Alexandria, VA

Over a week after all of its neighboring school districts had made similar announcements, Alexandria City Public Schools announced this morning that the school year will start entirely virtual.

The program will include a structured bell schedule, live daily instruction with teachers, and some one-on-one or small group tutoring. Students in pre-K through first-grade classes will also receive age-appropriate technology, ACPS said, while students in grades 2-12 will receive Chromebooks.

“Following months of research, community engagement and strategizing, Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. is proposing a feasible model that brings the classroom into the home and aligns with the 2025 Strategic Plan, which places equity at the center of every decision,” ACPS said in a newsletter. “Our most feasible model, Virtual PLUS+, is a robust online learning experience that will engage students 100% virtually and provide additional supports for students, staff and families.”

“After much careful consideration of the facts as they stand today, we feel confident that Virtual PLUS+ will provide a quality educational experience worthy of our children while keeping the health and safety of our students, staff and families in mind,” Hutchings said. “This model places equitable access for all at the heart and ensures that we can build a framework that addresses the needs of specific groups of students to ensure they stay on course this fall.”

ACPS said it will also work with community partners to offer childcare options who families who need it, with more details to come. The program will also include a continuation of earlier meal distribution programs.

“We are working collaboratively with our community partners to provide more specific details about these child care options and will share additional information over the next couple of weeks,” ACPS said.

The Alexandria City School Board will hold two online public hearings on the ACPS proposed feasible model for the…

Posted by Alexandria City Public Schools on Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Whether ACPS can move toward in-person schools will be reevaluated every nine weeks, ACPS said.

The school system drew some criticism over the last week for a perceived slowness on its handling of whether schools would be online-only or a hybrid in-person model.

The Alexandria City School Board will conduct virtual public hearings on the matter on August 6 and 7. The board will vote on the measure on August 7 before it goes to the Virginia Department of Education on August 14. The school year is scheduled to start Sept. 8.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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In a video posted yesterday, Alexandria Superintendent Gregory Hutchings described the school’s approach to educating students at home and how those plans have evolved and will evolve throughout the pandemic.

“Our continuity of learning plan is how we teach and learn from home,” Hutchings said. “It ensures all our students are learning while we’re at home. The plan was initially meant to take us through spring break, but as you know… [Gov. Northam] decided all schools will remain closed through the academic year.”

Hutchings said the school is currently in the middle of what he called Continuity of Learning Plan 2.0, a plan that includes both synchronous — video classes between teachers and students — and asynchronous education — lessons students can pursue on a timeline that works for individual families.

“There are a lot of younger students are involved with [asynchronous learning],” Hutchings said. “They might check in with the teacher, it might be one-on-one, or might see a lesson on TV or online at a time convenient for the family. That’s important because all of our schedules are different.”

Hutchings said his own family was no different, saying he was trying to find a time to record the video in a house full of family members using zoom for various meetings and lessons at all hours of the day.

Moving forward, Hutchings said Plan 3.0 focuses on summer academic support.

“We’re going to be sharing that with staff and families on May 22,” Hutchings said, so families can have a better understanding of what summer will look like for students.”

The final (for now) version of the continuity of learning plan — 4.0 — is about preparing for reopening schools for the next academic year.

“More information on that will be coming soon,” Hutchings said. “We’ll be releasing that at the end of June, on June 26. That will provide and opportunity for family and staff to understand the multiple plans for opening schools in the fall. There may be multiple scenarios.”

Hutchings said the other question he hears a lot is whether students will be penalized for not completing their assignments from home.

“If students don’t do the assignments will they be held back?” Hutchings said. “Students won’t be penalized, but students grades 6-12 will have the opportunity to improve their grade if they do their assignments.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Morning Notes

Teacher Runs 20 Miles to See Students — “My daughter really misses school and interacting with her friends and teachers, so when Ms. Shannon surprised her Ellie was overwhelmed with excitement. She couldn’t believe that it was actually Ms. Shannon in person.” [Zebra]

T.C. Williams Class of 2020 Making Documentary — “The class of 2020 is making Titan history. Across the city of Alexandria, Titan seniors will be recording their stories all on the same day, May 1. Here’s how it will work: On May 1, anytime between 12:00AM-11:59PM, seniors will answer these questions in 3 short videos of up to 60 seconds each: What do you love? What do you fear? What do you hope for?” [ACPS]

