School board votes for connected high school network

School board votes for connected high school network
The Alexandria City School Board.

By Cody Mello-Klein |

The school board voted 6-3 in favor of one connected high school during its Thursday night meeting. The board also voted to repurpose T.C. Williams High School’s Minnie Howard campus into a 1,600-student building, as part of the connected high school network. 

School board members were tasked with whether to move forward with a connected high school network, which would maintain T.C. Williams as a hub and expand the high school’s presence with satellite campuses, or two independent high schools. 

Community members, including T.C. Williams Principal Peter Balas, T.C. Williams students and Alexandria City Public Schools parents, spoke at the meeting in support of both alternatives. However, there was a noticeable split between parents, who, for the most part, supported two high schools, and students, who largely supported a connected high school network.

After a lengthy public comments section, the school board members launched into their statements, explaining how they each arrived at their respective conclusions.

Michelle Rief, Meagan Alderton and Heather Thornton spoke in support of two high schools. They argued that one connected high school would only delay the inevitable need for a second high school and ignore ongoing racial inequities within the school.

The remaining six school board members – Chair Cindy Anderson, Vice Chair Veronica Nolan, Ramee Gentry, Jacinta Greene, Margaret Lorber and Christopher Suarez – supported the connected high school network.

The supporters of the high school network argued that this model could be implemented faster and at less of a startup cost than the two high school option.

Gentry cautioned the school board that choosing the two high school model would result in a redistricting process that would consume the board’s time and could result in potential equity issues. Rief clarified that the board considers redistricting every five years.

Suarez, who has seen intense divisions along class and race lines in Chicago public schools, he said, argued that the size of a school does not impact equity, access and the quality of the education so much as school culture does. Suarez expressed concern that the two high school model could bring back Alexandria’s segregated past – and exacerbate America’s segregated present.

“With the two high school model, I see a fragmented future,” Suarez said.

Suarez proposed a motion, seconded by Gentry, to adopt the connected high school network model with a full 1,600-student building at Minnie Howard.

Before the school board could vote on the motion, Rief proposed an amendment, to the surprise of all on the dais, that would allow ACPS to convert the Minnie Howard satellite campus into a second high school at a later date. The amendment was voted down 7-2, with Rief and Greene in support.

Anderson and Gentry expressed frustration at Rief’s proposed amendment, alleging that such an amendment could have unknown ramifications for a major vote and result in a cost- and time-intensive process.

The school board voted 6-3 to approve Suarez’ motion for a connected high school network, with Alderton, Rief and Thornton dissenting.

(Read more: School board nears decision on high school project)