A pair of Alexandria track and field athletes are asking for help to get to The Outdoor Nationals next month.

T.C. Williams Titans David Coles and Joshua Peterson will compete in the Triple Jump on July 1 at the Hayward Field at the University of Oregon, which is also where the U.S. Olympic track and field trials are being conducted this month.

But they need help getting to Oregon, and have launched a GoFundMe campaign.

“If you are familiar with the financial side of traveling for sports then you know that things can be very costly,” Coles wrote on the fundraiser page. “We are asking our friends, family, and supporters to please help Josh and I compete in Oregon so we can achieve the dream of competing at the National Level.”

The pair are almost there, having raised $3,575 of their $4,000 goal. They said that the funds will cover their flights, Uber rides, rooms and meals.

“This is a meet we have dreamed of competing and winning in ever since we started taking this sport seriously,” Coles said. “Last year the event was suspended due to covid so we have never gotten the chance to experience a real high school nationals outdoor event.”

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The final graduating class of T.C. Williams High School celebrated their final Titan victory Saturday morning, as 888 graduates were handed diplomas at Chinquapin Park.

Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., said that the students have witnessed a profoundly difficult period, including COVID deaths, social unrest following the murder of George Floyd and the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“Remember to stand up for your beliefs, but do it with civility and civil discourse,” Hutchings said. “It takes time to build dialogue while understanding our differences. We can still be bold and we can still be courageous, while practicing kindness as the hallmark of our advocacy.”

With the pandemic winding down, the graduates were asked to look at the bigger picture.

“Always remember, the greatest tragedy is not death, but life without purpose,” said T.C. Black Student Union President Fina Osei-Owusu, who quoted both Myles Munroe and Mark Twain. “Because the two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why. Every single one of you has been equipped with passion and created with a purpose… Your essential element is your purpose, and the very reason why you exist. It is what you’re here to fulfill. So, I asked all of you to look within.”

Graduate Mia Humphrey also sang to the audience her song, ‘Summer 17‘, which she wrote in quarantine last year.

“It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come together,” Humphrey said.

This year, equity reared its lens on T.C., which is the largest high school in Virginia. The school is known around the world for the 2000 movie Remember the Titans, which focused on its 1971 state championship-winning varsity football team that found greatness by working through racial adversity. However, the school’s namesake, former ACPS Superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams, was an ardent segregationist.

“What gives me hope is you,” school Principal Peter Balas told the sea of graduates in red, white and blue caps and gowns. “You have the voice and the means to change this world. You are Titans, and Titans rise up and take action. You’ve righted the wrongs of history and I know you won’t stop there.”

T.C. Williams High School graduated its first class in 1967, and will change its name to Alexandria City High School on July 1.

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Athlete on the T.C. Williams Swim and Dive Team (photo via T.C. Williams High School/Facebook)

Despite the unanimous vote of approval to install a new pool at the Alexandria City High School’s Minnie Howard campus, even the most positive of voices on City Council last night were lukewarm about how they got there.

The Council voted 7-0 in favor of setting aside $12 million in funding, down from $19 million proposed earlier, with Alexandria City Public Schools diverting some funding from a solar panel project.

Like a parent scolding his child for reckless spending, City Manager Mark Jinks warned that the pool proposal is coming in after the budget has already been approved.

“This is a project that is not in the CIP (Capital Improvement Program),” Jinks told Council. “When the School Board made its request, we all acknowledged that pool capacity needs to be expanded… my proposal is to renovate Chinquapin, change the depth of the pool, and shorten it slightly for the right competitive length.”

Jinks said this would allow the city government and ACPS to determine, at a later date, whether to put a pool in somewhere else with greater access — considering the proposed school would be just a few blocks away from the existing Chinquapin Park Recreation Center and Aquatics Facility (3210 King Street), the only other indoor aquatics center in the city.

Jinks also warned that diverting up-front funding from the solar panel projects and opting instead towards privatized sources of funding is a short term budget trick that doesn’t save money in the long term, because the business investing in those solar panels up-front will want that money back from output in the future.

“This is using money that was supposed to be used to buy solar panels and put that into the pot,” Jinks said. “It won’t save us money long-term. It’s a budget tactic that works in the short-term but doesn’t help long-term.”

ACPS would also, Jinks said, face an additional annual operating cost of $1-1.5 million and likely up to $5,000 in capital maintenance expenses. While some pools make some of that cost back in fees and being rented out for private events, Jinks says that complicates the idea that this pool is being funded with equity in mind.

