Despite a year of setbacks that included vocal community disagreement with Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, both from the community and within the school system, the School Board rallied around him and approved renewal of his contract.
The new contract renews Hutchings’ role in ACPS through June 30, 2025. During the discussion Thursday night, School Board members repeatedly praised his handling of the Coronavirus pandemic over the last year.
“I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge Dr. Hutchings,” said School Board member Michelle Rief. “He had to grapple with uncertainty of COVID and changing guidance from CDC… There’s no precedent or playbook on how to lead school division through global pandemic. Dr. Hutchings, you got us through this.”
Rief praised Hutchings’ work on helping to provide meals, laptops, and internet service for students who needed it.
“The past year has not been easy on anyone,” Rief said, “but we have made it to the end of the school year and are on a path to full reopening in the fall.”
The rest of the School Board more-or-less mirrored Rief’s comments, with some noting Hutchings’ present at the school as a relief from the school system’s frequent struggles with turnover.
“It’s easy to say in hindsight what this year could have or should have been,” said School Board member Veronica Nolan. “For context, this time last year, we were looking for eggs and toilet paper… I think it’s amazing what this team at ACPS has done together. That continuity is so important.”
Ramee Gentry noted that Hutchings’ tenure comes after a time when ACPS had three superintendents over five years. Another Superintendent was dumped by the School Board in 2007 in the wake of a DUI and rapidly increasing operations costs.
“ACPS has not had continuity [of leadership] for years,” Gentry said. “Turnover in superintendents leads to turnover in staff. When you do not have staff continuity, where they feel sure about where they are going, that ship isn’t going anywhere because it’s not steering in any direction.”
Hutchings’ faced his own turnover in staff — most notably the from former ACPS Chief Operating Officer Mignon Anthony who retired and published a damning letter about ACPS leadership in the Alexandria Times.
At the Board meeting, Hutchings passed the praise onto his staff.
“I need our community to know I am nothing without our team,” Hutchings said. “We are not able to accomplish anything in ACPS without our team. I am probably the most blessed superintendent in the world. I have people on my right, my left, my front my back. Our team comes together and we make it happen. We encourage each other and support each other. Thank you for continuously doing that on our behalf.”
Hutchings also thanked the board for their work over the last year, recalling individual memories and qualities of each Board Member.
“This is the best board that I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with several boards in the past eight years,” Hutchings said. “This board, when you talk about courage, boldness, vision, integrity, passion: that is exactly what we have here. I tell our staff that every opportunity we get how thankful we are to have that. This is a second contract for me in the place that made me who I am today. The ultimate gift in my life is this job. I appreciate that and I thank you all.”
The final graduating class of T.C. Williams High School celebrated their final Titan victory Saturday morning, as 888 graduates were handed diplomas at Chinquapin Park.
Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., said that the students have witnessed a profoundly difficult period, including COVID deaths, social unrest following the murder of George Floyd and the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“Remember to stand up for your beliefs, but do it with civility and civil discourse,” Hutchings said. “It takes time to build dialogue while understanding our differences. We can still be bold and we can still be courageous, while practicing kindness as the hallmark of our advocacy.”
With the pandemic winding down, the graduates were asked to look at the bigger picture.
“Always remember, the greatest tragedy is not death, but life without purpose,” said T.C. Black Student Union President Fina Osei-Owusu, who quoted both Myles Munroe and Mark Twain. “Because the two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why. Every single one of you has been equipped with passion and created with a purpose… Your essential element is your purpose, and the very reason why you exist. It is what you’re here to fulfill. So, I asked all of you to look within.”
“It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come together,” Humphrey said.
This year, equity reared its lens on T.C., which is the largest high school in Virginia. The school is known around the world for the 2000 movie Remember the Titans, which focused on its 1971 state championship-winning varsity football team that found greatness by working through racial adversity. However, the school’s namesake, former ACPS Superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams, was an ardent segregationist.
“What gives me hope is you,” school Principal Peter Balas told the sea of graduates in red, white and blue caps and gowns. “You have the voice and the means to change this world. You are Titans, and Titans rise up and take action. You’ve righted the wrongs of history and I know you won’t stop there.”
