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January 11, 2013 Published in Letters/Opinions

Hold The Applause

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To The Editor:

The origins and content of the thank you letter to the outgoing school board must be called into question. The letter reads as if it were a carefully crafted, self-promoting pamphlet generated by the Superintendent’s office. Or worse, reads as a letter created by members of the outgoing school board as a means to wash over perceived poor decisions and apparent abdication of oversight. If either the Superintendent’s office or a member of the previous school board is the source of this letter, it is grossly misleading and is yet another shameful example of what is wrong with our city’s school system. The letter lists a number of points which must be addressed with a dose of reality.

  1. ACPS is failing to meet the most important core principle of its strategic plan, “educational excellence.” As a school division ACPS failed to meet all federal annual measurable objectives. 14 of the 19 ACPS schools failed to meet state and/or federal accreditation benchmarks. The current status of Alexandria’s schools is as follows: Charles Barrett- Improvement Plan Required, Francis Hammond 2- Accredited With Warning, Francis Hammond 3- Improvement Plan Required, George Mason- Improvement Plan Required, George Washington 2- Improvement Plan Required, George Washington 1- Improvement Plan Required, James K. Polk- Improvement Plan Required, Jefferson Houston- Accreditation Denied, John Adams- Title 1 Focus School, Maury- Improvement Plan Required, Mount Vernon- Improvement Plan Required, Patrick Henry- Title 1 Focus School, Samuel Tucker- Improvement Plan Required, T.C. Williams- Title 1 Focus School.
  2. The ACPS 21st Century Curriculum mirrors the Virginia Standards of Learning. The one page summary available to parents cites SOL objectives and is in line with the pacing guides and curriculum ACPS already had in place prior to the arrival of the “new” curriculum. The current curriculum was hurriedly and haphazardly pushed out with mistakes and problems and has had to be reworked a number of times (ACPS is currently on version 3.0 which, halfway through the school year, is still not complete). A number of the “new” ACPS curriculum “resources” are nothing more than existing VDOE SOL links, hardly custom-designed. Elementary education, which is the foundation of learning for our students and should actively engaged them in the learning process through play and exploration, has become a myriad of endless testing and a litany of “tasks” which students are required to complete.
  3. A “transformed” T. C. Williams High School is still failing to meet the needs of its students. As noted by Alexandrianews.org the total SAT score for T. C. has “been declining over the (past) six years.” Advanced placement enrollment has increased while the number of students actually taking the AP tests has decreased from 765 students in the 2011-2012 school year to only 659 students in the 2011-2012 school year. Between the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years the number of drop outs at T.C. Williams nearly doubled from 60 children to 109 children.
  4. ACPS makes a budget look good, what they actually do with the money is another story. This past spring one of Alexandria’s most respected public servants, former two term mayor of Alexandria, parent of five ACPS students, former T.C. Williams administrator, and, until recently, Alexandria’s vice mayor publicly called for the resignation of the Superintendent due to the gross mismanagement of taxpayer dollars within the school system. Mismanagement which was allowed to occur under what ACPS’ former Chief Financial Officer called an “extremely hostile, abusive and punitive work environment.” According to the Virginia Department of Education, nearly 40% of ACPS operating expenditures do not go towards instructional costs. A recent Freedom of Information Request by the Education Association of Alexandria called ACPS administrative spending into question. The EAA went as far to state that the administrative “salaries, benefits, and bonuses of which Mrs. Gorsuch has been made aware are staggering, considering this staff does not work with children.”

The majority of ACPS schools requiring improvement plans, a historically failing elementary school having its accreditation denied, increasing drop-out rates, declining SAT trends, questionable spending, and haphazard policy and curriculum decisions are just a few of the ongoing concerns within our small school system. The new school board has a variety of issues to address before congratulations or blame should be bestowed upon anyone serving on the previous school board. ACPS’s record of recent years should lead many to hold the applause.

 

Edmund Lewis

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