Filling in the Blanks with Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Ed.D: Invest in education, change the world

Filling in the Blanks with Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Ed.D: Invest in education, change the world
Melanie Kay-Wyatt will serve as ACPS’ interim superintendent through June 2023, or until a permanent superintendent is appointed. (Photo/Olivia Anderson)

There is no greater investment we can make than in the education of our children. With that in mind, as we usher in a new year, we also embark on the responsibility of presenting the Alexandria City Public Schools’ Combined Funds budget. As the interim superintendent, I delivered the budget plan on Jan. 5, as we prioritize division needs for Fiscal Year 2024. This plan serves to ensure strategic investment of resources with decisions made to enhance social, emotional and academic learning opportunities. SEAL has proven to be the lifeline our students need in navigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As our Department of Financial Services works with the Alexandria School Board, budget priorities are aligned with our 2025 Strategic Plan: Equity for All goals. Our priorities directly impact our student population and include reduced class size, K-4 literacy, addressing chronic absenteeism and safe routes to schools. As our projected enrollment shows the student count moderately increasing over the FY 2023 Final Budget, a need for additional classroom teachers is factored into the FY 2024 spending plan. The budget also includes additional funding for English learner positions to accommodate our diverse student population of more than 15,700 students who speak 124 native languages and hail from more than 119 countries.

Modernization projects within the division are in keeping with our 2025 Strategic Plan and funding for the opening of the new Douglas MacArthur Elementary School is factored into the FY 2024 budget. Douglas MacArthur is on schedule to open its doors to students and staff at the start of the 2023-24 academic year. I anticipate this new environment will make students all the more excited to learn as it also serves as a welcoming presence for families and the community.

Additional funding for ACPS facilities and operations will also allow for preventative maintenance within all our buildings and heating, ventilation and air conditioning repairs. Additional projects that will add capacity for ACPS students are included in our FY 2024-2033 Capital Improvement Program budget. The purchase of the office building at 1703 N. Beauregard St. will be utilized as swing space to accommodate two school replacements for George Mason Elementary School and Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology. The Beauregard site will ultimately allow the division to address capacity needs.

With safety and security of the utmost importance in all 18 ACPS schools, increased funding for security services is among our budget priorities for FY 2024. This investment will help us to remove barriers to learning, offering an environment where students can feel safe and engaged in their studies. As we look to create a welcoming environment for our students, the same holds true for our ACPS staff. Addressing employees’ needs in the FY 2024 budget, ACPS looks to reduce vacancies while retaining current staff. The proposed budget includes step increases and/or market rate adjustments for eligible employees. The budget also includes moderate increases for health care benefits, including medical, dental and vision.

In the months ahead, ACPS will strategize how to accomplish our goals with the resources at hand. During this time, we ask our families to speak out during public hearings, leading up to final approval of the FY 2024 budget in June. This affords the opportunity to hold the division accountable. Feedback from not only our ACPS families, but also the community surrounding our schools, gives the division confidence that it is making the best choices.

This type of engagement gives our families a better appreciation for our schools and what ACPS is doing to make for better learning opportunities for all students. As Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai said, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

The writer is interim superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.