Newsletter

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. has one request for the community at large: Lay off the email campaigns.

Rather than individual emails with a question or a comment, Hutchings said his office and others in ACPS staff have been bombarded recently with copy-and-pasted emails. It’s become enough of an issue that Hutchings said at a School Board work session last week that the level of crowding in school staff emails has sometimes caused issues with missed communications.

“There’s this campaign, at times, to do emails to the Board,” Hutchings said. “That is not how we operate. What happens is that I have work coming into that same email address and I have to filter through all of that to get the day to day work done. That has an impact on our operations, that’s just not the way to do business… We’re shifting into a space where it’s ‘bombard people with emails and that’s how we get things done.'”

Beyond his office, Hutchings said that extends to principals of various schools. Hutchings asked that the community give them space to work rather than spend most of their time addressing emails.

The latest issue to draw some public ire, Hutchings said, is the topic of school lunches.

“We’ve been hearing a lot about lunch at schools,” Hutchings said. “I was getting several emails about lunch. Some of them, one that stood out, was that our principals are powerless or don’t have a say, and I was really surprised because we’ve focused on empowerment of our principals. Our principals and our staff are well equipped to give me feedback, to provide me guidance, and help me make decisions on what’s best not only for their schools but for the division overall.”

Hutchings said parents throughout the region have been pushing for schools to have outdoor lunch to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread, but the superintendent said it’s a complicated issue.

“How do we establish a plan in ACPS to ensure that is is a sustainable solution,” Hutchings said. “Not a temporary fix — but something to have five days a week for this whole school year. We need to ensure we’re putting structures in places to be able to do that. Every school cannot do outdoor lunches as an option.”

Currently, programs involve spacing lunches out to have the fewer of kids in the cafeteria at any given time. Hutchings said students are also trained to remove their mask to eat, not to remove their mask for the full lunch period.

“We’re teaching them that etiquette,” Hutchings said. “That means you eat your food, put your mask on, then talk to your friends.”

Moving lunches outdoors, Hutchings said, can quickly spiral out of control in a few ways.

“We have to keep in mind that there’s more than just lunch happening in our schools; that’s school operations 101,” Hutchings said. “We have recess happening, physical education, and people just sometimes outside of the schools depending on when and what location. We have to ensure that the planning we put in place is going to be sustainable, and that’s really the bottom line.”

Added to this are concerns about heat waves, flooding, and other inclement weather situations, the superintendent said.

“We would literally, each day, be figuring out what we’re going to do in regards to the lunch period, which is a complete disaster,” Hutchings said.

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What a week in Alexandria.

Public uproar over Sunday’s flooding spilled out throughout this week, which continued to be threatened by near-daily flash flood advisories from the National Weather Service.

Our top story was on Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, who criticized City Manager Mark Jinks on the city’s stormwater infrastructure. Mayor Justin Wilson says that multiple projects are underway and take time, and that the city is now looking into whether spot improvements and any other projects can be accelerated.

The group DrainALX has also gained popularity, as it continues to catalog stormwater issues and complaints. One Del Ray resident even told us that she’s turned to therapy after repeatedly spending thousands on a continually ruined basement.

Our weekly poll also found 55% of respondents (193 people) have experienced flood damage to their homes, 14% (74 people) have experienced other sorts of property damage and 31% (159 votes) have never had any property damaged by a storm in the city.

This weekend’s forecast is partly cloudy with a 50% chance of scattered thunderstorms on Saturday afternoon, followed by a 40% chance of thunderstorms Sunday night.

School issues

The week before school starts, the School Board unanimously approved Thursday night the requirement that ACPS staffers get the coronavirus vaccine.

“We do have authority to require testing and require vaccinations,” Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said at the board meeting. “However, there have been no cases where someone has contested that requirement. That has not occurred as of yet, and I’m sure it’s going to begin soon…”

In the meantime, Alexandria is also prepping COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. As Alexandria looks to accelerate stormwater projects, Sheriff gives city manager a D-
  2. The Four Mile Run Bridge in Arlandria will not fully reopen until fall 2025
  3. Institute for Defense Analyses announces Potomac Yard move-in later this year
  4. Woman behind DrainALX campaign shares frustrations and hopes from locals after Sunday flood
  5. HUD Secretary Fudge visits Alexandria, says affordable housing is a Biden Administration priority
  6. New census shows Alexandria not majority-white
  7. Alexandria School Board to discuss mandatory vaccinations for staffers this week
  8. After rampant flooding over weekend, another Flash Flood Watch is in effect for Alexandria
  9. Poll: Have you gotten the infamous mite bite in Alexandria?
  10. Alexandria Fire Department struggling with staffing shortage and forced overtime
  11. Stuck in quandary, Del Ray flooding victim seeks therapy

Have a safe weekend!

