I recently shared my vision for Alexandria City Public Schools with the Alexandria community. It is perhaps fitting that thanks to last week’s snow, the event took place within Black History Month – a time when we look at the value that diversity adds to our community and assess how far we have come in terms of equity and inclusion. If we are to see success for all our students, equity simply has to be at the core of everything we do.
But it is not simple to achieve equity in a school division like ours, which, like so many others, was not developed and grown on equitable principles and practices from the start. The work of equity needs to permeate every aspect of our work starting from the ground up, by assessing the learning environments at our schools and ensuring all children have the opportunity to explore and play on safe and creative playgrounds. This also means creating a standard of excellence — the ACPS way — that will set high standards across all of our schools, no matter the age of the facility or building.
The work of equity also means providing all students with the socio-emotional supports they need, and supporting them through programs such as Restorative Practices and Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports. These programs help them stay connected to their peers and build pos- itive relationships as well as encourage them to want to stay in school. We want to see all our students in a classroom where they are able to grow academically and be engaged in their learning.
Going forward, we need to establish processes and systems that foster equitable opportunities for all our students to learn. ACPS is fortunate to have students from 114 different countries who speak 119 different languages, as well as broad socio-economic diversity.
Unfortunately, the way that some of our specialized programs and learning pathways are implemented means that we have vestiges of modern-day segregation of students based on their learning abilities or life circumstances in our schools. We want to make sure that all students have access to a rigorous and challenging curriculum, that students who do not have parental advocates are still engaged in the same learning experiences as those who do and that we are not over-identifying students for specialized instruction due to the color of their skin.
We also want to be delivering high-level instruction in an equitable way across the entire school division and provide the necessary supports to grow our teachers to meet those expectations.
All of this work is inspired by our goal to have engaged and inspired learners. We want our students to have the opportunities they need to grow into fully-rounded global citizens who will be leaders. We want them to be engaged and competent decision-makers who graduate with 21st-century skills no matter what they do in their lives after T.C. Williams High School.
To meet these goals, ACPS needs to set standards of excellence for all employees, students and families. These standards of excellence are based on five themes: community collaboration, transparency, alignment, systems and processes and, most important, equity.
This cannot be done alone. It will take collaboration between ACPS staff, students, community leaders, parents and our business and higher education partners. It will take a community to make ACPS the best place to teach, work and learn. But once we get there, the entire community will reap the rewards and the City of Alexandria will be a beacon in which to live, work, learn and play.
The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.