Our View: A season of transition at ACPS

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Dr. Gregory Hutchings (Photo Credit: Susan Hale Thomas/ACPS)
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Summer is many things.

It’s generally viewed as a time for rest and relaxation. For students and their families, summer often entails time spent at the beach or visiting out-of-town family. Chores or projects that are put off during the hectic school year may finally get done. Summer reading is a pleasure many adults anticipate, generally to a greater extent than their children.

As School Board Chair Ramee Gentry makes clear in her column this week, Alexandria City Public Schools makes good use of the summer to prepare for the imminent school year. ACPS is also undergoing a significant transition: Interim Superintendent Lois Berlin stepped aside at the end of June and Gregory Hutchings Jr., a graduate of T.C. Williams High School, just took the reins of the school system.

This transition presents an opportunity for another useful summertime activity: taking stock of both current status and future goals.

Berlin made a significant mark on ACPS in just one year at the helm, as detailed in the Times’ July 5 story, “Lois Berlin reflects on year as superintendent.” Several significant milestones took place during her tenure, including readying Ferdinand Day School in Alexandria’s West End, which will open this fall, and taking part in the joint city-schools task force, which concluded earlier this year.

Berlin’s most significant accomplishments were helping tear down the silos between ACPS and city government, and her accessibility was on full display at meetings and events around the city.

Her commitment to being approachable mirrored that of Mayor Allison Silberberg. Because accessibility is not easily quantifiable, it is also easily overlooked – but it’s important.

Berlin’s approach offered a sharp contrast to the last two permanent ACPS superintendents, Alvin Crawley and, before him, Mort Sherman, neither of whom could have been called accessible, nor particularly successful in their respective tenures.

Now, there is a palpable excitement surrounding native son Hutchings coming home to run the city’s schools. In today’s page 1 story, “Hutchings takes helm,” the new superintendent makes it clear he plans to build on the progress made this past year under Berlin. We are encouraged to hear Hutchings say that he also plans to be accessible and active in the community at ACPS and city events.

Hutchings also has rightly prioritized addressing school capacity, particularly at the high school level, saying he hopes to have three clear options for proceeding identified by December. As enrollment at T.C. Williams has increased by more than 26 percent in the past five years – and is expected to top 4,000 students this fall – quickly mapping out a course of action is essential.

But it’s also vital that those options be formed with real public input. If we have learned anything from the controversy over the Potomac Yard Metro Station, it’s that the public has to be involved and informed when expensive, city-altering projects are being developed.

Hutchings said he has a 100-day plan for his new post. We look forward to seeing how he proceeds. And we wish him well. Alexandria needs for him to have a long, successful tenure as superintendent.

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