Alexandria, VA

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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It’s the end of another work week in Alexandria!

There was a lot of crime this week, as police responded to multiple shots fired incidents in the Parker Gray area on September 2. There was also another carjacking in the West End — the latest in a recent uptick that prompted Mayor Justin Wilson to ask the public for help in reducing the number of vehicle-related thefts.

But there is also some good news to report, as businesses are opening in the city despite the daily pressures of the pandemic. This week we took a look inside The Company Of Books used book store in Del Ray, and we covered the city’s new Wellness District, which is providing a number of free programs and discounts for the recently expanded Wellness Month.

Also this week, Alexandria City Public Schools cut down a 150-year-old tree to make way for a concession stand. The move was criticized by activists and former Mayor Allison Silberberg. With the destruction of the tree, the renovation project for the Parker-Gray Stadium has now officially begun.

What stories impacted you this week? Let us know in the comments.

Here are our top stories this week in Alexandria.

  1. Alexandria Woman Uninjured in Tuesday Carjacking at Gunpoint in Potomac Yard
  2. Beatley Central Library Closed Until Further Notice Due to ‘Emergency Conditions’
  3. Police: Three Alexandria ABC Stores Broken Into, High-End Liquor Stolen
  4. Police Investigating Multiple Gunshots Fired in Parker Gray/Braddock
  5. Alexandria’s COVID Positive Testing Rate Lowest in Region
  6. Halal Slaughterhouse Construction Begins, Opening Reset to Mid-November
  7. Update: Chalk Graffiti Decrying Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf Sprayed In Front of Wrong House
  8. Braddock ‘Elizabeth’s Counter’ Last of Regional Chain After Bankruptcy Filing
  9. Police: Three Alexandria ABC Stores Broken Into, High-End Liquor Stolen
  10. North Potomac Yard Plans Going to Planning Commission, Board of Architectural Review
  11. ACPS Cuts Down 150-Year Old Tree to Make Way for Concession Stand

Have a safe weekend!

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Morning Notes

COVID Cases in Alexandria Jump by 21 — “The latest update from the City on COVID-19: Positive tests up 21 to 3,436 in the City; 7-day Positivity Rate down to 4.0%; 1 new hospitalization; Still safer at home, wash hands, wear masks and support our essential workers.” [Twitter]

Alexandria Democratic Committee Hosting Virtual Labor Day Picnic — “Thrilled to announce that the Biden Harris campaign’s National Political Director Erin Wilson will be joining the ADC as a special guest at our Labor Day Celebration!! You will not want to miss this unique opportunity to hear from Erin about the upcoming 2020 election!” [Facebook]

Former Mayor Silberberg Laments Loss of 150-Year-Old Tree at T.C. Williams High School — “You could almost hear a collective gasp throughout the city as the news spread. It didn’t have to be this way. Almost 3,000 Alexandrians, including me, had signed a petition to save the Witness Tree, which was so aptly named by McArthur Myers…In fact, with a little more creativity, the tree could have been a focal point of the stadium’s new design. The stadium’s architects should have been far more creative in using the tree as a centerpiece for its new plaza.” [Facebook]

Beyer Says Trump Trashed George H.W. Bush For Being Shot Down in WWII“Trump referred to former President George H. W. Bush as a ‘loser’ for being shot down by the Japanese as a Navy pilot in World War II (Bush escaped capture, but eight other men shot down during the same mission were caught, tortured, and executed by Japanese soldiers).” [Twitter]

Here’s How ACPS Will Virtually Track Attendance — “Every day counts when it comes to school… (F)ind out how we’re tracking attendance and what you can do to help your child be present and ready for learning at home.” [Facebook]

Alexandria Soccer Association Starts Nine-Week Course — “The Alexandria Soccer Association introduced ASA School+, a nine-week educational program for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, according to a news release.” [Alex Times]

Story Time: Sheriff’s Deputy Reads ‘Ten Apples Up On Top’ — “We would not, could not resist another Dr. Seuss classic! So this week Deputy Sahar Sherzai is reading ‘Ten Apples Up On Top.'” [Facebook]

Today’s Weather — “Sun and clouds mixed with a slight chance of thunderstorms during the afternoon. High 87F. Winds WNW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 30%. At night, partly cloudy skies. Low 62F. Winds NNW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Recruiting Manager — “The role of the Recruiting Manager will support the qualitative recruiting function across all aspects of qualitative market research projects including bid process, recruiting, vendor management, invoice reconciliation, through to project close process. Administrative tasks related to the function include (but not limited to); supporting the project bids process, drafting market research screeners, coordinating project scheduling between RAs and recruiting vendors, tracking of project recruiting documents and project consent forms, invoice reconciliation.” [Indeed]

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Alexandria City Public Schools today cut down a 150-year-old oak tree to make way for a concession stand as part of the renovation of Parker-Gray Stadium at T.C. Williams High School.

