Filling in the Blanks: City and schools collaboration is key

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Ramee Gentry is chair of the Alexandria City School Board.
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From time to time, a member of the community will ask me a question about something happening at or near one of our schools. Depending on the nature of the question, I sometimes explain that the response to the question lies within the responsibility of the city rather than Alexandria City Public Schools. I’m then able to direct them to the correct person or area, who I’m gratified to say, is usually diligent in responding. This situation also happens in reverse, with city council members directing questions to ACPS that were sent to them. This common occurrence demonstrates a reality for all Virginia municipalities.

For members of our community, the legal and statutory mandates that separate authority between cities and schools don’t create the same separation in their minds. For a family living in our city, the total experience is important. This includes the condition of the road as a child is riding to school on a school bus. It includes school buildings where students spend their days learning from teachers, but which are dependent on outside utility companies for power and water. It also includes after-school activities held at the school or in a neighboring park or recreation center. It takes teamwork by the city and schools to make for a successful school day.

In the month of February, we have a moment to collectively reflect on all the ways the City of Alexandria and ACPS intersect and interact with each other and every resident of our city. Both ACPS and city council are hard at work with both the capital improvements program budgets and operating budgets for the 2019 fiscal year, which begins in July. In addition to this annual work we traditionally do, this year there is an additional lens through which to view our work, through the final set of recommendations from the Joint Facilities Investment Task Force.

It’s clear that the recommendations of the task force represent an incredible amount
of work, with concrete immediate action steps that can be taken. However, the members of
the task force have also made clear that what their recommendations truly represent is not an end to a process, but a beginning – a call to a combined commitment to dedicating the resources needed for our city, including our children and families.

The task force, for example, has recommended that the city and schools collaborate over maintenance platforms and systems in the future to standardize and therefore save money.
Ensuring that the urgent needs of our students are addressed through adequate funding and resources, effectively aligned to achieve maximum impact, is not something that can be done by ACPS alone but requires the support and commitment of our entire city. The city council and school board have tripled the amount of joint sessions we typically hold in this season. We are all clearly excited to begin this work, and hope that members of the community will be engaged as well.

We all look forward to hearing from you, and will continue to make sure we are always getting members of the public to the right person, in the City of Alexandria or ACPS, who can act on your questions and concerns.

The writer is chair of the Alexandria City School Board.

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