PAC Meeting Minutes – October 20, 2015

The meeting convened at 6:30 pm, to accommodate the instrumental music concert at 7:30 pm.

Attendees: Casey Robinson, Laura Saul Edwards, David Tornquist, Meredith Wadman, Kelly Kabiri, Nadine Asef-Sargent, Richard Walker, Lindsey Visbaras (H-B school psychologist), Siobhan Bowler (H-B substance abuse counselor), Hillary Horn, Paul Ferguson, Karen Keyes, Lynzey Donahue, Jan Gronemeyer.

Casey Robinson, Principal’s Report:

Casey reported on a successful back to school night with tremendous turnout and a positive vibe. The first Black Box show has taken place, along with the fall backpacking trip. The middle school play is set for next week. It has been adapted and written by our middle schoolers, with a Hallowe’en theme.

A new, student-run community service group called HIVE, the HBW Initiative for Volunteer Engagement, is launching on the morning of Tuesday October 27 with an all-school activities fair. The college application season is in full swing. Casey met in early October with parents of seniors, many of whom are racing towards a Nov. 1 application deadline. We are also about to embark on the season of looking at who our newest students will be next year. The APS system of required school visits and principal signatures for applying to H-B and other programs has been jettisoned, with a simple application now all that is needed. There will still be orientations for parents at the school, but they will not be obligatory Casey anticipates that this change will increase the number of applications overall, but it also removes a barrier that existed for some families who couldn’t take time off work to attend the orientations.

In response to a question, Casey said that Town Meeting minutes do exist and will be posted in due course. Teri Doxsee, H-B’ Technology Coordinator, has just created a Google system to make it easier to get them posted.

Kelly Kabiri, Treasurer’s Report:

There are three accounts at H-B Woodlawn.  All are funded by the annual “No Sweat” campaign in which H-B families give so generously. $42,000 was raised in donations for the current school year.

1) The Parent Advisory Committee account, which currently contains $1,500. The PAC uses this to help fund events like the County-wide senior study night at the public library.

2) The Teachers and Principals account, which holds $3000 — $50 for each teacher, for classroom use at his or her discretion.

3)  The “No Sweat” Fund.  After subtracting the above amounts, this fund was left with $37,500 to support various teacher requests. All of this money goes directly to the classrooms, and none to administration or overhead. Examples of uses of this money include classroom furniture, lab equipment, and different social and life skill games for students in the Asperger’s program.  Teachers in the HILT program may also apply for these funds. The requests received this year were a little bit more than the money available. Two teachers, two students and two parents, constituted as a “No Sweat Committee” went through the requests. They were able to grant every request by selective shaving from several individual requests.

Kathy Funes, the treasurer in H-B’s front office, disburses the money for the granted requests, and ensures that all the money is spent by the time the year is out.

To give parents a sense of how this generous giving by H-B families impacts our students’ lives and learning, testimonials from teachers will be posted on the PAC website, where teachers will explain what they got and how it helped in their classroom.

Laura Saul Edwards: Update on the Stratford (i.e. Vacation Lane) and Wilson projects 

By the opening of the school year in 2019, the H-B and Stratford programs will be relocated in a new building at the Wilson School site in Rosslyn, with H-B’s current building on Vacation Lane converted to a 1,000 seat middle school. Over-high design estimates which pushed both projects over budget have slowed progress, but “We think we’ve got it pretty much under control now,” said Laura, who sits on the Building Level Planning Committee for both projects. For the Stratford project, the winning conceptual design will end up doing essentially nothing to the current building, beyond reconfiguring some of the administrative space; redesignating the current Stratford program space for classrooms and possibly an auxiliary gym; and possibly adding capacity on the west side of the school, currently the site of the lower parking lot. Construction must be complete by Sept 2019.  The Stratford program will be temporarily relocated during construction, beginning in 2017.

At the Wilson site, the design committee reaffirmed its support for an innovative 5.5 story “fanning bar” design, with the Stratford program housed on the ground floor and H-B on the higher floors. This plan came in initially $2 million dollars over the $80.2 million budget allowed by the School Board.  Since then, in an effort to corral costs, Casey and her staff team have worked diligently with APS to allow programmatic sharing of space between the H-B and Stratford programs at the new Wilson building.  “I think the School Board wants the cover, the justification, for going beyond $80.2 million, if it really is necessary for these programs,” Laura said.  Most likely they are going to have to exceed this figure, she added, although they don’t want to, given pressing capacity needs throughout the school system. In November, 2015 the School Board will be presented with the modified designs for both sites, and vote yes or no. All of next year will consist of getting through the reviews necessary to get permits to help construction start by 2017 for both projects.

A parent raised concerns about a recent letter to the editor of the Sun Gazette from a community member complaining that the new H-B building planned for Rosslyn is over-priced.  Shortly after it was published, PAC leaders conferred and decided it made most sense not to respond, as there is little to be gained by entering into that argument at this stage in the public space. Casey noted that it is APS’s responsibility to defend the cost of the building, and not the PAC’s.

That said, trying to fly under the radar, Casey advised, is in the long term not a strategy. The takeaway from the letter to the editor, she suggested, is that we as a community need to work hard at publicizing and helping people in the community to understand the strengths and virtues of the H-B program. Also, it’s important that we stress that the new building will house two programs, not just H-B. The Stratford program expands the reach and service of the new building at the Wilson site.

