Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.: Big things are afoot in ACPS

Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.: Big things are afoot in ACPS
Dr. Gregory Hutchings Ed.D. (Photo Credit: Susan Hale Thomas/ACPS)

There is nothing quite like the first day of school to inspire us as educators. Visiting every school and seeing smiling faces and excited students is possibly one of the most rewarding experiences for any superintendent.

T.C. Williams High School put on its traditional #ACPSFirstDay show. Students were greeted by the marching band and got to walk down a red carpet as they were cheered by students waving banners declaring Titan Pride.

What is more, our facilities also put on a show. The floors and hallways were gleaming, the lawns freshly mowed, landscaping trim and multilingual signs hung. Students and teachers were welcomed back to many freshly painted classrooms and new carpeting in several communal areas, and the Mount Vernon Play Garden was open to smiling, jumping and laughing elementary school students.

This school year, ACPS is setting a new standard for our facilities. Our goal is to keep each one of our schools looking beautiful every day of the year. We still have some work to do to attain this expectation; however, significant progress has been made over the past year. We will also be asking our students to love our schools and help keep them clean.

We will be encouraging students to apply their environmentally friendly skills and school ownership by recycling, picking up their trash and keeping our cafeterias clean throughout the school year. The classroom environment matters when it comes to teaching and learning. That’s why the ACPS 2020 Strategic Plan has a goal that commits us to improving the condition of all of our schools: “Facilities and the Learning Environment: ACPS will provide optimal and equitable learning environments.”

This coming school year, we will continue our focus on ensuring equity and engaging all students in high-quality instruction in all of our schools. Our expectation is to remove barriers for students and provide them with the supports necessary to achieve within ACPS and beyond. It is clear that not

all students are engaged in a high-quality learning environment which can impact the academic success of our students. Our work around equity will also feed into the development of our 2025 Strategic Plan – due to be adopted in spring 2020 – which will establish the road map for the school division over the next five years.

One of the main priorities of our work this year will be social, emotional and academic learning (SEAL), which aims to develop resiliency, responsible decision-making, healthy relationships and empathy. Research continues to show that social and emotional learning not only create a healthy context for learning to take place, but that these skills actually enhance academic rigor and success with navigating life obstacles.

This fall, our school board will make a decision around the model best suited to delivering future high school educational programming through The High School Project – one of the most important initiatives that has come out of the school division in years. We want to ensure that our current high school students and future generations of high school students are engaged in a wide variety of experiences and hands-on learning so that they can develop academic and life skills suited to the 21st century. Whether we had capacity challenges or not at the high school level, our enhancement and refinement of educational programming is a top priority to ensure that we are preparing our young people for the ever-changing world.

Finally, it is impossible to do this work without the collaboration of our entire community and we encourage you to make your voice heard and advocate for a brighter future for all students. We value every voice in our community and want each and every one of our schools and buildings to be a place where all families and members of our community feel welcome.

In ACPS, we have students who hail from 114 different countries and speak 119 different languages. We celebrate our diversity as a strength. ACPS remains committed to supporting students and staff in the pursuit of excellence and promoting the principles of inclusiveness and equity throughout our school division.

I encourage you to come out to our community meetings, subscribe to ACPS Express to stay in touch with information about our schools and even consider signing up as a volunteer. We look forward to working with you, our community, to ensure the success of all of our students as we work to make this the best year ever for ACPS.

-The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.