Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings: Unlocking the equation of student success

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Dr. Gregory Hutchings (Photo Credit: Susan Hale Thomas/ACPS)
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We frequently talk about the vision of Alexandria City Public Schools – that every student will succeed. But what does that really mean? And what does that look like for our students, staff and community?

“Every student” is easy to define. The term encompasses all our students across the spectrum — from 114 different countries and speaking 119 different languages. They are gifted, twice exceptional, have disabilities and come from all walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds.

If you ask 10 people to describe what success means to them, however, they will give you 10 different answers. By its very nature, the definition of success is dependent on the person defining the word.

Success means different things to each of our students. Success may mean being able to read something one couldn’t read at the start of the year or learning to ride the bicycle when they never thought they would. This child may not get a trophy or be highlighted in the media, but their progress deserves to be celebrated as much as a student heading to an Ivy League university.

Success is almost impossible to achieve alone. By providing a solid foundation of support and removing barriers that may be preventing a student from reaching their full potential, students are more likely to succeed. Just as important is support from caring, determined and nurturing teachers and staff.

The educators who made deep contributions to my success in life were those who believed in me when I did not believe in myself. They were the ones who never gave up on the idea that I could be successful and fulfill dreams I didn’t yet know I had. We must have the audacity as educators to believe that every young person, regardless of their life’s circumstance, deserves to be engaged in a high-quality education every day.

A successful student also has mentors – unofficial and official, among parents, friends and community members. They have support from businesses to get hands-on experience in the business world and coaching from business and community leaders who can provide inspiration when they need encouragement to get them to the next stage.

Success is also dependent on a community that is willing to take on expanding the educational experiences and opportunities for young people so that they are not only supporting the student to become the best they can be, but also supporting the city in that goal, too.

Along with volunteering and mentoring, support also means advocating for investment in education. It means supporting our schools so that our educators can live and become vested members of the same community in which they teach.

Success means supporting the allocation of resources to professional learning so that our staff know they are worth the investment of time and resources and want to stay and grow with our school division rather than moving elsewhere. It means simply saying “thank you” to our ACPS employees for their hard work and dedication each day in our schools.

I would not be who I am today without some of the amazing ACPS educators who helped me reach my full potential: Mrs. McKenzie, my kindergarten teacher, who gave me guidance in those critical formative years; Mrs. Lewis who helped me through second grade difficulties; Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Maness who provided the structure I needed a pivotal time before adolescence.

In junior high school, Dr. Montenegro and Mrs. Finney earned my trust at a critical age when all boys need mentors and role models; and Principal John Porter, Mrs. Barnwell and Mr. Kokonis at T.C. Williams High School helped me understand my skills before I understood myself.

Now it is my turn to instill this same sense of worth in every ACPS student I serve.

To see every student succeed, it takes every teacher, every staff member, every parent, guardian, higher education administrator, business partner and community leader. If we all make that commitment – whether as a teacher, parent, staff member, mentor or community member – we can surely change the trajectory for students who deserve our support.

Who will our young people acknowledge when asked who changed their life? Will it be you?

The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.

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