Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) leadership presented some recommendations for a school safety plan to City Council members, but faced some pushback that the process is moving too slowly and occasionally missing the point.
ACPS leadership presented interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt’s recommendations for a School Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) in a joint City Council/School Board meeting yesterday. Broadly, the recommendations emphasize continued funding of school resource officers along with a reexamination of protecting student confidentiality and new de-escalation strategies.
One focus of discussion early in the meeting was a need to address some of the roots of school violence.
“We do have conversations with our [Alexandria Police Department] counterparts in general as it relates to school safety data that we present,” said Alicia Hart, director of facilities and operations for ACPS. “In the last three reports, we’ve noted our black males have the highest number of arrests in the high school and middle school categories. It’s going to take a lot of conversation to dig into the why behind that. Again, some behaviors that we may be seeing, that are not unique to students of color, but some are escalating to criminal activity which is now being reflected in our arrest data, is something that we need to dig into more.
Police Chief Don Hayes said pushing back against violence, like the murder of a student at McDonalds last year, is a community effort:
We are meeting with the community, the managers of the shopping center, the schools… all of us are putting our heads together to develop a strategy on how to approach this. The approach is not to make arrests, that is not the goal. The goal is to find out how we can get ahead of that and how we can get them to a point where mcDonald’s is not the hang out place. A lot of people don’t want to talk about this, but a missing part of this is the parents that need to be involved in these situations. We need to be able to contact them to come up with a comprehensive plan.
Hayes said the Bradlee Shopping Center is paying for the police officers to monitor the gathering spots for local teens, but Hayes also said the solutions can’t just be police-led.
“It’s not just a police situation, it’s got to be the community,” Hayes said. “It has to be teachers and everybody coming together. Something as simple as moving a bus stop from in front of the McDonald’s would alleviate [the problem] because that’s where the kids get off… but it’s not that simple. We’re looking at outside-the-box type things to resolve this situation, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Meanwhile, School Board Chair Meagan Alderton said there were structural issues at play within ACPS that need to be addressed.
“I am willing to bet that we would find trends that students who are being arrested are Black males,” Alderton said. “I’m willing to bet we would see overrepresentation in discipline data and not so great academic data. We have to address all of those. When we’re seeing the arrest, we’re seeing the symptoms. If we can tackle those inputs: how are we addressing academic achievement for our black males? How do we engage with them socio-emotionally? We have to dig into this so deeply, it’s such a huge and heavy lift, but we have to do that.”
The discussion comes as the School Board and APD need to approve a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) before the end of the school year in May. The current MOU between ACPS and APD allows SROs to work within ACHS and Alexandria’s middle schools and runs until the end of May. The two-year agreement was set to expire last October and was extended in November.
City Council members, by and large, expressed a lack of enthusiasm for the process up to this point. Council member Canek Aguirre compared Alexandria’s process to a similar safety review process in Arlington and lamented that Alexandria’s process has been slower.
City Council member John Chapman said the pieces of the school resource officer (SRO) discussion seemed stuck back where they have been for years and fundamentally missed the point of City Council’s concerns.
As we’re talking about [SROs] being a specific piece of the puzzle, looking at that specific piece and seeing how we adjust that, how we make that more student friendly. Everyone on Council understood there was an opportunity for benefit to extracurricular activities and a real strong connection with individuals there… but as I note what happened with the subcommittee, I didn’t see innovative steps or pointing to other jurisdictions doing things different. It seems like we just want to keep what we have and add training… rather than looking at the needs of our kids and providing something that says ‘we want to build a relationship that might not be what we do now.’
That was the main thrust of what council was looking at: how do we change the regular mode of what our SROs are and look at something more innovative and modern, something more student-friendly… and that seems to be missed from where we are today.
Hart said the discussion around SROs won’t stop with the SLEP recommendations.
“I think there is an opportunity to still get there,” Hart said “even if it didn’t necessarily come out of this particular advisory group.”
“This is not the end,” said Alderton. “If people are concerned about the length of time: I think six months is a pretty quick turnaround. This is not the only work [our staff] is doing, so we’re going to have to take this in chunks, we just have to, if we’re going to be respectful to the other work that goes into running a school and a city.”
