Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.: Leadership requires tough choices

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Dr. Gregory Hutchings (Photo Credit: Susan Hale Thomas/ACPS)
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Leadership requires tough decision making. We would all like to be able to achieve everything for everyone, but it is a reality of life that it is rarely possible to make everyone happy. Tough decisions and effective leadership require courage, collaboration and a willingness to think outside the box. Leadership also requires taking risks, with the knowledge both that you may fail and that failing can afford opportunities to grow.

All school divisions have parameters and limitations and none have unlimited human, social and financial resources. Making choices about how we use these resources to get the best outcome is the role of any leader. We must demonstrate fiscal stewardship, innovation, vision, integrity and passion in order to provide our young people with an exceptional educational experience.

Furthermore, tough decisions are not easy; however, they are almost always drivers for change. The key is to set priorities and ensure those priorities answer the question: Is my decision in line with the priorities of the organization and our overall goal?

In ACPS, our mission is to place students at the heart of every decision. Students are our number one priority. Our role is to educate students, nurture them, mold them into responsible adults and inspire them to become global citizens and the next generation of world leaders. Our mission is to see every student succeed and it is this mission that has to remain at the heart of every decision that is made in ACPS.

In January 2019, I laid out priorities for helping ACPS reach the next level and become a high-performing school division. These included ensuring equity across our school division by meeting students where they are, and not necessarily where we want them to be. Community collaboration, transparency and alignment of systems and processes between our schools and departments also need to be key priorities if we are to see our students succeed. We need to ensure that every student, regardless of ZIP code, family background, family income, learning ability level or school boundary is engaged in a high-quality education.

This spring, ACPS will begin to develop these priorities further and develop a road map of success for the next five years through our strategic plan for 2025. No matter what our strategic planning goals will be over the next five years, they will have one thing in common: they are driven by our mission statement of seeing every student succeed. We must put students at the center of the decision-making process and ensure that they are the focus of our work.

We will not be able to include everything in our strategic plan and it will be essential to prioritize to ensure we are achieving our overall goals. There is no doubt that we have plenty of tough decisions ahead that will require courage and collaboration all around.

Vulnerability is a facet of courage and we will all experience discomfort at times during this process. No one has the right to always be comfortable and the expectation that discomfort is never experienced is the epitome of privilege. We must embrace this discomfort as we embark on the next cycle of our strategic plan and remove barriers for young people in ACPS. These tough decisions are the ones that will make a difference to our school division in terms of student success moving forward. Many decisions may not be popular, but if they help redirect funding into the classroom or toward supporting students to ensure they are ready to learn, long term these will prove to be right.

It is rare for tough decisions to be lauded in the moment, but they are the moments we look back on with pride. As long as our decisions at ACPS are founded on student achievement and have students at their heart, I am confident that they will be good decisions for the future of our city, community and schools.

The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.

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