Our View: Celebrating the achievements of Cora Kelly principal, The Birchmere

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Our View: Celebrating the achievements of Cora Kelly principal, The Birchmere
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Cora Kelly principal’s award proves leadership matters (Courtesy photo)

Congratulations to Cora Kelly principal Brandon Davis for winning the 2016 Virginia Distinguished Principal of the Year Award. At Cora Kelly, a school for math, science and technology, pass rates on the Standards of Learning tests increased by an average of 10 points across all tested subjects for the 2014-15 year. All this at a school where 87 percent of students receive free or reduced price lunch.

Davis learned he had won the prestigious award — for which he was nominated by a colleague — in a surprise ceremony held March 16 at the school. He is the first Alexandria principal to win the award in the 33 years since its inception.

Davis has set an example for the entire school district of what first-rate leadership looks like, and this award simply reinforces that his approach is working. Excellent classroom instruction is the foundation on which successful schools are built, and Davis has made finding outstanding teachers a priority.

In 2015, Cora Kelly reading specialist Maria Magallanes was named the Outstanding Teacher of the Year by The Washington Post. As Cora Kelly fifth-grader Ana Ortiz said, “He picks the best teachers.”

Cora Kelly uses the Guided Math program, which is an individualized approach to learning math. Core subject matter is utilized across non-core classes like music and art to connect learning across subjects. The school uses a “Plan-Do-Study-Act” program as well to help empower students to take responsibility for their learning. Further innovations include an inquiry approach to science labs, a peer mediation program and “The Habitat,” an outdoor classroom.

The distinguished principal award is designed to reward transformational leadership. It appears Davis is well on his way to transforming Cora Kelly. We congratulate him on a job well done.

Celebrating 50 years of The Birchmere

There has been much gnashing of teeth over the many long-time Alexandria businesses that have shuttered in recent months. While it is right to lament the loss of wonderful institutions like Monroe’s, Mancini’s and Why Not? among others, perspective is also important. And the reality is that the majority of Port City businesses are doing just fine, thank you.

Emblematic of this business strength is The Birchmere, which next week celebrates 50 years of bringing wonderful and varied musical acts to Alexandria. From folk to zydeco; from bluegrass to rocking blues; to pop, rock and country, The Birchmere has hosted virtually every musical genre during its 50-year history. The Mount Vernon Avenue institution helped launch the career of then-local country/rock singer Mary Chapin Carpenter. The Dave Matthews Band recorded songs for a 1994 live album there. Linda Ronstadt, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Allison Krauss, Joan Armatrading and Aaron Neville have all performed there.

Early in Bill Clinton’s first term as president, the president and first lady Hillary Clinton joined Vice President Al Gore and his then-wife Tipper to watch a show by country/rock singer Jerry Jeff Walker. Legendary Kinks frontman Ray Davies performed an acoustic concert there. Zydeco stalwarts BeauSoleil and the late Boozoo Chavis put on numerous rollicking shows, while Alexandria cardiologist and country singer Cleve Francis performs there annually.

To get a sense of The Birchmere’s rich and varied musical history, take in a show and spend a while browsing through the photos of performers — many now deceased — that adorn the walls before you enter the concert hall. You just might catch an echo from the past 50 years.

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