Symons confirmed, ACPS looks forward

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Vice Chairman Charles Wilson hugged Chairwoman Claire Eberwein before the school board meeting Thursday, perhaps in condolence of a trying time for the board, which saw the citys superintendent resign last week in an untidy hubbub.

This board will move forward, Eberwein said. I regret having to make any statement at all this evening. There have been many disturbing and inaccurate press accounts regarding former superintendent Perrys departure. Last evening the board was fully briefed in detail on what happened. However, some members made statements to the press prior to that briefing.

I would never act in an unprofessional matter in any role that Ive been asked to undertake as chairman of this board, Eberwein said. The chairwoman also stated that procedures between Perrys attorney and Alexandria City Public Schools attorney have commenced, and that she has had no involvement.

The Board moved on and confirmed Dr. William C. Symons as interim superintendent.

I have just been impressed with the commitment and the dedication and the help that the staff has given me, Symons said. A non-applicant for the permanent superintendent job, Dr. Symons formerly was superintendent of Charlottesvilles public schools. He has a doctorate in education from Virginia Tech, a masters from the University of Virginia and a bachelors degree from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Everybody knows the obvious; new guy in town, new guy on the block, Symons said in his first report as superintendent. His southern accent had already betrayed that fact. Symons admitted he may not know all the particulars of Alexandria but said he looks forward to working with the system and depending on the board for help.

Symons said he did not spend the day preparing for the board meeting. I spent the day out engaged. But I think thats important for the school system at this time, he said. People have to feel supported, they have to feel appreciated, and they have to feel that were here to support and enable them to do their work.

The search for a permanent superintendent began speedily. While the board doesnt have access to applications until Feb. 19, there have been more than 141 expressions of interest for the job, 37 statements of intent to apply and 18 completed files on candidates, according to Eberwein. Of those 18, there are eight highly qualified candidates from states as varied as Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey and Virginia, she said.

The Board has hired a consultant which it will meet with Feb. 11 to narrow the searchlight.

The meeting moved on and Dr. Symons was addressed sparingly, his new role seemingly nominal for the time being.

Several citizens appealed to the board in search of fund allocations for the 2009 fiscal year budget. Among others, money was requested for a new track at Hammond Middle School and a new Spanish teacher at Mt. Vernon Community School for the boards consideration, and near-tears parent Lisa Shaw supported further funding for autistic children in the school system. Im a clinical social worker with a background in child welfare, Shaw said. None of my training or experience prepared me for life with a child with autism.

Autism is a condition primarily treated with education, and ACPS has already funded a pre-school program for autistic children. Shaw and David Cordell lobbied for more funding for the programs development.

The meeting was followed by a budget work session, where changes to revenue and expenditures were reviewed in preparation for the school board session on Jan. 31, which will add and delete budget items.    

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