Two Alexandria City Public Schools will be getting metal detectors before the end of this school year.
On Thursday night, the School Board voted 7-0 (Board Chair Meagan Alderton and Member Christopher Harris were not present) to approve the process for “advanced weapons abatement technology” to go into operation at two unnamed ACPS schools in May.
The Board approved staff to proceed with a public engagement process that will end in March, followed by the installation of the equipment in April.
The new system is “less invasive” than traditional metal detectors and handheld wand devices, Alicia Hart, the ACPS chief of facilities and operations, told the Board. Students, staff and visitors would walk through at a normal pace and artificial intelligence will be used to detect weapons.
“It is important to note that the advanced weapons technology tends to use engineering and artificial intelligence to detect most weapon threats,” Hart said. “This is a departure from traditional metal detectors. Additionally, some of the current weapon abatement systems have the ability to indicate via photograph the specific area in which a concealed item has been detected.”
Hart said that the locations of the schools for the pilot have not been released, however, the school system will focus on the middle schools and Alexandria City High School.
“The level of incidents with weapons, as reported previously, tend to happen at our secondary levels, so at our middle schools and our high school,” Hart said. “Naturally, between those schools, that would be one place where we would want to do a pilot.”
Emily Milton, an ACHS senior and student representative on the Board, said that the new detection system will not sit well with students.
“I feel like it’s a bad look for our school if we put them in there,” Milton said. “I feel more uncomfortable, honestly, having those in my school.”
Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt said that the installation of metal detectors is a “proactive preventative measure.”
“I take this very seriously,” Kay-Wyatt said. “When I hear that the students are going to feel that this is uncomfortable, think about a call that would be more uncomfortable — that we would have to call and say there’s an injury or tragedy to somebody.”
There were 28 incidents involving students with weapons in ACPS last school year — 13 incidents in the first semester, and 15 in the second semester, according to a safety report. The weapons seized include a gun, five knives, a stun gun, two fake weapons, and pepper spray. In all, 46 students were arrested and 68 injured, with 194 incidents that provoked a police response.
ACPS began this year with a number of new security upgrades, including the installation of door alarms, camera upgrades, a new student ID process and a new visitor and emergency management system.
Board Member Willie Bailey said that the school system wants to avoid a situation like last month’s shooting of a teacher by a six-year-old student in Newport News.
“God forbid, we do not want that to happen here in Alexandria City in our school system,” Bailey said. “Whatever we can do to prevent that, I am for it 110%.”
Hart said that the decision to install metal detectors wasn’t easy.
“We value stakeholder and community feedback, and staff feedback and student feedback, which is why we’re not implementing it right away,” Hart said. “But I also ask for students to keep in sight the other side of that coin and to understand the decisions that, as adults, sometimes we have to make to make sure that you are safe. It’s not fun. It is not easy. But it is something that we are charged in our positions to do.”
Good Tuesday morning, Alexandria!
🌥 Today’s weather: Overcast throughout the day. High of 45 and low of 34.
⛅ Tomorrow: Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 45 and low of 34. Sunrise at 7:28 am and sunset at 5:06 pm.
🚨 You need to know
A new bill could mean the end of snow days for Virginia public schools.
Currently, during severe weather conditions, schools have the option to switch to remote learning. House Bill 1666, pre-filed yesterday by Del. Danny Marshall (R-Danville) would change that to a requirement rather than an option: school divisions must declare unscheduled remote learning days to provide instruction and student services.
The school divisions are also not allowed to claim more than 10 unscheduled remote learning days per year without an extension granted by the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
While snow days are forever popular among students and teachers, the change is likely spurred on by concerns about learning loss in Virginia students over the last few years. Before disheartened teachers and students start shaking their fists at the state legislature, it’s worth noting that Alexandria City Public Schools had already started moving in that direction.
📈 Monday’s most read
The following are the most-read ALXnow articles for Jan 9, 2023.
