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Last updated: Fri, 14 Dec 2018 06:15:40 GMT

 Our View: Allison Silberberg’s legacy as mayor Thu, 13 Dec 2018 19:55:18 +0000
When Allison Silberberg was sworn in as Alexandria’s new mayor in January 2016, it was the culmination of a whirlwind three years. In her first run for office back in 2012, she garnered the most votes of any candidate and became vice mayor. In 2015, she, along with former mayor Kerry Donley, challenged incumbent mayor […]Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

When Allison Silberberg was sworn in as Alexandria’s new mayor in January 2016, it was the culmination of a whirlwind three years.

In her first run for office back in 2012, she garnered the most votes of any candidate and became vice mayor. In 2015, she, along with former mayor Kerry Donley, challenged incumbent mayor Bill Euille in the Democratic primary. Silberberg narrowly won that three-way, heavyweight fight, then easily beat Euille, who waged a write-in campaign, in the general election that November to become mayor.

Silberberg remained true to her campaign themes while mayor, though some of them were more successfully implemented than others. In her first week in office, she put forward a plan for ethics reform, which had been a major campaign promise. While council did pass an ethics reform that spring, it was a watered down, mostly toothless, version of her original proposal.

Another of her campaign themes was environmental protection, and, again, while the effort was there, the results were mixed. She made increasing Alexandria’s tree canopy a priority, and helped promote multiple tree-planting efforts around the city. She was the lone council member to vote against the Karig Estates development behind the Beth El Hebrew Congregation on Seminary Road after environmentalists said it endangered an ancient stand of trees and wetlands. That development project is now embroiled in a lawsuit.

Her most significant policy achievement, in which she played a major role, may have been negotiations with the state government on the combined sewer outfalls. While the city initially planned to address only three of the four outfalls, Silberberg advocated for dealing with all four, which the state later required. She also helped negotiate with then Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) and state legislators on the legislation and for state funding for the project.

Numerous other initiatives came to fruition during her term, and she played a role in most of them, including the Amazon HQ2 relocation and new Virginia Tech Innovation Campus announced last month.

Her emphasis has been on community, and no Alexandria mayor in recent memory has attended more events or represented the city in public more than Silberberg. She crafted a city statement on inclusiveness following the arrival of white supremacists in Alexandria two years ago; she founded a council of clergy members that helped bring down silos in Alexandria’s faith communities; she went door to door with Police Chief Mike Brown in Del Ray following the June 2017 shooting at Simpson Field.

Silberberg campaigned with the slogan of being “the people’s mayor” and to a significant degree, she has been. While most city council votes are unanimous, Silberberg has been on the short end of some significant 6-1 and 5-2 votes. In most of those votes, she sided with residents on issues of livability and quality of life in opposition to development projects. An example is her vote against changes to the city’s parking requirements, which allow developers to provide fewer spaces, that passed earlier this year by a 6-1 vote.

Silberberg held monthly “Mayor on Your Corner” coffees and implemented a “Meet with the Mayor” initiative that once a month allowed residents to come to her office without an appointment and meet with her about any topic they wished.

At the conclusion of her final “Mayor on Your Corner” gathering last Saturday, a standing-room-only crowd at Union Street Public House gave her a standing ovation and presented her with a cake. It was a moving moment and a nice tribute.

Likewise, we thank Silberberg for her service and wish her well.

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 Letter to the Editor: Community foundation leaders welcome Amazon Thu, 13 Dec 2018 19:52:04 +0000
To the editor: Below is our open letter to Amazon: Welcome to Northern Virginia. As the timeframe for your decision on HQ2 drew closer, those of us who already call this region home began to think about how we’d welcome you to our community. Community foundations have a more than 100-year history as community conveners […]Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

To the editor:

Below is our open letter to Amazon: Welcome to Northern Virginia. As the timeframe for your decision on HQ2 drew closer, those of us who already call this region home began to think about how we’d welcome you to our community. Community foundations have a more than 100-year history as community conveners and conversation brokers who work to preserve, enhance and protect the quality of life for our neighbors.

This role often places us directly in the middle of our community’s most important decisions, most pressing issues and most promising opportunities. Many in our community believe that your decision to locate HQ2 in Northern Virginia is the most impactful event to happen in each of these categories in a generation.

Your arrival will bring jobs, critical advancements in the quality of our public transportation, investments in technology education and opportunities for small businesses that will serve you and the workers you attract – among many other things. Like you, we want our neighborhoods to be diverse and vibrant places to live and work.

We want our economic development to be a rising tide that lifts all boats. Companies and community foundations have worked in tandem to address local issues for more than a century. It is therefore our deepest hope that in partnership, we can reimagine solutions to workforce development, affordable housing and other social problems, perhaps driven by imaginative technology. Perhaps solutions not yet seen can be invented together, by us working together.

Your arrival in Northern Virginia gives us all a chance to create a more regional, collaborative approach to local philanthropy that brings to bear the full capacity and weight of our nonprofit partners, our collective community knowledge and our shared impulse to help build community through philanthropy. We look forward to working with you, problem solving with you and advancing our community’s best interests, together.

-Heather Peeler, president and CEO, ACT for Alexandria; Jennifer Owens, president and CEO, Arlington Community Foundation; Amy Owen, president, Community Foundation for Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties

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 Letter to the Editor: Kudos to ACPS for AP success Thu, 13 Dec 2018 19:49:04 +0000
To the editor: We all too often hear about and see the negative commentary regarding the apparent sad state of our schools. As a parent of two daughters who went through Alexandria City Public Schools and achieved at high levels, and as someone who has worked for many years to help all our kids achieve […]Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

To the editor:

We all too often hear about and see the negative commentary regarding the apparent sad state of our schools. As a parent of two daughters who went through Alexandria City Public Schools and achieved at high levels, and as someone who has worked for many years to help all our kids achieve better outcomes, it would be nice if the information about the T.C. Williams High School success in Advanced Placement testing was published so we can all share in some good news.

For those who aren’t aware, a record number of students at T.C. Williams who scored top grades in AP tests this past year has led to ACPS being one of only two public school divisions in the state to be recognized for its achievement by the College Board.

