Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As we wind down from the drama of the City Council Democratic Primary, we have a moment to think about what else lays ahead in November. As we decide who our Presidential vote, congressional vote and City Council votes will go to, so must we also think about our future the ACPS School Board.
Civic service means a great deal to me, it strikes me as a moral imperative, a necessary step in one’s life, and the right move at the right time for me. I wanted to reach out and tell you all a little about my priorities as November approaches and, while the issues listed below aren’t a catchall for my campaign, they represent what I feel is “the big picture”. ACPS isn’t a failed experiment; there is much to be grateful for but also much to improve upon.
Budget Oversight and Spending Priorities:
As many of us know, the recent ACPS budget fiasco, that is, the millions of dollars in once unknown overages and bad debt by senior level ACPS employees represent a significant failure on behalf of the ACPS Central Office. Though the issue was contained to the Facilities department, the fact that early warning measures alongside checks and balances were not in place means as a School System, “we” have been ineffective. The millions in previously unknown bad debt and overages within the CIP means those funds must be replaced from elsewhere, in addition to many other line items, these replacement funds holds in its proverbial hands the fate of our teacher’s salaries, our arts and music programs, our ELL program, our Adult Ed program and even our much loved “Intersession”.
Systems must be designed, reporting procedures must be put in place and the simple management of spending guidelines must be priority one. Though Alexandria is a vibrant and progressive community, our schools will continue to suffer and our children will forever be at a disadvantage if we cannot simply manage the infrastructure.
Increased Middle School Accessibility to Area Children:
This issue is simply stated but is going to be difficult to problem solves. Our City is fortunate to have a number of schools encompassing a number of grade levels throughout the area but, as our City grows, as we continue to focus on Economic Development and Population Sustainability, so does the City’s population. Some of more successful schools now sit in areas that have seen previously unheard of growth. These schools are being closed to the area’s new residents due to overcrowding and limited facility or faculty space. We need more teachers, more space and, an equal opportunity for our kids to attend the school in their respective neighborhoods. The scariest and most shameful words a parent can hear are, “there is no room for your child here”.
Better Special Needs Resources and Attention:
Special-needs students need a great deal of encouragement. What often happens is that the student wants to achieve, but feels separated from other students when he or she is unable to complete certain tasks. That causes intense frustration. Without proper encouragement and reassurance, special-needs students often come to see themselves as “just not as smart”; which can lead to apathy toward school. “Why should I try when I’ll just fail? We need to focus on their strengths.
All special-needs students are capable of success. Each will succeed according to his or her individual ability — but all can succeed. We must constantly keep that in mind when working with this group of students. Additionally, we must be able to provide the necessary learning aids, activities that stimulate and nurture creativity and higher education and continuing education for our teachers.
Raising the Standards for Success:
If our students are to meet higher standards of achievement, and our schools are to be successful in preparing students to participate in the workforce and contribute to their communities, our schools must develop new models for ensuring the success of those students most at risk of failure.
Students who end up dropping out of school may experience the compounded impact of growing up poor, living in a neighborhood where violence is commonplace, balancing time for schoolwork with the demands of caring for younger siblings or work, and lacking the skills to escape from a limiting track of remedial classes. These kids have a range of needs, and equipping our school to cope with those needs requires that our teachers, administrators, and City leadership recognize the man causes that put students at risk. If the problem is complex, so must be the solutions.
Our schools must find ways to introduce an accelerated and enriched curriculum that will provide the neediest students with the learning experiences that will enable them to reach higher standards.
A challenging curriculum engages students in education by drawing clear connections between learning and the world beyond school. Our schools must find ways to make challenging and high-quality teaching and curriculum available to all students, including those traditionally relegated to remedial or low track classes. We must create new opportunities for learning that typically requires that our schools reorganize, creating smaller, and more flexible communities of learning.
Our schools must find ways to create a network of support that ensures each student’s success. This network might include peer tutoring and mentoring programs, adult-student mentoring, more effective student advising, improved partnerships with families, and comprehensive support systems that include health and other social services.
The key to success within a system like this is to have an unbroken system of curriculum institution and, to do so without removing the resources at the disposal of already high achieving students.
When focusing on one specific group of student body we must not; cannot, ignore another.
Funding for Arts:
Today more than ever the arts are needed by our young people as a forum for safe expression, communication, exploration, imagination, and cultural and historical understanding. Brain research confirms that Arts education strengthens student problem-solving and critical thinking skills, adding to overall academic achievement, school success, and preparation for the work world. Art classes provide students a chance to develop cognitive and creative skills, and to develop their imaginations. For some students Art is their motivation for coming to school and an area where they have success or excel, providing an important balance in their total educational experience. The arts teach our students to be more tolerant and open through multicultural and historical perspectives and through their involvement in the creative process itself. Due to the collaborative nature of art, students develop crucial skills in cooperative decision-making, leadership, clear communication, and complex problem solving while working with others. The skills and experience that students develop by learning to perform, create, and respond to works of art provides a foundation for the kinds of literacy students must have to communicate and work successfully in our ever-changing media, technology, and information age.
Communication Between ACPS and Parents:
While it is our Principals, Administrators and Teachers that guide the educational advancement of our children during school hours, our parents or caregivers are the tip of the spear when it comes to the effort to maintain prolonged educational success for our students. Just as the intra-school staff is always aware of a student’s successes and difficulties as well as any major policy shifts or events affecting the work day, our parents must be privy to the same information is the same timeframe. Parents act as the cross-trained school employee. They are caregivers, teachers, administrators and coaches when the student is off campus and in the home. They deserve to be aware of individual student issues and ACPS decisions or thought processes as they occur.
A stronger, more effective and more easily used method of communication must be designed and instituted if we expect our children to be surrounded by a nurturing educational environment at all times.