By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Since being named superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools in December, Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings Jr. has been preparing to take the helm in July, while also completing his fifth year as superintendent at Shaker Heights Schools in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio.
Hutchings, an Alexandria native, recently sat down with the Times to discuss some of the issues facing ACPS and his vision for the school division’s future. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What are you most excited about, and what are you most nervous about with this new role?
I’m just excited about coming back home. I think, and I’ve said this to many people before, my heart has always been in Alexandria, and to now be back is a dream come true for me. I’m really excited about being back home and working with a lot of people that I already know and that I’ve worked with in the past and some new people as well as new kids.
The biggest challenge for me is probably just to get readjusted to the community, because things have changed in the past five years. It’s growing like crazy here in Alexandria, and I think that that’s a challenge for everybody, the rapid growth of students that are coming into the schools and all of the facilities decisions that are going to have to be made for the future in regards to capital improvements. So those are some challenges, but I always love a challenge, so I’m looking forward to that too.
Coming into the school division, what do you think needs to be improved upon?
When I think about what needs improvement, I think [of] just having a facilities plan and a capital improvements plan. I’ve been following a lot of the things that have been happening with some of the maintenance issues that we’ve had within the division, and I think that’s an area that we definitely need to strengthen, as well as just working on providing more academic opportunities for all of our young people.
Another thing is the fact that the high school is so large. That is really the elephant in the room … We’re going to really have to have some tough conversations on how we’re going to be able to still address every student’s needs and determine whether we’re going to have this one huge high school, [or] if we’re going to have another high school in our future. And those are some really tough decisions that are going to be happening pretty soon, and that’s something I’m going to have to deal with, but I’m looking forward to that challenge as well.
There have been a lot of maintenance issues going on, most recently with GW middle school shutting down for a burst pipe. Do you have an idea how you’re going to approach maintenance?
I think that we definitely need to have a preventative maintenance plan in place within our district, just so that we’re making sure we are taking care of the actual equipment and facilities that are currently in place … I think that knowing the lifespan of boilers and roofs is important [and] to have a facilities plan in place, long range plan, so that we’re tackling those issues before they become safety concerns for our students.
The second part of that question is funding. School requests for city funding have gone up in the past few years. With a limited budget, how are you going to identify the most efficient uses for money?
With limited funding, you always have to have a priority list. You have to take a comprehensive view of everything that’s happening within the district, and then there’s a system that you would need to put in place to prioritize. Our main focus … here in Alexandria, is that you want to make sure kids are warm, you want to make sure that they’re safe, you want to make sure that they’re dry, meaning there’s no water coming into the building, and the kids are not freezing in these cold temperatures … So I think just making sure that we have a prioritization kind of template or process so we can prioritize all of the different facilities issues.
Outgoing superintendent Dr. Alvin Crawley has been quoted as saying that communications with the city about capital improvement projects has been contentious. How do you plan to tackle that kind of conflict?
Communicate, communicate, communicate. You can’t communicate more, and building a relationship with Mark Jinks, the city manager, I think is going to be important. That’s one of the priorities on my list as I transition into this role – and getting to know the city council and getting to know our mayor here in Alexandria, and just having standing meetings to discuss … some of the challenges and some of the exciting things that are also happening in our schools.
We want to make sure that when we have interactions with the city council, or we have interactions with the city manager or the mayor, that it’s not just about what we need from them, but kind of sharing how the division has benefitted from the funds that we have been allocated, and sharing those stories … I think that is something that I would like to do on a continuous basis and not just at times when we are going through the budgeting process.
ACPS named the new West End principal back in November and then had to take back that decision after allegations of misconduct surfaced. How do you hope to change the vetting process?
Well, I can say we can learn from mistakes. That mistake won’t happen again under my leadership, not to say that other mistakes won’t happen in the future though, because no one’s perfect. I think it’s important to have an interview process in place that involves community stakeholders as well as the administrative team.
Our enrollment is increasing here; it is inevitable that we’re going to have to increase our staffing, so we want to make sure that we are at a place where we’re able to get or recruit some of the brightest candidates. I call them VIPs, and it’s not “Very Important People,” but people with Vision, Integrity and Passion.
In a perfect world, what does ACPS look like at the end of your reign as superintendent?
In a perfect world, ACPS will be exactly where our mission talks about, making sure that every single student’s needs are being met, so that we meet our kids exactly where they are, and they determine what their success is. Success means multiple things. It’s not just going to the ivy league school, it could be going to NOVA, it could be going to a state college like George Mason or the College of William and Mary or Old Dominion.
I think really making sure that every single student … walks across the stage and that every single student … goes off and does whatever their heart desires. That’s when I’ll know my work was done and that we’ve done a good job.