“Shame,” Alexandria activist MacArthur Myers told ALXnow. “A crime has been committed.”

There were more than 2,850 signatures on a Change.org petition to save the “Witness Tree,” but the school system said that saving the tree was not feasible given site constraints and that 31 trees will be planted along the T.C. property line.

“Happy to report the renovation project is underway this morning at the Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium,” wrote the T.C. Williams High School Football Boosters in a Facebook post. “Thank you Alexandria City Public Schools for making this happen for the students and residents of the city!”

Tree removal marks beginning of the stadium improvement project

Happy to report the renovation project is underway this morning at the Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium. Thank you Alexandria City Public Schools for making this happen for the students and residents of the city! @TCWSports #TitanPride

Posted by T.C. Williams High School Football Boosters on Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Courtesy photos

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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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If all goes according to plan, Alexandria City Public Schools will begin a public engagement process in September and October to educate the public on who Thomas Chambliss Williams was, followed by a vote on whether to change the name of T.C. Williams High School.

The actual vote on a new name would be chosen next spring after a vote on whether the name should be changed in December, according to ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., who reported the news to the school board in a virtual retreat on Wednesday.

“People are not really thinking about a name change… they’re reading about the election, they’re reading about COVID,” Hutchings told the Board. “That’s where everybody’s focus is.”

Last month, the board unanimously voted to approve the process for changing the name of T.C. by next spring. T.C. is the largest high school in Virginia and is named after former ACPS Superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams, who was a segregationist and discouraged school integration.

“I think by the spring, if the board approves to change the name of T.C. Williams, then we can use from January to the spring to come up whatever the new name is going to be,” Hutchings said.

Marc Solomon is one of the community leaders behind the group Rename T.C. Williams Now trying to get the name changed. He says that the name should be stricken immediately.

“It’s unfortunate that ACPS is continuing to go down the path of most resistance,” Solomon said. “We hope Dr. Hutchings will reach out to our organization to cooperatively address concerns and retire the name of T.C. Williams immediately, and spend the rest of the time picking a new name.”

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Morning Notes

Alexandria Man Wins $100,000 in Virginia Lottery — “Darrar, who used to be a small business owner, bought the winning ticket at Global Food, 1476 North Beauregard Street in Alexandria for the July 28 drawing. He plans on saving his winnings.” [Patch]

COVID-19 Cases Increase by 16 — “Positive tests up 16 to 3,146 in the City 7-day Positivity Rate up to 5.8% 3 new hospitalizations Still safer at home, wash hands, wear masks and support our essential workers.” [Twitter]

Beyer Refutes Trump Claim on Coronavirus Testing — “The United States has a quarter of the world’s cases and a fifth of its deaths with only 4% of its population. That isn’t because of testing — which STILL isn’t good enough — it’s because President Donald “it will disappear soon” Trump ignored the scientists and let it spread.” [Twitter]

Environmental Council of Alexandria Writes School Board Asking to Save 150-Year-old Tree — “As with the Potomac Yard Metro Station which destroyed dozens of mature trees in a wetland despite the availability of alternative sites, the City cannot continue to tell citizens that they are too late to preserve tree canopy and open space. The City should be preserving our tree canopy without requiring citizens to review architect’s drawings before learning of destruction of trees and open space. How is the City to be taken seriously about its claim to be an ‘Eco City’ when it continually elevates construction convenience over trees and open space? It’s never too late to do the right thing.”

Polk and Ramsay Students Invited to Pick a Free Book Today — “Before selecting a book, children will be given a mask and gloves for their well-being.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — Showers in the morning, then partly cloudy in the afternoon. High 83F, low 64F. Winds N at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 40%. [Weather.com]

New Job: Digital Audience Manager — “The Digital Audience Manager leads the National Military Family Association’s micro-audiences pivoting between brand awareness initiatives, organizational campaigns, programmatic promotion, and press outreach and response.” [Indeed]

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Construction will soon begin to renovate Parker-Gray Stadium at T.C. Williams High School, and that means a 150-year-old oak tree will soon be demolished, according to Alexandria City Public Schools planning staff.

