By Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.
The mission of Alexandria City Public Schools is to ensure that every student succeeds. But what does success look like?
In ACPS, we have students from 118 different countries who speak 120 different languages. We have students who come to us without any prior formal education and students who enter kindergarten already able to read, write and solve math problems. Success looks different for each of our students. Every year, some of our students go on to study at Ivy League colleges such as Yale and Princeton. This year, one student whose family fled a civil war in Eritrea won a full-ride scholarship to the Juilliard School, where she will study with some of the best musicians in the world.
One of the concepts that should not define student success, however, is poverty. We have this idea that is perpetuated through our own higher than usual Free and Reduced School Meal data that poverty is somehow an excuse for failing Standards of Learning tests or failing to graduate or reading two grade levels behind. It is not.
In fact, there are stories of success across ACPS that actively counter this. Yet we so often ignore these in favor of using poverty as a reason why we do not always achieve the results we want. Some of our schools with the poorest student populations – those who rely on food handouts to get enough to eat over the summer – are doing the best in math. Teachers are finding ways to teach these students in a way that is culturally responsive and they are finding that they are responding beyond all expectations.
Some of our elementary schools with the highest Free and Reduced Price Meal percentages are accredited year after year with their students. Poverty should not be an excuse. It is something to counter and to work with, to be aware of, and to acknowledge just as we might acknowledge any other factor in a child’s life, but it should not be the primary defining factor of success.
Sometimes poverty means that a child has been uprooted from their country of origin because their parent worked for the U.S. Military during the Iraq War and they were forced to flee at risk of their lives. Sometimes, they could not stay because their family was on the wrong side of politics in an African country at war. But what they bring to our country makes us richer as a nation.
Success for some of our students may not mean passing a fifth-grade SOL test for a student who has recently arrived in the country, but our children still see their own success, and in many cases, these are even more powerful achievements.
This week, ACPS published “Measuring What Matters” as a way to share with our community the incredible talent our young people have that may manifest in many different ways. Standards of Learning data is only one measure of a student’s academic success. Opportunities and successes outside of the classroom are just as important as the experience inside of the classroom. At ACPS, we pride ourselves on preparing our students for the world, whether it is college, a career or joining the military. Every child deserves an opportunity to be supported and engaged in a high-quality learning environment. And every child deserves to have their successes acknowledged. You can pick up a copy of “Measuring What Matters” in a library or at city hall, or by going online to www.acps.k12.va.us.
There is no other school division where students can experience such a rich global environment as the one we offer at ACPS. Our students graduate being able to fully engage in our dynamic world. Time and time again, our students come back and tell us they were better prepared for the college experience or the work environment thanks to their ACPS experiences.
We need to stop making poverty an excuse and set high expectations for all of our students regardless of their life situation. Most importantly, we must start celebrating our diversity in ACPS as a gift that prepares our students to become global citizens who are culturally competent, caring, resilient and ready for the world.
The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.