Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.: Intentional efforts raise achievement

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Dr. Gregory Hutchings (Photo Credit: Susan Hale Thomas/ACPS)
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At Alexandria City Public Schools we believe that only the best preparation leads to the results we want to see. Success is not something that just happens. Improvements and growth can only take place with intentional efforts through a comprehensive system of planning, accountability and support. These intentional
efforts will take our schools to the next level.

We know that preparation ahead of the school year is essential as a foundation from which we can build. This week, our instructional leaders came together for three days of intensive professional learning to strengthen their skills and focus on school improvement planning to increase academic outcomes for students and reduce inequities across our school division.

Our instructional leaders also built prosthetic arms for children, in an exercise that served as a poignant reminder of the selflessness required in the education profession as well as a way to strengthen the connections that will make us a high performing team.

The work and preparation over the summer is essential. Students may not be in school; however, the hard work to ensure their success never stops. This past school year, ACPS has been deliberate and intentional about developing and implementing improvement planning across the school system.

All schools have had quarterly data meetings with the senior leadership team including the superintendent and other central office staff, to ensure we have a shared understanding of challenges throughout the school division. Monthly principal and assistant principal meetings were restructured in September 2018 to focus on professional learning and enhancing the leadership skills of our school leaders. There has also been intensive equity training for all principals, assistant principals and central office administrators this past school year.

We are already starting to see the results of these intentional efforts. Although our work on behalf of our young people will always be a work in progress, we must be proud of our achievement trajectory moving in the right direction.

This summer, the Virginia Board of Education recognized Patrick Henry K-8 School and James K. Polk Elementary School as exemplary schools – the highest honor awarded by the commonwealth. The two schools – both Title I schools who serve high percentages of students eligible for free and reduced-price school meals and significant numbers of students for whom English is a second language – were among only 52 schools recognized across Virginia for consistent gains in academic achievement under the state board’s exemplar performance recognition program.

Both schools have worked hard to ensure that all students from all backgrounds are engaged in high-quality core instruction as well as research-based supports to overcome inequities within education. These two schools have also both placed emphasis on parent engagement including home visits and events that assist families in understanding the curriculum while providing them with strategies to support their child’s learning. This combination of data-driven instructional practices and increased parent involvement has proven instrumental in their success.

We take pride in having received this recognition in two schools that capture the diversity that makes our city unique and that face challenges that all of our schools are working together to overcome. Furthermore, George Washington and Francis C. Hammond middle schools were among 183 schools to earn the Board of Education Continuous Improvement Award.

This kind of success doesn’t happen overnight or by chance. It happens through hard work, planning, preparation and dedication to all students to experience success regardless of their life circumstances. In ACPS, we will continue this work knowing that intentional focus and a comprehensive system of planning, accountability and supports will always pay off for young people.

The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.

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