Ultimately, the timing of Chinquapin’s announced closure for cleaning– from June 26-Sept. 6 — helped sway some on the City Council toward funding another pool. City Council member john Chapman said angry public emails have flooded in after the closure was announced.

“I do understand and do believe the city has a number of other priorities,” Chapman said. “If we are forced to push, we will push a pool out of the way like we have before. Whether revenues are down or another project that will require our more immediate attention… I’ve seen that be done. That’s what’s leaning me to support a pool. It’s not that this is the perfect thing. I’m not overly excited for the late addition… but I don’t see another tangible alternative to say ‘we’re not going to do one at Minnie Howard, but instead of that we’re going to do this.'”

Jinks said funding for the pool would come in large part from issuing general obligation bunds for a set amount of money, with the City putting its foot down and saying that’s as much as it will provide.

The move was met with praise from ACPS leadership.

“I am truly overjoyed and thankful with the unanimous vote from City Council to provide funding for the aquatics facility at the Minnie Howard Campus,” School Board member Jacinta Greene told ALXnow. “For far too long Alexandria’s aquatics facilities have not met the needs of our ACPS student athletes or the overall community. Now our swim teams will be able to practice and compete in their own regulation size pool and the community can benefit from an additional pool for aquatics activities.”

Photo via T.C. Williams High School/Facebook

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The Scholarship Fund of Alexandria gave away a record $525,000 in college scholarships this year to 183 graduating seniors from T.C. Williams High School.

The nonprofit made the announcement this week after conducting a virtual ceremony to congratulate the awardees.

“We are so very proud of the next generation of nurses, doctors, business leaders, computer scientists, biologists, and professors who are heading off to college this fall thanks to the generosity of this community,”said SFA Executive Director Beth Lovain. “What I want to convey most is that in a year wrought with challenges, our Class of 2021 SFA Scholars have not only endured, but they have triumphed. They are truly ‘Generation Resilient.’ Through all of the adversity and through all of the challenges of COVID and 2021 they have remained poised and focused; their college dreams would not be pushed aside.”

SFA will also award $550,000 in renewal scholarships to help previous recipients from the 2018, 2019 and 2020 graduates who are now in college.

“I am so grateful and so honored to have been awarded a scholarship and I’m so proud of each and every one of you for being awarded one as well,” said Karam Burjas, T.C. senior class president. “I also want to give a big thank you to all of the donors and people who supported the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria this past year; without your gracious support none of this would’ve been possible.”

The nonprofit has awarded $17 million in scholarships since it was founded in 1986. Last year, SFA awarded $504,000 in scholarships to 181 graduating seniors, in addition to the $550,000 in renewal scholarships.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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Morning Notes

T.C. Williams High School graduation is this Saturday — “We’re counting down to #Titans2021 Graduation on June 12 by highlighting @tcwtitans seniors every day! Stay tuned to meet our first grad!” [Twitter]

Woman shot and car stolen in Alexandria area of Fairfax County — “A woman was shot and seriously wounded in a carjacking in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County Sunday night in Virginia, and the suspect made off with her Mercedes, police said. Fairfax County police said the carjacking happened just before 10:30 p.m. Sunday in the 3100 block of Franconia Road in Alexandria. That’s near the intersection with Telegraph Road and Jefferson Manor Park.” [WTOP]

City Arts District in Old Town North Takes Public Art to the Streets — “The Alexandria Office of the Arts has turned its attention north to the new City Arts District. A call went out this spring for art proposals to decorate the storm drain covers and surrounding cement aprons at up to 24 locations on the streets of Old Town North. Similar projects in London and San Francisco have been praised by the public.” [Zebra]

Racial equity forum on June 9 and 10 — “ACT for Alexandria will host a virtual IMPACT Racial Equity Forum June 9&10. The event provides an opportunity to learn, connect & commit to an equitable Alexandria. City Leaders will speak at the event. For more information & registration follow link.” [Twitter]

Today’s weather — “Cloudy early. Scattered thunderstorms developing later in the day. High 89F. Winds WSW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 50%… Scattered thunderstorms in the evening, with mostly cloudy skies overnight. Low 71F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 40%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Pet sitter — “Passionately Pets, a local In-Home Pet Sitting and Dog Walking Company, is currently hiring exceptional pet sitters and dog walkers to join our wonderful team. This position is fun and rewarding as you get to enjoy the outdoors, get exercise and be loved by amazing local dogs, cats and other companion animals!” [Indeed]

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Last year, T.C. Williams High School senior Nikki Harris broke an exclusive, significant story. Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. was sending one of his children to an in-person private school at a time when ACPS was heavily in the midst of hybrid learning.