T.C. Williams High School graduated its first class in 1967, and will change its name to Alexandria City High School on July 1.
— Alexandria City Public Schools (@ACPSk12) June 12, 2021
Lining up and getting ready for the @TCWTitans Graduation!
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) June 12, 2021
Last year, T.C. Williams High School senior Nikki Harris broke an exclusive, significant story. Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. was sending one of his children to an in-person private school at a time when ACPS was heavily in the midst of hybrid learning.
It was a shining example of the kind of independent, investigative journalism at Theogony, the high school’s student newspaper.
Harris and a team of five other student journalists will be taking the lead at the news organization next school year — a transitional period both for the newspaper and the school it covers.
The school’s name will change from T.C. Williams High School to Alexandria City High School. While the name change has been getting headlines, Theogony editors — like their peers at the renamed Washington-Liberty High School in Arlington — say the issue has been a bigger deal for adults than the student body.
“At least among people I talk to, very few people interested,” Harris said. “More were [interested] in June 2020, but [now] it’s kind of a distraction from structural issues.”
Ethan Gotsch, an incoming editor of Theogony whose column Titan Underground profiled local musicians, said the name change is just one of the big changes coming to the school.
Editors at Theogony said the bigger issues within the student body — more than the name of the school — is the ongoing struggle to close the achievement gaps and the push for punishment reform within the school.
“[Outgoing editor] Bridgette [Adu-Wadier] wrote a lot about the suspension to prison pipeline, especially for students of color, and about whether teachers reflect student body,” Harris said.
Harris said while there was a relatively proportionate number of Black teachers to Black students, that was not at all the case for Latino or Hispanic students, who comprise around 40% of the student body.
Harris said the torch will be passed to the new class of editors to follow up on that and other issues of school equity.
Jacqueline Lutz, another incoming editor for Theogony, said that T.C. students are also frequently tuned in to city-wide issues.
“A lot of times what I’ve found is the issues that T.C. students face are basically local issues as well,” Lutz said. “We always try to find our T.C. angle, but also the local angle as well.”
Last November, Theogony wrote about the Taylor Run controversy, which has since become one of the talking points in the 2021 Mayoral and City Council elections. Gotsch said the local primary is another issue that’s been talked about within the school.
“As students, there is probably a limited amount of things we can do to tackle these issues,” Gotsch said, “but we do write about the Democratic primary.”
Beyond the changes coming to the school, there are also changes incoming for Theogony. The student news organization’s main readership has traditionally been its print edition, distributed through the school, but with the school shut down Theogony had to transition this past year to a more online-focused model. Now, the student news group is looking at how that balance carries over into the 2021-2022 school year.
“We’ve been thinking a lot about how we transitioned entirely to online,” said Harris. “Previously, print was our main source of readership. Now, we’re thinking a lot about how to balance that out or whether we should keep online as our main thing.” Read More
The day has finally come for Douglas MacArthur Elementary School.
On Monday, members of the community and Alexandria City Public Schools leadership watched as a demolition crew started tearing down the World War II-era building.
Lisa Porter lives across the street from MacArthur, and watched the demolition from her front yard with a group of neighbors. Porter’s two children went through MacArthur, and she has been involved with the school for 15 years.
“We are thrilled to finally see this happen,” Porter said. “We started hearing about this when my son was in kindergarten, and now he’s in college.”
School Board Chair Meagan Alderton said she would never forget making the “emotional” decision on MacArthur’s fate.
“Man, oh man, was it worth it,” Alderton said. “Because we are moving forward, we are excited. And I can’t wait to have this brand new building and have our teachers and our staff and our families be allowed to have what they deserve. It’ll be amazing when this place is a memory and we have new building up here.”
ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., said construction is on schedule to reopen the school in Jan. 2023. In the meantime, MacArthur students are using the old Patrick Henry Elementary School as swing space.
“I’m sorry that our students and our families were not able to be here because of the COVID restrictions,” Hutchings said. “But this was a wonderful occasion. It was a long time coming and we’re so excited for the next chapter of Douglas MacArthur.”