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“Alexandria High School” and “Naomi Brooks Elementary School”.

These could be the new names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School, and they are Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr.’s recommendation to the School Board.

The names will be presented at tonight’s (Thursday) School Board meeting. The school board voted last year to rename them after an extensive community review process.

The renaming of T.C. Williams High School — which honors a superintendent who was a vocal advocate for segregation — takes the relatively safe approach of changing the school name to honor the place rather than a person. The name beat “Titan Community High School” and “Ruth Bader Ginsberg High School” in a poll.

“Haven’t we learned that history has different perspectives, that no person is without fault and you can’t please everyone?” one student asked in the Alexandria City Public Schools presentation. “Naming schools, streets, bridges, parks and stadiums after historical figures is not necessary to preserve history. Let’s preserve the history of the place by naming the only high school in our city ‘Alexandria High School’. Let’s give recognition to the city where we live, work and grow. Root the identity of the school in the area it represents.”

Naomi Brooks Elementary School would honor Naomi Brooks, a beloved local teacher who attended segregated schools in Alexandria who later worked in those schools. Brooks died last year, meeting the eligibility requirement that schools cannot be named after current ACPS employees.

According to the Identity Project:

Brooks was raised attending segregated schools in Alexandria. Her strong desire to learn and share that with children was strong. She earned a degree in elementary education from Virginia State College and began her teaching career in 1955 in Alexandria–committed to educating all students. She was a beloved teacher at Charles Houston Elementary School and Cora Kelly Elementary School.

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Alexandria City Public Schools has pushed back its planned partial reopening for young disabled students from Jan. 19 to Jan. 26.

Citing the increase in positive cases of COVID-19, the school system announced Monday (Jan. 11) that the students in kindergarten to second grade with disabilities instead go back to school on the date that is currently designated for special education students in grades 3-5, disabled students in grades K-5 and English learners in grades PreK-5.

“Due to our current community transmission levels and school impact level, we have made the decision to delay the transition of Students With Disabilities in grades K-2 a part of our Citywide Program on Jan. 19 using our decision matrix,” ACPS said in the announcement. “We will continually reassess the situation and inform the community of our latest decision for transitioning into our school buildings.”

The school system also reported that the number of cases over the last week is more than 650 and that ACPS staffing and capacity are at a strained level, operating between 50% to 75%.

Below is the new tentative timeline for the partial reopening of public school in Alexandria:

ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. indicated last week that the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, in addition to a rising number of cases in the community, put the Jan. 19 reopening at risk.

“If I had to make a decision today, it [school] would be 100% virtual,” Hutchings told the School Board last Thursday night. “This is based on community health metrics, staffing and capacity, and we’ve been saying that since the fall — people don’t want to hear it, but we’ve been saying — we want to open, but it’s based on staffing capacity community health metrics, and that still is the same message that we have to move forward.”

Also last week, School Board member Margaret Lorber supported a cautious approach to reopening and asked whether parents wanted their children alive or educated.

Photo via T.C. Williams Minnie Howard Campus/Facebook

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This was a big week for Alexandria.

Our top story this week was the Alexandria School Board’s decision to reopen schools for students with disabilities, while the future reopening of school for elementary, middle and high schoolers remains in doubt.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said that the only feasible option for reopening schools — based on distancing and staffing constraints — would be for students to rotate to in-person schooling only one day per week. Hutchings also appeared on CNN and said that ACPS is not likely to fully reopen until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus.

We also reported that the Alexandria City Council approved plans for Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus and the North Potomac Yard development plan, virtually paving the way for the college to open its doors to hundreds of students by 2024.