- Notes: Popular D.C. brewery opening new location in the Carlyle neighborhood (604 views)
- Saving herself: Alexandria author kidnapped by Somali pirates to publish second book (529 views)
- Poll: Should Alexandria implement more ‘no turn on red’ restrictions? (399 views)
- ‘The most blighted property in the West End’ gets redevelopment recommendation from Planning Commission (318 views)
🗞 Other local coverage
- George Washington Slept Here
Alexandria Living (Monday @ 9:45 pm)
- Peruse the Menus for Alexandria Restaurant Week
Alexandria Living (Monday @ 5:38 pm)
- Atlas Brew Works To Open Location With Andy’s Pizza In Alexandria
Patch (Monday @ 3:49 pm)
- See The Online Menus: Alexandria Restaurant Week Returns with $25, $35 and $45 Prix Fixe Choices
Zebra (Monday @ 2:24 pm)
- National Pizza Week 2023: Best Pizza In Old Town Alexandria, Deals
Patch (Monday @ 12:18 pm)
- Crash Causes Downed Traffic Signal On Route 1 In Alexandria
Patch (Monday @ 8:53 am)
🐦 Tweets of note
The traffic signal at the intersection of Richmond Hwy and E Reed Ave was knocked down and is currently not working. Crews are on site making the necessary repairs and directing traffic. Please use caution while traveling through this area. Stay tuned for more updates. pic.twitter.com/qu7zYv7eVR
— Alexandria Transportation & Environmental Services (@AlexandriaVATES) January 9, 2023
For half of a century, dedicated volunteers in the Alexandria community have been organizing an annual observance of the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
This year marks the 50th observance and we would like you to join us this Sunday afternoon. pic.twitter.com/LdHF9f7lSC
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) January 9, 2023
It's #happytails for Malt, one of our longest-term residents, who found his family in late December. They share that he is already flourishing with them, gaining confidence every day and even hanging out with his new feline siblings. Congratulations to Malt and his new family! pic.twitter.com/oEWjuTsiku
— AWLA Alexandria (@AlexAnimals) January 8, 2023
📅 Upcoming events
Here is what’s going on today in Alexandria, from our event calendar.
- No events today. Have one to promote? Submit it to the calendar.
The Alexandria School Board approved its 2024-2033 Capital Improvement Program budget on Thursday night, paving the way for construction of new schools, swing space and significant renovations over the next decade.
After a series of work sessions and public meetings this fall, the Board approved the $461 million proposal, with $58.7 million to be used next year.
“It is critical that we give our students the best opportunity to succeed by providing optimal learning environments and the resources to support their well-being and academic achievement,” School Board Chair Meagan Alderton said in a press release.
The fiscal year 2024 CIP budget is $37 million less than last year’s approved proposal, although that’s only because the Alexandria City High School Project funding.
In fact, development costs have risen sharply. The school system is contending with price jumps up to 200%, ACPS reported.
Between last year and this year, cost estimates for the design and project management for the new George Mason Elementary School increased from $16 million to $17.4 million when the project begins in FY 2024. Construction estimates for the school have also jumped from $64 million to $82 million.
The budget also includes $5 million to retrofit the office building at 1703 N. Beauregard Street as swing space while George Mason and Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology are completely rebuilt. George Mason students would transition to the swing space in fall 2024 and move into their new school in fall 2027, and Cora Kelly students would move to the swing space in fall 2027, and move into a newly built school in fall 2031.
The Capital Improvement Plan budget includes the following projects for FY 2024:
- $17.4 million for George Mason Elementary School design, project management and other construction costs
- $5.5 million for the renovation of the fifth and sixth floors of Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School
- $5.1 million for the retrofit of the swing space at 1703 N. Beauregard Street
- $5 million for repair work at William Ramsay Elementary School
- $2.5 million for renovations at Francis C. Hammond Middle School
- $2 million in transportation system upgrades
- $1.5 million for emergency repairs
- $1.3 million for renovations at George Washington Middle School
- $1.2 million for Alexandria City High School stadium renovations, security enhancements and stormwater improvements
- $1.2 million for textbook replacements
The CIP budget will be included in Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt’s proposed Fiscal Year 2024 budget to the Board next month. The School Board will approve the budget in February, and it then goes to City Council for final adoption in May.
Students and parents are facing years upheaval in Alexandria’s West End, as the city’s school system is planning on completely rebuilding two elementary schools within the decade.