Design-wise, MacArthur’s three-level “Forest” plan was chosen last year. It is currently set back from Janneys Lane, putting classrooms at the rear of the building and providing a view of nearby Forest Park.
City Councilwoman Amy Jackson was also there. Last month, Jackson made an impassioned plea for movement on construction.
“I’m very excited,” she said. “The community engagement has been amazing. It’s going to be an exciting time for an exciting school.”
MacArthur Principal Penny Hairston said that the demolition was a long time coming.
“There is a rich legacy here, and this is very exciting,” Hairston said. “It’s a very emotional thing to see this happen.”
While Alexandria City Public Schools plans on reducing distancing to three feet in classrooms on April 26, the school system will also reopen to four days a week of in-person instruction for students in the citywide special needs program.
Additionally, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. has announced that the VirtualPLUS+ hybrid learning model will come to a close. In its place will be an ACPS “Virtual Academy”.
Since the pandemic began, 16,000 ACPS students have alternated between completely virtual and two days per week of hybrid instruction. Hutchings said that families will have to fill out a survey next month on whether they want their kids to attend school virtually or in-person, and that the virtual students will be taught by teachers who will have to be hired.
“This survey is going to be for our planning purposes,” Hutchings said in a Zoom chat Thursday. “We’re going to have to determine how many teachers there will need to be, if we’re going to have to hire virtual teachers. We have to begin to hire them now… because there will be no teachers available to hire in August. So we are trying to ensure that we give ourselves enough planning time so that we can be prepared for the fall and have a very efficient, smooth and effective opening.”
Hutchings continued, “Now two separate pathways, when we’re talking about the fall, students will either be in-person, five days a week, or they’ll be virtual five days a week, (with) no overlap or hybrid of the two.”
Hutchings said he hopes to have a date on when that will happen at tonight’s School Board meeting.
“I’m hoping to have an exact day tonight,” Hutchings. “Our specialized instructional team has been working on this specific day for this to start. We’re working through those logistics.”
Additionally, any hybrid learning students who have not attended in-person instruction by April 13 will be automatically considered virtual students, according to a staff presentation.
Meanwhile, the school system is working out a plan to keep six-foot distance requirements in lunchrooms, and Hutchings said that lunch plans will be released next week.
“We do not have a division-wide solution (for lunch) because every school has a different size campus, they have different spaces, they have different spaces being occupied, they have different staff members,” he said. “We wanted schools to have the autonomy to be able to work through their solution as a team, which they have done, and they will be released for every school next week.”
ACPS is also working with the Alexandria Health Department on a plan for school playgrounds. That plan currently includes:
- Strict hand washing or sanitizing before and after recess
- A recess zone schedule, which includes the playground area as a zone, must be followed for contact tracing measures
- Students must maintain a minimum of 6 feet from others while playing due to increased exhalation
- A sanitation plan for cleaning the equipment daily is in place at all school locations
- Others outside of ACPS are prohibited from using the playgrounds during school hours
Alexandria City Public Schools will shift to three-foot distancing in classrooms on Monday, April 26, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. told the School Board on Tuesday night.
The change will be implemented five weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed their guidance for classrooms from six to three feet. Between now and April 26, principals will be making adjustments to the change, while keeping the six-foot distancing in place in the cafeteria and during lunch.
The school system will also be bringing back 3,000 more students to two days a week of hybrid instruction over the next couple of weeks. That will make about 8,000 students back in school out of the 16,000 student population.
“We were already, kind of, prepared to pivot (to three-foot distancing),” Hutchings told the Board in a virtual retreat. “We were really just trying to focus on the most recent pivot we were doing prior to spring break, which was bringing back additional students on April 20, and additional students on April 27.”
Hutchings will provide the Board with an update on the distancing change on Thursday, April 22. He also said that the school system is preparing for four-day-per-week summer school and five days a week of in-person instruction starting this fall.
Last week, the School Board approved the distancing change, reversing a since-deleted statement on ACPS Express that the school system is “maintaining six feet of physical distancing throughout the remainder of the school year.”
