send children to the school,” said one parent. “It’s that simple.”
But Superintendent Gregory Hutchings said some of the concerns are the result of a misunderstanding about how fire alarms in schools work.
“There are no smoke detectors in [classrooms],” Hutchings explained. “The [fire] code for a school is very different than codes for a home.”
Hutchings said the parameters for what sets off an alarm at home are geared towards monitoring areas where there are no people, which he said is not a concern in a school where there are more people in the building.
However, Hutchings did admit that during tests done at the school some alarm systems were found to be inoperable.
“On Nov. 11, [we] did determine that there were some bells in the school for a fire alarm that were not ringing,” Hutchings said.
Jamie Bartlett, director of safety and security for Alexandria City Public Schools, said the alarm system was fixed after they became aware there was a problem. The cause of the alarm, Bartlett said, was a gas smell created as the building switched from air conditioning to heat.
Staff at the meeting also insisted that, despite parent concerns, George Washington has never been deemed unsafe. An update released on Nov. 25 said the issues related to the alarm have been fixed and the school passed an inspection from the Alexandria City Fire Marshal.
We understand that while these repairs resolve the immediate issues, ACPS is committed to continuing our work on long-term upgrades to George Washington. Both the Fire Marshal and the fire and life safety consultant agree that the fire alarm system and related infrastructure for George Washington Middle School is in need of modernizing. We will keep you informed about these next steps as soon as we have information to share.
Staff photo by Jay Westcott
(Updated at 10 a.m.) A suspected gas leak has prompted the evacuation of George Washington Middle School.
The school at 1005 Mount Vernon Avenue, near the Braddock Road Metro station, was evacuated shortly after 9:30 a.m. amid cool (45 degree) but sunny weather, due to an odor of natural gas inside the building. The fire alarm was said to be sounding as students walked out of the building.
Numerous Alexandria firefighters are on scene, investigating reports of a gas odor in the auditorium area, possibly coming from a rooftop heating unit, following reported heating problems in the building on Wednesday. Washington Gas is also responding to the scene.
First responders discussing letting students and staff back into an unaffected part of the building during the gas leak investigation, according to scanner traffic.
Update at 10:30 a.m. — Students have been let back into the middle school, according to ACPS.
11/21/2019 10:20 a.m. – GW Middle School has been cleared for safe re-entry by the fire department following a 30-minute evacuation due to the smell of gas. Students are resuming a normal schedule for the remainder of the day. Updates at https://t.co/SmBx3a2R2z
— Alexandria City Public Schools (@ACPSk12) November 21, 2019
Photo via Google Maps