By Melanie Kay-Wyatt
It truly is wonderful to walk the halls of our 18 Alexandria City Public Schools, experiencing a united nation of more than 15,400 students representing more than 110 countries and speaking 121 languages. The diversity within ACPS adds to the educational experience of each and every one of our students daily. Amid our diversity, it is most important to achieve equity so the academic and social needs of all of our students are met. That is why ACPS prepares its path forward each year with areas of focus which were recently approved by the Alexandria City School Board for the 2022-2023 school year.
The focus on social, emotional and academic learning within all of our ACPS schools has already proven to be a healing force as students again feel connected to each other and to their school environment. Following the isolation experienced by many of our students during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 30 minutes of SEAL curriculum daily has helped our students reconnect. Use of the SEAL community circle has been the jump-start needed to help our students focus on building their relationship and conflict resolution skills. When students can discuss their feelings in a positive environment, it not only helps to address behavior challenges but also gives them the mindset to engage academically.
As ACPS strengthens its commitment to SEAL, all of our schools will be using the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment to be completed in the fall of 2022 and spring of 2023. For students in grades K-8, teachers will use DESSA to assess how often a student has demonstrated specific life skills in the past month. Students in grades 9-12 will complete a DESSA self-assessment. Once schools identify skills that may need more development, they can incorporate those areas into daily SEAL lessons. Our goal is to use SEAL to ensure each child is developing skills that will help them achieve lifelong success.
I see the dedication of our staff in providing an equitable education and realize certain student groups need additional support. That is why our areas of focus include continuous improvement in suspensions and chronic absenteeism for our Black and Hispanic students, as well as their academic enrichment and advancement. Our Student Support Teams provide the necessary social/emotional support through groups, mentor programs and one- on-one meetings to identify where extra help is needed. In addition, the School Board approved the allocation of funds to further address absenteeism and high school graduation rates among specific student groups with increased staffing in the College and Career Center. And as we have expanded the Graduation Task Force, we can consistently monitor the progress of all of our students toward graduation, leading to future success in college or the workforce.
Success across the board in ACPS is largely dependent on our staff, making their wellness and growth a vital area of focus. Our Human Resources department has been working diligently to enhance recruitment and retention of staff. Our Fiscal Year 2023 Combined Funds Budget serves to strengthen our efforts as it raises teacher pay, maintains high-quality healthcare benefits and offers resources for staff to grow their careers. As we focus on our priorities, the areas of focus, ACPS has created its recipe for overall success. We are encouraged by all the ingredients that we have in our recipe to make this a successful and fulfilling school year for all students and staff.
The author is the Interim Superintendent at Alexandria City Public Schools.