The Greater Alexandria Virtual Community Job Fair Starts at 1 p.m. — “No need to dress up and leave your house to look for a job, with our virtual job fair we bring the employers to you!” [Indeed]

Sheriff’s Office Swears in New Deputies… At a Distance — “Congratulations to our new deputies who were sworn in today and many thanks to their families who joined us remotely. Sheriff Dana Lawhorne congratulated the recruits and thanked their families, and Clerk of Circuit Court Greg Parks emphasized the tremendous responsibility that comes with public service. He then administered the oath of office to Deputy William Powell, Deputy Dianna Gethers, Deputy Daniel Canniff, Deputy Austin Grant, Deputy Francis Laigo, and Deputy Michael Spitzer. Welcome and good luck to all!” [Facebook]

Pork Barrel BBQ Delivers 50 Meals to Alexandria Hospital — “Thanks to @porkbarrelbbqdelray and @feed_the_fight_alx for sending 50 meals to our heroes at @inovahealth Alexandria!” [Facebook]

DASH Employees Undergo Additional Safety Measures — “We’ve implemented temperature checks for all DASH employees before they start their shifts as an extra precaution to protect the health of our staff and passengers. Stay home. Stop the spread. Buses are for essential travel only.” [Facebook]

ACPS Superintendent Virtual Q&A Today at 3 p.m. — “As we embark on our new journey learning and working remotely, I want to let you know that you are not alone at this difficult time. We will provide you with updates, information and tips every day so that you have the resources to help ensure the continuity of learning among our young people.” [ACPS]

T.C. Student Wins Category in State Science Fair — “Congrats T.C. Williams High School junior Michaela McCormack, winner of the Behavioral and Social Sciences category at the Virginia State Science and Engineering Fair. Her research, “Too Cool for JUUL,” tested how sleep and risk-taking are affected by pod-based e-cigarettes (vaping) in both humans and fruit flies. Michaela competed virtually against hundreds of Virginia students from 12 regions across the state.” [Facebook]

ACPS School Nurses Send Message to Kids in Photo Collage — “Ask any student, school nurses are some of the most loved members of our ACPS staff. To remind students just how much they are missed, ACPS created this cheerful photo message. Please share with your children!” [Facebook]

The Hyatt Centric is Still Open in Old Town — “We are open and serving those who need a hotel during this time. We miss our guests and can’t wait to see you soon.” [Facebook]

WEBA Hosting Virtual Business Training at 11 a.m. — “Recovery will be different for each business, we need to start planning now.” [Facebook]

Lawyer Launches Soap Company — “About 18 months ago, she decided to leave law practice and pursue making solid soap bars in environmentally-friendly packaging – and that was how ‘Do Good Soaps and Suds’ was born.” [Alexandria Living]

The Old Town Shop Offers Virtual Tour — “Need to get “out” of the house today? Take a virtual walk through The Old Town Shop & check out our vast array of unique local gifts! Mother’s Day is coming up soon, too. 🌷🌸 We offer safe in-store shopping, over the phone orders, curbside pick-up daily from 12-5pm & shipping.” [Facebook]

It’s Poem In Your Pocket Day — “City of Alexandria Poet Laureate KaNikki Jakarta invites residents to read poetry in celebration of the National Poem in Your Pocket day. The 2020 ‘DASHing Words in Motion’ Poets have also been invited to read their winning poetry that will be displayed on the DASH buses and Trolleys throughout the month of April.” [Facebook]

Wholistic Hound Academy Offering Online Dog Training — “Arousal: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly is a timely 3-session class that can help you and your dog to better co-exist while you work from home, while the kids are home from school, and at a time when your lives are a little more stressed and chaotic during this temporary new normal.” [Facebook]

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Alexandria City Public Schools will distribute food on a modified schedule to families during spring break next week, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. announced on Thursday.

“We have been able to partner with the city, which I’m really excited about, to continue to have our grab-and-go meal distribution on next week,” Hutchings said in his daily video. “It will not be at all of our sites, though. It will only be at T.C. Williams  next week.”

The grab-and-go meals will be available next week on the Chinquapin Park and Recreation Center side of T.C. Williams High School on Wednesday, April 8, and Friday, April 10, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

“We will resume our normal scheduling of our meal distributions at all of our sites as well as our mobile pop-up sites when we return back on April 13, so there is a modified meal distribution next week but we will still have meals, and I’m really excited about the fact that we will still be able to provide meals for all of our families,” Hutchings said.

