My View: Accountability and responsibility, not excuses

My View: Accountability and responsibility, not excuses

We celebrate the many gains made by Alexandrias public students last year, and we take full responsibility for the work that remains. Our community and students deserve candor and a complete picture when it comes to looking at school and division performance.

Alexandria City Public Schools are a remarkable blend of students from all across this world. Alexandria is a great city in which to live, and should have one of the finest school divisions anywhere in the country.

We dont want to get caught in what happened before I got here; we must learn from the past. The reality is that T.C. Williams High School never made the federal achievement standards, that achievement gaps have existed for decades, and that the media blasted this school system for good reason. We are taking a no excuses approach; we in leadership positions now own the problems and the accomplishments.

We take the position that our teachers the excellent men and women staffing our schools are the solution, not the problem. We wont let them become a part of the national blame game.

When I have the good fortune to and talk to interested residents of our city, there sometimes is the perception that ACPS is a mirror reflection of the Alexandrias demographics, when in fact we have the opportunity to serve a very unique community. Here is a snapshot:

55 percent of students are eligible for free- and reduced-priced meals

40 percent are black; 30 percent are Latino; 25 percent are white

Students are enrolling in record numbers: from 10,600 in 2008 to more than 12,300 this fall

The population is changing daily: our English Language Learners population has doubled in the past three years to more than 2,800 students.

We love our students, and we enthusiastically believe each and every one can achieve at the high levels demanded by this century. We have data and evidence to show that we can make a difference and that we can change some historical patterns of underachievement. Consider:

Cora Kelly Elementary had the highest-ever ACPS elementary math scores (97 percent passing), with every student group passing at least at the 94th percentile

T.C. Williams earned its highest-ever English, writing, and mathematics results (94, 95 and 83 percent, respectively). T.C. also had the highest-ever number of students taking and earning 3s or better on AP tests.

More than 44 percent of eighth grade students took, and more than 95 passed the state Algebra I assessments.

Maury Elementary increased math scores by more than 13 percentage points; Ramsay Elementary improved by more than 12 percentage points; Barrett serves as a can do school with across the board exemplary achievement results.

Yet, even with these many successes, we have significant areas of need.  Reading results at the elementary schools are not moving ahead. Special education results are not where they should be. ELL students are not achieving at the levels necessary to be active participants in our democracy. Each of these areas will be a priority this coming year.

School division leaders affirmed a commitment, during their annual leadership academy, to kick off the new school year and do whatever it takes to get the results needed for our children. We cannot continue to do the same work and expect different results. Changes are needed, but within the context of the successes we have had. We have evidence that we are making progress and that we can make a difference that these sorts of commitments are not empty rhetoric.

Gains are made through deliberate planning and implementation there are no quick fixes. Our responsibility is to build on what we have learned and accomplished. While Standards of Learning test scores are not a complete picture of our student achievements, they are data that we own, that we are accountable for, that we must improve upon.
We are optimistic about our progress and the new systems in place to ensure continued growth and learning for our students. We now have a new 21st-century curricula design being combined with the ACPS model that connects curriculum, instruction and relationships to develop, engage and challenge students.

We know we still have work to do. Please take a closer look at our schools, talk with our students about what they are learning, and discuss achievement and test scores with our principals. Take a closer look at our progress a long, hard, look.  As we create headlines for our students, celebrate their successes and rejoice in their triumphs, it will be proclaimed that ACPS is a school division on the rise.