Commentary – Investing wisely in our children

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A Superintendent Select Committee is being formed by Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) with, we hope, the best and brightest parents, community and business leaders. What expectations will they have of the candidate and does our current strategic plan support those aspirations?

I hope they examine our past performance and in the process assess the efficacy of the measurements we employ. Forbes magazine identified ACPS as the most expensive with the least performance. A large foreign population was identified as the reason for the gap and it needs additional scrutiny. Perhaps ACPS needs better data collection and analytic software.

An effective superintendent accomplishes the right things. They are able to assess their environment, centers of influence and diverse demographics and leverage aspects of those cultures to propel the school system to achievement. They are able to ensure through discipline to their own processes the best results in student and teacher performance, operations management, human capital management, budgeting and capital improvements. However, the superintendent will only be as good as the Strategic Plan.

To date the push for greater participation in AP classes has paid off in more students with higher mastery levels. We are seeing the weakest performances among the minorities in the average and STEP student groups and wonder if our strategic plan speaks to this weak performance.

The superintendent should be able to take steps to address the poor performance through accountability of the teacher, student, parent, administration and community.

Under the proposed 2007 changes by the Commission for No Child Left Behind through the bi-partisan Bill All Students Can Achieve the proposed superintendent will have the ability to access improved longitudinal data that will allow the use of growth models in better measuring student achievement and teacher effectiveness. This will give us better measurements on an individual students progress, better analysis of any segment of the student population and individual learning plans that address weaknesses. Many other school districts employ better analytical tools and have been, even in urban areas, able to produce a better performance.

There is a five to ten percent performance deficit between Alexandrias minority populations and Fairfax and Loudoun Countys.  To me, that represents the spread for improvement. Upon that premise the new superintendent should implement improvement through parent participation, curriculum rigor, school system wide incentives and the streamlining and improvement of administration and outreach to the community.

The recent results from the SOLs and the failure to improve the performance in several schools has made little impact on the constituency they serve as only a handful of parents moved their children to more successful schools. It is perhaps a reflection of this populations ignorance or complacency that they do not seek a better education for their children. We, however, as a community need all children educated to their potential.

Our Strategic Plan should address weak performers family education and attitude and seed it with contact, content and active participation. Parents should have the option of taking online or community courses that teach them English, parenting, work and interpersonal skills. The ACPS ParentsCount.net should have age appropriate training resources and links to community education. If parents are recipients of social programs, they should be required to attend and/or take on-line mandatory continuing education every year. Teachers should also have meaningful continuing education requirements that speak to their professional development and the ACPS strategic plan.

As some of the most troubled children are in social programs, cooperation between school, government agencies and the juvenile model court are tools to supporting a childs successful education and reducing the drop out rate. Is there sufficient interagency cooperation? Are administrators empowered to uphold the truancy laws?  Are student/teacher action plans produced for individual student assessments advancing year to year electronically? Do the new grade teachers have a systematic way of integrating individual needs from the start of every year?

Lisa Miller is on the Executive Board of the Taylor Run Citizens Association and the Alexandria parent of a former ACPS student.

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