It was a shining example of the kind of independent, investigative journalism at Theogony, the high school’s student newspaper.

Harris and a team of five other student journalists will be taking the lead at the news organization next school year — a transitional period both for the newspaper and the school it covers.

The school’s name will change from T.C. Williams High School to Alexandria City High School. While the name change has been getting headlines, Theogony editors — like their peers at the renamed Washington-Liberty High School in Arlington — say the issue has been a bigger deal for adults than the student body.

“At least among people I talk to, very few people interested,” Harris said. “More were [interested] in June 2020, but [now] it’s kind of a distraction from structural issues.”

Ethan Gotsch, an incoming editor of Theogony whose column Titan Underground profiled local musicians, said the name change is just one of the big changes coming to the school.

“We’re also going to have our first Friday night lights and we’re going back to in-person instruction,” he said.

Editors at Theogony said the bigger issues within the student body — more than the name of the school — is the ongoing struggle to close the achievement gaps and the push for punishment reform within the school.

“[Outgoing editor] Bridgette [Adu-Wadier] wrote a lot about the suspension to prison pipeline, especially for students of color, and about whether teachers reflect student body,” Harris said.

Harris said while there was a relatively proportionate number of Black teachers to Black students, that was not at all the case for Latino or Hispanic students, who comprise around 40% of the student body.

Harris said the torch will be passed to the new class of editors to follow up on that and other issues of school equity.

Jacqueline Lutz, another incoming editor for Theogony, said that T.C. students are also frequently tuned in to city-wide issues.

“A lot of times what I’ve found is the issues that T.C. students face are basically local issues as well,” Lutz said. “We always try to find our T.C. angle, but also the local angle as well.”

Last November, Theogony wrote about the Taylor Run controversy, which has since become one of the talking points in the 2021 Mayoral and City Council elections. Gotsch said the local primary is another issue that’s been talked about within the school.

“As students, there is probably a limited amount of things we can do to tackle these issues,” Gotsch said, “but we do write about the Democratic primary.”

Beyond the changes coming to the school, there are also changes incoming for Theogony. The student news organization’s main readership has traditionally been its print edition, distributed through the school, but with the school shut down Theogony had to transition this past year to a more online-focused model. Now, the student news group is looking at how that balance carries over into the 2021-2022 school year.

“We’ve been thinking a lot about how we transitioned entirely to online,” said Harris. “Previously, print was our main source of readership. Now, we’re thinking a lot about how to balance that out or whether we should keep online as our main thing.” Read More

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Some officials say that a last-minute proposal to add a pool to the Alexandria City High School’s Minnie Howard campus is long overdue.

While previously dismissed as prohibitively expensive, the total cost for the addition of the pool isn’t clear yet.

School Board chair Meagan Alderton said Monday night that the regulation-sized pool is long overdue for a school system that still has the hallmarks of racial disparity in its aquatic sports teams.

“We are, indeed, asking the city to provide additional dollars to provide this facility for the Minnie Howard site,” Alderton said at the joint City Council/School Board subcommittee meeting. “I find it hard to think there will be racial equity without investing dollars in communities that have historically been denied access… Consider it reparations for people of Color, because it’s long overdue. It has been so hurtful to watch and this School Board is ready.”

Beyond the actual cost of building the pool, it would cost ACPS $1.2 million in energy credits to keep the school at its Net Zero goals. The current total cost of the School Board’s chosen design for the school is $149.5 million.

The addition of the pool throws a slight wrench into budget process, as the City Council approved the School Board’s budget weeks ago. City Manager Mark Jinks said any proposal for more funding for the addition of a pool to the school would need to be given to the city by June 1.

Photo via ACPS

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The main signs at T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School will be removed in ceremonies with students during the last week of this school year, according to Alexandria City Public Schools.

After years of community work to change the names, they go into effect on July 1. The front signs will be replaced this summer by two new signs reading Alexandria City High School and Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School.

But far more work will have to be done to rebrand both schools, especially T.C., which is the largest public high school in Virginia.