T.C. Williams made the College Board’s ninth Annual AP District Honor Roll for expanding enrollment opportunities for all students, while simultaneously achieving significant gains in AP test scores. This increase in access was seen across all students, including those who historically have not enrolled in AP-level courses.

Kudos to our kids and kudos to the parents, teachers, administrators and others who are helping all of our children succeed at a higher level.

-Sean McEnearney, Alexandria

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 Letter to the Editor: Mental exercise is important Thu, 13 Dec 2018 19:44:56 +0000
To the editor: The holiday season often brings out the best and worst of our mental health. Depression, anxiety, stress and more. I’ve been open about my personal struggle with bi-polar two for a number of years now. I’m thankful that I end each year, good or bad, knowing more about what works for me […]Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

To the editor:

The holiday season often brings out the best and worst of our mental health. Depression, anxiety, stress and more. I’ve been open about my personal struggle with bi-polar two for a number of years now. I’m thankful that I end each year, good or bad, knowing more about what works for me and what doesn’t to get through tough patches. I’m thankful that I’m ending this year in a better place than I have been in years.

Improving mental strength is not just a once a year thing, nor is it just for people with diagnosed conditions. Mental strength, my term for the capacity for our mind to overcome and manage through stress, depression and other tough spots, is important for all of us. We all benefit from improving the way we relate to others and ourselves.

I have doctors and a routine of medical care I follow for my condition. But the most powerful things I’ve discovered have been the non-medical things I do to improve my mind’s fitness. These include meditation, yoga, running and other physical and contemplative activities. The more I do these things, the more I’m better able to take on whatever is thrown my way, regardless of whether it is part of my condition or just part of life. When I am getting worked up, I go for a run. When a situation is causing stress, I know how to step back and slow it down so I can respond appropriately.

This is why I’m excited to invite people to participate in Ease Yoga’s New Year’s mental strength program. I have worked with the great team at Ease to design a four-session workshop to exercise our mind and build up some mental strength.

We all have the ability to train our minds, just as we exercise our bodies, to be better able to handle life’s curve balls. The new year is a great time to start exercising, but it is also a great time to start building up your mental strength.

-Rob Krupicka, former member, Alexandria City Council

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 Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings: The future of the high school should be more than a fleeting holiday wish Thu, 13 Dec 2018 19:41:41 +0000
This is the time of year so many of us make wishes for what we want and then hope that they come true over the holidays. At ACPS we have been wishing for more capacity, particularly at the high school level, for some time now. Our high school has more than 4,000 students, and the […]Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

This is the time of year so many of us make wishes for what we want and then hope that they come true over the holidays.

At ACPS we have been wishing for more capacity, particularly at the high school level, for some time now. Our high school has more than 4,000 students, and the number is expected to rise again in the next couple of years. We have trailers outside the front of the school and crowded hallways during the change of classes. There is nothing that any of us would like more than to be able to magically fix it overnight.

At the same time, we have an opportunity to profoundly impact the long-term future of the high school. If we think big and act boldly, we can put Alexandria on the map for the skills for which our future graduates are known and create a talent pipeline into the workforce and higher education for generations to come.

It is essential to go through the process – to weigh up all the options on the table, explore others that we may not be fully aware of yet and assess new program options alongside the great programs we already have at T.C. Williams. Following a proper, established process is one of the ways that we ensure we are resolving issues for the long-term and taking a 360 view of the solution, as well as the problems we are setting out to solve.

In November, the administration made a recommendation to the school board both for an educational vision and an expansion strategy based on a connected campus concept. We are calling this a connected high school network. This strategy was derived from a combination of ideas from more than 50 separate focus groups and expert research around skills needed for the workforce of the future and the way students of the future need and want to learn.

Our goal is to mesh these with some of the successful programming that ACPS already has in place. This is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the 400-plus courses we already offer at T.C. Williams and build them into fully fledged, interconnected programs that offer our students a package of opportunities that prepare them for the workplace and higher education of the future. Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus, part of the Amazon deal, is arriving at a time when we are already reviewing our educational vision for the high school. This is a genuinely exciting opportunity that needs to be included in any long-term plans.

The school board’s role is to ask questions about the high school project recommendation, push the thinking of the administration and review the project with an open mind – which the board is successfully and actively doing. It is expected and exciting to have our board engaged in discourse around the future of the high school. They have asked to extend the date for a vote on the vision to Jan. 24 to allow them more time to digest the results of the community engagement process, assess the expert research and data and consider what the arrival of Virginia Tech in Alexandria means for ACPS. They have also asked for a cost analysis and an outline of possible future programming spaces before the January vote.

It is easy to forget that this project is still in the early stages, between the engagement phase and the define phase. Once the educational vision and a strategic approach for expansion is in place, then the work can really start to define the programming and the space needs. Ultimately, we will be searching for an additional 400,000 square feet of space across Alexandria – close to the size of T.C. Williams – with a focus on a combined environment that will support grades nine through 12.

It takes time, planning, discussion and input from the whole community to take a step as large and important as this to the future of Alexandria as a whole. It is well worth the extra thought, work and time to do it right.

Stay up to date with the project at www.acps.k12.va.us/hsproject.

The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.

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 Holiday Gift Guide: Experience the fun of Alexandria Thu, 13 Dec 2018 19:36:44 +0000
By Eileen Abbott  A Christmas or Hanukkah gift doesn’t have to be something you wear or look at or use in your home. Experiential gifts are a great way to show friends and loved ones you care, and an opportunity to give them something perhaps they wouldn’t have splurged on for themselves. Theater tickets, yoga […]Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

By Eileen Abbott 

A Christmas or Hanukkah gift doesn’t have to be something you wear or look at or use in your home. Experiential gifts are a great way to show friends and loved ones you care, and an opportunity to give them something perhaps they wouldn’t have splurged on for themselves. Theater tickets, yoga classes, a massage, a cooking or a sewing class are just some of the many experiential gifts available in Alexandria.

