OUR VIEW | A New School Year, Some Old Problems


As school begins once again the Alexandria School Board returns to its meeting sessions, along with Superintendent Morton Sherman, to guide the school systems students toward higher achievement levels. The group of overseers has its compass pointed toward a sea change in the school systems approach to student achievement and administration, two inextricably linked elements of the progress they hope to make in a new, more proactive yet pragmatic era for the school system.

In the second year of Shermans place at the helm, he and the Board will face familiar challenges from the past: closing the achievement gap between whites and minorities, balancing continuing enrollment spikes with class sizes and networking faculty, students and parents with the community to produce well-rounded and well-educated students prepared for an internationally connected 21st-century world all under budget constraints.

The system will face unique challenges as well: continuing the somewhat novel initiatives begun since Sherman took over, like implementing the International Baccalaureate program and carrying out the new middle school model five smaller schools spawning from the two larger Francis C. Hammond and George Washington schools while analyzing the progress to gauge its success or lack thereof. The prospect of the H1N1 swine flu virus manifesting in the schools this flu season will also test the school system this year.

The progress made thus far, particularly with new initiatives, has been impressive. The heads of ACPS both new ones and old have made aggressive bounds toward innovative ideas with a newly asserted focus on students. The IB program and the new middle school model are examples of potential winners for the system, but pragmatism should certainly be practiced as implementation continues.

Leaps of faith, or change for the sake of change, should not overshadow nor overwhelm the quality of education institutions so vital to the future. This does not seem to be the case so far, and the alterations are progressive steps toward smaller, better-focused classrooms and a 21st-century-prepared student body, even if the verdict is still out on their long-term success in Alexandria.
On Tuesday, the governor announced percentage-based cuts in state education funding to localities, though the program offered Alexandria little to begin with, making the cuts relatively painless. But with higher enrollment expected again this year and a continually tight budget, one obvious way to save money and decrease class sizes is to engage the issue of non-Alexandrians attending the school system. It seems that simple changes to the enrollment process could mitigate the amount of students enrolling illegitimately, in turn improving the teacher-student ratio and saving taxpayer money. In the current economic and educational climate, no amount of money or potential success should be considered nominal.

The School Board and superintendent are on the right track for the most part. They have thus far improved community outreach in an attempt to connect students, teachers and parents with the community, one of the long-term goals being higher achievement for all of the citys students not just the ones benefiting from a strong and stable household backbone that is so important to childrens educational success.

Notions like these permeate the ACPS strategic plan, which keeps the student at the forefront throughout. As another school year begins, continuing on this track will go far toward achieving higher achievement for the citys students.