Opinion: Carla Branch
For the past six months, I have had a contract with the Alexandria City Public Schools to develop individual school, division-wide and Central Office communication plans. During that same period, I have served as the Content Manager for alexandrianews.org, which entailed writing stories about ACPS and otherwise supervising school coverage. Alexandrianews.org’s coverage of ACPS was not in any way influenced by my contract nor was the work I performed under the terms of that contract influenced by alexandrianews.org.
Was this a conflict of interest? To ensure that there was not, I signed a confidentiality agreement with ACPS at the beginning of the contract, agreeing not to use any information I obtained in the performance of my duties under the contract for any other purpose. I also did not discuss any alexandrianews.org coverage with ACPS staff during the course of that coverage. No member of the ACPS staff tried to influence alexandrianews.org’s coverage of issues nor did I obtain information for those stories in the course of work I performed under my contract.
The contract with ACPS was competitive. ACPS issued a Request for Proposal; I submitted a proposal in response; and my proposal was selected as the winning submission. My contract began on Jan. 2, 2012, and ended on June 30, 2012. I am making revisions to individual school plans this week and will submit final plans to principals based on their feedback. I submitted a draft divison-wide communication plan on June 12, and will finalize it this week as well. My contract was for a maximum of $24,400, and my final bill will not equal that full amount.
Superintendent Dr. Morton Sherman did not always agree with alexandrianews.org’s coverage of school issues but he did not try to influence that coverage because of my relationship with his staff through my contract with ACPS. To his credit, Dr. Sherman was willing to award the contract to me even though alexandrianews.org’s coverage of the public school system has often been critical. While he did not attempt to influence the way I cover ACPS, I did attempt to influence the way ACPS communicates with teachers, parents, the Alexandria community at large and the media. Only time will tell whether he takes any or all of that advice. That is his prerogative.
My three children attended ACPS between 1992 and 2010, during which time I was a volunteer in their schools and a reporter for three different local news outlets assigned to cover the school system. I have continued to cover ACPS for alexandrianews.org since my youngest daughter graduated from T. C. Williams High School in 2010. During the time when my children were ACPS students, I did not hesitate to criticize the school system nor did I hesitate to laud the things students, teachers and principals did well. That has and will not change.
As I met with principals, teachers, members of PTAs, former ACPS employees, a former ACPS superintendent, and former and current School Board members, current and former ACPS students, and members of the general Alexandria community, I found that everyone cares about ACPS and wants all of the schools to do better. There are amazing teachers accomplishing amazing things in their classrooms. There are truly gifted principals leading schools into excellence. There are parents who volunteer hours of their time and expertise and raise thousands of dollars to make the schools better for all children.
There are things that need to change within ACPS as well. The CIP debacle, which was years in the making, must never happen again. Executive salaries, in my opinion, are out of control. I have suggested a number of structural changes that will improve communication, which has to get better.
As a parent and an Alexandrian, I will continue to work to make ACPS better for all Alexandria’s children. As a member of the media, I will continue to work to make ACPS a better school system for all Alexandria’s children. Developing the communication plans for ACPS and continuing to provide fair and balanced coverage of ACPS on alexandrianews.org are means toward that end.