Spring break ends on Monday, April 13 and students will be expected to resume their studies on Tuesday, April 14.

In the meantime, ACPS is partnering with ALIVE! to provide families with up to four bags of groceries on Saturday, from 8:30 to 11 a.m. in the John Adams Elementary School parking lot [5651 Rayburn Avenue] and at the Leonard “Chick” Armstrong Recreation Center [25 W Reed Avenue].

Otherwise, Hutchings said that he was looking forward to having downtime and not responding to emails for a week.

“I know I’m not going anywhere but in the house, but I’m looking forward to just unplugging and not doing the videos and not responding to emails all day,” he said. “Just taking some downtime that is well needed, and I hope that you all will do the same, that you’ll get some rest.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced T.C. Williams High School to not have a traditional prom or graduation this year, and Alexandria City Public Schools are working on alternatives.

Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. and T.C. Principal Peter Balas broke the news to more than 700 graduating seniors last week that the ceremony at George Mason University’s Eagle Bank Arena on June 13 has been canceled.

“Graduation… is not going to happen as it traditionally does because of the large gatherings that graduation or a commencement ceremony requires,” Hutchins said in one of his daily videos. “But we are still working with our seniors and also with our staff members to develop an innovative approach to actually have some form of a commencement ceremony or graduation ceremony for the class of 2020 and we’re going to have more information for you all about that soon.”

The 2020 yearbooks are also nearly complete and will be sent to students.

T.C. senior Peter Moser told Theogony, the school newspaper, that while it’s disappointing to miss prom and graduation, “I would rather have my grandparents alive.”

“There’s a huge risk to having both of those events, so canceling them was the right choice,” Moser said. “Hopefully, we will still be able to have a graduation ceremony in the summer or something.”

Governor Ralph Northam on March 23 ordered all schools to be closed for the remainder of the year. Alexandria’s public schools were already shut down until the end of spring break, and ACPS staff are currently working on a continuity plan for the rest of the year.

“We’re working right now with the Virginia Department of Education,” Hutchings said. “They will be submitting a waiver to the U.S. Department of Education to waive some of the graduation requirements, so that we can ensure students are not penalized for the school closures that will occur for the remainder of this year.”

The state department of education is also submitting an application to the U.S. Department of Education to wave requirements for students who still need to take standards of learning exams or earn industry credentials.

“Once that application is approved, we will be able to still have our seniors, graduate with a standard or an advanced diploma from TC Williams,” Hutchings said.

T.C. will also not have its traditional National Decision Day, where seniors commit to colleges with letters of intent.

Balas sent a letter to students informing them of the decisions and said that advanced placement exams will still be taking place, but will be shorter and online. The exam schedule will be available on April 3 from the College Board.

“I know this is going to be hard on you,” Balas wrote. “These events are rites of passage as you complete your senior year at T.C. Although we know we won’t be able to recreate the experience in the traditional manners, I plan to work with my Titans to come up with alternatives. Our students have been sending me some great ideas about how we can still celebrate this time in your lives.”

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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Alexandria City Public Schools are closed for the remainder of the school year.

Governor Ralph Northam made the announcement on Monday, effectively closing all public schools in Virginia.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said that he and his team need a few days to finalize a continuation plan for students.

“Tomorrow, we are expecting more guidance from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) around graduation requirements, high school credits, Standards of Learning (SOL) testing, and how to move forward with continuity of learning that meet Special Education requirements,” Hutchings said in his daily 3 p.m. video announcement.

Hutchings added, “Once this information is released from the VDOE, we will begin to share our refined plan for the extended school closures with our families and staff.”

Mayor Justin Wilson tweeted that the move is “heartbreaking as it is expected.”

There are more than 15,700 students in ACPS, which is releasing staff updates at noon every day and notices to families every day at 1 p.m. in ACPS Express. Student attendance is not being tracked during the shutdown, and teachers are legally prohibited from grading any work or providing new learning material to students.

There are currently six positive cases of COVID-19 in Alexandria.

“I can’t say I’m shocked because I knew it was gonna happen,” said a student at T.C. Williams High School. “It’s crazy to think about. I feel bad for the seniors because they’re missing the best parts of high school.”

