The collaborator

The collaborator

By Erich Wagner (Photo/Erich Wagner)

Newly appointed Superintendent Alvin Crawley said efforts to bring struggling city schools back in line with state performance benchmarks are merely a means to an end. Academic excellence, not compliance with Richmond’s standards, remains his goal.

“Our focus has to be on making sure all of our schools are high-performing,” he said.

Last week, Crawley granted reporters his first major interview since joining Alexandria City Public Schools as interim superintendent in October. The chat came the day after the school board unanimously voted to give him the job on a permanent basis.

Alexandria City School Board members offered Crawley a four-year contract, which goes into effect July 1. He will make $215,000 annually.

Crawley described his leadership style as a collaborative one, pointing to his extensive excursions to local schools and PTA meetings to hear what educators, parents and students think about the district’s direction.

“I think it’s important to listen to people, because we grow primarily by learning from each other,” he said. “[My outreach] will continue going forward, because I want to talk to staff and students to ask, ‘Is it working?’

“We have a student advisory committee, and until recently it’s been mainly project-based. But there’s a real level of excitement there because they’re finally able to actually give advice to the superintendent.”

Crawley already has made an impact, proposing his first budget — approved by the school board last week — and reconsolidating the district’s five middle schools back into two. But he doesn’t want to overwhelm teachers and students with new initiatives, a criticism frequently leveled at former Superintendent Morton Sherman.

“We don’t want to overload teachers, we want them teaching,” Crawley said. “[We’re] looking at programs and what drives outcomes in a productive way, and that’s already taking place through our accountability office. … We’ve built out a three-year evaluation cycle that will look at targeted programs over the next three years.”

Before arriving in Alexandria, Crawley served as interim superintendent in Prince George’s County and held administrative roles in Washington and Arlington. Those posts often involved special education, and he said he’s keeping a keen eye on those students in the Port City.

“Overall the division has done a good job in addressing the compliance challenges of special education,” he said. “While we have work ahead to continue to monitor compliance [with state rules], we’re getting to the point where we can really improve the program side.

“There are opportunities for general and special education faculty to collaborate, and there has to be professional development and support from behavioral and autism specialists.”

Crawley said the district also is working with Alexandria police to improve school safety measures in light of recent violent crimes in the city. Although he declined to elaborate, Crawley said several new measures were already in place.