Alexandria City Public Schools plans to redesign an office building at 1703 N. Beauregard Street to be used as swing space while George Mason Elementary School (2601 Cameron Mills Road) and Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology (3600 Commonwealth Avenue) are completely rebuilt.
Barring construction holdups, a newly built George Mason could be up and running by fall 2026, staff said in a community meeting on Monday night. That means that, at a minimum, the next two years will be spent planning and retrofitting the office building into a school, with George Mason students to transition to swing space in fall 2024. Cora Kelly students would then move to the swing space in fall 2027, while their new school is under construction, and they would move into a newly built school in fall 2031.
“The most aggressive schedule that we have is showing the fall of 2026 [for George Mason students to return],” Azjargal Bartlett, director of ACPS capital programs, said in a community meeting Monday night. “These are anticipated timelines, and if there is any change to the schedule we’ll communicate that out.”
The property at 1703 N. Beauregard Street is directly across the street from Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School (1701 N. Beauregard Street), which is also a converted office building.
Bartlett said that ACPS is working with the remaining tenants on “mutually beneficial solutions for them to vacate the building prior to the start of the construction,” she said.
The school system is considering staggered dismissal times to minimize traffic between Ferdinand T. Day and the swing space, as well as busing students to the new school.
“We are anticipating that the transportation will be provided to all the students when the building is being used for swing space,” Bartlett said.
So far, $24.5 million has been allocated to the project in the city’s 10-year Capital Improvement Program, with an additional $5 million that is going into the upcoming fiscal year 2024 budget.
Between now and then, a lot of planning and design work with the architect, Perkins Eastman, has to happen, like adding outdoor and playground space at 1703 N. Beauregard.
“We’re still working through that we do not have any options to present at this time,” Bartlett said. “We are in discussions with our design team and once we have more information we’ll provide an update early next year on that design progress for the swing space.”
A new Montessori school has filed for permits to open in Del Ray and is currently enrolling new students.
The Monarch Montessori School is a new program coming to 218 East Monroe Avenue, also the location of St Paul Pentecostal Church, though the school’s website says the program is a private, non-sectarian school.
“We believe that each child has different gifts, challenges and styles of learning,” the school’s website said. “At Monarch Montessori, each child’s individual path is recognized and celebrated.”
The special use permit says the school will be open from 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. The school is expected to have around 98 students with 12 employees.
Montessori is a teaching method that emphasizes encouraging student choice and hands-on activities. New Montessori programs have popped up across the city in recent years.
“Every school that you encounter will have its own education philosophy,” the website said. “Monarch Montessori’s philosophy centers around the principle of individualism. Students perceive themselves as capable of making their own choices, while in constant relationship with other students and guides in the classroom.”
The Monarch Montessori School’s website also said the school will pay all employees a living wage, subsidize public transportation costs for all employees, offer paid training for teachers and set aside 20% of all slots to families eligible for subsidized child care/voucher programs.
The school’s website said tour dates will be available late in the fall.
Image via Google Maps
Want to lend a helping hand? Alexandria is full of summer volunteer opportunities.
Volunteer Alexandria’s website lists plenty of ways for residents to give back.
Here’s a roundup of some of the opportunities this summer:
Distribute food for ALIVE! — “Assist ALIVE! feeding food insecure City of Alexandria residents in local Alexandria neighborhoods throughout the city during weekdays. Volunteer roles include bagbing food, handing out perishable and nonperishable items, breakdown after the distribution, load and unload the truck.” Click Here to sign up.”
Sexual Assault Center hotline operator — “The Sexual Assault Center (SAC) offers support to victims of sexual assault and their families and friends. Trained volunteers and staff are available 24 hours a day to provide crisis intervention and emotional support, advocacy with medical, police, and court systems, short-term individual and group counseling, and information and referrals. In addition to services for individuals, the staff is also available to provide training, information, and presentations to local schools and organizations. The Sexual Assault Center offers information and support for sexual assault (i.e. rape, attempted rape, fondling, indecent exposure, etc.) survivors and their family and friends, sexual harassment and stalking victims, and individuals of any age, race, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical ability, etc. Click HERE to learn more.”
