For the past seven years or so the United States has been working through one of the worst recessions in its history. There has been little to cheer about at Christmas or any other time. Even the upward movement of the stock markets last year and this did not dispel the economic gloom which seemed to magnify all the many problems our country was encountering from the wars in the Middle East to the unacceptable levels of violence in so many areas here at home.
Alexandria seemed caught in the same mentality from the constraints of a tax base that cannot grow enough without tax increases to support the many services demanded by residents to citizen outrage over just about every item that appears on the City Council docket whether warranted or not.
Good news has been in short supply, pressures have grown and tempers are short. This is not a prescription for a happy season of very meaningful holidays which have at their very core the oneness of mankind, a vision of a shared community and the hope of a better future to come for all.
We were greatly heartened the past few days to be able to bring to our community stories about significant developments that have the potential to produce meaningful improvement in our national and local situations.
This week the US Council of Economic Advisers issued a third revision to the estimates of United States Gross Domestic Product for the third quarter of 2014. This revision showed major economic expansion at a five percent annual rate. Personal consumption and business investment grew along with increases in real wages. Consumer sentiment is at the highest positive levels since 2007.
The Federal Budget Deficit has fallen from 9.8% of GDP in 2009 when all the stops were pulled out to keep the economy out of a depression to just 2.8% of GDP in FY 2014. It has further declined to 2.5% of GDP this year.
The results can be seen on the streets as shoppers hurried to purchase their holiday gifts at a rate not seen for years. Fueled by the major decline in the price of oil and other energy, this consumer boom should help the fourth quarter U.S. GDP to improve further. If sales tax collections improve, our hard pressed state and local governments should get a much needed revenue boost.
The second story was local. Ever since meaningful school integration was implemented in Alexandria in the 1970’s, there has been no shortage of detractors to our public school system. Sometimes the negativism was justified. Often it was not. The City’s public high school, T. C. Williams, is a focal point of this debate because though for years it served its high performing white students very well it was less successful with other racial groups. A few years ago it made the State’s list of persistently underperforming schools.
Former Superintendent Mort Sherman hired Principal Suzanne Maxie who with a dedicated staff worked hard to turn the school into an educational powerhouse for all its students. Last week it was our pleasure to report that the College Board had placed T. C. Williams on its Fifth Annual AP District Honor Roll. Only six School Divisions in the entire State of Virginia earned this honor.
Since 2005, T. C. Williams has more than doubled the percentage of seniors who earned a qualifying grade on an AP exam from 20% to 43%. In fact, 69% of all AP tests taken at TC last year received qualifying grades of three, four or five.
T. C.'s amazing progress in this area shows what can be accomplished with today’s very diverse student body when educators are given the leadership and mission to teach all their students. It shows that Alexandria’s schools have embraced achievement and are making the kinds of strides necessary to allow their students to have the opportunities in the competitive world in which they must seek to earn a living. Credit must also be given to middle school and elementary school staffs who have helped to put and keep these high school students on their paths.
We were proud to report these positive stories of young people moving forward in a country that has struggled to put economic distress behind it and is achieving that by restoring its capacity for growth. Our School Board and city leaders should be proud of their part in this accomplishment. Our national leaders who had the wisdom to follow sound economic principles to reignite growth should feel the same sense of pride.
This Christmas we ask all of our citizens to see the good that has happened and is happening in our country and our city and to recognize this as a magical time of year when we do remember the common good, the oneness of humanity and the promise of better things to come.
We wish you the happiest of holidays and the best for the coming year of 2015. As always we thank you for being our readers and our partners in staying abreast of and understanding our wonderful city.