Filling in the Blanks with Meagan Alderton: A season of thanks

Filling in the Blanks with Meagan Alderton: A season of thanks
Meagan Alderton

“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.” These wise words from poet Maya Angelou come to mind as we reflect on what we are thankful for this month.

As I consider my continued service on the Alexandria School Board, I want to thank everyone who supported me and made it possible for me to continue serving the families of Alexandria and leading our school division. It is an honor to serve as the board chair and work with Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Ed.D. and my board colleagues who share the common goal of ensuring academic excellence for all students in Alexandria City Public Schools.

As we prepare to welcome a new School Board in January, I am appreciative of the strong collaboration among our elected officials in the City of Alexandria. Last month, the Alexandria City Council approved the temporary reinstatement of school resource officers in ACPS’ secondary schools for the remainder of the school year.

We are thankful for these officers’ presence as a preventative safety measure and appreciate their dedication and role as trusted adults for our students. We look forward to future talks with the ACPS community to work together and ensure social-emotional and physical safety for all students.

As clearly outlined in our memorandum of understanding with the Alexandria Police Department, we will work diligently this year to collect the data needed to support further understanding of what progress looks like in Alexandria for improving school climate, finding common ground and charting a path for a better future. I look forward to these rich conversations and hearing diverse voices in these community discussions.

During my time as board chair, ACPS has been moving forward with our 2025 Equity for All Strategic Plan, and, in June 2021, conducted the first equity climate survey. The majority of the nearly 5,000 participants – ACPS families, staff and secondary students – who took the survey report positive perceptions of the learning environment and school climate overall.

More than 80% of students said they feel welcomed at school and 88% said teachers provide extra support when needed. Nearly 80% of families said adults at school care about all students, and the majority said staff help students with problems other than schoolwork. Also, 98% of staff surveyed report positive relationships with students, and more than 90% said the same about working with other ACPS staff.

There is still work to be done and I am thankful for our strategic plan and the regular assessment of our equity work to ensure we continue to address inequities across the division. Some issues raised in this survey include strengthening restorative practices, ensuring an equitable distribution of resources and making sure feedback from students, staff and families is heard in decision-making.

ACPS appreciates this input and will use it to adjust and make improvements. We will also continue to do the work that helped boost our graduation rate in 2021 to 91% and reduce the student dropout rate to 5%, with our Hispanic, English learner and economically disadvantaged student groups making the largest gains. This is exciting growth, and we look forward to bigger improvements in the future.

Our equity work is strengthened by the social, emotional and academic learning tools incorporated into daily lesson plans, and we thank ACPS staff who play a role in providing these supports. To our ACPS families, we see you, and are immensely grateful for the work you do every day. November is Family Engagement Month, and we want to recognize the parent liaisons and families who deserve acknowledgement for their support of our students and schools.

We are thankful, too, for the Alexandria Health Department and their collaboration with ACPS to help keep our schools and community safe. ACPS launched a new initiative last month to provide students and staff with voluntary onsite COVID-19 testing in our schools that can identify positive and asymptomatic cases early.

Since school began, everyone in ACPS has worked to make a positive transition back to five days a week of in-person learning. I am grateful for each of you and am very excited for the work ahead.

We have much to be thankful for as we continue to support our students and advance racial equity by eliminating barriers to learning and empowering our students to thrive.

The writer is chair of the Alexandria School Board.