New quartet of leaders


It’s been an unprecedented July at Alexandria City Public Schools, as new leaders assumed the four most significant positions within the school district in a 20-day timeframe.

On July 1, Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Ed.D., and Alexander Dun- can III became permanent ACPS superintendent and principal of Alexandria City High School, respectively. Less than three weeks later, the School Board unanimously selected Board member Michelle Rief, Ph.D., as chair and Kelly Carmichael Booz, by a 5-4 vote, as vice chair.

If your glass is half empty, you see a school system in crisis, plagued by violence and poor test score performance, that is going to have its four most important positions simultaneously filled by people with on-the-job learning curves. You probably think this isn’t going to go well.

If your glass is half full, you see four individuals who were already in senior positions within ACPS who have the chance to bring fresh blood, an innovative perspective and a new level of collaboration by all assuming new senior roles at the same time. You likely think this talented quartet might just be what’s needed to make headway against ACPS’ seemingly intractable problems.

The answer, of course, is unknowable at this time. We at the Times join the rest of the city in fervently hoping that the latter scenario plays out, and there’s a reasonable basis for that hope.

By selecting Rief as chair of the School Board, her colleagues chose the Board’s longest-tenured member, as Rief – along with outgoing Chair Meagan Alderton and outgoing Vice Chair Jacinta Greene – is in her fifth consecutive year of Board service.

Rief joined the board pre- COVID-19, endured the pandemic and the tenure of prior Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D., along with the rest of

us, and has close up knowledge of the school system’s current struggles. During her time on the Board, Rief has been unafraid to candidly speak her mind, even when her colleagues disagreed. Her role will now be to forge consensus on the Board to help guide the system’s unelected leadership toward safer and high- er-achieving schools.

While Booz was just elected to the Board in 2021, she served a prior term in the mid 2010s, and has the perspective of some- one who was in a leadership position a decade ago. This should enable her to view the system’s current successes and failures through a different prism than Rief, Kay-Wyatt and Duncan.

Kay-Wyatt is not new to ACPS nor to being in charge, as she served as acting superintendent for 10 months prior to having the “interim” removed from her job title. There’s a world of difference, however, between being an interim, essentially on audition for the top job, and having the full title of superintendent. No longer a placeholder, the clock is now in motion on the Kay-Wyatt term as leader of ACPS.

Duncan, previously head of the Minnie Howard Campus of ACHS, knows the leadership, teachers and even individual students at ACHS, as he moves campuses with this year’s rising 10th graders. Duncan faces the toughest daily task of this leadership foursome, as he has to guide a high school full of students still dealing with the negative impacts of remote learning during the pandemic: social and behavioral problems, worsened student mental health, a rise in fentanyl overdoses and worsened academic performance.

This quartet of leaders face challenges that will require original thinking driven more by practicality than ideology. All four seem talented and well-meaning, and we wish them success in the 2023-24 school year and beyond.