Over 5,000 FCPS employees receive first vaccinations - Brabrand looks to resume in-person learning next month - Music teacher at Canterbury Woods, Frost makes national news for Guard double-duty
Walkinshaw interview, Part II: Marijuana legalization, Braddock Road improvements, and more...
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FCPS looks to resume in-person learning next month: With vaccinations underway for teachers, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand is proposing a phased return to in-person learning starting Feb. 16 with select special education and career training classes. Under the plan, all grade levels would return to in-person by March 16, though students would have the option to remain virtual. See the proposed timeline here:
The School Board is set to consider Brabrand’s proposal Feb. 2. Braddock District School Board Member Megan McLaughlin, who’s pushed Brabrand to be more aggressive in resuming in-person learning, will hold two virtual town halls on Jan. 28 to discuss the timeline and other topics. Dial-in instructions will be sent out in her newsletter.
Over 5,000 FCPS employees receive first vaccination: As of Friday, more than 5,000 FCPS teachers and staff had received the first of two vaccine doses, and 22,000 had registered for appointments, said FCPS spokesperson Lucy Caldwell, based on information she’d received from Inova Health System. FCPS, which has nearly 25,000 full-time employees, is seeking to vaccinate all staff members over the course of three weeks through its partnership with Inova.
In total, Fairfax County has administered 57,702 vaccine doses, an increase of 20,426 from a week ago, and 6,141 people are now fully vaccinated with two doses, an increase of 2,460, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard. At this rate, it would take over a year to vaccinate the county’s more than 1.1 million people, but the hope is the process will accelerate as more vaccines become available. “Demand is far outpacing supply,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a message to the community, noting that as of Thursday there were 115,000 people on the county’s waitlist.
Music teacher at Canterbury Woods, Frost makes headlines for National Guard double-duty: Dr. Jacob Kohut, a music teacher at Canterbury Woods Elementary School and Frost Middle School, made national news for continuing to teach his classes while deployed to protect the Capitol as an active member of the D.C. National Guard. Some days, that included giving virtual flute lessons from the back of a Humvee during a break from a 12-hour Guard shift, as The Washington Post reported.
Below is a report on Kohut that ran on the CBS Evening News. He was also featured on NBC Nightly News, the Today Show, People Magazine, CNN, and other outlets.
Walkinshaw Interview, Part II
The Braddock District supervisor discusses marijuana legalization, Lake Accotink dredging, and more
Below is the second of our two-part interview with Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw. Today, Walkinshaw discusses several topics specific to the Braddock District, including the Canterbury Woods trash petition and the Braddock Road improvements project. If you missed last week’s interview, which touches on the pandemic and Walkinshaw’s crazy first year in office, you can find it here.
This has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Governor Northam is making a push for marijuana legalization. Is that something you support?
I do support marijuana legalization. Our board took a position last year—for the first time ever, I think—in support of decriminalization of marijuana. The prohibition on marijuana, both locally and nationally, is a textbook example of a failed public policy. It’s a policy that has cost taxpayers untold billions of dollars, devastated communities, broken up families needlessly, contributed to mass incarceration, and is one of, if not the largest, driver of disproportionate policing.
Q: What would legalization mean for Fairfax County?
Obviously, we want to make sure local governments have a role in how it works. We would like to share in the revenues and be able to direct those revenues into communities that are most in need, that have been most harmed by the decades of marijuana prohibition. We think local governments are best positioned to do that. There are some land use considerations in terms of how it will be sold and where those sales will be allowed to happen, and we want to make sure that local governments have a say because we view that as our purview, not Richmond’s.
Q: What’s the timeline for hiring a new police chief for Fairfax County?
The search is underway, and the community survey has been distributed. We anticipate seeing finalists and candidates in the next couple of months. How soon someone will be on board—I don't think we know that. We will likely need to appoint an interim police chief for a small period as Chief Roessler leaves.
Q: What qualities are you looking for in the next chief?
My number one priority is someone who understands the community and is respectful and responsive to the community. Beyond that, obviously, it's a large police department, by far the largest in Virginia, one of the largest in the country, so there is a certain level of experience, knowledge, and judgment that someone will need to exhibit. I always think the most significant test of leadership is, are you willing to do the hard thing? Are you willing to do the thing you know is going to be unpopular with certain groups or entrenched interests? That's something that I'll be looking for—someone who's willing to do the right thing when it's necessary, even when they know they're gonna face some blowback. I would put Chief Roessler in that category.
Q: County Executive Bryan Hill is beginning his fourth year on the job. Have you been satisfied with his leadership during the pandemic, and do you think we’ll see him remain in this role for many years to come?
I have a practice of not commenting publicly on personnel issues in any kind of specific way. But I'll say that I think he has helped lead us through a very difficult period, and I certainly anticipate and hope that he is here to stay.
Q: Moving to some questions specific to the Braddock District, what needs to happen for the $150 million Braddock Road Multimodal Improvements Project to secure state funding?
There are essentially two state funding streams. One is the VDOT Smart Scale program, which is a statewide grant program. The other is Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) funding, which is limited to Northern Virginia. We have submitted to both over the years and been unsuccessful. We have made some adjustments to the project based on recommendations from VDOT, and this summer we re-submitted to Smart Scale and are waiting to hear the response. I'm hopeful that we'll secure the funding in this round. If not, we'll continue to move forward with the project. We do have county dollars set aside to continue doing the design work and even to get into some of the right-of-way acquisition.