Mentor for girls — “Space of Her Own is looking for mentors to build long lasting bonds with 9- to 11-year-olds through art projects after school.
Information sessions are scheduled at August 9 and 10 at the Lee Center. Click HERE to sign-up.”
Volunteer for Back to School Community Day — “On Saturday, August 27, UNCUT Youth needs volunteers to setup, breakdown, and provide support for their event – a day of food, games, raffles, and giveaways. Click HERE to sign-up.”
Youth sport coaches — “Coach an assigned group of children and focus on skill development, safety, fair, play, sportsmanship and fun. Work to esatblish and improve team unity and spirit. Click HERE to learn more.”
Tour guide at Carlyle House — “Carlyle House Historic Park, a colonial house museum in Old Town Alexandria, seeks volunteer docents to give public tours of the building. Carlyle House Docents commit to volunteering at least 2 weekday shifts per month or 1 weekend shift per month. Click HERE to express interest.”
Mentoring and tutoring at Casa Chirilagua — “The Arlandria-based organization Casa Chirilagua is seeking volunteers for its after-school programming. Click HERE for a full list of opportunities.”
Job counselor at Together We Bake — “Are you looking for a meaningful way to get involved with TWB? We are recruiting volunteers to act as Job Counselors for our upcoming sessions. This is a great opportunity to work one-on-one and build impactful relationships with Team Members while helping them discover and expand their career goals. Click HERE to learn more.”
Alexandria Symphony Orchestra concert volunteer — “The ASO needs your help to usher at performances and perform other duties. You can watch the performance once patrons are seated. Come hear this great orchestra if you love symphony. Click HERE to learn more.”
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.
After months of work, two logo redesigns for Alexandria City Public Schools were sent back to the drawing board.
Last Thursday night (June 16), the School Board voted 7-2 against staff’s preferred option. Only Board Members Willie Bailey and Christopher Harris voted for the preferred logo option.
“Obviously it’s not catching on,” School Board Chair Meagan Alderton said at the meeting. “Which is okay. I don’t think we want to do something just to do it.”
In February, after getting a graphic designer to make 10 logo concepts, the Alexandria City Public Schools Office of Communications created three separate focus groups, which spent months whittling designs down to two favorites.
“It seems like it would be helpful to maybe have a really concise message that we were trying to convey, and getting feedback from people and if the logo was conveying that message,” said Board Member Michelle Rief. “I’m worried that some folks may actually have a hard time even reading the letters, the way they appear in both of those messages.”
The two choices garnered more than 4,300 votes across multiple platforms. The preferred option — the lowercase letters with dots — got 2,167 votes (50.3%). The second option received 2,141 votes (49.7%).
“It’s interesting to see how the community was split 50-50 on the two logos,” said Vice Chair Jacinta Greene. “Have we considered asking our very talented ACPS students to submit potential logos like we did for Alexandria City High School and Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School?”
Julia Burgos, the ACPS chief of school and community relations, said that asking students to design the official logo of the school system was risky.
“If we went the student route, we have to take something from the students, and if there was something that wasn’t going to be representative, we don’t want to insult students,” Burgos said. “That was one of the concerns, because if this is the logo for the entire organization, the schools themselves and the student representation for the schools was a little bit less risky.”
Staff hoped to launch the new logo next month on the ACPS website, and to get in sync with the website redesign project scheduled to launch in July 2022.
Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) is hoping to head into the next school year with a better way for families to provide feedback in languages other than English.
Alexandria’s School Board approved the formation of Spanish, Amharic and Arabic-speaking advisory committees for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year.
“These advisory committees will provide a voice to specific language groups, giving committee members the opportunity to share feedback regarding focused, relevant topics for those communities in alignment with family engagement best practices,” ACPS said in a release. “Meetings will be held virtually in the native language and with English interpretation.”
The committees will advice the school division on needs for students and families whose primary language is Spanish, Amharic, Arabic or other languages.
“They also will provide recommendations regarding the education of these student groups,” the release said, “while assisting in educating the community about ACPS support for Spanish-, Amharic- and Arabic-speaking children and families.”