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December 13, 2011 Published in Editorials

From The Frying Pan Into The?

Rumors have been rife in the community over the closing of Alexandria City Public Schools Adult Education Program. Superintendent Morton Sherman has indicated that his intent is to “refocus, repurpose and restructure” Adult Ed rather than to close it.

Along with The Superintendent's statement is a report which traces the history of Adult Education, the Pathways to Graduation Program at T. C. Williams, and the Interim Education Program at the former Stonewall Jackson School site. The report indicates issues and sets out a new system of dealing with adults and students in these programs. The report is lengthy and contains plenty of educational jargon which makes it difficult to understand. The thrust seems to be as follows:

1.  The U.S. Department of Education is rethinking Adult Education. Adult students should work toward a real high school diploma. The GED is no longer sufficient.

2.  ACPS adult and alternative education programs do not have the flexibility to serve all students enrolled in them and more flexibility should be provided.

3.  Providing adult education from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. or later would be a distinct advantage and allowing alternative students to participate in this would be helpful.

4.  It is not sufficient to just use school buildings. Three or four satellite learning centers sprinkled around the city should be obtained.

5.  Since students would be pursuing a regular diploma, quality certified staff would need to be employed and more comprehensive counseling and social services offered in these centers.

The School Board is scheduled to discuss the report on Thursday night and if they read it, there is much to discuss. There is also much that is not in the report that gives us pause.

The major omission is any idea of costs. The City is facing a frightfully tight budget year and this report calls for major changes that appear to involve substantial costs. Failure to provide a sound estimate of costs reduces any discussion to a frivolous level. Given the budget situation in the Federal Government, relying upon Federal grants looks iffy at best.

The satellite facilities are also not defined except to say that staff is seeking sites around the city. ACPS has serious facility credibility issues and there is a big difference in finding a site that may be suitable and getting the use permits and constructing it. We fear that once more ACPS has underestimated the difficulty and time required to accomplish this task. Citizen opposition is always a strong possibility and building code requirements must be met. Without this information any budget is mere guesswork.

While the report hints at reassigning staff from current programs to new ones, any true restructuring along the lines proposed will require a number of new employees and considerable employee training. This will not be accomplished in a few weeks in the summer.

Dr. Sherman has always been a man in a hurry but ACPS has a long history of being inept at implementing new programs. Trying to put this much change together for the next academic year strikes us as a recipe for chaos and confusion rather than first class education. It is also unnecessary.

ACPS own statistics show that 100% of the 46 seniors assigned to Pathways to Graduation at TC last year graduated by the summer. Only 17 of the total 160 students in Pathways dropped out. That is an amazing record given the needs of these students.

While we are sympathetic to providing more flexibility and toward encouraging adult students to secure diplomas rather than GED certificates, we believe that there should be sufficient time allocated to explain these changes thoroughly to the community and to achieve acceptance. A meaningful and realistic budget must be prepared that demonstrates fiscal responsibility and no degradation of service to ACPS K-12 programs. Finally, a transition program from current practice to the new program must be presented that provides enough time to train and prepare staff for the new roles envisaged in the restructuring.

There are significant policy and budget implications for ACPS in this change. We urge the School Board to be actively engaged and involved.

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