Often, I get to sit with members of our community and discuss topics that impact our school division and students during a series of Superintendent Chats.
Although we always encourage people to come out and share their opinions, some chats are better attended than others. So when it came to a cold and wet night in December close to the holidays, I could not have been more excited and encouraged when a room full of community members turned out to talk with our ACPS staff.
The topic of the Superintendent Chat? Equity.
The diverse crowd included people who used our translation services and many others who were excited about their first time participating in a Superintendent Chat. The meeting was lively with active discussion, many ideas shared and connections made.
This is what equity is doing for us as a city. It appears that there is an excitement in our city and our school community around this topic at this time. It also seems that our community wants to embrace our diversity and yearns for solutions and action to tackle inequities.
No matter their cultural or socio-economic background, no matter whether someone has lived here all their life or just arrived, there is a shared interest in this topic that many see as a route to high performance, opportunity and making our city and school division the best we’ve ever been.
I am thrilled to welcome the city’s new equity officer – a first for Alexandria – and also a role that speaks loudly to our values as a community. I am also excited to see equity front and center as the core of our ACPS Strategic Plan 2025. Most of all, I am excited to see our city and school division collaborate in a Unified Strategic Planning Process for the first time around our shared future – each with equity at the heart of our core mission.
Alexandria City Public Schools is one of the most diverse school divisions in the country, which affords our young people one of the greatest gifts to prepare them to become productive global citizens. We have 120 different countries represented and 121 different languages spoken by our students. This wonderful diversity also brings obstacles which requires us to use strategic thinking and planning to overcome.
Equity is not the same as equality. It is making sure all students have exactly what they need, not giving everyone the same thing. It is meeting each student where they are and not necessarily where we want them to be. It takes courage and requires us to make decisions that don’t fit the status quo.
To be successful, we must intentionally go into communities where families are most underrepresented and underserved to ensure that we hear their perspectives and strive to address their needs. We have to be prepared to sometimes make decisions that may not be the most popular and which can at times cause anxiety. The right thing is almost never easy.
We must be willing to take a stand for people who have different walks in life, who look different from us, who have different experiences and who have different needs. In order to do this, we have to check our egos at the door and enter this equity work with a clear mind, willing to embrace all of humanity without judgment, bias or racism.
The city of Alexandria has a rich history, but many of our inequities today were intentionally orchestrated to have one group empower another throughout that history. There have been a lot of painful historical moments since the City of Alexandria was founded, and these are not easy to overcome. But we must have the courage to acknowledge the past and not repeat it.
I wish you a Happy New Year.
The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.