Newsletter

The Alexandria School Board approved changes to their operating procedures on Thursday night (June 16), and updated rules on engagement with the media.

The operating procedures are a guide for Members’ behavior in office — and state that comments made to media by Board members will “likely be interpreted by the public as an official statement of the Board,” and that all statements (when Members are designated to speak on behalf of the board) must be sent to the Board Chair and Superintendent. The changes now state that School Board Members must now avoid directly communicating with ACPS staff “about Division business”, and clarified language to say that Board members will now receive all written responses to media made by the Alexandria City Public Schools communications team.

The Board unanimously approved School Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz’s clarified language on the document. Booz said that the change eliminates confusion — that Board Members do not need to provide their colleagues with any written responses to the media.

“My proposal will be to amend that just so it’s really clear what that whole purpose of that was to just essentially say that written responses from ACPs communications to the media on behalf of the school division will also be distributed to school board members and the superintendent,” Booz said.

On June 7, the School Board conducted a closed door retreat at ACPS Central Office to discuss their operating procedures. The meeting was supposed to be open to the public. ACPS communications has not responded to multiple requests for comment to clarify the operating procedures or explain why the doors were locked.

Per the operating procedures, any questions from media related to personnel, student matters, school programs and exceptional/emergency events should be fielded by Board Chair Meagan Alderton and the ACPS communications team. School Board members are discouraged from discussing division-wide topics, but retain the right to talk to the media as individuals.

The Board also voted 5-4 against a proposal by Member Abdel Elnoubi to table the changes to the operating procedures until this fall, which he said would give the public time to review them.

Elnoubi says that there hasn’t been public discussion on the Board’s operating procedures since the Board retreats are not recorded.

“This is the operating procedures that govern our board, how we’re going to work together, how we interact with the community, everything,” Elnoubi said. “I feel it just serves everyone better if we wait, if we postpone this item… giving the community an opportunity to comment, to react for the sake of transparency, just to make sure that everything is being discussed here in a meeting that’s recorded.”

Board Chair Meagan Alderton, Vice Chair Jacinta Greene and Board Members Willie Bailey, Tammy Ignacio and Christopher Harris voted against Elnoubi’s proposal, and he and Board Members Michelle Rief, Ashley Simpson Baird and Booz voted for it.

Board Member Willie Bailey said that Board Members should have brought up their reservations during the retreats.

“I guess I’m a little mixed up or confused,” Bailey said. “I’m sure if there were some serious issues, we probably should have brought this forward during our last meeting, retreat, we had.”

At multiple Board retreats this year, outgoing Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. urged the newly elected Board to not engage with the media by reminding them of their own operating procedures. Hutchings announced his resignation on the last day of school, June 10, and did not attend the meeting. Hutchings is out of the office until June 21.

In March, Hutchings gave the Board a refresher on the operating procedures after Board Members Michelle Rief, Ashley Simpson-Baird, Elnoubi, Kelly Carmichael Booz and Chris Harris edited his proposal for the School Law Enforcement Partnership Advisory Committee. Hutchings said that such “behind the scenes” operations raised transparency issues by violating the Virginia Freedom Of Information Act. In that meeting, he also advised that Board Members not talk to the media without going through ACPS communications staff first.

After the fatal stabbing of an Alexandria City High School student on May 24, Hutchings advised School Board members in an email to not talk with the media. Hutchings wrote:

Board,

You may receive media inquiries regarding recent events. Please do not speak about the incident. I’ve spoken with our communications team to please refrain from using the term ‘no comment’.

However, please say ‘I will refer this media inquiry to our communications team’ then forward to Julia (Burgos with ACPS communications) and Kathy (Mimberg of ACPS communications). Thanks a million!

Sent from Dr. Hutchings’ iPhone

Alderton does not engage in social media, and her public comments are usually limited to official Board meetings and pre-screened monthly editorials to local newspapers. She recently spoke to The Washington Post and WJLA following Hutchings’ resignation announcement, but when pressed for comment by Fox 5 DC for a story about parents upset over a lack of communication regarding the student’s death, she provided no comment.

Most School Board Members haven’t made a single statement to the press since being sworn into office in January. The only exceptions are Elnoubi, Booz and Rief, who have spoken numerous times on the record with ALXnow.

