My View: Superintendent should focus on achievement gap

My View: Superintendent should focus on achievement gap
John E. Lennon (Courtesy photo)

By John E. Lennon

The Times has noted that, despite the distractions of heat and rain, July has been a busy month for Alexandria City Public Schools. Your July 12 article about the new ACPS Superintendent, Dr. Gregory Hutchings, “Hutchings takes helm,” and the accompanying editorial, “A season of transition at ACPS,” gave significant emphasis to the need for comprehensive planning and responsible decision-making regarding the issue of school overcrowding. The principal focus of the discussion, understandably, was on T.C. Williams High School and the growing debate as to whether or not Alexandria needs a second high school.

Hutchings, a T.C. graduate, left Alexandria early in his career to pursue his education – and has come back to us as an experienced teacher, successful manager and executive and accomplished educator. As to whether Alexandria needs a second high school he has posed the vital question – a choice, really – that the city will have to resolve: “Where is it going to be built? Or, are we going to have to be very innovative?”

As a participant in the ACPS long-range facilities planning group I have heard both arguments. Either build a new building, with all of the facilities and support services and infrastructure it would require; or, reconfigure current ACPS properties to alleviate overcrowding, while renovating its learning environment to accommodate a challenging and forward-looking 21stcentury curriculum.

The first solution – a new building – would likely be the easiest, assuming land and money could be found, obstacles cleared and roads built to hold the traffic. The second – using existing land and renovating current buildings – would require ACPS to come up with a plan that would not only resolve overcrowding but would also provide modern facilities and up-todate curricula and learning spaces more responsive to the requirements of today’s post-high school marketplace.

I feel strongly that while this debate takes the time and attention of much of the community, Hutchings and his senior staff should have the time and space to work on a more complex issue – one he dealt with successfully during his career – with a potentially wider impact on the entire K-12 spectrum of education, and on the City of Alexandria as a whole.

That issue is the substantial and growing gap in performance between socioeconomic and demographic groups within the student population, and the long-range impact it has on children at all grade levels.

This issue is more complicated than building a second high school, but if educators can deal with the complexity it will be worth the effort because of the benefits it will provide – not only to ACPS students, but to the city as a whole, now and in the future. T.C. graduates – whether headed for the job market or off to college – will be better prepared.

Two recent weekly polls in the Times would seem to support this view. The poll published on July 5 put education at the top of the list – ahead of affordable housing and other issues – among readers answering the question, “What would you most like to improve in Alexandria?” The same sentiment was reflected in the poll published on July 19, in which 44 percent of readers said the top priority for the new ACPS superintendent should be “full accreditation for all schools” – with just half as many, 22 percent, citing the “high school capacity crunch.”

Alexandria citizens support their public schools with their taxes, time and the enrollment of their children. They would like education to be job number one, a desire we should all support. When looked at in this way – and not just as an overcrowding issue – it makes sense to work a little harder for greater long-term benefits.

The writer is a candidate for Alexandria’s School Board in District C.