Mignon Anthony discusses priorities as ACPS COO

Mignon Anthony discusses priorities as ACPS COO
Former ACPS Chief Operating Officer Mignon Anthony (Photo/ACPS)

By Alexa Epitropoulos | aepitropoulos@alextimes.com

Throughout Mignon Anthony’s wide-ranging and decades-long career, her focus has always been on the power of space.

When she arrived in the D.C. area in the 80s, Anthony began her career in commercial real estate, doing work in Crystal City and the rest of Arlington and Alexandria. During that time, she represented developers who were building up the area surrounding the then brand new Braddock Road Metro Station.

She then worked in government contracting as the director of new building projects for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Recently, she led efforts to relocate the National Science Foundation’s headquarters from Arlington to Alexandria.

Each project has proven to Anthony how important buildings can be to an organization’s mission.

“I’ve always been somebody who believes that physical environment shapes the way people live and work every day,” Anthony said. “It’s always been something that I studied and lived by.”

Anthony has most recently applied that passion and knowledge to school facilities as executive director of Baltimore City Public Schools’ 21st-Century School Buildings program, a position she was appointed to in 2014. Starting in January, she will become chief
operating officer of Alexandria City Public Schools, where she will oversee ACPS’ portfolio of buildings, including the in-theworks West End Elementary School on North Beauregard Street, the school system’s first new school in nearly 20 years.

Anthony faces a number of challenges as she starts her new position, including aging ACPS school facilities, many of which the school plans to update or expand between FY2018
and FY2027 as part of its capital improvement plan. She isn’t walking into the situation blind, however.

Since July, she’s served on the Joint City-Schools Facility Investment Task Force, the mission of which is to make recommendations regarding the facilities capital improvement
plan and prioritize 28 already identified ACPS and city projects. Following her appointment as COO earlier this month, Anthony stepped down from the task force.

Anthony said serving on the task force piqued her interest in considering ACPS facilities from new angles.

While a task force member, she chaired the alternate delivery subcommittee, which looked at different approaches that ACPS could take with new and existing facilities that could, in turn, improve the city’s capital outlook.

“Working on the task force, it intrigued me that the city and the school district were looking for a new and unique way of jointly improving the capital outlook of the city. I think I can be really instrumental with that,” Anthony said. “That’s one of my highest priorities with working with ACPS.”

Lynn Hampton, overall chair of the task force, said Anthony has been an influential part of achieving the group’s mission.

“She’s a true professional. She knows how to develop a consensus. She’s just right on target,” Hampton said. “It’s amazingly lucky that we brought her to the City of Alexandria.”

Anthony’s time at Baltimore City Public Schools also required development of unique solutions. Though the city’s public school system faced different constraints than ACPS – that school district is about four times the size of ACPS and has declining, rather than growing, enrollment – the program Anthony has led for three years has dealt with common themes.

The 21st-Century School Buildings plan began in 2010 as a solution to the city’s “aging and inadequate school buildings,” according to the program’s website.

The program focuses on building new or renovating existing schools that are neighborhood-centric, providing recreation and community use components and providing environments that support teaching and prepare students for success after graduation, in college and in careers.

“We had very specific goals that had to be established in order for things to be accomplished. You couple that with ongoing enrollment projections and technical requirements and standards that you help an organization put into place, that was my biggest challenge,” Anthony said.

Anthony said building consensus between disparate groups, including the City of Baltimore, the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Interagency for School Construction, was one of her biggest challenges. There were other obstacles too. As part of the 21st-Century School Buildings program, some Baltimore city schools were merged, prompting dissent from members of the community. The Baltimore Sun reported in July 2016 about the efforts to merge two northwestern Baltimore high schools, Forest Park and Northwestern high schools. The plan, as the Sun reported, involved Northwestern High School students attending Forest Park High School for one year, while Northwestern was in the midst of renovation.

After the renovations were completed in the 2016-17 school year, the school system closed Northwestern and sent all students to Forest Park at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.

The plan to merge the schools and close Northwestern was met with outrage from parents, who told the Baltimore Sun that the move was “taking place with little notice, poor planning and minimal community input.” Anthony, in the article, treated that struggle as a learning experience, saying that transition efforts had to be treated with the same level of importance as anything else within the 21st-Century School Buildings plan.

Armed with those experiences, Anthony said she is ready to move on to the next chapter, though she is going into the experience with the knowledge that ACPS’ challenges are vastly different.

“It’s substantially different than what I’ve been challenged with. My work here
in Baltimore has uniquely equipped me for challenges ACPS is involved in,” Anthony said.
In many ways, though, Anthony said working with a large-scale metropolitan school system at Baltimore City Public Schools first has prepared her to tackle problems facing a smaller school district with limited resources.

“It helped me to have this really big, complex thing and Alexandria, because the will seems to be there, both on the political side and the school side, to improve and really upgrade the way the city and the school system work together and come up with transformational types of operations and processes – I love that stuff,” Anthony said. “It’s right in line with what I do and where I hopefully can be very influential.”