Alexandria parents and teachers livid over recently announced change to specialist teachers

ACPS headquarters and clock (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated 6/5) Parents and teachers at a School Board meeting last night said the rollout of a new plan to split specialist teachers across schools has been an unmitigated disaster.

The change affects Alexandria City Public Schools’ (ACPS) encore teachers: teachers who run classes like music, art and physical education. A new change announced in an email earlier this week, without public discussion or meetings, would split these teachers across multiple schools throughout the district.

The Washington Post also noted that the change came just days before teachers were supposed to receive contracts for the upcoming school year.

“Taking us away to go to other schools is going to dramatically change the situation at our school,” said Luisa Tio, an art teacher at Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School. “We just found out 48 hours ago that this was going to happen. None of this was in our contract. All of this is a complete shock to us.”

Meg Ziemann, PTA secretary at Cora Kely School for Math, Science and Technology, said the change was alarming both for how it would affect teachers and for the way it was handled:

No public comment was sought [and] the School Board did not have an opportunity to vote on these changes… The clandestine nature of this decision-making process, the fact that parents have not been alerted, and the fact that there is no mention of the significant staffing changes anywhere on the ACPS website raises major concerns about district communications, transparency, and erodes trust between the district and the community they serve. The impact of this adminsitrative decision cannot be understated.

Ashley Bender, the ACPS 2020 Teacher of the Year, said the change was heartbreaking.

“I stand before you today completely torn apart because of the trust and love that has led myself and encore teachers through the hardest parts of education,” Bender said, “not just by the decision to reallocate encore teachers, but consistent disappointments from ACPS leaders on the day-to-day scenarios in schools.”

Bender said the changes impacting already overworked teachers will have a significant impact on the quality of education for students.

“At our title one school there is a student that needs are because they cannot speak English,” Bender said. “There is a student that needs music because their trauma causes a loss for words, and there is a student that needs physical education because they’ve never had a pair of sneakers.”

ACPS leaders said the change will expand the reach of encore teachers to new and underserved schools. School Board member Ashley Simpson Baird said on social media (there was no discussion of the topic at the meeting) there has been public misinformation about the change to encore teachers. As of 1:20 p.m. on Friday, there remains no official information about the change on any ACPS website or social media channels.