Your View: Alexandria public schools face difficult decisions

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Your View: Alexandria public schools face difficult decisions
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By Margaret Lorber, Alexandria City Student Board candidate (File photo)

To the editor:
The Times’ story on Alexandria’s school board candidates (“Vying for the top of the class,” July 30) stated that I did not respond to a request for information about my candidacy before the Times’ deadline. I appreciate this opportunity to explain why I am running in District B and what we can and must do to serve our students and community.

Our schools are at a crossroads. The good news is that test scores have improved. But our schools are over capacity as class sizes continue to grow, and many facilities need major repairs. Our students come from increasingly diverse backgrounds and they and their families need more support than they currently receive.

Teachers are stressed like never before, with new and often changing demands being placed on them. And after years of stagnant tax revenues, money is in short supply and citizens reasonably ask if we are spending our funds wisely.

These problems have been developing over many years. I saw them as an active parent of two children who attended ACPS from kindergarten at Matthew Maury Elementary School through graduation from T.C. Williams. And for the last 9 years I saw them from within the system as parent liaison for families with children in the English Language Learner program. In that role I helped our schools respond on a systematic basis to the needs of new immigrant families coming into our schools while working one-on-one with individual families to help them learn how to navigate the school system.

So what do we need to do?

First, we need to repair the deteriorating infrastructure and expand capacity. The upcoming school redistricting is only a temporary solution for our elementary schools and doesn’t address overcrowding at the middle and high school levels. There are solutions, though — one to think about is rebuilding the Minnie Howard campus to meet our secondary school needs — and indeed as I go door-to-door meeting voters I have heard many creative ideas. In fact, those conversations have shown how we must engage the entire community, not just families with children currently in school, in the planning for our capital needs — and that in turn will build support for meeting those needs.

Second, we need to make sure that families from all backgrounds and with whatever needs their children have are encouraged and supported to become effective advocates for their children. We must focus even more than we do now on creating a culture where parents and guardians are welcomed and supported in helping their children learn and thrive. A practical suggestion would be to keep our school libraries open after school so that children and their families can have a quiet place to do homework.

This is not mere rhetoric. The research on parent involvement in education tells us that academic performance improves when parents understand what is going on in their child’s classroom and feel empowered to have a voice in their child’s education.

Third, we need to support our teachers. The growing teacher shortage in the country, which makes recruitment challenging, reflects flight from a profession that has become a scapegoat for poor student performance, the causes of which are far more complex. We must support our teachers by paying them competitively, providing additional help in the classroom, and giving them more time for planning, mentoring and professional development.

I was raised in a family of educators. I grew up in awe of teachers and was very appreciative of the education and other opportunities available to me as a child, teenager and young adult. In my career, I have had the opportunity to help shape national policies and programs that have a major impact on the ability of children to learn and flourish, including the school breakfast program and early intervention for infants and toddlers.

As a member of the school board, I would bring that experience, the insights gained from my work in Alexandria, along with a passionate belief in education, to serve our children and indeed our entire community.

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