In terms of what would need to happen if we're unsuccessful this time, I would say two things. One, we'll have to continue looking at the project and come up with ways to make it more competitive—and you make it more competitive by reducing more congestion for fewer dollars. The other piece of it that's important is the restoration of the NVTA funding that was diverted in 2017 to help fund Metro. The General Assembly partially restored that funding last year. I think they have about another $20 million to go to fully restore it. This year’s going to be tough, but I'm hopeful we can get that money restored, and then we'll have a bigger pie that we're competing for if we have to apply to NVTA next year.
Q: Some Braddock District residents have been very dissatisfied with their private trash service, and the Canterbury Woods neighborhood had a successful petition drive to move to county trash pickup. There’s some frustration in that neighborhood because the petition hasn’t really gone anywhere because of the pandemic. What’s being done to move that process forward?
The process for creating new sanitary districts—for a neighborhood to get county collection of trash—is the petition process. When that petition process starts, there's a conversation with Solid Waste staff, who give a recommendation to the neighborhood in terms of whether staff can support the petition or not. There are cases where staff might say, “Even if you go out and get the petition, when this gets to the Board of Supervisors, we would have a hard time supporting it because we don't have the trucks, it's too far away from existing neighborhoods, the logistics wouldn't work, we're not satisfied we could do a good job.”
One thing that's important for any neighborhood that is thinking about going down this path, now or in the future, is to reach out to my office first, to listen to what the Solid Waste staff are saying, and try to figure out on the front end if it's a sanitary district that could be created. Even outside of Covid, we're not always able to do it, and we don't want to take on a district where we're not confident we can do a good job, because then folks are in the same position they're in now with the private haulers.
In terms of where we are right now, the board did institute a six-month delay on new petitions in light of Covid. We had kind of a cascading series of issues here. Even before Covid, there was an extreme shortage of national commercially licensed drivers. That's one of the reasons the private haulers had been struggling so much, but that affects us also because if the county is gonna take on new neighborhoods, we've got to hire more drivers.
Long term, it is absolutely my hope that as we emerge from the pandemic, maybe the economic situation will resolve the national shortage in commercially licensed drivers and make it so we can actually hire the drivers to service these neighborhoods. I want to respect the neighborhood's wishes, and if they've gone through the process and they've concluded that this is what they want to do, I want to support that. But I won't support creating a new district unless I'm confident that we can provide high-quality service, because that's what people would be paying for.
Q: Am I correct to interpret from your answer that the odds are low that the board will take up and approve the Canterbury Woods petition this year?
I would say certainly low in the first half of this year. I don't know what the second half of this year will look like because, as I said, some of it's related to the pandemic and how quickly we can emerge there, but there's also a workforce issue. If both of those issues are resolved, I would love to be able to take up this petition late in the year.
Q: Are there any other Braddock District projects you’d like to talk about?
I think Lake Accotink is probably the biggest, and we had a very well-attended community meeting in August where we provided an update. One of the things we let people know is that the alternatives analysis is underway, so by this summer we expect to have a detailed presentation of the different options—the different ways in which the dredging could take place and how precisely the dredge spoils will make their way across Braddock Road and ultimately out of the Braddock District.
My hope is we can stay on schedule to begin the dredging in late 2022 or early 2023. It will likely take a couple of years, but we're moving forward there. It’s a really important project for the community. I always want to set expectations for folks. For those of us who live near the lake, and I'm in that category, we should expect there will be some impacts and some disruption. We're going to work to minimize them, absolutely minimize the environmental and ecological impacts, minimize the impacts in terms of truck traffic, in terms of noise, but there will be some while the dredge is ongoing, so I just want everyone to be prepared for that.
Q: Last question—are you prepared to make an endorsement in the Democratic primary for governor?
I haven't made any endorsements in any Democratic primaries. I've been just kind of focused on my day-to-day work here. Not to say I won't—but I haven't made any endorsement.
News in Brief
A Fairfax County circuit judge has rejected a request from FCPS to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the decision to scrap the admissions test at the Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology, allowing the lawsuit to proceed, the Associated Press reports.
A rare, vagrant hummingbird was recently found and banded at Green Spring Gardens, off Little River Turnpike and Braddock Road. Washington Post columnist John Kelly was there to witness the banding, which was done by Bruce Peterjohn, one of just 100 people in the country with a federal permit to band hummingbirds.
Northern Virginia has the most severe housing burden for low-income households of the 50 largest U.S. metro areas, according to a new report by the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia. The Annandale Blog has more here.
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Monday, Jan. 25, 7 p.m.: Supervisor Walkinshaw holds a virtual community meeting to discuss the Zoning Ordinance Modernization Project, or zMOD. Meeting link here.
Thursday, Jan. 28, 6:30 p.m.: Walkinshaw and Project Director Charles Smith hold an in-depth briefing on the Lake Accotink dredging project. Meeting link here.
Saturday, Jan. 30, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.: The Canterbury Woods Swim Team hosts a paper shredding fundraiser in the pool parking lot. Bring any documents you need shredded—there’s a suggested $20 donation.
Thursday, Feb. 11, 7 p.m.: A community meeting will be held on the Long Branch Central Watershed Management Area Project. County officials will provide an update, solicit input about the watershed condition, discuss the work plan to be developed this spring, and introduce some of the project partners. Meeting link here.