Community Addresses ACPS Plan as Officials Point to Budget Cuts

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Teachers, parents, School Board members and the school superintendent met last Thursday for a public hearing on the school boards strategic plan, an aggressive but pragmatic goal-oriented timeline intended to raise student achievement throughout the system.

It will cost an estimated $750,000 to implement the plan, meaning existing budget programs and staffing will take an estimated $3.8 million dollar cut to make the budget levels palatable for the community, Superintendent Dr. Morton Sherman said.

We are facing an awful budget year or two or three, Sherman said. And in many ways, thats an opportunity to see how you can move ahead and leave some things behind. There is no way we can continue doing business as usual; there is no way that we can sustain all the things that are in place. We must set priorities as we move ahead, but move ahead we must.

Stakeholders voiced their opinions on the framework, released last month, that covers a variety of issues. The goals range from analyzing the current status of each and every student to implementing the International Baccalaureate program, a college preparatory strategy with an international emphasis, throughout the school system. 

This school year represents the exploration phase of the IB program in which the central office will identify the elementary schools (it will eventually affect all grades) primed for the program while extracting which schools have the most interest. The exploration phase is planned for completion this school year.

The strategic plan will not solidify until March, when the Strategic Planning Committee will take the observations of the Board, the superintendent, parents, teachers and community members and sift them into a cohesive approach.

Many speakers lauded the work that the Board has done to this point in designing a strategic plan, which officials hope will bridge the achievement gap that exists between white students and minority students while excelling achievement overall. Still, others had words of caution and question for the Board and superintendent.

Im going to ask you to be patient with yourselves too, said Marianne Hetzer, who is president of the Alexandria Parent-Teacher Association Council but was not speaking for the organization. Discern the vision and let that guide you to seek or to keep the best strategies rather than allowing the existing and the proposed strategies to force you into a vision that might be convenient, but might not be what you actually want.

Teachers wanted to know how the strategic plan and IB program would affect them their planning, compensation and free time. We are interested in the budget impact but we are most interested in the time impact, said Francis Chase, an art teacher at Jefferson-Houston Elementary School. Often, after programs are funded, the implications of the cost are overlooked. It must be planned for and compensated. Chase cited the laptop initiative, which he said infringed on teachers planning time, and said a plan should be in place to budget the time that could be taken by training.

Some parents were concerned about Jefferson-Houston Elementary itself. Helen Morris, a parent who plans to send her child to Jefferson-Houston, said that the school, where 81 percent of students receive either free or reduced-priced lunch, has been treated unfairly in the past. She praised the schools staff but added,
We feel that in the past, Jefferson-Houston has been the last to receive serious attention by the central office and the school board, so we urge you to make sure it is on the front of your mind and priority list as IB is implemented across the district.

Others who spoke expressed concern over the actual implementation of the IB program, which is a new concept to most.

Based on my conversations with parents, it is my impression that they know by and large very little about the IB program, said Melinda Wilcox, representing the PTA Council. We urge you to consider ways to make additional information available to the community and the PTA Council stands ready to assist you with that. Wilcox also suggested the Board periodically release progress reports.

Superintendent Sherman has said that the process of implementing the strategic plan is an all-inclusive one, and one that has an imperative nature.He assured viewers that the goals arent pulled from some grab bag.

What we did was to look at a data-driven approach, Sherman said. We might look at this first set of goals as being stop-gap or triage until things are really planned by the Strategic Planning Committee in March. Sherman continued, We recognize that there are pieces to which we must pay attention now.

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