Laura added that she didn’t see a good return on investment in responding to the letter to the editor, and added that there have been no on-line comments reacting to it.  But another part of our public message should be that H-B and Stratford are moving in order to help the crowding crisis in APS. The school system really needs the relief that 1,000 middle school seats on Vacation Lane will bring.  Laura noted that James Lander, a member of  the School Board, speaking at a Facilities Advisory Council meeting on October 19, reaffirmed that the Board has no intention of changing the plan to relocate our programs to Wilson and to convert the Vacation Lane building into a 1,000 seat middle school.

In response to a question about plans for parking at the new H-BLaura explained that at the Wilson site, a 92-seat underground parking garage, plus off-site parking with local garages, is one proposal currently being considered. Another plan would have all parking off-site. A third proposal would involve the local developer, Penzance, which wants to provide a portion of  up to 1,300-1,400 parking spaces for its tenants in a garage under what would be H-B’s athletic field at the new site. As part of the proposal, Penzance would provide 92 parking spaces for H-B.

Nadine Asef-Sargent: Report on the Arlington Special Education Advisory Committee (ASEAC).

Nadine, the mother of an H-B junior, is former Chair and a current member of this committee, which usually meets on the last Tuesday of each month at the APS Ed Center, room 101, from 7-9 pm. The ASEAC is a special advisory committee tasked by the Commonwealth of VA to advise the School Board on the needs of students with disabilities with or without an Individualized Education Program (IEP), or 504 plan. Disabilities in this context encompass13 conditions, including hearing or vision impairment, intellectual, physical, learning and emotional disabilities. One of ASEAC’s recommendations, being made this year in collaboration with the Student Services Advisory Committee,  is that far more social workers and psychologists are needed in the APS system. Currently, the ratio of such workers to students in APS is 1:1500. However, the National Association of School Psychologists recommends a ratio of between 1:500 to 1:700 and the School Social Work Association recommends a ratio of 1:250.  Nadine reported that “there is a desperate and growing need for real, focused, specific attention on mental health education and services for APS students.” She urged parents to communicate this need to School Board members – especially the need to bring down the ratio of school psychologists and social workers to APS students.

Nadine added that the ASEAC Committee and individual members have made a lot of headway throughout the years, including helping to improve special education transportation; creating the secondary program for students with autism and the twice-exceptional program; bringing American Sign Language to all high schools; and raising awareness of ADHD and dyslexia.

For more information, contact Nadine at nadine.asef@gmail.com or check out the ASEAC website, here: http://www.apsva.us/page/1290

Feature presentation: Youth Suicide Awareness and Prevention, by Angelina Harris, on behalf of the Jason Foundation.

angelina.harris@hcahealthcare.com   cell 571-249-0872

Angelina is the director of business growth and behavioral health at Dominion Hospital in Falls Church. She is also a volunteer with the Jason Foundation, and spoke on the foundation’s behalf.

Also participating in this discussion were:

 

H-B’s school psychologist, Lindsey Visbaras  lindsey.visbaras2@apsva.us  and

H-B’s substance abuse counselor, Siobhan Bowler  siobhan.bowler@apsva.us

Angelina: The Jason Foundation specializes in youth suicide prevention. It is a private organization and provides all of its resources for free.

Angelina urged us to check out all that the foundation offers at its website: http://jasonfoundation.com/    The website includes a Parent Resource Center, and an app that teens can put on their cell phones. (This includes information like “how to help a friend”, and  a crisis phone number; H-B has tried to get this app into the hands of all its students.) The website also offers DVD speaker presentations and lists of danger signs for suicide, as well as a curriculum for youth in Spanish. There are also faith-based resources appropriate for church groups.

Angelina noted the stigma and resulting silence around the topic of suicide, especially in young people. And yet, the less it is talked about, the less we can get resources to the people who need them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth aged 10-24.   (See the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavioral Survey, conducted every 2 years. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss6304.pdf )

The bottom line from this survey: nationally, 30% of youth say that they have felt sadness or hopelessness that they can’t shake for two weeks or more, and 17% say they have considered suicide. Eight percent have attempted suicide. For Virginia (see table 27), the figure is 10 percent. All of these data are broken out by state within the report.

To lower these numbers, Angelina said, one thing we need to combat is the silence around this, a Jason Foundation goal. Which can begin with dispelling the myth that talking about it makes it happen, for which there is no evidence.  The Foundation offers training modules for youth, parents and teens, which include training for teens in how to recognize warning signs and symptoms in their friends.

Parent question: Can you go over the warning signs?

Risk factors include: depression; bipolar disease; self-injurious behavior; a family member who has carried out a suicide; someone else they know who has committed suicide; transgender identity.

Siobhan Bowler commented that she has watched the video for the parents and that it’s really easy, quick, good listening. Siobhan offers to moderate a discussion if any parent group is interested in getting together to watch the presentation.

Casey and Graham recently had an in-service for the staff around suicide prevention.

Siobhan said that she, Lindsey and Elizabeth, a part-time school social worker, do suicide risk assessments for H-B students if any teacher is ever concerned about a student. Parents must be notified after such an assessment is finished. Lindsey has done three already this year; Siobhan did four last year and has done one this year.  They make referrals for parents to get outside support if needed.

Casey said that, after the recent suicide at Wakefield, H-B made counsellors available, and lots of kids took advantage of that.

The meeting adjourned at 7:55 pm.