Facing no electoral opposition in her November reelection, Alexandria School Board Chair Meagan Alderton says the next three years will be full of challenges. For one thing, the incoming nine-member board will have six new faces who will be challenged to lead a school system beset by controversy.
“I am definitely concerned about the turnover of the board,” Alderton told ALXnow. “One of the greatest challenges in today’s public schools in general is what I call the revolving door. We really reached a critical juncture in which we can’t even expect and plan to our support personnel — teachers, principals, leadership, superintendents… To not stick around for at least five years is devastating to our potential for progress.”
While many have criticized the school system’s reopening to full-time instruction as taking too long, Alderton gives ACPS high marks — an eight out of 10. She credits ACPS staffers who provided students with laptops, free meals and virtual instruction with keeping things afloat.
“I found it to be very humbling,” she said. “And overall I think they (staff) really did a good job to ensure that everybody had access to meals. We continued to focus on supporting the whole child, regardless of the physical environment.”
Alderton, the second Black woman to lead as Board Chair since Shirley Tyler 40 years ago, was elected to represent District C in 2018. Her fellow District C members Ramee Gentry and Heather Thornton did not file to run for reelection, and candidates Abdel-Rahman Elnoubi and Christopher Harris are shoo-ins for the two open slots in the district.
She was named Board chair in an internal election in January, and is a former special education teacher at elementary and middle schools in the city. She is also a licensed Realtor, her husband is a track coach at Alexandria City High School and, like Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., her children attend private school.
Alderton said she sends her kids to private school for faith-based reasons.
“I didn’t come into the role to serve myself for the benefit of my own children,” she said. “I came into this role to use my skills and expertise in love for education as a benefit to all kids…. It’s a very private thing, it’s a faith based thing, and hopefully people can can see my heart and my dedication towards the work, because I know what needs to be done.”
Alderton’s term was also punctuated by the renaming of T.C. Williams High School and recent elimination of the School Resource Officer program by City Council. She says that there is a lot of work to do to rebuild the relationship between the Board and Council.
“I definitely have a good relationship with the mayor,” she said. “I expect that that will continue. I have found him to be supportive of the School Board, of the school division. In regard to what needs to happen in the future with Council, I think we’re going to have to do some really intentional work to rebuild the relationship.”
Alderton says that ACPS and the police department need to get creative in preserving its memorandum of understanding with the police department.
“I think it’s important for our students to have access to our police officers, not just when they’re out in the community,” Alderton told ALXnow. “I do want our police department to stay in touch with our schools. It is an important connection, and I’m sure we can come up with some good ideas.”
Alderton says that her defining characteristic is remaining calm under pressure.
“There’s so much going on around and swirling around, and there has been so much going on and swirling around during the pandemic,” she said. “Overall, I’m just a very calm person. I don’t find value in overreacting, and I have learned a lot about how to manage crisis. When everyone around you is in crisis, as a leader it is essential for you to be rational and to be what everyone else just can’t be in that moment, for a very justifiable reason. If you are going to lead, people need to be able to get some of that calmness and steadiness from you as a leader.”
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