School officials are trying to ensure that early plans to expand T.C. Williams High School don’t result in increasing the inequities the plan was designed to thwart.
On Sept. 26, the School Board voted not to build a second high school, but to transform T.C. Williams High School as a campus with an expanded Minnie Howard satellite location a few blocks away. As the schools move into the earliest phases of developing what that expansion looks like, School Board members and school officials at a meeting last week expressed concerns that the current plan to add new facilities to Minnie Howard campus could result in students receiving unequal access to better educational opportunities — one of the chief criticisms of the two high school plan.
“We’re looking at the space first and foremost, then we can look at [whether] we need to make an upgrade in some of the labs that we have at King Street,” said Superintendent Gregory Hutchings Jr. “If we have science at two of the buildings and one lab can do one thing and the other can’t, that’s a problem with inequities in terms of kids taking the same courses.”
The discussion was prompted by Michelle Rief, a School Board member, who noted that plans for the campus high school indicated that some students could fully complete their graduation requirements in one building or the other. Rief pointed out that having students fully attend one location or the other sounded a lot like two separate high schools.
“The description of two high schools was two campuses with options at both,” Rief said. “I’ve heard this idea that everyone would access both buildings… Are students going to have the option of fulfilling all graduation options in one building or will students have the option to access both buildings?”
Staff noted that the relationship between the existing T.C. Williams building and the expanded satellite campus at Minnie Howard was still a question being internally discussed. Several times, the problem of planning building space and devising how the curriculum fit into those spaces was described as a classic chicken or the egg dilemma.
Terri Mozingo, chief academic officer for Alexandria City Public Schools, said staff had to work through how the split campus would function in terms of where certain classes would be located, but that this was difficult without knowing exactly what layout the buildings would be taking. The layouts of the expansion are, in turn, shaped by the academic requirements.
“We don’t want to get too far into the concept design of the site but we have to test some of the things coming out of the priorities and the relationship with Minnie Howard,” said Mozingo. “By the spring, we can come together with the educational program framework. It won’t be the details, but will be the themes, and how that details the type of space.”