School Board talks safety, SLEP update

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School Board talks safety, SLEP update
Many community members spoke about school safety in the public comment period at the Sept. 22 meeting.
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By Ariana Wilson | [email protected]

The Alexandria School Board’s Sept. 22 meeting addressed overcrowding in classrooms, upcoming changes and an expected timeline from the Equity For All 2025 campaign and School Law Enforcement Partnership advisory group.

During the meeting, the School Board reintroduced the implementation of video vignettes for the Equity For All 2025 initiative, which aims to promote well-rounded students in and out of the classroom with diversity at the forefront of the mission. In June 2020, the School Board, along with a planning committee made up of ACPS staff, leadership, parents, school board members and representatives from Alexandria City Public Schools organizations approved Equity For All 2025.

Many community members addressed the board about school safety during public comment, including Parent Teacher Association members, teachers and students. Several speakers brought attention to the issue of overcrowded classrooms, which they argued affects ACPS’ ability to retain talented teachers. They spoke about issues like limited space affecting classroom instruction, classroom community, students with disabilities, English language services, supplies and resources and time and space for lunch and recess.

Rhett Christensen, PTA President for Samuel Tucker Elementary School, called the lack of physical space and facilities for students and educators a safety concern.

“Teachers have ceased being educators and are now daycare providers,” he said, adding that the school is not serving its primary function under its current mode of operation.

This compromises both safety and learning, he argued, adding that the original capacity of Samuel Tucker was 630 students but that it now houses 739 students to meet the city’s increasing population over the years.

Public speakers requested that the School Board work with school staff to address the overcrowding issue and provide necessary resources in order to better equip teachers who are managing classrooms that are at or over capacity.

Additionally, SLEP presented an update regarding the developing relationship between ACPS and the Alexandria Police Department, including the current timeline and future action items. SLEP operates to assist ACPS leadership through creating a school law enforcement partnership that ensures safety and equity for students.

Simma Reingold, a consultant for ACPS, introduced the proposal to the ACPS Board.

The purpose of SLEP is to provide additional guidance and insight which is executed in three ways, Reingold said. The first is bringing awareness to the memorandum of understanding between ACPS and APD. Next is focused around innovative approaches and bringing new ideas to reimagine the relationship between ACPS and APD. The last piece identifies communication channels that diversify communication with different agencies and communities to spread the word about the partnership and how the community can get involved.

Alicia Hart, chief of facilities and operations, emphasized that the most pivotal role in the SLEP timeline is the stakeholder feedback survey which gives the opportunity to gather stakeholders’ perceptions of school and division safety, while giving members of ACPS and the community a place to be heard. The survey is open until Oct. 2 and covers safety and security for students, staff and families. The survey ensures there is a diverse group of stakeholders adding to the fidelity and integrity of recommendations.

In mid-October the finalized survey report will be discussed with SLEP and facilitators. The advisory committee will review the survey and focus group report to conduct a collective analysis of guiding principles to design and support a thoughtful recommendation. The facilitation of focus groups related to school and division safety and security will be held in October. SLEP members will also have the capability to share messages via the community engagement toolkit and engage in conversation with stakeholders across the city.

Future plans include collectively making sense of student, staff and family experience and perspectives, and developing guiding principles for recommendations. There will then be a draft recommendation from each subcommittee, followed by final deliverables that capture both the process of the advisory group and resulting recommendations.

SLEP will hold its last two meetings of the year on Nov. 14 and Dec. 5. Pending the results of the Stakeholder Feedback Survey and the Hanover Research Report, focus groups will be occurring in November and final recommendations will be released in December.

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