Over the last several weeks there has been renewed discussion over the fate of the Witness Tree, which the school system said must go to make way for a new concession stand. A Change.org petition to save the tree even garnered more than 2,500 signatures.

John Finnigan, the acting director of Educational Facilities for Alexandria City Public Schools, said that a contractor for the project has been chosen and that work will likely begin in the next few weeks.

“It’s a very tight site and that is a very large tree right in the middle of our developable footprint,” Finnigan said in an online chat on Monday night. “The tree was unfortunately unable to be saved, but because of that we are planting around 31 new trees.”

Alexandria activist and historian MacArthur Myers says it is shameful to cut the tree down.

‘The Witness Tree is part of the soul of the Woods Place community,” Myers said. “ACPS has missed another opportunity to heal the community.”

Boyd Walker said that cutting the tree down conflicts with the city’s climate goals.

“It is unfortunate the school board has refused to request to save a tree that would provide oxygen, shade and carbon capture for decades to come, to the future students at the school and the athletes who will use this field,” he said.

Finnigan said that construction will be conducted from Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 pm.

According to ACPS, the project includes:

  • The addition of an eighth lane on the track
  • Replacement of the artificial turf
  • The addition of restrooms
  • A new concession stand
  • A ticket booth
  • Replacement of the score board and placement on the other end of the field
  • Egress safety lighting
  • A new press box to replace the condemned one on the other side of the field to improve the quality of lighting for images and video for media
  • Field lighting
  • An upgraded the sound system to comply with the City of Alexandria’s Noise Ordinance, enhance the quality of the sound, disperse the sound via multiple speakers and direct it away from houses along the fence line
  • A 10-foot-tall wooden fence between the stadium and neighboring homes

Photo by Boyd Walker

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Morning Notes

Beyer Introduces Pandemic Response Accountability Legislation — “Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) today introduced the Supply Chain Accountability Act, legislation that would require the Administration to explain its strategy for fixing key breakdowns in the pandemic response. Beyer serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means, which has partial jurisdiction over healthcare matters.” [Beyer.house.gov]

Coronavirus Cases at 2,995 in Alexandria — “Positive tests up 19 to 2,995 in the City 7-day Positivity Rate up to 5.7% 3 new hospitalizations Still safer at home, wash hands, wear masks and support our essential workers.” [Twitter]

Nelson Greene Advocates Renaming T.C. Williams High School for Retired Judge Dawkins — “Here is a model to be followed, and imitated. So let’s do the right thing and change the name to Judge Nolan Dawkins and really let him know what we think about him and his service, his life and have a model for all.” [Zebra]

New Italian Restaurant Opening in Old Town North on Thursday — “The restaurant, from chef and restaurateur Jamie Leeds, is the long-awaited replacement for Hank’s Pasta Bar, that closed last year for renovations.” [Alexandria Living]

Del Ray Cakery Becomes Del Ray Cookie Company — “Over the last year or so, my business has gone in a different direction. I have been doing so many cookies, so I decided it was time to move my business in a different direction.” [Facebook]

Today’s Weather — “Partly cloudy in the morning followed by scattered thunderstorms in the afternoon. High 91F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60%. Locally heavy rainfall possible.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Commercial Interior Designer — “Share a passion for transforming client work environments with amazingly innovative designs. Builds on and manages the client relationship to create an exceptional client experience. Provides design services to dealership customers, including programming, space planning, typical development, 3-D virtual experience, specifications and site-to-plan review.” [Indeed]

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You haven’t made it as a local controversy until Holy Cow Del Ray makes a burger in your honor.

This month, the subject is the name debate around T.C. Williams High School. The local burger joined the fray with “The Alexandria HS.”

“We think that The Alexandria [High School] Titans has a nice ring to it,” the burger shop said on Facebook. “What are your thoughts?”

The burger is an Angus beef patty with Havarti cheese, double bacon, crispy onion, bibb lettuce, and bacon ranch on a broiche bun.

“We’re always trying to name them after current pop culture things, whether that’s national, state or local,” Bill Blackburn, owner of Holy Cow Del Ray, said. “The topic de jure is the T.C. Williams High School name. The writing is on the wall, it’s probably going to be renamed. The only question is when and what. We throw one option out there and make it kind of a debate.”

The school board decided in July that it would take up a discussion on whether to rename the school this fall.

