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The first day at school at George Mason Elementary School, August 21, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

With the new school year underway, teachers in Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) are crowdfunding everything from iPads to basic teaching supplies.

Non-profit organization DonorsChoose gives teachers in ACPS a platform to discuss their specific material needs. One teacher led an effort to help students make better social media content, but many of the requests are for basic needs like whiteboards and construction paper.

In total, ACPS teachers have raised $986,601 in funding through DonorsChoose.

“DonorsChoose invited Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) teachers to create their own classroom wish lists, with all supplies designed to benefit student learning in the 2023-24 school year,” ACPS said in a release.

So far, 1,913 projects have been fully funded from 6,480 donors. The projects have benefitted 19 schools across ACPS.

According to Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt:

We are excited to be a District Partner with DonorsChoose. ACPS seeks to empower all students to thrive in a diverse and ever-changing world, and ensure they graduate ready for college, careers and life. Our partnership with DonorsChoose allows for broader support in our work to serve our students and redefine PreK-12 education as a deliberately inclusive and supportive experience where all succeed.

NOVA RAFT founder Dan Altman speaks to Afghan refugees, Aug. 12, 2023 at WIlliam Ramsay Recreation Center (staff photo by James Cullum)

If you have any experience helping to teach English as a second language, you could put that to use in helping Afghan refugees settle into Alexandria.

Nonprofit Northern Virginia Resettling Afghan Families Together (NOVA RAFT) — which aims to help Afghan immigrants settle in — started a program in late August to help students improve their English skills.

The program benefits both children and adults and is taught at the William Ramsay Recreation Center (5650 Sanger Avenue).

“ESL volunteers will work closely with our Dari-speaking instructor to help our students improve their English skills,” the program’s website said. “Classes meet on Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday. Beginner class with young children is from 9:45-11:45 a.m. and the advanced Beginner class is from [noon] to 2 p.m.”

Volunteers are also needed for childcare assistance and specific skills, like phonics/basic literacy.

The volunteer sign-up sheet is available online.


Last week, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) was blasted by parents and teachers at a School Board meeting over a decision to spread specialist teachers across multiple schools.

Music, art and physical education teachers are classified as encore teachers in ACPS. Currently, those teachers are assigned to individual schools, but under the new system some of those teachers could be made to float between different schools.

ACPS Executive Director of School Leadership Pierrette Finney and Executive Director of Instructional Support Carmen Sanders told ALXnow in an email the decision was based on declining enrollment at schools.

“The changes were made due to current enrollment numbers for this school year and the actual school enrollment numbers for next year,” the email said. “Currently, during this school year, some encore teachers across the division are not teaching full teaching assignments in their area of certification, while others are doing so. To ensure that all schools equally receive the benefit of encore instruction, some, but not all, encore staff will be shared with one other school.”

Enrollment has stagnated at ACPS over the last few years since the Covid pandemic and projections indicate that trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Finney and Sanders said in the email that this is a “typical practice to ensure full-time employment” when teachers do not have a full teaching assignment. The email said teachers affected by the change will share their time between two schools and more than half of ACPS’ encore teachers will work in one school for the whole school day.

Teachers that travel between schools will be financially reimbursed, ACPS leadership said. The email said a review of enrollment led to a conclusion that some less populated schools were overstaffed while more populated schools were understaffed.

At the meeting last week, teachers said the change would mean many teachers who lead after-school activities for students would have to cut those programs under the new schedule. Others noted that, even when the teachers aren’t leading classes, they are assisting in other classrooms to help fill in the gaps, but ACPS said those roles are secondary considerations.

“The non-instructional duties of encore staff do not supersede their instructional obligations,” the email said, “and it was important to ensure that all ACPS students across all schools within our division have access to high quality encore instruction during the school day.”

Another issue with the change that came under fire from the community was the timing. The change was announced just days before teachers were supposed to receive new contracts for the upcoming year and the decision occurred with no public meetings or School Board discussion.

According to the email:

The timing of staff notification was contingent upon when principals conveyed the information and shared the one additional teaching location to their encore staff. Principals are in the best position to support staff questions and any potential concerns that can be expected when a change is made in schools. In keeping with our current practice of notifying staff of any changes prior to sharing with families, principals shared adjustments with affected staff. Typically, staff adjustments are confirmed over the summer and this year we took a proactive approach to inform teachers prior to contract distribution and the end of the school year.