Hutchings was heavily criticized last week for not advising the Board on a decision to keep all students at home to study virtually a full week after spring break, in addition to the distancing message, which was made without Board advisement.
“I’m going to be honest,” School Board Member Ramee Gentry said in last Thursday’s meeting. “In my five years on the School Board, this is probably the most frustrated I’ve ever been. I feel there is a real disconnect in the communications and a real breakdown in the process… We have heard a lot of frustration from the community, and I quite frankly share that frustration.”
Member Chris Suarez said last week that he was “blindsided” by the extension of virtual an extra week after spring break.
“To come back from spring break and see this announcement and frankly be blindsided by it, you know, it was very concerning from a procedural standpoint,” he said.
School Board Member Margaret Lorber said that it was unrealistic for ACPS to quickly adapt to three-feet distancing, and criticized the media for coverage.
“I knew we had not made a decision as a Board to stick with the six feet until the end of the year,” Lorber said. “However, I knew that there were a lot of teachers who were hesitant to even move from virtual to in-school for those a lot of questioning on our staff, still a lot to discern about safety issues about just the work, the fact that they had put so much into creating a virtual system.”
Lorber continued, “I think we have to be aware, the press loves to pick up on sensational language, so I guess that’s my point. And I wish we could have all kept our language, you know, a little less sensational so they wouldn’t have such a story.”
Hutchings said that the superintendent job is a lonely one, and that he was very grateful and values the personal relationships he has with School Board members.
“This is probably one of the loneliest jobs out there right now,” Hutchings said of his position. “It’s a pretty lonely place, but I never genuinely feel alone because I know I do have nine other people (the Board)… that I could call on when needed, in that we can talk through our challenges, so I just appreciate that.”
It was a historic week in Alexandria. Here are some of the highlights.
President Joe Biden visited the Neighborhood Health COVID-19 vaccine site at Virginia Theological Seminary on Tuesday, just before announcing that the date for adults to get access to the vaccine has been moved to April 19.
The Alexandria School Board, on Thursday night, voted to change the name of T.C. Williams High School to Alexandria City High School.
The School Board also voted unanimously to reduce the distancing requirement in ACPS schools from six feet to three feet, all the while community support is growing to expand in-person instruction to more than the current two days a week. Summer school is currently planned to begin in July and will be four days a week, and ACPS is planning on reopening to five days a week at the beginning of the next school year.
Our top story was on the T.C. Williams Titans junior varsity football team walking off the field after an incident with the Robinson Rams on Monday night. Robinson Rams players allegedly spit at and made a racial slur against T.C. players. The incident has prompted Fairfax County Public Schools to announce a “stand-down” meeting for all athletic teams and coaches to discuss “appropriate behaviors required to play sports in FCPS.”
Additionally, six Alexandria Police officers were placed on administrative duties after a chase suspect died while in custody. Police responded to a call for shots fired in the 800 block of North Patrick Street, and multiple buildings and vehicles were struck. The driver of the vehicle crashed on Interstate 295, and then jumped over an overpass barrier and fell more than 20 feet and was tased by police, arrested and later died.
- Alexandria aims to adjust vaccination efforts as city moves into next phase
- Alexandria Police employees give department mixed reviews
- Planning Commission approves controversial subdivision, plants potential loophole for future denial
- City says Taylor Run alternatives could cost far more than current estimates
- Crime increase prompts ARHA to install security cameras in Old Town
- City looks to Landmark Towers deal to save Arlandria
- ‘Beltway Bank Bandit’ sentenced 21 years for robbing Alexandria banks and area businesses
- Man arrested for threatening to burn down City Hall
- Wilson wins Alexandria Democratic Committee straw poll, Gaskins takes top spot over incumbents
- JUST IN: T.C. Williams JV football team walks off field after alleged racial slur, spitting incident
- BREAKING: Shots fired in Old Town leads to chase that ends in D.C.