The comments on the Facebook page were mixed between those who agreed with the name and other suggesting names after local Civil Rights figures like Earl Lloyd.

Blackburn said there’s always a risk for more controversy with anyone that’s named, so Alexandria High School is a safe and unifying option.

“I think right now, Alexandria, more than any time since I lived here, we need to be one Alexandria,” Blackburn said. “Naming it after someone is divisive. Alexandria needs to come together as one. We identify strongly with only having one high school.”

As for the contents of the burger, Blackburn said the goal was to make a good burger rather than finding something to fit the name — unlike the addition of Miracle Whip to the Seminary Road-Dockless Scooter-Waterfront Development-Halal Butcher-Bike Lane Sandwich.

Photo via Holy Cow Del Ray/Facebook

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It was a busy week in Alexandria.

Alexandria Police apprehended the suspect in the city’s only murder this year, and he is currently in the hospital suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Additionally, violent crime events are happening throughout the city, and in the Parker Gray neighborhood of Old Town and in the West End in particular. This week saw the fourth shooting in Old Town in less than a month.

The number of coronavirus cases continues to climb, as well, and the president of Inova Alexandria Hospital discussed some of her concerns in the days ahead.

Here are our top stories this week in Alexandria.

  1. BREAKING: Alexandria Police Ask for Public Help in Finding Man Wanted for Murder
  2. Alexandria’s COVID-19 Death Count at 60, Hospital Concerned About Rising Cases
  3. BREAKING: Police Investigating Homicide in West End Residential Community
  4. BREAKING: Murder Suspect Was Released After COVID-19 Court Delay, Allegedly Kills Former Girlfriend Before Trial
  5. Alexandria Police Chief Criticized by Staff Over Officer Fired for Unjustified Use of Force
  6. Activists Protest at Alexandria Home of Acting DHS Chief Chad Wolf
  7. Police Investigate Fourth Shots Fired Call in Old Town in Less Than a Month
  8. ACPS to Cut Down 150-Year-Old Tree This Month to Make Way for Concession Stand
  9. Man Injured in Violent Carjacking in Old Town
  10. BREAKING: ACPS Announces Online-Only School in the Fall
  11. West End Silver Diner Opens Next Week but Harris Teeter Won’t Open Until Next Year

Have a safe weekend!

Photo via Alexandria Police Department

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Plans on cutting down a 150-year-old oak tree at T.C. Williams High School to make way for an expanded concession stand are going forward, with the contractor reportedly cutting down the tree at an undetermined time this month.

Activist Paul Alan Friedman has talked with the contractor, who told him that the tree will be taken down in August.

“The concession stand project is budgeted at $5 million, as I understand it,” Friedman said. “If you can afford to spend five million on a project like this, you can afford to save the tree. We don’t blame the contractor, but this is about putting pressure on the school board to change their approach. It’s the fault of the people making the policy.”

 Over the last several weeks, a small movement has sprouted to save the tree, with a recently launched Change.org petition that garnered more than 1,600 signatures. Additionally, a group of residents are willing to engage in civil disobedience to stall its destruction.

Alexandria City Public Schools, however, said that the tree can not be saved and that when all is said and done that the new facility will include landscaping and 31 newly planted trees.

“We empathize with the members of the community who wish to see the tree remain and worked with the architects right from the beginning to see if this tree could be saved,” ACPS spokeswoman Helen Lloyd told ALXnow. “Unfortunately, it was realized early in this process back in early 2018 that saving the tree was not feasible with the site constraints (square footage, setbacks, contours and storm water management). Construction would occur in the tree’s drip line, damaging roots and compromising the health of the tree.  The plans have shown the removal of the tree since submission in 2018 with additional plantings around the periphery of the development.”

The property around the tree was acquired via urban renewal in the 1960s, and much of it once belonged to the Wood family. Jason Wood, who now lives in the house his father built behind T.C., used to play under the tree as a child.

“What a gorgeous tree,” Wood said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me. When you look around this area here with all the rest of this land to put the concession stand somewhere else, they always tend to come into this Black neighborhood and want to put something next right behind someone’s back door.”

Alexandria Living Legend Rosa Byrd attended a recent meeting at the tree and said that the plan for the concession stand should be changed.

“I’m sure they can angle it another way so that don’t have to destroy this tree,” she said.

Help me save the Titan tree. It will provide oxygen to the future athletes on this new field. 1500 hundred people have…

Posted by Boyd Walker on Sunday, August 2, 2020

Courtesy photo by Boyd Walker

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