The full response from ACPS is posted below the jump:

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ACPS headquarters and clock (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated 6/5) Parents and teachers at a School Board meeting last night said the rollout of a new plan to split specialist teachers across schools has been an unmitigated disaster.

The change affects Alexandria City Public Schools’ (ACPS) encore teachers: teachers who run classes like music, art and physical education. A new change announced in an email earlier this week, without public discussion or meetings, would split these teachers across multiple schools throughout the district.

The Washington Post also noted that the change came just days before teachers were supposed to receive contracts for the upcoming school year.

“Taking us away to go to other schools is going to dramatically change the situation at our school,” said Luisa Tio, an art teacher at Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School. “We just found out 48 hours ago that this was going to happen. None of this was in our contract. All of this is a complete shock to us.”

Meg Ziemann, PTA secretary at Cora Kely School for Math, Science and Technology, said the change was alarming both for how it would affect teachers and for the way it was handled:

No public comment was sought [and] the School Board did not have an opportunity to vote on these changes… The clandestine nature of this decision-making process, the fact that parents have not been alerted, and the fact that there is no mention of the significant staffing changes anywhere on the ACPS website raises major concerns about district communications, transparency, and erodes trust between the district and the community they serve. The impact of this adminsitrative decision cannot be understated.

Ashley Bender, the ACPS 2020 Teacher of the Year, said the change was heartbreaking.

“I stand before you today completely torn apart because of the trust and love that has led myself and encore teachers through the hardest parts of education,” Bender said, “not just by the decision to reallocate encore teachers, but consistent disappointments from ACPS leaders on the day-to-day scenarios in schools.”

Bender said the changes impacting already overworked teachers will have a significant impact on the quality of education for students.

“At our title one school there is a student that needs are because they cannot speak English,” Bender said. “There is a student that needs music because their trauma causes a loss for words, and there is a student that needs physical education because they’ve never had a pair of sneakers.”

ACPS leaders said the change will expand the reach of encore teachers to new and underserved schools. School Board member Ashley Simpson Baird said on social media (there was no discussion of the topic at the meeting) there has been public misinformation about the change to encore teachers. As of 1:20 p.m. on Friday, there remains no official information about the change on any ACPS website or social media channels.

ACPS teachers advocating at the January 19, 2023, School Board meeting (Courtesy photo)

Alexandria City High School teachers are applauding increased wages and other recent changes to the Alexandria City Public Schools’ proposed fiscal year 2024 budget.

The School Board approved the proposed $359.9 million fiscal year 2024 combined funds budget proposal on Thursday night. The budget is a 4% increase over last year’s approved budget and includes funding to develop an official ACPS plan and policy for collective bargaining with employees.

Last month, 15 ACPS teachers appeared before the School Board at its public hearing for Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt’s budget. Since then, the proposed 2.6% step increase for eligible ACPS employees has been increased to 3% and a full step has been eliminated from the pay scale.

The Alexandria City High School budget now includes four new core teachers, a school psychologist, a truancy specialist, a systemwide college and career counselor.

“We are deeply grateful to ACPS for making these needed investments in our schools, staff, and students,” said Jay Falk a teacher at Minnie Howard who organized teachers to the school board meeting. “While there is always more work to do, this historic investment in needed mental health and instructional positions will help address pay and staffing concerns. Thank you to the ACPS leadership and school board members who worked hard to make these investments possible.”

The budget now goes to City Council before being approved as part of the city budget in early May.


Good Tuesday morning, Alexandria!

Today’s weather: Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 56 and low of 46.
Tomorrow: Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 65 and low of 46. Sunrise at 7:01 am and sunset at 5:46 pm.

🚨 You need to know

Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) is aiming to recruit George Washington (GW) University as new special education instructors, ABC7 reported.

The pilot program was announced back in January and applications open at the end of February.

The new partnership is aimed at students applying both to GW’s master’s program and to ACPS, with a requirement that they obviously are accepted to both. If accepted, the students will be working in ACPS classrooms with a qualified special education teacher, getting hands-on experience and mentorship.