Plus, by shopping locally, you get to enjoy the ambiance of the Port City all aglow with holiday decorations.

“Our shops and restaurants take great pride in making sure our streets are decked out in holiday cheer,” Joe Haggerty, CEO and president of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, said.

In this week’s holiday gift guide, we offer suggestions on capturing that exceptional Alexandria experience with thoughtful hands-on or in-person memory makers. Here are some of our picks:

Sur La Table

How does this tantalize your taste buds – Horseradish Crusted Beef Tenderloin, Wild Mushroom and Green Bean Gratin and Mousse au Chocolate. Are you hungry yet? Even better, would you like to learn how to make this exquisite meal yourself? At Sur La Table, you can.

General Manager Foster Pacine said, “We not only have the retail, but the culinary school. It’s something different, not offered elsewhere. You’re with renowned chefs, meeting fellow foodies. You eat an amazing dinner, then shop here. It’s a perfect day.” Treat yourself or someone you love to this deliciousness.

You can check out the company website www.surlatable.com to purchase gift cards and get more details on upcoming classes, or visit Sur La Table in person at 326 King St.

The Art League at the Torpedo Factory Art Center

Students enrolled in the Art League’s basic drawing with Scott Hutchison pose with their finished drawing. Art league offers classes ranging from beginner to advanced in mediums such as printmaking, felting, calligraphy, painting and
more. (Courtesy Photo)

At The Art League, located in the landmark Torpedo Factory Art Center, you can treat yourself or gift your loved ones to a palette of classes ranging from printmaking to painting, and let your van Gogh glow.

“Giving the gift of art classes or art work from The Art League provides friends and loved ones with oneof-a kind gifts and experiences and supports Alexandria’s world-class, vibrant community of artists,” Art League Communications Director Ariane D’Souza said.

Those who’ve participated in the art workshops say it is time well spent to create tangible joy from your own talent.

Check out The Art League’s website at www.theartleague.org for workshop offerings and registration, gift card purchases and announcements about upcoming art sales where you can find professional artwork on a wallet-friendly budget. Even better, visit The Art League in person at 105 N. Union St. to see this firsthand.

Stitch Sew Shop

A class at Stitch Sew Shop is in full swing. (Courtesy Photo)

Feeling nostalgic? Yearning for a gift made with lots of love? You’ll find that when you visit Old Town’s Stitch Sew Shop, which keeps alive the old-fashioned craft of sewing, with classes for the modern maker. According to manager Miriam Lein, “Every year as we approach the holidays, we offer several classes geared toward gift giving. These ‘Selfless Sewing’ classes are fun and interactive and are geared towards projects you can complete in one class period. The results – bag, pouch, wallet or pillow – are bound to be perfect for someone on your holiday list. Whether you are sewing for yourself or for others, we are here to help you learn new skills and perfect the ones you already have.”

A sewing sanctuary that offers high-quality fabrics, you’ll have the satisfaction of making a gorgeous gift with your own hands.

“At Stitch we are passionate about the handmade process,” said Lein. “Though we all love to sew for ourselves, we also love to give handmade gifts.”

Gift certificates are available for both classes and sewing supplies. You can go to the Stitch website for all the details at www.stitchsewshop.com or visit in person at 102 N. Fayette St.

Little Theatre of Alexandria

The enchantment of being immersed in live theater is a gift likely to delight and make treasured memories. Supporting the Little Theatre of Alexandria is a winwin proposition.

“We’re a community theater made up of volunteers who are passionate about the theater,” LTA Business Office Manager Tina McCrea said. “By purchasing a gift certificate for tickets to our performances, you are giving something you can’t buy at a store. You are giving an experience.”

LTA also offers acting classes for adults and children, so you don’t just have to watch a performance, you can let your inner Shakespeare go to action. Details are available on the website at www.thelittletheatre.com along with a full listing of upcoming theater performances, which include Charles Dickens’s classic “A Christmas Carol” continuing through Sunday, and the musical “The Fantasticks” greeting the new year beginning on Jan. 12.

Gift certificates may also be purchased by phone at 703-683-0496 or you can visit Little Theatre of Alexandria in person at 600 Wolfe St.

ShadowLand Laser Adventures

Looking for a family-friendly, fun time? Here’s a high-tech way to energize and have a blast – take everyone to Shadowland Adventures, at its Alexandria location. This is a holiday gift experience everyone will remember.

“It’s more than just laser-tag,” ShadowLand Director Randall Briggs said. “ShadowLand’s adventure system creates a rich, diverse playing environment where a player’s intellect is more important than physical skills and where strategy setting is key to advancing your position and winning the game.”

Shadowland employee Donovan Jones added, “Anybody of all ages can enjoy this. It’s a unique adventure with a great all-around atmosphere and staff. We also often have corporate team building groups.”

For gift certificates, go to their website: www.shadowlandadventures.com or visit in person at 5508 Franconia Road. Or call Shadowland at 703-921-1004.

The Birchmere

Music makes the soul smile, and happiness permeates The Birchmere. For an uplifting, memorable experience, consider a holiday gift to an upcoming concert at the legendary music hall.

Birchmere promoter Michael Jaworek said, “In my experience, attending concerts is important to folks for several reasons. First, music speaks to a person’s definition of self. Second, the uniqueness of a live show – where something, anything can happen – always adds to the excitement of going out. Finally, like-minded souls enjoy being together, and a concert is a wonderful way to share. A show at The Birchmere embodies all the above.”

Upcoming performances to welcome 2019 include Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder on Jan. 11 and Northern Virginia’s hometown band Eddie from Ohio on Jan. 18.

For more information on The Birchmere, visit their website at www.birchmere.com for the full concert calendar and details on purchasing gift cards. Located at 701 Mt. Vernon Ave., you can stop by in person or call 703-549-7500.

You can’t go wrong when you choose a local experience for your loved ones this holiday. One big bonus is that many businesses are currently offering specials on gift cards, so be sure and ask when you call or stop by.

