Continuity of leadership will be crucial to the success of the future expansion of T.C. Williams High School’s connected high school network, according to a panel of national experts who spoke to more than 100 parents, educators and staff on Wednesday night.
The Alexandria City Public Schools system has seen much turnover over the last two decades, with six superintendents over the last 20 years and just as many principals at T.C.
“There is not a school district in the country that has succeeded with constant changes in leadership, not one,” said Dr. Pedro A. Noguera, faculty director for the Center for the Transformation of Schools at UCLA. “School board members have the responsibility to support leadership. They need to make sure they ask the right questions, but they need to get out of the way, too, and let them do their job so that the schools can focus on education, not politics.”
Last September, the Alexandria School Board voted to expand T.C. by building on the Minnie Howard campus (3801 W. Braddock Road), which is a satellite school a few blocks west of T.C. The city’s only public high school currently teaches more than 400 courses to about 3,800 students, and it is anticipated there will be 5,000 students at the school by 2025.
Dr. Jonathan Plucker, president of the National Association of Gifted Children, said that there has been too much turnover at ACPS.
“Stable, talented leadership is not just an important issue, it is your key important issue in this district right now,” Plucker said. “So, doing whatever you can to maintain that at the department level, at the building level, at the district level really has to be your focus.”
ACPS Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Jr., agreed, and said that the issue is the most important element in the success of not only the high school expansion project, but of the school system overall.
“I think continuity of leadership is the most important ingredient to accomplishing our mission, and it is the one area where we have been lacking,” Hutchings told ALXnow. “If it’s not the superintendent it’s the principal and vice versa. In order for us to attain the goals that we set forth we can’t constantly be starting from scratch.”
Dr. Robert Balfanz, the director of the Everyone Graduates Center, said that an advantage of the high school network will be that students will be forced to adapt to a more college-like atmosphere with multiple campuses.
“I think one of the biggest advantages of the multi-campus approach you have here is that this is what kids are going to get in post-secondary [education] in many cases, and we know that the hidden crisis in America is the college dropout rate,” Balfanz said. “Fifty percent of kids who go to college don’t make it. One of the reasons they don’t is they don’t have the navigational skills to go from a very sheltered, structured environment to one which is a multi-site campus.”
Dr. Jaime A. Castellano, an authority on the education of Hispanic and Latino students, said that the campus will take students out of their comfort zones.
“It will allow them to apply their critical thinking and problem solving,” Castellano said. “Mommy and daddy aren’t going to be holding their hands their entire lives, right? So, it’s important that those kids get a feeling of independence, a feeling of autonomy by making sure they are responsible and play their role in making sure they have a successful high school experience. A multiple campus district would allow that to happen.”
Hutchings will present the school board with an update on the high school project at its meeting on Thursday, Jan. 9.