Make-up plan could call for longer school days

With seven days of school to make up after the Snowmageddon cancellations earlier this month, city school leaders are considering a plan that would lengthen the school day by 30 minutes in order to recoup the time lost to winter weather.

The proposal calls for the extra half-hour to be added to school days starting March 1 and ending May 28 and does not add days to the end of the year or cut into vacation time, according to a memo.

Three of the 10 days missed so far have budgeted make-up days, which the proposal would honor. The result would be a 176-day school year with 10 hours less instruction time than the ACPS standard but at least 26 hours more than the state minimum for elementary students and 100 hours more for older students. 

Virginia law requires students have either a 180-day school year or at least 990 hours of instructional time.

Superintendent Morton Sherman said that all teachers and principals, and parents at some schools have been involved in the brainstorming process for making up lost time.

“I wish I could tell you it’s unanimous that this is something we should be doing with this proposal it is not,” Sherman told the School Board February 18. Sherman estimated “well over 75 percent of our teachers” think adding 30 extra minutes is the way to go.

The Board is scheduled to vote on the make-up plan tonight.


Time for a new ‘focus’ at Jefferson-Houston?

A new proposal for an older Alexandria City Public Schools concept came before the School Board at its February 18 meeting: Give Jefferson-Houston elementary school a new “focus.”

The idea, giving the school a redefined role in the ACPS system, would restore the focus school moniker that the school had until 2007 when the Board suspended the school’s arts focus after years of poor performance and sanctions led to a considerable decrease in enrollment, according to an ACPS memo.

This time around, Superintendent Morton Sherman explained, Jefferson-Houston’s focus would be two-fold: One attraction would be the school’s developing kindergarten through eighth grade or “elemiddle” structure, while the other would be its implementation of the International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years and Middle Years programs.

School officials are hopeful that the proposal, if passed at the Board’s meeting tonight, will draw more students to the school one of very few in the city that have surplus room for additional students.

Board member Helen Morris, who lives across the street from the school, said the focus school status could only enhance the “wonderful energy” at the school this year. Jefferson-Houston principal Kimberley Graves was similarly optimistic.

“I can only say how enthusiastic I’d be about the opportunity to change or reinstitute Jefferson-Houston as a focus school,” Graves told the Board. “This will open many opportunities for the community to opt-in to the school many parents are interested in coming to our sixth-grade and seventh-grade programs.”


City, ACPS budgets yet to mesh

Even with a seven-cent tax hike, City Manager Jim Hartmann’s proposed financial plan for the 2011 fiscal year does not match the funding needs outlined in the budget draft offered by ACPS Superintendent Morton Sherman last month.

Rather, consistent with what City Hall hinted at several months prior, Hartmann unveiled a plan offering a 2 percent increase in school funding over last year, leaving the initial ACPS budget offering about $700,000 above the mark.

Overall, the city appropriation per student, as proposed for the fiscal year beginning July 1, is just over $14,000 nearly $1,000 less than two years ago according to an ACPS analysis.

When it comes to construction plans, Hartmann’s budget allotted $13.5 million of the $16.1 million requested by ACPS for its capital improvement projects.

The short-term difference is found in funding for recommended facility maintenance work and the EcoCity-related turf field project at the Francis C. Hammond middle school campus, according to a comparison of budget documents. Among long-term projects, funding for a second new elementary school has been pushed back two years to the 2015-2016 school year.

The School Board is scheduled to adopt its own budget on March 4, although revisions are likely to occur after the state and city financial plans are finalized later this spring.


Temple Named ACPS director for strategic initiatives

Also last week, Superintendent Morton Sherman announced the appointment of David L. Temple to the position of executive director for strategic initiatives, in charge of supervising the launch of initiatives such as public-private partnerships, residency verification and other local, state and federal funding initiatives.

“Mr. Temple brings to us a wealth of experience in the areas of education and workforce development,” Sherman said. “His outstanding leadership skills and extensive knowledge will help ACPS set the international standard for educational excellence.”

Most recently, Temple worked as a senior research scholar for the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement and, prior to that position, served as a program director at the National Science Foundation in the Education and Human Resources Directorate. He also directed the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, according to an ACPS spokesperson