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 Foodie: Entertain like a pro this holiday season Thu, 13 Dec 2018 19:11:44 +0000
By Jill Erber Holidays are the time to go big and bold, especially with food. How do we elevate our offerings in keeping with the season without compromising approachability and ease? Suffice it to say that nothing is more festive, delicious and easy than a bountiful cheese and charcuterie spread. Here are a few tips […]Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

By Jill Erber

Holidays are the time to go big and bold, especially with food. How do we elevate our offerings in keeping with the season without compromising approachability and ease? Suffice it to say that nothing is more festive, delicious and easy than a bountiful cheese and charcuterie spread. Here are a few tips for building one that will make your guests swoon … without turning you into a Grinch.

Cheese, charcuterie and accompaniments

When presenting cheeses, we always vary milk, texture, flavor and appearance so everyone finds something yummy. Now is the time to take it up a notch.

• Include exotic selections studded with truffles, herbs or fruit.

• Choose colorful interiors or rinds to make your board “pop.”

• Normally, we recommend fewer cheeses, but you get a pass this month. Load ‘em up and soak in the bounty.

• Increase the rustic/ elegant vibe by incorporating thick-sliced salami, which still looks and tastes great hours later.

Putting it together

When it comes to arranging, remember that this is, after all, food. You want it to be appealing, mouthwatering and photo-ready. But you also want it to be approachable and edible. Don’t over-construct your board to the point that guests are afraid to touch it.

• Cut hard cheeses into easy-to-grab chunks, but leave softer cheeses in wedges so guests get the fun of cutting their own portions.

• Place bowls of crackers and sliced bread nearby so they’re readily available. They don’t have to be on the board itself.

• Once the cheese and charcuterie are in position, toss toasted nuts, dried fruit and other accompaniments into any open spot, achieving the perfect balance between “soothing structure” and “overflowing cornucopia.”

Again, go for beauty and bounty, but your board is there to be eaten with gusto. Plus, if it takes three hours to build, that defeats the purpose.

Wine: sparkling, red and white

Sparkling is a go-to for the holidays because of its celebratory feel. But don’t let yourself be intimidated by this universal wine style – it can be a host’s best friend.

• Broaden your bubbly. Considered the pinnacle of sparkling excellence, Champagne is often the default for the category. However, it can be pricey, which scares many away from everyday enjoyment. This year, branch out and try some yummy alternatives like Italian Prosecco. Love the Champagne flavor profile? Try Spanish Cava or French Blanc de Blancs, both of which are made in the Champagne method, but at a fraction of the price.

• Drink it all the way through. Sparkling wine is not just for the opening toast. With so many styles, from bone dry to sweet and from palest yellow to boldest pink, it can be paired with almost any food on earth – yes, even meat. And it’s absolutely perfect with rich foods that are so common at holiday time.

Cold weather tends to make folks crave rich, juicy red wines. There are many to choose from, some more food-friendly than others, and in my opinion, wine should always be food-friendly. Reds like Zinfandel, Cotes du Rhone, Pinot Noir and Barbera are great food enhancers and people pleasers.

Of course, you can still serve white wine, just pick something on the lush end of the spectrum like Viognier, Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc. Always serve whites chilled, even when it’s freezing outside.

The last word

This may sound obvious, but holiday entertaining is meant to be fun for your guests – and you. Prepare in advance. Enjoy the assembly. Then, while your cheeses are coming to room temperature, you’ve got a whole hour to beautify yourself. It doesn’t get any more festive than that.

The writer is owner and “Cheese Lady” of Cheesetique.

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 Solution to T.C. Williams overcrowding remains elusive Thu, 13 Dec 2018 18:41:57 +0000
By Denise Dunbar | ddunbar@alextimes.com Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High School has a serious overcrowding problem. On that one point, there is total agreement between Alexandria City Public Schools administrators, school board members and the community at large. There’s considerably less consensus around the best way to solve the problem. In a classic “which comes first” […]Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

By Denise Dunbar | ddunbar@alextimes.com

Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High School has a serious overcrowding problem.

On that one point, there is total agreement between Alexandria City Public Schools administrators, school board members and the community at large. There’s considerably less consensus around the best way to solve the problem.

In a classic “which comes first” conundrum, there’s a tug-of-war taking place between new Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D. and the school board about whether a new programmatic vision should come first, which is Hutchings’ preferred approach, or whether plans for expanded seating need to be the priority, which most school board members appear to prefer. One approach is literally concrete while the other requires more imagination – and a leap of faith.

This decision is being complicated by several factors, most notably timing. Hutchings recently celebrated his 100th day as superintendent. Prior to his arrival in July, the school board approved a process that included a presentation this fall and vote on the issue before the end of 2018.

But because the local election was held in the midst of this process – and five of the nine board seats will be occupied by new members come January – it meant a lame-duck board was being asked to approve the biggest school-related decision in years. Meanwhile, the five new members have been powerless to weigh in as this saga has played out; all they can do is attend meetings and observe.

Because of the current board’s strenuous pushback to the superintendent’s proposal, coupled with the timing issue, the vote on a capacity plan was postponed from the school board’s Dec. 6 meeting to its Jan. 24, 2019 meeting.

What follows is a look at various aspects of this decision process. It’s based on comments made by ACPS administrators and school board members at the Nov. 8 and Dec. 6 school board meetings and the Nov. 26 work session, as well as interviews with Hutchings, ACPS Chief Operating Officer Mignon Anthony, ACPS Communications Director Helen Lloyd, School Board Member Margaret Lorber, incoming School Board Members Michelle Rief and Chris Suarez and Melynda Wilcox, former PTA council head.

The overcrowding problem

According to the ACPS website, there are 3,959 students total between the main T.C. Williams campus at 3330 King St. and the Minnie Howard building a few blocks away at 3801 Braddock Road. Of that total, 2,803 students attend grades 10 through 12 in the main building, which was rebuilt in 2007 with a capacity of 2,500.

The remaining 1,156 students attend ninth grade at Minnie Howard, which was built in 1954 as an elementary school. The 64-year-old Minnie Howard building is widely considered rundown and in need of either extensive refurbishing or a teardown and rebuild. Through the years, it has also served as a middle school and ACPS administrative offices.