“This is a very significant set of decisions for the city, and is really going to shape, not just a portion of our city, but really the entirety of our city for a long period of time to come,” said Mayor Justin Wilson.

On the coronavirus front, there are now 75 deaths in Alexandria and there are now or have been more than 4,100 cases since the pandemic began in March. Latino residents continue to lead the case count.

Governor Ralph Northam and Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine were in the city on Monday to unveil a team of new zero emission DASH electric buses.

We also reported that the City Council unanimously approved naming the 1000 block of Montgomery Street in Old Town “Earl F. Lloyd Way” in honor of the first Black man to ever play in the National Basketball Association.

Restaurant-wise, we spoke with one of the owners of a pizza and burger joint that is taking over the former location of Pizzeria Paradiso on lower King Street. The Chewish Deli is also now open in Old Town, and the owner of Del Ray Boccato says that his gelato shop will soon open.

Additionally, more than 175 people participated in our weekly poll. With the November 3 election around the corner, this week we asked about voting plans, and 65% of respondents voted by mail/absentee, 31% plan to vote on election day, and 4% are not voting.

Here are ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria:

  1. School Board Shelves Plan to Reopen Schools in 2021, Students with Disabilities Transitioning Back Next Month
  2. City Releasing Torpedo Factory Draft Action Plan Today
  3. City Council Approves Virginia Tech Innovation Campus and North Potomac Yard Development Plan
  4. Alexandria Student Called N-Word in Online Forum, and Not By Another Student
  5. Republican Jeff Jordan Running Uphill Battle Against Incumbent Rep. Don Beyer
  6. The Chewish Deli Opens New Location in Old Town
  7. One Arrested After Attempted Armed Robbery in Alexandria’s West End
  8. Report: ACPS Superintendent Sends Child to Bishop Ireton High School
  9. Female Suspect Flees, Nothing Taken in Attempted Old Town Bank Robbery
  10. Alexandria and Arlington Want a New Future for the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center
  11. Alexandria Courthouse Deep Cleaned After Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19

Have a safe weekend!

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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Alexandria City Public Schools are not likely to fully reopen until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. told CNN on Wednesday. The interview with Jake Tapper was hours before the School Board tabled a proposal to phase in kids from kindergarten to eighth grade in January and February.

“I think having all of our students at one time in our classrooms, it definitely, probably won’t be until a vaccine occurs,” Hutchings told CNN.

The school board on Wednesday shelved a proposal to bring back students from kindergarten to the eighth grade starting in January and February. The board did approve sending kindergarten through second graders with disabilities to Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 International Baccalaureate School on November 5, and expand to include all citywide special education students by December.

Hutchings and ACPS staff told the board Wednesday night that building capacity and staff shortages will prevent a phased-in approach. Using a single 24-student first grade classroom at Samuel L. Tucker Elementary School as a model, Hutchings said that the only feasible option for students would be for them to attend school one day a week, hire a significant number of additional teachers and find more classroom space. Additionally, 44% of teachers already said they are very or somewhat unlikely to go back to school in the event of facilities reopening with COVID restrictions.

“This is going to be another challenging transition for our children, and I want folks to really understand what that in-person learning for students is going to look like,” said School Board Member Michelle Rief. “This means that the instructional model is going to change. The teacher might actually have to teach your child in person and other children virtually at the same time. There’s a chance your child may change teachers or your child may not even be in the same school building that they are familiar with. And if the case counts rise, we may have to pivot again back to 100% virtual, not to mention being prepared for all the quarantine that may have to happen in response to people’s exposure.”

Hutchings said that the only way that in-person schooling could work is if teachers conduct virtual and in-person instruction at the same time.

“You can’t continue to keep adding more and more professional learning and expectations on top of a stretched staff already,” Hutchings told the Board. “There’s also limits, like how much further can you take them? They have gone from overnight being in a classroom… having to now do virtual lesson planning, having to do breakout sessions, having to figure out how to do classroom management and engagement virtually, and they have been doing a bang-up job.”

Board Member Veronica Nolan said that the one-day-per-week model “isn’t very doable,” and it was not fiscally possible to hire significantly more teachers.

“It just seems still insurmountable,” Nolan said.

One concerned parent of an ACPS child said that the school system needs to get more creative.