- JUST IN: President Biden set to visit Alexandria vaccination site Tuesday
- National Park Service announces George Washington Parkway to go on a diet
- Neighborhood Health vaccinating thousands at sites in Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax County
- JUST IN: Woman arrested after fight on King Street Metro station platform
- UPDATE: $8,500 reported stolen in terrifying West End robbery
- JUST IN: President Biden visits COVID-19 vaccine site at Virginia Theological Seminary
- COVID-19 update: Alexandria moves into vaccination phase 1C
- JUST IN: Six Alexandria Police officers put on administrative duties after chase suspect dies
- Fairfax County man arrested for three burglaries, released three days later
Have a safe weekend!
In a unanimous decision Thursday night, the Alexandria School Board went against the recommendation of Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. and changed distancing in schools from six feet to three feet.
School Board members were unhappy that, also on Thursday, Alexandria City Public Schools posted that the school system “is maintaining six feet of physical distancing throughout the remainder of the school year.”
The statement has since been deleted.
“I’m going to be honest,” School Board Member Ramee Gentry said. “In my five years on the School Board this is probably the most frustrated I’ve ever been. I feel there has been a real disconnect in the communications and a real breakdown in the process that’s happened over the last two days. We have heard a lot of frustration from the community, and I quite frankly share that frustration.”
Hutchings said he will meet with staff early next week on when the new distancing guidelines will happen. He also said that staff have been figuring out how to make the changes since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed their guidance to three feet last month. He told the Board that there was a celebratory discussion with staff after the CDC guidance came out on March 19.
“A couple of weeks ago when we received the updated CDC guidelines, we shared this information with our transition team… and we were having a really celebratory discussion about it because we were excited about the fact that three feet will allow us to bring more students into our schools,” Hutchings said. “We are committed to bringing back as many students as we can. Three feet is going to allow us to do that.”
Board Member Michelle Rief made the motion to change the distancing. She said ACPS mistakenly took the six-foot position without the Board’s approval.
“I make a motion that ACPs transition to three feet of physical distancing between desks to the greatest extent possible for the remainder of the current school year,” she said. “I am committed to returning as many students as possible to in-person learning this school year.”
Hutchings and School Board Chair Meagan Alderton have also been criticized for sending their children to private schools in the city that have three-foot distancing requirements.
“I want more kids in school as soon as possible,” Alderton said.
ACPS staff have had an opportunity to get vaccinated. In January, Governor Ralph Northam visited T.C. Williams High School to see ACPS staff get their first round of inoculations. As previously reported, around half of the school staff were uncomfortable returning to work when surveyed last fall, and Hutchings has been concerned with capacity and staffing issues.
Board Member Christopher Suarez said that he was blindsided by the ACPS announcement, in addition to Hutchings’ decision to keep ACPS all-virtual for a week following spring break.
“My concerns started when the announcement was made right before spring break, that we were going to extend virtual an extra week after the break and there was no discussion with the board about that,” Suarez said. “To come back from spring break and see this announcement and frankly be blindsided by it, you know, it was very concerning from a procedural standpoint.”
About 5,000 students went back to two days a week of in-person instruction last month, and Hutchings said that 3,000 more students will go back over the next couple of weeks.
The OPEN ACPS group, which is made up of hundreds of residents, commended the Board on its decision. The group is now asking the Board to weigh Hutchings’ decisions during the pandemic when his contract with the school system comes up for review this December.
“OPEN ACPS is grateful to the Board members who demanded answers and accountability from this Superintendent during last night’s meeting,” the group said in a statement. “In addition, OPEN ACPS urges the Board to continue holding the Superintendent accountable as ACPS moves to adopt the 3 feet distancing metric. We hope that this will not be another opportunity for Dr. Hutchings to use meetings, committees, and ‘buy in’ as a means to delay policy changes that he cannot or will not enact.”
“Alexandria City High School” on Thursday night was unanimously chosen as the new name for T.C. Williams High School. The Alexandria School Board voted for the name change for the city’s only public high school, and the effort took more than a year in the making.
“It’s a big deal and it will mean a lot for our future use,” School Board Chair Meagan Alderton said. “Sometimes it’s good for us to think about the power in reclaiming a name, in changing the name to mean something — other than what we’ve always used it for.”
The new name will be effective at the start of the 2021-22 School Year on July 1, 2021. Additionally, the Board changed the name of Matthew Maury Elementary School to Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School.