ACPS enrollment has grown steadily at all levels since the mid-to-late 2000s. A variety of factors have contributed to this surge, including the recession of 2008 that led many parents to send their children to public rather than private schools, an increase in the city’s population and the school system’s improving reputation, which has attracted more young parents to Alexandria.

The overcrowding problem is not new. It was one of the factors behind the major redistricting effort, three years in the making, that took effect in September. Elementary school overcrowding informed the purchase of the office building on Alexandria’s West End that became the new Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School. Overcrowding was also a factor in the rebuild of Patrick Henry, which has been expanded from an elementary school to a pre-K through eighth grade school and is expected to open in 2019.

Overcrowding at the high school level also has been talked about for several years, but it was the Ad Hoc Joint City-Schools Facility Investment Task Force that met throughout 2017 that jumpstarted work on the problem.

Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D. alluded to the history behind these discussions in an interview.

“We’ve been having a discussion about capacity for many years at the high school,” Hutchings said. “We’ve had discussions around one high school or two, we’ve done redistricting, we’ve built new schools. … I think that sometimes we as a community, it’s easy to forget the work that we’ve done and the practice that we’ve had.”

Former Alexandria PTA Council Head Melynda Wilcox said that because the overcrowding problem has festered for so long, there’s now an immediacy that may limit options.

“If the city had allocated the money five years ago, or more than five years ago when the school board asked for money to rebuild Minnie Howard, this conversation would be really different right now because we wouldn’t be in the crisis mode that we’re in,” Wilcox said.

The superintendent’s proposal

Hutchings presented the capacity plan, called “The High School Project: Inspiring a Future for Alexandria” at the Nov. 8 school board meeting, held just two days after the Nov. 6 local election. The plan was developed by ACPS in partnership with Stantec, an engineering services company.

“Rather than simply looking at buildings, space and land acquisitions in isolation, we are using this opportunity to assess the skills that our students will need to be successful in the workforce in the future,” Hutchings said in a letter to the Alexandria community.

Hutchings has repeatedly emphasized that there need to be multiple pathways for students regardless of any individual student’s situation.

“We have to make sure that we are not just catering to what we think all students should have. We meet them where they are, not necessarily where we want them to be,” he said in an interview. “Us having multiple pathways to obtaining a T.C. Williams diploma is to me best practice. We genuinely want every one of our kids to succeed, and that’s part of our vision.”

The plan Hutchings and Stantec presented would meet capacity needs by establishing several satellite campuses around the city, rather than creating one large second high school. It would consist of new options for vocational-type programs and experiential learning opportunities such as internships and expanded field trips.

“We’re really not talking about anything, and quite frankly maybe some folks haven’t made that connection yet, that we’re not sort of already in the throes of doing,” ACPS Chief Operating Officer Mignon Anthony said. “It’s just a twist on a similar concept. But doing it better to accommodate this large growth that we have.”

The school board’s reaction

Most school board members endorsed the general concept of experiential learning.

“I think there’s a lot of interest in offering more options to kids who either don’t have the money or the interest in plowing right back into school when they graduate from high school,” Margaret Lorber, a school board incumbent who won re-election on Nov. 6, said in an interview. “Some kids have to go to work and figure out what they’re interested in when they graduate.”

Many current school board members, current and incoming, said the experiential approach should be paired with a new brick and mortar building, possibly a Minnie Howard rebuild and a new comprehensive high school.

“I do think that experiential learning is good,” Michelle Rief, an incoming school board member, said in an interview. “I think it can happen within the confines of a comprehensive high school.”

At the Dec. 6 school board meeting, Vice Chair Cindy Anderson, who was recently re-elected, said most of the satellite learning centers could be congregated in one building.

While they expressed support for the general concept of experiential learning, several board members said they were upset about various aspects of the plan and process, including the reliance on internships, equity concerns, problems with the timeline and a lack of public input, particularly on the topic of whether Alexandria should have one or two comprehensive high schools.

Outgoing Board Member Chris Lewis, who was one of the most outspoken critics of the plan at both the November and December board meetings, said on Dec. 6 that he felt the proposal was misleading, as it implied that the one high school solution was the only one where experiential learning or diversity could be adequately addressed, which he said was not accurate.

Rief was adamant that a second high school would be less likely to raise equity concerns than would multiple satellite campuses.

“There are many obstacles to ensuring equity and fairness, whether in one high school or two, but with multiple off-site classrooms, the obstacles become exponentially greater,” Rief said. “Caps on program enrollment, the logistics of shuttling students between sites, the erosion of community and connection due to isolating kids in off-campus centers, and the challenge of properly resourcing all of these sites are just a few examples.”

Hutchings, in an interview, pushed back against school board complaints about equity.

“Equality and equity are two different things,” Hutchings said. “And sometimes people use them interchangeably and they’re not meant to be that way. Some students benefit from not having all of those options. Some students would prefer to be in a smaller learning environment and to not be on the main campus with all of those other kids. Some students may want to have an experience where they’re on a community college campus and they never walk through the building of the high schools. Some students may want an experience where they’re online and they don’t interact with people.”

Board Member Veronica Nolan, who was re-elected on Nov. 6, has expressed concern about the new vision’s emphasis and reliance on internships, which she said she fears may not exist in the quantities ACPS administrators seem to assume will be available.

“There’s going to have to be another brick-and-mortar building,” Nolan, who spent 16 years helping place high school students in internships through her nonprofit, Urban Alliance, said at the Nov. 8 school board meeting. “We don’t want to be thinking to ourselves, wow, we’re going to get 500 students internships, when our community is only capable of providing 100.”

Community engagement

The main area where the administration and school board seem to be talking past each other is on the topic of community engagement.

Hutchings and ACPS Communications Director Helen Lloyd said that extensive, and adequate, community outreach was conducted in putting the plan together, while school board members are equally insistent that the one significant missing facet is community input.

Stakeholders of all kinds were involved in discussions as Stantec and ACPS administrators were putting together the plan in late summer and early fall.