“It’s seems like to me that last night’s meeting was a three hour presentation of what we can’t do,” the parent said. “I’d like to hear more of what we can do. ACPS has made it clear that they cannot get our children back into schools. It’s time to get creative and work toward something we can do safely. I think learning pods and family/neighbor learning co-ops for our younger kids is something that should be encouraged and explored.”

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What a week it’s been in Alexandria.

Our top story this week was the report that Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. sends one of his children to Bishop Ireton High School. In case you missed it, the story first broke in Theogony, the T.C. Williams High School newspaper.

Hutchings also presented his plan for a phased reopening of ACPS starting next month. The results of a survey over virtual schooling were also released, revealing that screen time and childcare were among the top concerns of students, staff and families.

On the health front, Alexandria exceeded 4,000 total cases of COVID-19 since the first case was reported on March 11.

Additionally, more than 200 people participated in our weekly poll on traveling this holiday season, and 56% reported they will not travel, 27% still plan on traveling, and 17% still haven’t decided.

Crime-wise, we reported that a woman was assaulted in Arlandria on October 11; an arrest was made after an attempted armed robbery in the West End; a West End gas station was robbed of $1,700 in tobacco products; a woman ended up not being charged after firing a warning shot at a man in the 4300 block of Duke Street; and the mother of a man whose truck was stolen in Del Ray received an unexpected phone call from the thief.

There was some good news.

The southern entrance of the Potomac Yard Metro station is really taking shape, at least on paper. This week, the final plans going to the city were made public. The Board of Architectural Review will look at them at their meeting on Wednesday, October 21.

And in recognition of Oyster Week, ALXnow on Thursday emceed the first-ever “Pearl of Alexandria Oyster Eating Contest” between rival Del Ray and Old Town business owners.

Here are ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria:

  1. Report: ACPS Superintendent Sends Child to Bishop Ireton High School
  2. Police: Illegal Drugs Sold in West End Via Snapchat During Pandemic
  3. Republican Jeff Jordan Running Uphill Battle Against Incumbent Rep. Don Beyer
  4. BREAKING: Suspect Arrested for West End Murder
  5. ISIS ‘Beatles’ Held in Alexandria Jail, Charged with American Murders in Syria
  6. Here’s What the Potomac Yard Metro Station’s Southern Entrance Will Look Like
  7. Superintendent Proposing Phased Reopening of Alexandria City Public Schools Starting in November
  8. A Dozen Restaurants are Participating in Old Town Oyster Week
  9. VIDEO: West End Murder Victim Identified
  10. ‘Brewski’s Barkhaus’ is Opening This Saturday
  11. Old Virginia Tobacco Co. Moves Directly Across Street from Longtime Old Town Tobacconist

Have a safe weekend!

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It hasn’t been an easy start to the 2020-2021 school year in Alexandria, and parents should expect the Alexandria City Public Schools system to make frequent changes to its VirtualPLUS+ program.

“I can feel everybody’s anxiety and pain, growing pains, as we make it through this,” ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. told the School Board at last Thursday’s meeting. “I can totally feel and understand your pain.”

Parents of younger kids say they are de-facto teacher’s assistants, and that requiring kids to sit through more than six hours of daily screen time is excessive.

“We’re concerned about the structure of this for our youngest learners,” a parent of an ACPS kindergartener told ALXnow. “It seems to be an extreme amount of screen time — 8:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. is an extreme amount of time for a kindergartener. The lack of flexibility puts strain on working parents.”

ACPS will send out a survey to parents on Friday to rate their experience so far this year. Hutchings said that the school system will hold off on making division-wide changes to VirtualPLUS+ after receiving feedback from the community.

“There will be adjustments that are made based on concerns that families are having right now,” Hutchings said. “The division-wide expectations or refinements, they won’t be happening until after we get a clear idea of what is working after three weeks of VirtualPLUS+.”

Hutchings also said that attendance has been high, with 93% of students checking into online classes, and that attendance tracking won’t completely be in order until the end of the month.

“It’s not just something that’s because of COVID-19,” he said. “This is a typical situation for us that our data doesn’t really look clear in regards to attendance and making sure all the right students are in our system until the end of September.”