Every elementary school student was given instructional packets to take home, and students in grades 3-12 went home with Chromebook laptops. The school system has also provided educators with instructional suggestions, and have ordered them to constantly connect online with students to make sure they are thinking academically.

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The COVID-19 shutdown has brought an early summer slide to Alexandria City Public School students.

On Friday, the School Board discussed the issue in its first online meeting since canceling all in-person meetings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has closed the school system until April 14.

“I know we’re probably all concerned this is a whole new definition of summer slide that many of our lower-income kids are going to be experiencing,” School Board Vice Chair Veronica Nolan said, and asked if any additional outreach could be made to children in lower-income families.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said that ACPS, during the month-long COVID-19 system-wide shutdown, is legally prohibited from grading any work or providing new learning material to students. Every elementary school student was given instructional packets to take home, and students in grades 3-12 went home with Chromebook laptops.

“It is definitely important for all of us to know that summer slide is real,” Hutchings said. “And it’s not just for our students who are low income, but all of our students at this time, because we are not able to provide any new information to students right now.”

Hutchings said he is planning on opening schools back up after spring break ends on April 13, although the nature of the coronavirus has resulted in historic shutdowns throughout the area.

“Right now we are planning on opening on April 13, but we do have a continuation plan if we are ordered by either the governor or the Virginia Department of Education to keep our schools closed past that date,” Hutchings said. “We’re working on a plan if we were to have to do that and what that would look like.”

There are more than 15,700 students in ACPS, which is releasing staff updates at noon every day and notices to families every day at 1 p.m. in ACPS Express. Hutchings also hosts a daily webinar at 3 p.m. during the week.

Hutchings and other superintendents from around Virginia are meeting online once a week with James Lane, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction. Discussion topics include getting waivers for students to account for time lost in the classroom and what happens if school is closed for the rest of the year.

“That is our question every week, ‘So what do we do if schools remain closed through the end of the school year? How do we get that time back in regards to instructional time for our students?'” Hutchings told the board. “And then what does that look like? Are we going to have waivers for our schools for July versus September or August?”

The school system has also provided educators with instructional suggestions, and to constantly connect online with students to make sure they are thinking academically.

“We have a conference with the teachers once a week,” a T.C. student told ALXnow. “The work takes like four hours a day, normally. Most people are doing the work, because you will be very behind next year if you don’t… I do like two-thirds of it.”

School Board Member Meagan Alderton asked about erecting signs outside of schools, since receiving an email she received from a parent about a packed playground at Matthew Maury Elementary School.

“The email was about looking across the street and seeing tons of kids and tons of people playing on the playground together,” Alderton said. “Can we do something about that? Can we put some notices up to support this notion that we are social distancing, so lets please not convene 20 on the playground at our school?”

ACPS Chief Operating Officer Mignon Anthony said that signs will soon be erected warning people to not congregate. All ACPS playgrounds and facilities are officially closed to the public.

On food distribution, Hutchings said that staff are finalizing the details on a mobile pop-up, which will provide for people who can’t make it to the other food distribution locations. He also said that staff will soon have a multilingual phone hotline for parents with questions about receiving food.

The entire meeting is below.

Image via ACPS

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(Updated at 7 p.m.) Alexandria City Public Schools will be closing Monday until April 14 — after spring break — due to the coronavirus outbreak, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. announced in an email at noon on Friday.

Although the Alexandria Health Department is not recommending schools to close at this time, multiple issues are impacting the ability for our schools to function effectively and efficiently,” Hutchings wrote. “Therefore, all ACPS schools will be closed as of Monday, March 16, 2020. We are currently planning to close until after spring break (April 6-13, 2020) and will continue to monitor the situation throughout this period of time.”

ACPS has a plan to feed students on free and reduced lunch. Starting Monday, the school system will provide free emergency meals for “any child under 18 and any family who needs it.”

According to the school system, there are two ways to access food while schools are closed:

  • Individual Meals to Go: Any child between the ages of 2 and 18 – whether or not they are eligible for Free or Reduced Price Meals – can pick up a meal to go in a bag. Stop by the Chinquapin Drive side of T.C. Williams High School (door 14) between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. to pick up a meal-to-go. You do not need to fill out any forms to pick up a meal-to-go.
  • Family Meal Packs: You can order a family meal pack online and pick it up at the drive through pick-up point outside Chinquapin Recreation Center (Chinquapin Drive side of T.C. Williams High School, door 14) between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m the following day. If transportation is an issue, please remember to check the box to request meal delivery. Fill out the form to request a family meal pack: https://www.acps.k12.va.us/emergency-mealform

ALXnow was the first to report the closure on Friday morning, and the news comes a day after Hutchings appeared in a web conference with city and health officials, saying that the school system was not closing and was closely monitoring the pandemic.

