Citypublic school leaders and community organizers based in Arlandria made historyWednesday afternoon, penning an agreement that formally links the two groups inthe ongoing effort to improve educational results across Alexandria.
Ina bilingual press conference held outside the offices of Tenants and WorkersUnited on Mt. Vernon Avenue, Alexandria City Public Schools SuperintendentMorton Sherman and TWU Director John Liss signed a memo that at once recognizedTWU’s years of educational activism and established the group as an officialstakeholder in the city’s educational success.
“Ayear ago when I started in Alexandria, one of the conversations and phrases Iused was about turning the page, moving ahead, recognizing the potential ofeach and every child,” said Sherman, in his second year as head of thecity’s public schools. “Today is about turning the page and signing thepage.”
Membersof TWU feted the day as a milestone achievement for their organization.
“Littleby little we started doing more and more,” said TWU youth activist IngrisMoran. “We wanted to do something, we wanted to have something tangiblelike this moment.”
Moran,a 2009 T.C. Williams graduate, got involved with TWU as a freshman at MinnieHoward, scared that she might be one of the school’s Latino students destinedfor a future that didn’t include a college education.
“WhenI first heard about this,” Moran said, “they were saying thatminorities were not getting prepared for college and I thought, ‘Well, I shouldbe in this movement because it’s going to affect me and my fellowstudents.'”
Lisscalled the actions of the Alexandria City Public School senior leadership”courageously willing” in confronting the now well-documentedinequities in performance levels that had developed among students namely theminority student achievement gap and dropout numbers released last spring.
“Whenwe create a system where every student excels, when students who have the leastin terms of finances or in terms of English language excel, we have created asystem where every student indeed is going to excel,” Liss said.
Theagreement, several years in the making, places Alexandria in the vanguard ofschool-community cooperation nationwide.
“Theactual content of the proposal is very much targeted at the inequitableeducational opportunities and outcomes that students of color and low-incomestudents in Alexandria are experiencing,” said Jim Freeman, an attorneywith Advancement Project, a Washington-based civil rights organization that hasworked with TWU on the issue for several years.
“Bytaking this step to address those issues head-on,” Freeman said, “Ireally think Alexandria is positioning itself as a national leader in terms ofdealing with issues of educational equity.
“Whathappens in so many places is that parents and students come to the schooldistrict with information and nothing happens,” Freeman continued. “Inthis case, the superintendent listened and is committing to work with them toaddress problems.”
Inaddition to the prospect of erasing that deficit, school leaders relished thechance to become a national leader on the issue.
“Whatwe do here in Alexandria, I hope, does serve as a model not just for ourcommunity but for whatever community our children grow up in,” Shermansaid.
TWU’syears of activism on the topic of minority student achievement was encapsulatedin its 2007 report detailing Alexandria’s persistent achievement gap.
Theirwork was reaffirmed this spring when Virginia released its statewide graduationstatistics, highlighting Alexandria’s 24.8 percent dropout rate among Hispanicstudents, only 57.5 percent of whom graduated on time in 2008.
“Partof this memorandum of understanding is recognizing that we have work todo,” Sherman said. “You have my commitment as your superintendent ofschools: One child at a time for each and every child, we will never let thathappen again.”
Underthe agreement, the two groups resolved to improve cultural competency in theschools, to support developing personal educational plans for all secondarystudents and to “foster a culture of parent and youth involvement”that would include increased tutoring opportunities for students seeking help.
Thedocument calls for TWU and ACPS “to organize two community walks per yearto deepen ACPS personnel’s understanding of the social conditions in which manyLatino residents live” and work together to “recruit a diverseteaching and administrative staff,” among other highlights.
Theparties agreed to provide mutual support for individualized and customizededucation plans for all students at the secondary level as well.
Withinthe community, TWU will move to “develop the leadership of parents andyouth of color in order to encourage their participation” inschool-related activities.
BeforeSherman and Liss endorsed the partnership agreement to chants of “Si sepuede” “Yes we can” Alexandria School Board Chair YvonneFolkerts made clear for the crowd her primary goal for the new alliance.
“I’m very hopeful that thisdocument leads us to a new way to make sure your children get the educationthey deserve in ACPS,” Folkerts said.