Filling in the blanks: A diverse approach to success

Filling in the blanks: A diverse approach to success
School board chairwoman Karen Graf

By Karen Graf
(Photo/Laura Sikes)

Alexandria City Public Schools is a diverse and complicated entity. Our approach to educating students must match the needs of a varied population.

One effort is to help at-risk students graduate through a mentoring program with the staff of T.C. Williams. This great endeavor is designed to support children who might otherwise slip through the cracks. It also impresses upon them the notion that there are adults who care about them.

I suspect critics might call this coddling or argue that it robs children of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. But I believe these kids already know what failure looks like and that we need to help them discover the feeling of a few wins. Having interventions to help at-risk students is money well spent.

What about the other students? T.C. offers many resources for different groups and that is why more than 90 percent of the class of 2014 graduated this year. I am pleased that our district’s dedicated employees recognize the various needs of students and have put in place action plans to address them.

For example, a group of students shared their experiences in the Excel Academy with the school board at our April 3 meeting. Listening to the students speak about their time in the academy, which identified about 60 sophomores and juniors in need of guidance with class work and organizational skills, confirmed that we are reaching them and that we are addressing a spectrum of needs. The feedback from these students reinforced exactly why we set up early mentor models and teach skills that are paramount to success once they leave the high school’s halls.

Alexandrians are hard critics, but we also are very proud of our city. Examining what we are doing in our schools tells us a lot about who we are as a community. So, who are we, Alexandria? If we look at our 2014 graduates as a predictor of our future, the data can be interesting.

What does it tell us about our students, our city and our future? We are developing resources to serve all students and there are students who are succeeding across all demographics.

Our work is not done. We still have students coming from non-English speaking countries in May before the testing dates. There are students who arrive at school unfed, or who need clothes or emotional support. We still have students who require more services to succeed than our neighbors. We have students from all backgrounds who crave rigor and exposure to challenging experiences.

Our goal is to deliver for all these families and students. The data suggests we are on our way.

Please write the superintendent and school board anytime and share your thoughts. You can reach us at

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T.C. Williams Fast facts

Population: 3,300 students
Countries represented: 80
Languages represented: 60
Free- and reduced-lunch eligibility: 62%
Demographics: black (35%), Hispanic (35%),
white (21%), other (9%)

Class of 2014
Seniors actively enrolled: 728
Seniors graduated: 661
Seniors eligible to graduate in summer school: 60
Actively enrolled students who graduated: 90.5%
Graduating if summer school is completed: 98.7%

Students’ Post-secondary plans
Attend a four-year college/university: 62%
Attend a two-year college: 25%
Attend a trade/technical school: 2%
Join the military: 4%
Join the workforce: 7%

The writer is the 
chairwoman of the 
Alexandria School Board.