Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.: ACPS 2021 graduation rate soars

Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.: ACPS 2021 graduation rate soars
Dr. Gregory Hutchings Ed.D. (Photo Credit: Susan Hale Thomas/ACPS)

One of our community’s most precious assets is diversity. At Alexandria City Public Schools, we are proud to have a diverse, multicultural student body. Our students report 145 countries of birth and there are 132 languages spoken in our school division. We have many different backgrounds, and we share the same belief that education is surely the key to the future.

At ACPS we are committed to boosting student achievement and empowering our children to thrive in this diverse and ever-changing world. This is at the heart of our 2025 Strategic Equity for All Plan. Children need to know that neither their skin color nor the language they speak should be a barrier to achieving their dreams.

With the recent report of graduation and dropout rates from the Virginia Department of Education, we can see that the hard work of our families, teachers, support staff, administrators, counselors and leadership – and most importantly our students themselves – toward improving our student graduation rate has led to stellar results and significant progress.

I am proud to say that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACPS Class of 2021 rose to the occasion and achieved the highest on-time graduation rate and lowest student dropout rate since Virginia began reporting these data points in 2008. There was a nine-percentage point increase in the ACPS on-time graduation rate, with 91% of our Class of 2021 earning a diploma, up from 82% the previous year. This also resulted in an impressive decrease in the dropout rate from nearly 14% in 2019-20 to 5.6% in 2020-21. The previous highest on-time graduation rate for ACPS was 86% in 2013 and the previous lowest dropout rate was 8% in 2019.

As part of our Strategic Plan at ACPS, we have employed various educational tools and supports to help achieve a successful outcome for our students. The division has also expanded the Graduation Task Force to include central office and school leadership to consistently monitor progress throughout the year towards graduation. This year, ACPS will expand our Early Warning System to provide students with targeted intervention and support beginning in the middle school years. This proactive approach is helping ACPS raise graduation rates across our student population.

As we recognize Hispanic Heritage Month, I want to highlight what these gains mean for our Hispanic students and, specifically, for our Hispanic males, a segment of our student population that is an area of focus in our strategic plan. In 2021, the graduation rate for our Hispanic ACPS students was 72%, the highest rate in recent years, and the dropout rate for Hispanic students significantly decreased from 25% in 2019-20 to 4.3% in 2020-21. We still have much more work to do with supporting our Hispanic students and removing systemic barriers that have not afforded them the anticipated progress they deserve. Such a significant increase in graduation rates and decrease in dropout rates, particularly during a pandemic, is a testament to the dedication and hard work of ACPS students, families and staff.

I want to recognize our community partners who serve our students beyond the school day. Our students’ families also deserve recognition for their partnership with the schools and the community organizations. We seek to do more. Recognizing how crucial a role families play in their children’s education, ACPS has been working to strengthen these ties.

Together, as a community, we can help our Hispanic students and their classmates follow in the footsteps of our most inspirational role models who have helped pave the way before them. Our children will aspire to achieve the path that suits their individual needs. ACPS has the building blocks and fortitude to help our young people achieve their goals and build successful lives. The increase in graduation rates is only the beginning and illustrates how we can make significant progress when we set strategic goals, focus resources and provide the necessary support in a targeted manner, as well as follow through on our commitment to all of our students.

The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.