Filling in the blanks: ACPS needs your help to address growing enrollment

Filling in the blanks: ACPS needs your help to address growing enrollment
School board chairwoman Karen Graf

By Karen Graf

Alexandria City Public Schools are in a predicament and we need your help. But do not despair, it is actually good news: Alexandria, one of the top 50 small cities to live in, has a family population that is settling here and investing in ACPS.

The new neighborhood small area plans, which anticipate continued influxes of new residents in addition to more families staying in the city instead of opting for the suburbs, have contributed to our growing school population.

This is the second year in a row that we have more students than seats available and the growth won’t slow for at least another decade. Last week, Superintendent Alvin Crawley proposed a capital budget to the school board. It attempts to solve the seating shortage by 2027.

The plan includes the addition of a new elementary school, a new middle school and a new high school building — although this will still be part of T.C. Williams — plus the reconstruction of four existing schools: Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology, George Mason Elementary School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.

Here is where we need your help. The cost of the plan for the next 10 years would be approximately $515.7 million. This would be an increase of $224.6 million over last year’s capital budget plan, which did not even come close to solving the seating problem.

I bet you are asking yourself how we are even fitting all the kids into the schools each year. Our long range facilities plan, developed with city officials, strives to advance the concept of “optimal learning environments” in every school. This means that each school will have equitable offerings in the classrooms, libraries, gyms and performing art spaces.

Currently, students are crowding into classrooms. At many campuses, art is on a cart and so is technology. Some libraries are not able to support their student populations and lunch starts at 10:30 a.m. and goes until 1:30 p.m. on many campuses. The middle schools are packed and the high school has more than 3,500 students.

And yet, under Crawley’s leadership, the district is moving toward academic excellence in line with our ACPS 2020 strategic plan. Teachers are doing amazing things in all subject areas and making certain that students are provided the resources they need to be ready to learn.

This capital budget proposal is dynamic and it is aggressive. But it is time to provide our community with high-quality school environments. As Alexandrians, we do not picture classrooms being taught in hallways or deteriorating buildings as our reality. We need to change this.

The school board will be moving through the details of the proposal this month and is slated to approve it on December 15. After that, city council starts their bud- get process and will deliberate on the ACPS request.

We will need your help. This 10-year capital plan can be achieved with the support of our community. We all must work together to create school facilities that foster vibrant learning and serve as a resource for our community. Follow the hashtag #AreUwithUs on Twitter, @ACPSk12 or the ACPS Facebook page to track the progress.

The writer is the chairwoman of the Alexandria City School Board.