School Board Member Ramee Gentry made the motion for “Alexandria City High School”. It was approved unanimously.
“I understand both sides of this,” Board member Jacinta Greene said. “We have over 50,000 graduates that are very endeared by the name, by the initials T.C. And we have current students that still love being a T.C. Titan…. But not in the name of Thomas Chambliss. It will not mean that anymore.”
T.C. Williams High School is the largest high school in Virginia. It is known around the world for the 2000 movie Remember the Titans, which focused on its 1971 state championship-winning varsity football team that found greatness by working through racial adversity.
T.C. is named after Thomas Chambliss Williams, the superintendent of ACPS for 30 years. He required that all Black students wanting admission to previously all-white schools to go through an application process. Only 75 Black students (about 3%) were allowed to transfer to formerly white schools by the time Williams announced his retirement in 1962, and that was three years after the city officially desegregated schools.
“I had butterflies in my stomach all day just thinking about how long and emotional this journey has been,” said Lorraine Johnson, a student representative on the board. “We can’t forget about our elementary school and middle school students who are coming up before you know it. It’s going to be your time to shine in this high school of endless possibilities, and when it happens, take advantage of every opportunity.”
Gentry did not want the T.C. in another proposal — The City of Alexandria High School.
“You will always be a T.C. Williams High School graduate, and you can wear that with pride,” Gentry said. “But this is the beginning of a new period in history.”
Principal Peter Balas said that “A.C. Titans” is not far from T.C. Titans.
“I’m a little concerned about a move to preserve the letters T and C in the name in some way, without having the engagement of our students,” Balas said.
Residents have tried in vain for decades to get the name changed, and many said that the process this time around should have been handled faster.
It's official!!! Our high school name is now ALEXANDRIA CITY HIGH SCHOOL!!!!!
— Peter Balas (@TCWPrincipal) April 8, 2021
Photo via ACPS/Facebook
Mayor Justin Wilson says that money is no object and that he wants the Alexandria City Public Schools system to fully reopen to in-person instruction as soon as possible.
However, ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. says that in-person instruction won’t be expanded past two days a week at least for the remainder of this school year.
“We need to get our kids back in school full time,” Wilson told ALXnow. “Money will be no object, facilities will be no object. We will make sure that we get our kids back in school, and that that is what I’ve said from the beginning of this effort.”
Hutchings has come under fire for keeping ACPS all-virtual for a week following spring break. Some residents say that the school system is broken and that they are considering moving from the city.
Meanwhile, neighboring jurisdictions are opening up their school systems. Fairfax County Public Schools recently expanded to four days a week for in-person instruction and Falls Church recently returned to five days a week.
ACPS states on its website that it is planning on five-day-a-week in-person instruction this fall. As of the week of March 16, 2021, the school system reported more than 4,000 in-person students two days a week — a quarter of its 16,000-strong student population. Three days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced the recommended distancing in schools from six feet to three feet.
“We are reviewing the revised CDC guidelines to determine how these impact our school division, as our reopening team continues to plan for the 2021-22 school year,” Hutchings wrote parents this week in an email. “We do not plan to adjust the current hybrid learning schedule before the end of the school year, at this time.”
Additionally, Hutchings and School Board Chair Meagan Alderton have been criticized for sending their children to private schools in the city that have three-foot distancing requirements, while the standard at ACPS is six feet. Alderton and Hutchings did not respond to questions on the subject.
ACPS will expand the number of students on April 20, Hutchings said, adding that students are organized via a “instructional prioritization matrix.”
“We expect to begin welcoming more students to in-person learning starting on April 20, and will soon share more information with families of the students who will be able to join the hybrid program later this month,” Hutchings wrote parents.
One parent said he is considering moving from the city.
“The latest email from the Superintendent laid bare the harsh reality that we do not have the will in our community or school leadership to do what is right for our public school kids,” the parent said. “It’s shocking that in a city concerned with equity, we have a different set of standards for those whose children attend public school.”
Me too. https://t.co/7YlBysEHNI
— John Taylor Chapman (@j_chapman99) April 8, 2021