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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The Alexandria City School Board on Thursday (September 17) will consider moving forward with changing the name of Matthew Maury Elementary School, which is named after Confederate leader and noted oceanographer. The placeholder name would be “The Parker-Gray Rosemont School.”

Maury was the first Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory and the first hydrographer of the U.S. Navy. He was also special agent for the Confederacy during the Civil War and has a statue in Richmond. The School Board received a petition from at least 100 signatures from city residents on August 6, less than a month after the board unanimously directed Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., to begin the name change process for T.C. Williams High School.

“Matthew Fontaine Maury was a confederate officer who fought in support of slavery,” states the petition, which was signed by Del. Charniele Herring, Del. Mark Levine, City Councilman Canek Aguirre, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Mo Seifeldein. “While his efforts in oceanography were noteworthy, his actions surrounding the Civil War and slavery were indefensible.”

The petition continues, “He attempted to negotiate a slave trade from the United States to Brazil in order to help his fellow southerners who would lose a great deal of monty if they lost their ability to sell their slaves. He invented an early version of the torpedo which was used by the confederates to sink Union ships. He tried to create a New Virginia Colony in Mexico after the Civil War where slave labor would continue with a new label of indentured servitude. He convinced nearly 4,000 confederate soldiers to defect before his plan was thwarted by unrest in Mexico.”

The T.C. name change will go before the board next spring, and the board will have to decide on a timeline for a public engagement process and a public hearing for the potential Maury name change.

“It looks feasible to run the two processes together (in the spring),” ACPS Executive Director of Communications Helen Lloyd told ALXnow. “However, the board and the superintendent will have to make that decision.”

Photo via ACPS

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Alexandria City Public Schools said the renaming of T.C. Williams High School is a conversation that must prioritize the school’s Black voices.

At a school board work session last night (Thursday), the board expressed universal approval of the planned vote on a name change for T.C. Williams High School later this year, but also pushed back against the vocal advocates for the change who accuse the school system of dragging its feet.

“There’s a lot of discussion about ‘why can’t we change it now,'” said Superintendent Gregory Hutchings. “What I’m hoping we’re able to do is allow for our community to be educated around who Thomas Chambliss Williams is, and how that makes them feel – and have the Board hear voices of our community to make the decision.”

The meeting also covered other issues of inequality in the school system, some officials argued could prove more impactful long-term for students than a name change, but the discussion about the T.C. Williams High School name was the elephant in the room.

The superintendent also noted that Black students, rather than white supporters within the school and the broader community, should be the more prominent voices in the discussion about the potential name change. Hutchings invited the two student representatives, Lorraine Johnson and Ashley Sanchez-Viafara, to share their views on the issue. Johnson said with the current controversies around the Black Lives Matter protests and the Trump administration, changing the name of the school was one wrong that could be fixed on a local level.

“There are lots of wrongs to right, but changing the name is the first,” Johnson said. “I understand there’s people who want it taken down immediately, but with that much at stake, we have to get this right. Before the name is taken down, we at least need to be on the same page moving forward for what we’re going to name the new high school. We need to be a united front when we go to the public about what we name it.”

 

Johnson also said she supported the students who have been covering up the name of the school on the marquee, an act ACPS and T.C. Principal Peter Balas had previously threatened to pursue legal action over. Johnson said the tarping is partially the result of students not feeling as though they have a day-to-day platform to speak on the issue.

A recurring theme of the discussion was ensuring that white allies don’t override Black voices in the discussion.

“White ally-ship is important, but students of color should be on the front lines of that work,” Johnson said. “This is our fight.”

“When we give black and brown children a platform… the sky is the limit,” said Hutchings. “When the history book is written about this historic moment that I hope happens in December 2020, [I hope is says] that the students at T.C. Williams were the ones that led this. That’s not to say we don’t need everyone else, but our Black and brown students’ voices matter.

School Board members rallied behind the idea that delaying the discussion to December, rather than taking immediate action,

“It’s an understandable frustration,” said School Board member Christopher Suarez, “but at the end of the day it’s important that we go through a process that allows Black and brown students to be heard and allows students who are going to be the future leaders in this high school express their voice.”

Noting that the school board mostly seemed in agreement that the name needed to be changed, Suarez predicted the harder fight ahead will be on what the new name will be.

Photo via ACPS

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