By Mark Eaton
“About Alexandria” was one year old as of last month. Education experts say there is no improvement without assessment, so it is time to look back at a year of columns to identify the hits, the in-betweens and the misses.
The broken cistern at the Alexandria City High School King Street campus. ACPS now plans to repair the 450,000-gallon underground cistern at the King Street campus. The cistern is designed to capture stormwater runoff from the hardscape as a first step in recycling the water for other purposes. Page 51 of the Superintendent’s Proposed Capital Improvement Plan Budget released on Nov. 10 shows a FY2024 allocation of $280,000 to “fund the replacement of the cistern.” The cistern is a massive underground concrete box; the repair funds will probably reactivate the pumps and pipes necessary to recycle water. This is a positive development consistent with the green design of the King Street Campus when it opened in 2007. Thanks go to Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt and her staff for taking action to make this forward-thinking system operational again.
The under-used Stormwater Utility Fee Credit Program. Stormwater runoff is a driver of the massive flood mitigation and environmental improvements to the city’s infrastructure now in progress. A column suggesting improvements to the city’s well-intentioned, but little used, Stormwater Utility Fee Credit seemed to generate no reaction from city authorities. However, on Nov. 10, the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services announced improvements that make applying for the credit easier, extend the credit to two years and increase the credit’s value to 50% of the fee. Let’s hope that more Alexandrians apply for the credit.
The mystery of Chinquapin Pool. The effort to determine why the pool at the Chinquapin Recreation Center, the Rixse Memorial Pool, was built slightly too long for school and club swimming competitions fell short; the definitive explanation as to why the pool was built too long for competitions remains unknown. Even so, the effort to solve the mystery involved an enjoyable exploration of some of the city’s cherished urban legends. There were numerous comments about this story.
Public sector hiring. A column on public sector hiring myths generated positive comments. A related column on the costs, financial and otherwise, of replacing the ACPS superintendent, which ran in late 2021, was not intended as a prediction. However, it became more relevant after the former superintendent’s resignation in the spring of 2022. The search has started for a new superintendent, which everyone hopes will yield someone who will lead ACPS effectively for at least five years. The new superintendent’s challenges include pandemic-related learning loss, particularly in the primary grades, and socialization issues. An ACHS teacher told me recently that some students “don’t know how to people,” meaning that the pandemic made basic human interactions a challenge.
Listening deficits, “equity” in education and school resource officers. The columns on Alexandria’s listening deficit and the use of the word “equity” in education – a word which varies between being a near obsessional goal and an anathema, depending on who is talking – seemed to fall in the middle ground. These columns generated modest responses.
A column urging a community rethinking of the role of the SRO’s was rendered essentially irrelevant by the creation of the School Law Enforcement Partnership between ACPS and the police department in the spring of 2022. In ACPS’ words, SLEP is “tasked with reimagining the existing partnership with the Alexandria Police Department to ensure a positive, safe and equitable experience for all students.”
An apology to consultants everywhere. Last year’s columns also contained some offhand slights or negative references to consultants – for example, media training and executive search consultants.
The intent was “all in good fun,” but with the passage of time these comments may be perceived as snide. So, to all the consultants who read “About Alexandria,” no harm intended and I will try to do better in the future.
The writer is a former lawyer, member of the Alexandria School Board from 1997 to 2006, and English teacher from 2007 to 2021 at T.C. Williams High School, now Alexandria City High School. He can be reached at aboutalexandria@gmail. com and free subscriptions to his newsletter are available at https://aboutalexandria.substack.com/