Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.: We must know the past so we don’t repeat it

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Dr. Gregory Hutchings (Photo Credit: Susan Hale Thomas/ACPS)
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Summer is a time for travel and exploration, so my family and I recently engaged in quality family time to follow the civil rights trail through the South. Our road trip took us to Farmville, Virginia; Greensboro, North Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia and Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama. These stops served to remind me of the role each of us plays in bringing about change for the next generation.

As vivid color burned through the black and white images depicting our past, I realized that we need to do everything we can to avoid repeating past mistakes. Change needs to be bold and courageous. It is our role and responsibility to ensure that all students we serve today do not experience inequities, acts of oppression and racism.

The High School Project presents us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink the high school experience and shape Alexandria City Public Schools into a better, more equitable and richer learning environment for thousands of young people. Whether we decide to establish a second high school or expand T.C. Williams, we must remember that the last time we established a high school was in 1965. It behooves us to know our history, which will afford us an opportunity to refine our approach and learn from our past trials and tribulations.

Over the summer, an education design team, made up of ACPS teachers, administrators, students and staff, is meeting to explore current and new educational programs, education- al approaches and ways to deliver high-quality instruction to all students. The focus is on meeting students where they are and preparing them for a future they can shape. T.C. Williams offers 400 courses with 17 industry credentials, more than 30 Advanced Placement classes and many dual enrollment courses that garner college credit.

We must clearly define our pathways into the workforce or specific careers, and we must partner with businesses to ensure there are guarantees for our students after graduation. While some students manage to forge pathways on their own, for others it isn’t always obvious or easy to navigate.

The Governor’s Health Science Academy with George Washington University is an example of a successful partnership that prepares our young people for the health sciences industry. We are establishing Industry Advisory Boards with an intentional focus on the following four areas: STEM, the arts, education and human services and business and government.

These Industry Advisory Boards will provide ACPS educators with guidance on specific qualifications, certifications, skills, experiences and coursework. These partnerships will also lead to internship opportunities and real life experiences for our students.

For more than a decade, our nation’s leading minds have been experimenting with the best way to deliver a modern secondary education. Research shows that students learn better when all socio-economic and racial brackets are represented, topics are connected to things that interest them, coursework is rigorous and students can break into smaller learning environments.

Whether we establish a second high school or expand our current high school, these best educational practices will be crucial for guiding our work to ensure all students in ACPS succeed. So, how do we set the tone for 2019 and beyond and not repeat 1965 or 2007 when we built the new T.C. Williams?

On July 1, we began a discussion on a national level about the work needed to resolve the issue of modern-day segregation. Our former Titans and students told NBC’s Today Show that progress and change are possible when we acknowledge the past.

My journey exploring slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow and the civil rights movement and my actual experiences with current times showed me we need to look through a totally different lens if we want to avoid doing what we’ve always done with a new facade. And this means ensuring we set the tone for an education that extends beyond 2019. We need to be bold and have the courage to do something different.

As we continue to explore options around the future of the high school, we owe it to generations of students to come not to allow our past to dictate how we operate in the future. This will require us all to come together to support our young people and ensure we afford them every opportunity to succeed in ACPS.

The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.

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