There has seldom been a greater disconnect between two items in a single issue of the Alexandria Times than between this week’s page 1 story, “Minnie Howard brawl raises security concerns” and the column on the adjacent page by Alexandria City Public Schools Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt, “ACPS: Simply the best.”
The story, for which Kay-Wyatt did not respond to two requests for comment, documents a harrowing melee at the Minnie Howard (ninth grade) campus of Alexandria City High School. Student videos taken with cell phones have circulated widely, and they show an ACPS administrator being knocked off his feet as violence, that he had just calmed, re-erupted.
Audio recordings of police and school communications on openMHz.com reveal school staff whose voices at various points register fear, weariness and frustration. Two parents of ACPS students, and a short-term contractor who had an unusual vantage point inside Minnie Howard in late 2021, shared varying degrees of anger and resignation.
While overwhelmed staff and teachers struggle to keep order in a school that the contractor likened to something out of “Lord of the Flies,” Kay-Wyatt’s column is a listing of the many achievements taking place within ACPS. To be sure, magic happens every day in classrooms in Alexandria, as dedicated, talented educators cultivate a love of learning within our city’s children. But there’s also a jarring disconnect between the reality in Alexandria’s middle and high school campuses and the lofty aspirations of our School Board and top administrators.
What’s needed is honest dialogue about several difficult, even radioactive topics. So here goes:
1) Gangs exist in Alexandria, and they exist within ACPS. We all know they’re there, the question is what are we going to do about them? Let’s talk about it.
2) Placing most of the city’s ninth graders together in one school just doesn’t work. The maturity level of many ninth graders does not match the freedom that being in high school brings. The new Minnie Howard building can’t get finished soon enough from our perspective; when completed, it needs to house students from all four high school grades. It’s also time to revisit the idea of a second high school in Alexandria, which should result in fewer students within each school building.
3) We need color-blind discipline in our schools. By this we mean that all students should be punished the same for committing the same infractions, and chronic, violent offenders need to be expelled for the greater good. There is nothing more equitable than trying to create a safe environment in which all students can learn.
Let’s dig deeper, rather than skating on the surface, and really discuss the chronic, rubber-hits-road problems that administrators like those at Minnie Howard deal with daily. The current combination of gangs, a ninth grade only school and the apparent inability to expel repeatedly violent students is untenable.