“We have had almost 50 separate community engagement sessions around the high school project since Aug. 13. When you think about that short timeline, that very short period of time, and to have 50 separate community engagement sessions in that time,” Lloyd said. “And we’ve had 400 people who’ve also responded to a separate survey on that. So when we talk about the community, we’ve reached out to an awful amount of people. … And we’re still continuing that engagement process. It’s not over now.”

Lloyd emphasized that the plan that was presented was a product of community input and that community members have said they want a connected high school network.

“We listen to our community,” Lloyd said. “This community engagement process is not a check-the-box process. We’ve listened to them and this is why it’s part of the recommendation.”

Multiple current and incoming school board members disagree, and have said the crucial missing piece is an extensive conversation within the community on whether one comprehensive high school or two is best for Alexandria. They said that conversation must take place before a decision can be made.

“The board has not, nor has the community, had the discussion of one high school or two,” School Board Member Bill Campbell said at the Dec. 6 meeting. “We need to be clear about that: it has not happened.”

Incoming Board Member Chris Suarez emphasized the need for community input on the proposed plan, and said getting that input is the most important element for buy-in.

“I do understand that some have been concerned that the solution that was proposed was just focused on programming, [and they] may have some challenges just adding satellite campuses. My view is that we’re going to, I don’t want to say completely go back to the drawing board, I think a lot of important work’s been done, but again I just want to make sure that whatever is decided that the community is behind that decision,” Suarez said.

Suarez said he’s heard from community members who feel they haven’t been able to weigh in on the one or two high school issue.

“Certainly during the campaign, the perception I had from voters was that all of these different options were on the table,” Suarez said. “Then literally two days after the election happened, this was presented at the board meeting. … I certainly wouldn’t take that [two high schools] off the table, but it needs to be a community-informed decision at the end of the day.”

Lorber also said she has heard from many people who want to have a discussion around the topic of one high school versus two.

“There’s a feeling I’m hearing growing is that really, the debate that people wanted to have had to do with two schools versus one school,” Lorber said. “And they didn’t get to have it. And I think there’s a consensus growing among us that … that should have come first. They don’t cross each other out.”

Rief said she strongly supports having the conversation with the public about a possible second high school.

“During the campaign, I repeatedly heard from voters that they supported a second comprehensive high school, and the report from Hanover last year shows that a lot of teachers do too,” Rief said. “We need to have a very public dialogue with the community about the options in front of us. We also need a thorough examination of the cost and implementation of these options. … This is a huge investment that we need to get right.”

A myriad of proposals

Is the answer four satellite campuses as Hutchings proposed? Is it a second comprehensive high school? Is it a Minnie Howard rebuild? Or is it some combination of the above?

Wilcox said immediate action is needed to solve the overcrowding problem.

“If I were in charge, I would buy the Bradlee Medical building today,” Wilcox said. “I would retrofit it and I don’t know maybe have it ready for next fall, for Minnie Howard or T.C. or whatever.”

Wilcox also said she opposes building a second high school for multiple reasons.

“I think an additional, comprehensive high school is a mistake,” she said. “For one thing, it doesn’t get us the capacity fast enough. It would be very expensive. … I just don’t see a happy ending to the story of a second high school in the City of Alexandria with our history, with our demographics, with the identity that the high school has in the community.”

Lorber shared Wilcox’s sense of urgency that additional capacity is needed immediately.

“I’m one that’s always pushing for trailers or portable classrooms – anything you can do to relieve the pressure and give teachers better teaching conditions; give kids better learning conditions,” Lorber said.

Hutchings said he’s not as concerned about immediately solving the capacity issue.

“We need to keep reminding our community that we’re not going to have 1,000 more kids next year,” Hutchings said. “It’s not like we’ve got 10 years to work with, because we don’t, but there isn’t a sense of urgency that we have to build something tomorrow. I think that we have other things in the works that’s going to help with our capacity issues.”

Rief’s preferred approach is a second high school and she’s open-minded about where it might go.

“I’m inclined to think that a second comprehensive high school would be the best approach,” she said. “I think the second high school might not be where Minnie Howard is located. … It could be elsewhere in the city.”

Suarez said the final product could be a combination of elements from various proposals.

“The three options that were presented at the [Nov. 8] board meeting, just speaking for myself, I don’t think they’re all mutually exclusive either,” Suarez said. “It could be different approaches that are created that we adopt as well.”

An emerging consensus

Most school board members have expressed support for a rebuild of Minnie Howard school to alleviate the overcrowding issue.

There’s a sense this rebuild could happen relatively quickly, because the city owns the property, and that rebuilding Minnie Howard could be either an interim solution to capacity or the long-term solution. It could remain part of T.C. Williams, be a second high school or be a step toward a separate comprehensive school elsewhere in the city.

“We’re going to have to build a second building on Minnie Howard, the biggest building we can,” Nolan said at the Dec. 6 meeting.

Graf, Anderson, Lorber and Wilcox have all also expressed support for a rebuild at the Minnie Howard site.

“I think a rebuild of Minnie Howard is pretty obvious,” Wilcox said. “So why can’t we just go ahead and do that?”

What’s next

The consensus on the school board appears to be that much more community engagement is needed before a decision can be made about a high school capacity plan. Board members have also asked for significant and specific data on site analysis. It remains to be seen whether these concerns can be alleviated by Jan. 24, despite Hutchings’ desire to hold the vote then.

Campbell said at the Dec. 6 meeting that administrators have not provided enough specific information about cost and projected outcomes for the board to make a decision.

Likewise, Rief said she would like to see more information.

“I think what’s needed is a thorough feasibility study of the current proposal and a feasibility study of building a second high school,” she said. “I’m really curious. I’m looking forward to seeing what additional information is presented between now and then.”

Suarez emphasized that the board has to take whatever time necessary to get sufficient community input.

“Speaking for myself, I don’t think we want to slow roll the decision,” he said. “But I also do want to make sure that the community is fully invested and has full opportunity to have input on whatever decision is made.”

Graf said more data is needed on how big a building can be put on the Minnie Howard property.

