Filling in the blanks with Dr. Hutchings: Rebuilding trust starts now

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Dr. Gregory Hutchings (Photo Credit: Susan Hale Thomas/ACPS)
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By Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.

Trust is one of those things that is hard to win and yet can be lost in a split second.

With a school division, trust is won through consistently open, transparent and timely communications – both in day-to-day and emergency situations. Trust is built through action – and the reliability of those actions over time.

When a school needs to be evacuated, we immediately communicate with parents who have shared their contact information with their school. Parents know that they can get the information through the website, the hotline, text message and emails – and perhaps if the situation warrants it, a robocall and communication through the media. Regardless of whether it is a false alarm or a genuine evacuation, we always communicate the fact it has happened. It is the perfect example of how consistency of actions and reliability speak louder than words.

This is not a new concept and yet it is not something that we have consistently practiced in all areas of our work over the years. This has cost us the trust of our community neighbors – sometimes in areas where we need it most.

It’s imperative that ACPS establish our community stakeholders as partners including students, staff, parents, community members, business owners, city officials and higher education institutions. To do this we need a reset. We need to own our flaws. We need to acknowledge the mistakes we have made as a school division in the past – sometimes many decades ago – and we need to learn from our mistakes to make sure we don’t make them again.

As superintendent, I am certain that ACPS must own its flaws of the past in order to do better and grow the trust that is needed to prosper in the future. Now is a time to be even more transparent than ever so that our community knows and understands the challenges we face and also how our staff is striving to overcome them every day. In order to trust, you must be vulnerable and willing to take risks and speak the truth.

Our young people deserve a community that stands behind them and supports them unconditionally – one which will afford them a high-quality education not only in the classroom but outside of the classroom too. ACPS will always strive for excellence and we must have lasting relationships to fulfill our promise of ensuring every student succeeds.

The work to build complete trust of our school division in our community will not be easy, nor will it happen overnight. ACPS has had tremendous turnover over the most recent years. I’m the fourth superintendent in five years, and we must have continuity and consistency so that we can establish effective systems, processes and accountability structures for success.

As most of you know, the Alexandria community is resilient, courageous and full of remarkable and talented people who have shown they are able to overcome any obstacle they choose to in the past. We must not forget that we have always been a community that strives for excellence, and we stand on the shoulders of many people who have paved the way and afforded us the privilege of being a community of champions for change, prosperity and excellence. I’m a part of a city that is capable of being the exemplar for the country, and there is no reason why every student in ACPS should not succeed.

We know that actions speak louder than words. Watch us and hold us accountable. This is a new day.

The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.

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