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Week in Alexandria

Waterfront Fire Sale

Two properties at the heart of Alexandria’s controversial waterfront plan went on the market this week, opening a new chapter in the ongoing saga about redevelopment in Old Town. Opponents of the plan, which would almost triple density at three sites compared to what’s there now, say the sale the sale of Robinson Terminal North and Robinson Terminal South present an opportunity for both sides to reconsider a rezoning plan that was approved a year ago and then put into limbo by a series of legal challenges.

“The interesting question to me is how anxious they are to sell?” asked Bert Ely, a member of the Waterfront Work Group and leading opponent of the rezoning. “Are we looking at a fire sale situation?”

The Virginia Supreme Court is set to hear a challenge to the waterfront plan in March. And the Alexandria Circuit Court is scheduled to hear a separate challenge in April. Meanwhile, members of the City Council have delayed final approval of the zoning changes until the legal challenges have run their course. Supporters of the plan say the potential sale of the two key waterfront properties is a move in the right direction.

“It’s good news overall,” said Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille. “This will allow for a new buyer or interested investment partners to come to the table and work with the city to map out projects that meet the guidelines established by the waterfront plan.”

Jefferson-Houston Takeover?

Jefferson-Houston School already has a state-mandated leadership team from outside Alexandria City Public Schools looking over the shoulder of the troubled school’s principal and staff. Now Del. Rob Krupicka (D-45) is concerned that Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Educational Opportunities bill would allow a state takeover of the troubled school.

“I suggested simple changes to this bill to ensure this new bureaucracy was accountable, had significant local input and could not hold on to schools forever,” Krupicka said on the House floor this week. “I’m disappointed that people were not willing to compromise to ensure that students are put first.”

More than a decade of failing test scores and a revolving door of administrators have taken their toll on Jefferson-Houston School, which the Virginia Department of Education was identified as a “priority school” back in August. Now school administrators are on the verge of hiring an “external lead turnaround partner,” a step required by state officials who are fed up with years of mediocre performance at Alexandria’s most troubled elementary school.

“It is unconscionable to stand idly by while another generation of students is forced to attend one of these failing schools,” said McDonnell in a written statement.

During consideration of House Bill 2096, introduced by Salem Del. Gregory Habeeb (R-8), Krupicka suggested that an independent body such as the Virginia Board of Education should control when a school is taken over and when it returns to local control. Krupicka, a former member of the Board of Education, also argued for the creation of a local oversight body made up of parents and community leaders. The bill passed 66 to 34.

“I recognize that there are schools in the commonwealth that need to have outside help,” said Krupicka. “But this bill seems more focused on creating a new bureaucracy than on helping kids succeed.”

Not Toying Around

In the age of mass shootings, a toy gun is no longer a toy. That’s especially true in and around schools ever since a shooting in Connecticut when 20 children were massacred by a crazed gunman carrying an assault weapon.

This week, the Alexandria Police Department charged a 10-year-old student at MacArthur Elementary School with brandishing a weapon. The student showed the toy gun, which had an orange tip, to several other students on the bus Monday afternoon. By Tuesday morning, the Alexandria Police Department was on the scene taking the child into custody.

“The safety of our students is always our first concern,” said Superintendent Morton Sherman in a written statement. “The school division will complete its investigation in cooperation with the police as we consider further disciplinary action, including expulsion.”