Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.: Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions

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Dr. Gregory Hutchings (Photo Credit: Susan Hale Thomas/ACPS)
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There is no doubt that unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions. It is moments like this that call for innovation, creativity and flexibility in our community like never before.

We have been teaching and learning from home in Alexandria City Public Schools for more than a month. We never thought that this would continue throughout the academic year – but the flip side is we also never realized how much we can do when the need arises and we are forced out of our comfort zones.

Our staff has been truly amazing. Together, we continue to grow and overcome obstacles during our coronavirus school closures. Serving all of our students has been a key driver. It is easy for students to drop off the radar, not show up to virtual classes and not engage with our teachers. However, we are ensuring our staff ensures students are engaged from home and providing necessary support when needed. 

Our technology team has gone above and beyond to ensure that all students in grades three through 12 have Chromebooks as well as accessibility technology online. When we closed our schools on March 13, our team had already started to develop a plan to make sure technology would not be a barrier for our students.

Now, a little more than six weeks into teaching and learning from home, our team has removed technology barriers and access for students in grades three through 12. Every student within ACPS has access to classes and every student in grades three through 12 has access to internet service that enables them to continue learning from home. 

Our student support teams – social workers, behavior interventionists, psychologists and counselors – have continued to ensure that students show up in their virtual classrooms, know where to access needed support and have individual learning plans created for them to ensure they meet their graduation goals.

Moreover, staff has worked hard to ensure no student is penalized by the school closures due to the pandemic with adoption of our grading policy by the school board. This adopted grading policy has afforded students flexibility and no negative academic impact due to our school closures. 

Our teachers have stepped out of their comfort zones to create video lessons that continue to engage our youngest students on both the ACPS-TV channel and the city’s channel each day. Specialists, through collaboration with our educators, have created learning activity packets that are sent to pre-kindergarten to second grade students’ homes every couple of weeks to keep them engaged and excited.

In mid-May, the ACPS curriculum and instruction team, through collaboration with our educators, will launch the next phase of the Continuity of Learning Plan (3.0) that will focus on our teaching and learning for the summer. Meanwhile, our teachers have continued to teach and support our students in Zoom classes that the Washington Post recently held up as exemplars.

We also have to thank our essential workers who have gone above and beyond to ensure our students are fed at this time of need and our buildings are being cleaned. Employees in other areas – including security, transportation, school nutrition, maintenance, capital improvements and finance – continue to work.

Also, our nurses have supported the Alexandria Health Department in their work to support and protect our entire community. ACPS has served up to 37,000 meals a week since schools closed on March 13 at five school-based food distribution sites and five pop-up locations. It definitely takes planning, dedication, commitment and a belief that students can only learn when they are healthy and nourished. 

There is no doubt that this has been a challenging time for ACPS students, staff and families. This crisis has shown how well we are serving all students during a world pandemic. Ensuring equity has never been so critical and this is a time when our students need us the most. ACPS staff have kept this goal at the forefront of all our plans, whether those plans are meal distribution or access to technology. 

Not everything is perfect, of course, and we wish we could do some things better or differently. However, your support, encouragement, engagement and grace during these unprecedented times are greatly appreciated.

We are much better when we work collaboratively rather than in isolation. We are very fortunate to have such an amazing school community that genuinely cares about the wellbeing of our young people, staff and families.

Please stay healthy, stay safe and, most importantly, stay connected with ACPS.

The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.

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