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Morning Notes

Beyer Offers Condolences to Family of Fallen Capitol Officer — “Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick gave his life in the line of duty to keep us safe. I mourn his loss, and I send my deepest condolences to his family.” [Twitter]

Governor Making State of Commonwealth Speech Tonight — “Tune in tomorrow at 7:00 PM for my 2021 State of the Commonwealth address.” [Twitter]

Alexandria Sheriff’s Department Mourns Fairfax County Sheriff’s Deputy to COVID-19 — “Our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Sergeant Frederick “Butch” Cameron and to our brothers and sisters at the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office. We are so very sorry.” [Twitter]

Local Businesses Urged to Register with Health Department for Vaccine Schedule — “Have questions about vaccine distribution? #AlexandriaVA businesses that employ essential personnel are encouraged to register with the Alexandria Health Department so they can be alerted when the vaccine is available for their workers.” [Twitter]

Palestinian Roasted Chicken Restaurant Coming to Alexandria — “The rotisserie-style halal chicken with skin that snaps is brined for 24 hours, then coated with allspice, sumac, cumin, fenugreek, and cardamom before going into a specialty oven imported from Lebanon. Shababi is a takeout-only “ghost restaurant” operating out of Roro’s Modern Lebanese restaurant in Alexandria.” [Washington City Paper]

Alexandria Times Celebrates One Year of Podcasting — “In 2020, the Alexandria Times launched its first podcast, Speak Easy, and over the last year reporter-turned-managing-editor Cody Mello-Klein has spoken with the people who make Alexandria tick.” [Alex Times]

Today’s Weather — “Sunny skies (during the day). High near 50F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph… A few clouds overnight. Low 29F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: High Volume Servers —  “We are BLESSED to Be BUSY! We are searching for Experienced Servers to join our Team at Vola’s Dockside in OLD TOWN! [Indeed]

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The Connection Newspapers, like many local news organizations across the country, has been hit with a drop-off in advertising during the pandemic. Now, with the network of local papers on its last legs, the Alexandria Gazette Packet has gotten a groundswell of support from the community it’s covered for around 200 years.

The GoFundMe fundraiser aimed at helping to save the paper has earned $10,982 of its $50,000 goal since it launched on Christmas Eve.

The fundraiser has received support from 174 donors, from an anonymous $500 donation to donations as small as $5.

The Alexandria Gazette Packet, which has a lineage dating back to the Virginia Journal’s founding in 1784, is part of the Connection Newspapers network covering Northern Virginia and part of Maryland. The paper has covered everything from breaking news to local community profiles and has several featured editions throughout the year on things like local pets or a newcomer’s guide to the city.

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The pandemic forced Anthony Istrico to think fast. Almost at the onset of the virus, his media production company, Istrico Productions, lost more than $200,000 in work, and Istrico had to act quickly or the business he’d grown from the ground up would be in serious trouble.

“We had almost $200,000 in signed contracts back out,” Istrico told ALXnow. “It was a significant drop in our income for the first two quarters.”

Istrico got on his phone and started calling clients about what help they needed to survive, and he ended up using more data and minutes allotted by T-Mobile in its unlimited plan.

“T-Mobile actually sent me a note saying that I went over the limit, so that gave me hope that I was at least hitting the phones enough for someone to notice, even if it was my cell phone carrier,” he said.

Istrico Productions has been based in Alexandria for the last 10 years and in Del Ray for the last six. The company prides itself on creating visual experiences for clients, but with large, convention-style events not happening it meant a change of direction for his company. Now, Istrico and his staff of eight full and part-time employees and freelancers are making concise video packages to cater to those audiences.

“Our clients are finding that this is reaching more audiences,” Istrico said. “Concise packages — unlike a traditional all-day conference where you wouldn’t mind sitting in a chair for eight hours sitting over session after session, we’re making episodic packages that are 20 to 30 minutes apiece that can be rolled out over time.”

Istrico Productions, which won numerous awards for its 2017 PBS documentary The 2 Sides Project, is also making arrangements for socially distant clients for events like wine tastings with the McLean Community Center. Customers pick up the wine and pairings and then get home and log into a Zoom chat to learn about their drinks.

Istrico has lived in Del Ray the last six years with his wife, Heather Garlich, and their dog, Lionel. He characterizes himself as a hugger, and the pandemic has meant new perspectives for him living in Alexandria.