“We can make time to make the right decision,” she said.

At the Dec. 6 meeting, Board Chair Ramee Gentry asked Hutchings to provide the specific information that the consultant used in recommending one high school instead of two and recommending against a rebuild on the Minnie Howard site.

“It’s helpful for people to understand that options were looked at and discarded,” Gentry said. “What was problematic about the other options? If people are asking these questions, it means current information does not answer that.”

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 Allison Silberberg reflects on term as mayor Thu, 13 Dec 2018 18:30:45 +0000
By Missy Schrott | mschrott@alextimes.com As she looks back on her time as mayor, Allison Silberberg’s reflections are built from stories of the events she’s attended and the residents she’s met over the past three years. It’s not unusual for her sentences to begin with “So-and-so was telling me the other day …” or “When […]Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

By Missy Schrott | mschrott@alextimes.com

As she looks back on her time as mayor, Allison Silberberg’s reflections are built from stories of the events she’s attended and the residents she’s met over the past three years.

It’s not unusual for her sentences to begin with “So-and-so was telling me the other day …” or “When I visited one of the elementary schools last month …” or “I was at a funeral this morning for …” or countless combinations of people and places.

Mayor Allison Silberberg cuts the ribbon at Love Your Pet Day in 2017. (Courtesy photo)

Silberberg infused herself into the community with each ribbon cutting, tree planting and block party she attended, and her constant presence at meetings and events throughout the city demonstrates that her leadership style has been community-centric.

“To me it’s personal, serving [as mayor],” she said. “It’s personal because I just care really deeply about how people are doing and how our city is doing.”

Before being elected mayor in 2015, Silberberg served as vice mayor for three years – her first term in public office. After losing her bid for reelection to Vice Mayor Justin Wilson in this year’s June Democratic primary, the end of 2018 will bring with it the conclusion of her six-year stint on council.

In her three years at the city’s helm, Silberberg has maneuvered Alexandria through a sea of highs and lows, from the shooting at Simpson Field in June 2017 to Amazon’s announcement last month that HQ2 is coming to Northern Virginia.

“As mayor, I’ve been there with people during their happiest moments, and I’ve been there when it’s unthinkable, and I’m humble about that. It’s been a great honor,” Silberberg said.

Silberberg said her term has been full of “game changers,” the biggest being the Amazon announcement.

Allison Silberberg with Congressman Don Beyer and Sheriff Dana Lawhorne before the 2018 Scottish Christmas Walk Parade. (Courtesy Photo)

“That one matter took up probably 14 months of my term, half of my three-year term, and we worked hard as a team, a lot of coordination and discussion and meetings,” she said. “It’s a total game changer.”

Other major city triumphs that occurred during Silberberg’s term include increasing funding for schools, tripling the amount of money dedicated for the affordable housing fund, tripling the number of trees planted per year across the city and opening three new schools – Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School, the Early Childhood Center and the Patrick Henry pre-K through eighth grade school, which is slated to open in January.

Silberberg also helped move along projects that have been years in the works, including the Potomac Yard Metro Station and combined sewer outfalls.

Jack Sullivan, a resident and member of the CSO project stakeholder group, applauded Silberberg’s leadership. He said he especially commended her for advocating for all four outfalls to be addressed immediately, rather than just the three that were planned.

“It’s the biggest public works project conceived or executed in the City of Alexandria and it’s something expensive, but it had to be done,” Sullivan said. “I would think that maybe when people look back at what she did while she was mayor, that may stand out as one of her principal achievements.”

Silberberg said that during her time, she chose to champion the causes that protected Alexandria’s neighborhoods and quality of life. It was with that preservationist attitude that historic conservation became one of her chief priorities.

Silberberg sings at Karaoke with Cops in 2017. (Photo Credit: Christine Halsey Photography)

Anyone who’s attended a city council meeting or seen Silberberg speak at an event has probably heard her catch phrase: “We are all the temporary stewards of this national treasure called Alexandria.”

Danny Smith, a resident involved in historic preservation, said Silberberg’s time as mayor has been momentous for preservation in Alexandria. He said one of her greatest achievements in preservation was acquiring the Murray-Dick-Fawcett house.

“She has been such a solid ally in what we’re trying to do to preserve the heritage of our great city,” Smith said. “She recognizes how valuable what remains is to the city and how important it is to try and preserve that for future generations.”

In addition to historic preservation, some of Silberberg’s key initiatives during her term include drafting council’s statement on inclusiveness, advocating for ethics reform, establishing a senior advocacy round table and forming a clergy council with members from many houses of worship.

Ethics reform was part of Silberberg’s campaign to make city hall more accountable and accessible, even though she called the final pledge and code of conduct that council adopted “watered down.” Like the ethics reform, certain votes and initiatives made it clear Silberberg was the head of a council that didn’t always agree with her.

She was the council member most frequently in the minority when 6-1 votes occurred, and her dissenting votes were often on topics that had drawn resident opposition.

“My votes reflect our need to protect our neighborhoods and quality of life,” Silberberg said. “The vast majority of the votes were 7-0, so when I voted at times and it ended up being a 6-1 vote, I’m proud of my votes. I’m elected for my judgement. I listen to the arguments on all sides based upon the concerns of the community, as well as what I think is appropriate and thoughtful and will protect the quality of life as well as move our city forward.”

Allison Silberberg on the dais during FY2018 budget add/deletes (File photo)

Council voted 6-1 to approve Karig Estates, a proposed development behind Beth El Hebrew Congregation, despite environmentalists’ arguments that the project would harm the swale in the area. Council voted 6-1 for new parking standards, despite resident protests against their reductions. And council voted 6-1 to light the T.C. Williams football field, despite a promise neighbors say was made to their relatives more than 50 years ago. In each case, Silberberg cast the lone dissenting vote.

“One of the things about Allison that I think so many people really did love about her, when it came to voting on issues that really affected the lives of people, she stood up for us,” Carol Johnson, one of the residents involved in the T.C. lights debate, said. “And there were occasions on council meeting votes when she stood alone, but she stood her ground that this is the right thing for the community, this is the right thing for the citizens.”