“Individuals will be able to apply at the same time to both the GW master’s program and employment within ACPS,” an ACPS press release said. “While in their first year of the program, graduate students will work as ACPS instructional assistants to develop key instructional strategies, learn best practices and receive targeted professional learning from both ACPS and GW teams. They will then have the opportunity to move into teacher roles for their second year in the program.”

The release noted that ACPS has been facing challenges in recruiting staff for various positions within ACPS and the pilot is part of a series of efforts to boost recruitment.

📈 Monday’s most read

The following are the most-read ALXnow articles for Feb 13, 2023.

  1. Six years after its last defeat, the BID proposal rears its head in Old Town once more (2080 views)
  2. Notes: Man convicted of 2021 murder of woman with Down syndrome in the West End (772 views)
  3. No arrest after ‘targeted’ drive-by shooting in Arlandria Tuesday night (753 views)
  4. The value of Alexandria’s residential tax base is outpacing its commercial tax base (255 views)

🗞 Other local coverage

🐦 Tweets of note

📅 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.

Alexandria City Public Schools is entering a tricky budget season.

As student enrollment and expenditure increases outpace revenue, ACPS faces a $12 million deficit in the run up to the fiscal year 2024 budget, according to a budget presentation to the School Board on Thursday, September 22.

“Over the previous decade, student enrollment and expenditures have increased at a far quicker pace than the corresponding revenue has grown,” ACPS said in a staff report. “ACPS Staff analysis shows that this trend will continue into the future, requiring a combination of revenue enhancements and expenditure reductions to balance a projected budget gap.”

For FY 2024, the projected budget deficit is $12.05 million. Each year, as expenditures outpace revenues, the estimated budget gap will continue to expand. By FY 2028, the annual funding deficit projection grows to $37.83 million, according to ACPS.

Still, the school system is proposing a 2.64% step increase and 2.5% market rate adjustment for all staff. Healthcare costs are projected to increase 8% and dental care costs will increase 2%.

“We assume that we’ll get the same per-people dollar amount at both the state and city level (as approved the FY 2023 budget),” ACPS Chief Financial Officer Dominic Turner told the School Board.

There are 15,700 students at ACPS at this time, according to interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt. That’s about 100 students more than was forecasted in January, and some parents are concerned that elementary school class sizes are getting too big. Last spring, the school system adjusted the caps on elementary school class sizes by an increase of two seats so that kindergarten classes now have 24 students, first and second grades are capped at 26, and grades three to five have 28 students — still below maximum state standards.

Jenica Patterson, the PTA president at Patrick Henry Elementary School, told the School Board that the school is contending with 950 students — about 65 more than what was projected.

“The discrepancy in teacher-to-student ratios among ACPS elementary schools is a major barrier to learning.,” Patterson said. “Teachers are simply managing the large, crowded classrooms instead of dedicating their time to education and learning.”

Kay-Wyatt said that the community has grown over the years, and that ACPS is experiencing a teacher and bus driver shortage.

“It’s very hard right now,” Kay-Wyatt said. “The HR staff is out recruiting, they continue their recruitment efforts. I also want that to be known that we never stop recruiting, and we still have a shortage.”

Next month there will be several budget-related work sessions and meetings:


As of Monday (March 7), Alexandria City Public Schools staff are no longer required to wear face masks in schools.

Staff were informed of the rule change in an email on Friday (March 4) that wearing masks in ACPS facilities and vehicles is optional, with few exceptions. Additionally, all ACPS staff (not including substitutes) will get paid emergency leave if unable to work due to COVID-19.

“Effective Monday, March 7, 2022, due to the updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, masks will be optional for staff in ACPS facilities and vehicles, with a few exceptions,” wrote Melanie Kay-Wyatt, the ACPS acting chief of human resources. “Specifically, ACPS will continue to require school health staff to wear masks when they are providing medical services to students. These staff members are being notified separately of their mask requirements. ACPS strongly encourages all staff to continue to wear masks.”

Teachers will not divide classrooms based on masking status, ACPS recently announced.

The change comes a week after the face mask mandate was lifted for students on March 1 — the same day that Alexandria made the wearing of face masks optional in city government buildings.

Wearing masks is still encouraged during periods of “Substantial” and “High” transmission, which the city has experienced for much of the pandemic. Alexandria and its neighboring jurisdictions currently have a “Low” community level of transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The School Board, which is reviewing the changes at this Thursday’s meeting, is still pursuing a lawsuit against Governor Glenn Youngkin’s executive order removing face mask mandates in public schools.