“I just had a Zoom meeting with a client this morning, and it dawned on me how intimate, yet distant communication is now,” he said. “You are welcomed into someone’s home, but you also have no personal connection. So, we want to improve that with compelling narrative stories. We’re still here for whatever you need, and this too shall pass. We will come out of this, but we will be a different animal with the same spirit and DNA.”

Courtesy photo

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Morning Notes

Alexandria Named Second Friendliest City in the U.S. — “Alexandria is ranked just behind Savannah, Georgia, and ranks above Boulder, Colorado; Charleston, South Carolina; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Asheville, North Carolina.” [Alexandria Living]

Safeway Hiring Assistant Store Director — “Key responsibilities include, but are not limited to: * Overall management responsibility for operation of retail grocery store, including store performance, control of cash, budget, inventory/security, customer services, and management of staff.” [Indeed]

Over $1 Million in SBA Loans Not Repaid Since 1987 — “@SBAgov has issued more than $1 million in low-interest disaster loans in #AlexandriaVA since 1987, and most of those loans were never paid back in full according to documents received through a #FOIA request.” [Twitter]

Scholarship Fund of Alexandria Puts Out Call For Donations — “YOU can support our Emergency COVID-19 Appeal for Funding for Scholarships for the Class of 2020.” [Facebook]

Alexandria Democrats Conduct First Monthly Online Update — Alexandria Democratic Committee Chair Clarence Tong and Mayor Justin Wilson talked about the upcoming presidential election and what it means for Alexandria. [Facebook]

Zebra Newspaper Goes Online For April, May, Possibly June — “There is no print issue this month. Because many of our distribution locations are closed and likely to be closed for several months, and I don’t want to put residents or my staff at risk to deliver to thousands of individual homes as we normally do, I have made the difficult decision to suspend publication of the The Zebra‘s print edition for the months of April and May, and possibly June.” [Zebra]

VIP Alexandria Magazine Launches GoFundMe to Pay Photographers — “Events were cancelled. Many of our advertisers were forced to temporarily close their doors and our distribution locations are no longer accessible. All of this, combined, has put our Independent Contractors – a team of talented photographers and writers – in a very difficult position.” [GoFundMe]

April 9 Last Day For Community Engagement on Oakville Triangle — “Stonebridge and Inova Health Systems will host a series of online community engagement opportunities regarding the proposed Oakville Triangle redevelopment, which will include recorded visual presentations to accompany materials posted on the project webpage.” [City of Alexandria]

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Some of Alexandria’s print news outlets are getting the word out in new and creative ways.

The Port City is home to a number of outlets that have been tied down to the printed word for years. But since the beginning of the year two of them, the Alexandria Times and The Zebra Press, have expanded coverage by launching new online features.

The Zebra, a 10-year-old outlet that puts out an 80-page-plus “good news” paper every month, has made an even bigger push online. The Zebra recently announced that former Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg will host a show on its new Z-TV channel on YouTube. The show, “Conversations With Allison,” will premiere with Silberberg’s interview with Alexandria Living Legend Lillian Stanton Patterson.

Zebra brought on Allison Priebe of Queen Bee Designs (825 S. Washington Street) as its creative director last November. Priebe hosts Z-TV’s “Buzzworthy” segment, which premiered on Youtube on Feb. 1 with the coverage of an Alexandria Chamber of Commerce event.

Zebra is also in production for its new video podcast, The Proxomity Effect, hosted by Paul Friedman and recorded at Raw Coffee Audio in Del Ray. And the paper announced last week that it would expand its coverage area to the “Alexandria section of Fairfax County,” including “Belle View, Fort Hunt, Mount Vernon/Lee, and all points in between.”

Last month, the Times — a weekly newspaper that started in 2005 — launched its first “Speak Easy” podcast. The monthly show is hosted by Times reporter Cody Mello-Klein, who will be joined by editor Missy Schrott in talking about local issues and interviewing interesting Alexandrians.

“This is our first foray into podcasting, at least for the Times,” Mello-Klein said in an introductory episode.

Schrott added, “You’re going to have to bear with us as we kind of get into this new platform of media, but we’re excited to share this with you and kind of explore the news on a new level.”

Mello-Klein conducted a 25 minute interview with Del Ray resident Pat Miller, a longtime Alexandria philanthropist, for the first episode.

Image (top) via Z-TV/YouTube

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