Despite sometimes being at odds with her council, Silberberg said she worked hard to improve collaboration during her time, especially with groups like Alexandria City Public Schools and the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

“There was a lot of tension historically between the city and the school system and between the city and the housing authority but I’m really proud that I made it a priority to break down those barriers and work more collaboratively and get a lot done on behalf of those serving,” she said.

She also worked to improve communication with the community. Johnson said Silberberg’s dissenting votes were evidence of the time she spent in the community listening to residents’ concerns.

During her last “Mayor on Your Corner” event, Alexandria residents in attendance presented Silberberg with a cake. (Courtesy Photo)

“She really takes the time to get to know people and know what their needs are,” Johnson said. “She’s a concerned person about the citizens, what we’re looking for and how she can help us and the citizens of Alexandria. When you take those kinds of deep understanding and take that to city council, when they vote on issues … she has a much better, broader perspective of things and what it means to the community.”

In order to encourage more community engagement, Silberberg hosted monthly coffees called “Mayor on Your Corner” where she invited residents to voice their concerns about what was going on in the city.

“City hall is the people,” Silberberg said. “We should never be separate from the people and we’re here to listen carefully. That’s why I have a monthly coffee. I had it as the vice mayor and I have it now as mayor and I don’t think I’ve ever cancelled it. Those coffees have provided me with great ideas.”

Silberberg said it’s the time she’s spent out in the community interacting with residents that’s been her favorite part of the job.

“I’ve really enjoyed going to all the schools and talking to all the students and encouraging them to study hard,” she said. “And I’ve enjoyed all aspects of the job really. I’ve really enjoyed listening to the concerns of the community and seeing if there’s a way to strike a compromise.”

When asked what’s next for her, Silberberg said she’s going to keep working hard up until the very end of her term. When asked if she plans to run for public office again, she said, “Stay tuned.”

“I want to finish strongly and we’re still pushing strongly ahead on a whole host of things,” she said. “My whole life’s been about public service, and it will remain so, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter of my life.”

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 SSSAS boys’ basketball team hopes to build on last season Thu, 13 Dec 2018 18:19:27 +0000
By Cody Mello-Klein | cmelloklein@alextimes.com Head coach Mike Jones expects the St. Stephens and St. Agnes School’s varsity boys basketball team to build on its 18-10 record from last season. If the Saints’ three game sweep in the Sleepy Thompson Boys Basketball Tournament last weekend is any indication, the team is well on its way. […]Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

By Cody Mello-Klein | cmelloklein@alextimes.com

Head coach Mike Jones expects the St. Stephens and St. Agnes School’s varsity boys basketball team to build on its 18-10 record from last season.

If the Saints’ three game sweep in the Sleepy Thompson Boys Basketball Tournament last weekend is any indication, the team is well on its way. SSSAS earned the top spot in the tournament for the first time in 10 years.

SSSAS followed up a competitive 68-57 season-opening loss to powerhouse Woodrow Wilson High School – which has five Division I-signed players – with three big wins over T.C. Williams High School, Benedictine College Preparatory and Episcopal High School in the Sleepy Thompson.

The Saints capped off their tournament run, which included wins against two of the three other Alexandria high schools, with a decisive 89-58 victory over Episcopal in the championship round.

As the 2018-2019 season gets into full swing, Jones is confident that there are big things in store for the Saints this year.

“This year we’re setting a high goal,” Jones said. “We’re trying to win everything we play in. We’re looking to set the bar extremely high and work towards that goal.”

Jones, who previously worked on staff for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, took over head coaching duties last year after serving as assistant coach to Ronal Ginyard during the 2016-2017 season. The Saints came out of last season determined to build on that 18-10 record.

With only two seniors, the team was relatively young. This year the team is full of experienced players – six seniors and eight juniors – who understand the fast-paced Saints style of basketball and are ready to execute on it.

“We should have a lot of leadership this year,” Jones said. “The guys understand the system very well and they’re excited about playing and doing big things this year.”

SSSAS’ starting roster remains largely unchanged with the exception of the now-matriculated captain Domenick Bailey. Three new captains now share that responsibility, all of them seniors and all of them experienced SSSAS players: point guard Ephraim Reed, power forward and center Charles Thompson and shooting guard Christian DePollar.

With three captains, SSSAS has a strong core foundation. Responsibility and the burden of both success and struggle is now shared between three players, which the captains hope will help the team operate as a unit.

“Because there’s three of us, the load is carried by all of us,” said Thompson, who has played for SSSAS since he was a freshman. “So if I’m having a bad day, the other two captains can pick me up and we can keep going to work.”

According to DePollar, sharing responsibility both on and off the court will be key to SSSAS’ success this season. The Saints are focusing their efforts on team play over individual stardom and, with more experienced players occupying the roster this year, they are able to dig deeper into their bench.

“We also have a lot of bodies this year,” said DePollar. “Everyone on our team can play. Everyone on our team is going to play.”

The coaching staff and roster haven’t changed significantly from last season; instead the team is using its experience to refine, not redefine, its core style of play.

“We’re really a good team when we can get out and run the fast break,” DePollar said. “We’re really good in transition. That’s going to be key for us.”

The team’s focus on evolution over innovation is already paying off in major ways.

The Sleepy Thompson was the Saints’ first big challenge in a season that promises to be full of them. Jones and the captains admit that this season’s schedule is one of the toughest in years, but, contrary to the team’s fastbreak style of play, they’re taking the season in stride.

“Our strategy is one game at a time,” said Thompson. “We can’t look past any opponent. We want to dominate every team that we play against.”

From Coach Jones to the captains, everybody is talking about “big things” on the horizon this season. Given the tough schedule that will test the team’s experience and strategies, it’s still unclear whether the Saints will execute on their sky-high goals. However, for the three senior captains, this is more than just another season of basketball. It’s a chance to leave behind a legacy.

“I just want to be able to leave the school and have people talk about this 20182019 team,” DePollar said, echoing sentiments from the other captains. “I want people to know and remember who we are and what we did.”

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