Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.: Looking forward

Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.: Looking forward
Dr. Gregory Hutchings Ed.D. (Photo Credit: Susan Hale Thomas/ACPS)

In December 2020, I wrote in the Alexandria Times about our hopes that Alexandria City Public Schools could begin transitioning students back into schools in January 2021 after having to transition to virtual learning the previous March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The headline, “Filling in the Blanks,” was appropriate, given the many unknowns at that time. That uncertainty stretched on for months, requiring us to pivot and change course each time we developed a plan to bring back our students.

When we started school this fall, we could not be sure what school would look like and how it would feel for our students and staff. While we have overcome some challenges on the path back to full-time, in-person learning five days a week, we have all felt excited about being back with our students in person, and we have been able to keep the doors open.

I have renewed optimism this December as we reflect on the year behind us and look forward to the new year. The health and safety mitigation measures in our schools – plus vaccine approval for all people ages five and older – have allowed us to maintain a critical focus on student learning and supports for our students.

One thing that has not changed since last year is the work and planning that is done daily by our School Board, senior leadership team, school and central office administrators, teachers, staff, students, families and community members. The dedication of all who support our students could not have been more apparent over the past year and it has not wavered through tough times.

We come together in our planning efforts with the goal of doing all we can to best prepare our students for life, college and careers. This brings to mind words from business magnate and philanthropist Warren Buffett: “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”

As we look forward to 2022, we are in a time of planning and “planting our trees.” Our infrastructure, staff and community partners all play crucial roles in supporting our students. The proposed ACPS Capital Improvement Program Budget for fiscal years 2023-32 supports instructional excellence in our schools, with a focus on capacity needs and infrastructure maintenance and improvement.

The scheduled School Board approval of the final CIP budget this month starts a new phase in the essential planning work done each year to provide our students with safe and welcoming learning environments where they can thrive.

Also integral to our students’ success are our skilled, passionate and dedicated staff. We could not have made it through this past year without the hard work and commitment of our staff, teachers and school leaders. We truly value our employees at ACPS and owe them our deepest thanks.

We have begun a new ACPS VIP awards program – Vision, Passion, Integrity – to recognize staff who go above and beyond and will continue these recognitions throughout the school year. Also, we always look forward to honoring our Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year every spring.

Additionally, our community partners help support student achievement. Recent initiatives have spanned a broad range – from a collaboration to purchase electric buses through a Dominion Energy program to a partnership with Virginia Tech on a new STEM pilot program at James K. Polk Elementary School. And the most important partners in our students’ education, of course, are ACPS families, and we greatly appreciate all they do to support student learning.

This vital collaboration between ACPS leadership, staff, families and partners makes for a strong foundation for our students’ future and a great place from which we can continue to grow. As we follow our “ACPS 2025 Strategic Plan: Equity for All,” we continue to look for ways to inspire students, address barriers to learning and provide the social, emotional and academic learning supports needed for success in school.

As the calendar turns to 2022, we look forward to a new year and continuing our work to support our students and prepare them for a bright future. The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.