These are exciting times for Alexandria City Public Schools. In the past two weeks, we announced that all schools within ACPS are fully accredited for the 2019-20 academic year for the first time in 20 years, forged a way forward as a city with one high school – T.C. Williams – and watched one of our Titans become the 200 meters World Champion.
This kind of success doesn’t happen by chance, nor does it happen overnight. It happens through planning, preparation and dedication. It has taken the hard work and commitment of a team of staff, students, parents and coaches, as well as six superintendents over the course of 20 years, to get ACPS to where it is today.
Across the Commonwealth of Virginia there are few other school divisions that moved from an 82 percent accreditation rate to 100 percent within a year, despite the accreditation rate across the state remaining the same at 92 percent overall. Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB School will be fully accredited for the first time since 2008. T.C. Williams High School, which has missed accreditation benchmarks in recent years, will also now be fully accredited.
And there is no other school division that is taking such an innovative approach to its high school education. This was a decision that was made with one question at the forefront: “What is going to be best for our students?” Our students tell us diversity is our greatest gift. Having one high school will allow us to support and celebrate the opportunities that come with the diversity in an even more robust way.
Today, there is no other high school in America that has two athletes – Tynita Butts in the finals of the high jump and Noah Lyles who won the 200-meter race – competing in the World Track and Field Championships. These athletes represent our Titan spirit and have demonstrated first hand not only great determination but also the values for which T.C. Williams stands.
There is one common factor throughout each of these success stories. That is the commitment by ACPS to tackle head-on the inequities that have been at the heart of our school system since its early days. Our goal is for all students to experience success regardless of their life circumstances. Our goal is to see every student in every classroom and on every playground have the opportunity to learn so that our future Titans will experience equity in each of our schools every day.
These successes are not the end, but the beginning. The work to ensure all our students have access to the opportunities at T.C. Williams and at our elementary and middle schools has only just begun.
Despite the fact our Hispanic students are the largest student population in our schools, our graduation rate tells us we are not yet serving our Hispanic students as well as they deserve. ACPS continues to see achievement gaps within math and English among Hispanic students, Black students, economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities. However, we can learn a lot from some of our schools that are making a difference for our students of color as well as economically disadvantaged students such as Cora Kelly STEM School, Patrick Henry K-8 School and Francis C. Hammond Middle School.
Our students tell us that modern-day segregation exists within T.C. Williams High School and we must do better to afford them an integrated learning experience. We cannot stand still. We want T.C. Williams High School to be known for so much more than “Remember the Titans.” This is our opportunity to ensure all students are engaged in a high-quality educational experience in ACPS and enter the world with the life skills necessary to thrive.
The work should be deliberate and intentional and involve all schools, departments, staff, parents, students, the City and the Alexandria community. Together, we should continue to work toward removing barriers for students and providing them with the necessary support to achieve within ACPS and beyond.
We are delighted to see the progress of our work validated. But the work to transform ACPS into a premier school division that serves all students equitably has only just begun. The time is now.
The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.