Substitutes get a raise

ACPS has also increased pay for substitutes.

Daily substitute pay has been increased from $110 per day to $124.50, and long-term substitutes has been increased from $157.59 to $172.09 per day.

“The nationwide substitute teacher shortage has reached such a critical level that ACPS will increase substitute pay for the rest of the 2021-2022 school year,” ACPS told teachers. “In July 2022, ACPS will review the need for extending the substitute pay increase for the 2022-2023 school year.”


It’s not the easiest time to recruit teachers. That was the gist of last week’s staff update to the Alexandria School Board.

“It is very hard to do recruitment in a time like this,” Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. told the Board. “Where you’re trying to recruit people into an organization who, one: can’t come and do a tour of the building; two: our new teachers who are just graduating or will be graduating this May. They’re wondering kind of what the state of education is all about.”

ACPS and six other localities is currently engaged in a legal battle with Governor Glenn Youngkin over his executive order removing face mask mandates in public schools.

Board Member Abdel Elnoubi said that Youngkin’s policies affect the morale of educators.

“You know, I grew up in an autocracy and I know these tactics when I see them,” said Elnoubi, who was raised Egypt. ” I just want to tell you all that how much we support you, how much we care about you, and that you have our full support.”

Melanie Kay-Wyatt, acting chief of human resources for ACPS, said schools have had to get creative with substitute teachers, since there are currently an average of about 100 staff absences and vacancies per day within the school system.

“Our administrative staff have been very creative in how they’ve gone in to provide support,” Kay-Wyatt told the Board. “We do have some long-term subs who are trained, qualified to go in to provide support, and we do make sure we use all of our staff to fill in to keep that learning going for our students.”

Kay-Wyatt said that ACPS is scheduled to attend 18 career fairs between now and April, which is a 40% increase over last year.

“We will remain diversity focused on our recruitment efforts to bring back top talents to ACPS, and I’m excited to report that we are have increased the number of fairs that we’re going to attend,” she said.

ACPS staffing woes have increased over the last several years, and last fall, ACPS reported having a shortage of classroom monitorsbus monitors and substitute teachers.

Hutchings said that a full update on ACPS recruitment and retention plan is still a work in progress.

The recruitment video below is posted on the ACPS jobs website and shows classrooms before the pandemic, with unmasked students not worrying about distancing.


Morning Notes

Virginia Tech Innovation Campus gets $50M commitment from Boeing — “Boeing’s multi-year gift will help the campus provide scholarships to students and recruit faculty to the Innovation Campus.” [Patch]

Coalition launches video series to encourage youth to be alcohol free — “The Substance Abuse and Prevention Coalition of Alexandria (SAPCA) has launched a prevention campaign featuring a series of short videos created by T.C. Williams High School students that encourage youth to be alcohol free.” [City of Alexandria]

Chamber ALX announced 40 Under 40 honorees — “We are looking forward to celebrating these individuals at our 40 Under 40 Awards celebration, presented by Beyer Subaru, on July 15.” [Chamber ALX]

Alexandria-based podcast breaks boundaries and builds connections — “Two local women start a podcast to tackle tough issues and find community and transformation along the way.” [Alexandria Living]

Alexandria Commission on Persons With Disabilities seeking award nominees — “The Alexandria Commission on Persons with Disabilities is seeking nominees for various awards and a scholarship.” [Zebra]

Today’s weather — “Thunderstorms likely (during the day). Gusty winds and small hail are possible. High near 75F. Winds W at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 70%… Some clouds early will give way to generally clear conditions overnight. Low 48F. Winds NW at 15 to 25 mph.” []

New job: Temporary environmental educator — “In pursuit of service excellence, the Recreation Leader II/Environmental Educator will greet and assist Nature Center patrons; deliver impromptu programs for visitors; conduct nature-based programming; assist in the care of the Nature Center’s live animals and plants; and support the administrative needs of the organization. The candidate will work under the supervision of the Recreation Leader IV. This position is located at the Jerome ‘Buddie’ Ford Nature Center, 5750 Sanger Avenue in Alexandria, VA 22311.” [Indeed]

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