Opinion Your Views — 13 June 2013
Academics deserve as much praise as athletics

To the editor:

Please run photographs and articles regularly about academic achievers in our local schools: T.C. Williams, St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes, Bishop Ireton, and Episcopal.

Athletes receive good press coverage every week, but scholars get almost no recognition or praise except compliments from proud parents and friends. Senior high academic achievers are publicly recognized in our local papers only at the end of a long haul, not like the athletes who play in games every week.

Academic achievers in lower grades get even less public recognition — virtually none.

We need to give academic achievers and strivers a regular public boost of encouragement. Some students might be motivated to greater effort and achievement if they realize they will receive newspaper recognition.

When I brought up this point to the member of T.C.’s administrative staff in charge of recognizing academic achievement, I was told parental permission is necessary for student names to appear in print (because of privacy rights) and securing such permission was great trouble, so it wasn’t done. When I noted that athletes’ names and pictures appear regularly in the papers, she replied that the coaches distribute permission slips at the start of the season, so there was no problem with their names and images appearing in the newspaper. I suggested that permission slips be distributed to all students at the beginning of the year, but she seemed to dismiss the idea as impractical.

In the winter, the school board and superintendent discussed doing away with the valedictorian and salutatorian designations because so many students have almost identical averages. (Student representatives to the board reported that they agreed but did not propose an alternative.) I spoke against that proposal because I feared that academic achievement would not be adequately recognized even at graduation ceremonies.

A committee, which included students and members of T.C.’s administration, was supposed to make recommendations about how to honor the school’s academic achievers. I volunteered to serve on the committee, but I never heard back from anyone about a meeting, including the superintendent, school board members and the T.C. administrator on that committee. To illustrate my commitment to the project, I then gave the administrator many suggestions — which she said were excellent — but I have not seen any of them implemented.

It’s shocking that neglecting to publicly and regularly celebrate scholars’ achievements is acceptable to T.C.’s administration, the superintendent, the school board and taxpayers. Haven’t our very well paid professional educators regretted the paucity of public recognition via the print media accorded academic achievement? Are they so fixated on the Standards of Learning exam scores that they forget recognizing and celebrating individual academic achievement is important?

I brought up this point to a board member serving a second term but got no response. The superintendent and board have repeatedly claimed that they welcome community support, especially from those with appropriate expertise.

But despite my 21 years of successful experience in Alexandria City Public Schools as a high school teacher, including 17 years at T.C.; despite my presidential appointment to a national committee concerned with English as a second language education and shared authorship of reports to Congress; and despite my lifelong career in public education — also at the university level — and experience training public and private-sector employees at all levels, my volunteered expertise was for naught.

Athletic and other extracurricular activities are fun, but we taxpayers fund ACPS generously to teach students what they need to know to become responsible and productive adults, able to support themselves and contribute to their communities. Let’s regularly recognize and celebrate their academic accomplishments, which should be the major focus of our school programs.

- Ellen Latane Tabb
Alexandria

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