It will cost an estimated $358,000 to rebrand T.C. and $5,245 to rebrand Maury, according to ACPS. Below are additional costs:

Alexandria City High School rebranding cost estimates:

  • $173,607 for new athletic uniforms
  • $66,828 for equipment, including a $12,000 wrestling competition mat and $7,000 for athletic hurdles
  • $46,642 for facility costs, including $16,000 for outdoor benches
  • $30,303 for signage, including banners, flags and scoreboards
  • $7,125 for office supplies

Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School rebranding cost estimates:

  • $4,885 for signage
  • $360 for office supplies

Meanwhile, today is the deadline for voting on conceptual designs for the new Alexandria City High School logo. Four student designs were selected from 80 submissions.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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What a week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week is on Gregory Elliott, a special education teacher at T.C. Williams High School. Elliot also goes by the name of “Sugar Bear” for the D.C.-based go-go band Experience Unlimited, and their song “Da’ Butt” from the Spike Lee movie “School Daze” was featured at the Oscars, along with actress Glenn Close dancing to it.

This week was full of news.

City Manager Mark Jinks hinted at retiring, there was a chlorine spill at Lake Cook and the Alexandria Fire Department is contending with reports of racism, sexism and favoritism.

Additionally, a cyberattack on a gas pipeline resulted in a state of emergency throughout Virginia. We asked readers about it in our weekly poll, and out of 250 responses only 31% (78 votes) considered making alternate travel plans.

Election stories

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Go-go music star-turned Alexandria teacher ‘Sugar Bear’ in the spotlight after Oscars shoutout
  2. Landmark Mall developers to field public question in forum this week
  3. UPDATE: Woman arrested for firing gun near Alexandria Courthouse in Old Town
  4. AHDC proposes nearly 500 units of affordable housing for Arlandria
  5. ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria
  6. Here’s which City Council candidates signed the new ‘Alexandria Constituents’ Bill of Rights’ pledge
  7. Girlfriend of murder suspect arrested for breaking into home and beating up witness
  8. Election: Stark differences as Wilson and Silberberg face off in mayoral debate
  9. Racism, sexism and favoritism reported within the Alexandria Fire Department
  10. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  11. Wilson and Silberberg clash over new challenges, old wounds, and The Golden Girls

Have a safe weekend!

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Most of Gregory Elliott’s students at T.C. Williams High School know him as a longtime, dedicated special education instructor.

But for parents and staff, many remember Elliott as frontman “Sugar Bear” for D.C.-based go-go band Experience Unlimited — also known as E.U.

The band was pushed back in the spotlight recently when the E.U.’s song “Da’ Butt” from the Spike Lee movie School Daze was featured at the Oscars, along with actress Glenn Close dancing to it. It got a laugh from Elliott, though he admitted many of the other teachers were more excited than he was.

“It was cool,” Elliott said, “but I keep a low profile.”

For Elliott, the spotlight came after a year of twin challenges: teaching a class of special education students virtually and simultaneously putting together their new album Free Yourself earlier this year.

The band hasn’t had a hit nearly on the scale of Da’ Butt, but E.U. has put out new albums sporadically. Their previous album was released in 2012.

“It’s long overdue, but it’s perfect timing because you have time to reinvent and recreate,” Elliott said.

Elliott said putting together the album was a way for him and his friends to stay focused and active during the last year.

“We were lost, so I just stayed focused as much as I could,” Elliott said. “Me and my band, we would go and socially distance to rehearse. We’d throw some lyrics in, try this and try that. It was a great experience.”

At the same time, Elliott was working to hold his special education class together through a pandemic that forced the students — some of them non-verbal — into virtual classrooms. Elliott has been teaching at T.C. Williams High School since 1996, shifting his focus primarily towards education.

“It’s my way of giving back,” Elliott said. “You always have to have something to fall back on, music is hit or miss. You’re hot one day and cold the next, there’s a lot of inconsistencies. My passion was music, but I decided: you know, I can help kids read or write.”

Since then, the school has been through a lot of changes, including a building change, but nothing like the pandemic.

Like with his music, Elliott said it was a year of reinventing and recreating.

“I learned a lot that I didn’t know about teaching this year,” he said. “You get to have a sort of fatherly relationship to the children and you get attached. Now I work with non-verbal students. With Zoom going on, it’s a lot harder. Just like the students, I was like, ‘Whoa, this is different.'”

Elliott said it was hard on parents too, and he tried to help guide them and explain things that they might not have understood about their children. Now, he said it’s a little easier with the class being back to in-person.

“We’re back in the classroom, been back in for a month. and it’s okay,” Elliott said, “but some students still don’t come, even on Zoom.”

Through the stress of coronavirus, Elliott said being able to work on the new album was a source of relief.

“It kind of was a blessing,” Elliott said. “You want to survive, and nobody knew what was going on. We didn’t have a vaccine or anything. Everybody was running scared. So me, myself, I was just praying a lot.”

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