Fairfax County closed schools Friday and cancelled all school trips and extracurricular activities. Loudoun County closed its schools from Thursday until March 20. Arlington Public Schools have cancelled or postponed non-essential events, schools in the District will be closed the remainder of the month starting March 16, and all public schools in Maryland are closing from March 16 through March 27.

Additionally, Bishop Ireton High School announced that it would be closed on Friday.

The city reported its first presumptive positive case of coronavirus on Wednesday night, and earlier this week Hutchings reported that some students and staff at five schools were self-isolating in their respective homes.

The full message to parents is below.

Dear ACPS Families,

During the past several days we have heard concerns from parents and staff about keeping our schools open while the coronavirus response escalates in our region and around the country. Please know the safety and well being of our young people is always the top priority in ACPS. The mental, physical and emotional health of our students is at the forefront of our decision-making during this coronavirus situation.  

At this time, we have no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in our schools, and the Alexandria Health Department has not determined community-spread of the coronavirus in the City of Alexandria. We have a number of staff and students who are self-quarantining and will be out for several weeks. Closures in our region are also impacting our ability to fully staff our schools. 

Although the Alexandria Health Department is not recommending schools to close at this time, multiple issues are impacting the ability for our schools to function effectively and efficiently. 

Therefore, all ACPS schools will be closed as of Monday, March 16, 2020. We are currently planning to close until after spring break (April 13, 2020) and will continue to monitor the situation throughout this period of time. 

Our food services team is making arrangements for students to be provided meals while schools remain closed. Additional details will be sent later today. 

During our closure, a daily update will be sent out via ACPS Express around 1 p.m to all families and community members who are signed up to receive these updates. Sign up for ACPS Express now. There will be a webinar at 3 p.m. every day to answer questions from families. We will send more information with specific details about this on Monday, March 16, 2020.

Please make sure your contact information is current in our system so that you can receive all correspondence from the school division during this time. Please contact your registrar today if you need to update your contact information in our system. For more details, see the FAQ on the ACPS website, information below or visit our coronavirus webpage at www.acps.k12.va.us/coronavirus.

We thank you for your support during this difficult time and appreciate the opportunity to continue to serve our students and staff throughout this closure. More details about operations during closure will be provided later today. Daily updates will begin on Monday, March 16, 2020. 

Sincerely,

Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr.
Superintendent of Schools

PARENT FAQs 

What work will be happening in our school facilities while schools are closed?
Every building will be deep cleaned while schools are closed. Other contracted work will continue as planned.

How can I get internet access at home?
Sign up for Comcast Internet Essentials. Visit www.internetessentials.com.

  • Comcast is offering a FREE 60 day service and then $9.95/month
  • New customers receive a free self-install kit that includes a cable modem with a Wi-Fi router.  There will be no term contract or credit check and no shipping fee.
  • For assistance call 1-855-846-8376 for English and 1-855-765-6995 for Spanish.

How do I continue to get updates?
Make sure your contact information is up to date and you are able to receive information at this critical time. 

Any member of the community can sign up to receive updates via ACPS Express. Sign up for ACPS Express now. An update will be shared via ACPS Express daily at 1 p.m.
An outline of emergency communication methods can be found on the ACPS website.

How will my child learn while schools are closed?
Instructional packets are going home today for elementary school students. Those students who have access to Chromebooks will be taking them home today. Instructional packets will be posted on the ACPS website for easy access.

Will there be other instructional supports?
ACPS-TV will be running educational content from 9 a.m. through noon each day. More information will be sent out on Monday.

Will there be continued access to food?
ACPS School Nutrition Services is continuing to develop a plan for providing food for students in need. Further information about meal availability will be communicated in the near future. 

Families in need may also contact our local food pantry at https://www.alive-inc.org/ or 703-837-9300.

What should I do if someone in our family experiences coronavirus-like symptoms?
Individuals who need medical care should contact their primary care physician to report their illness or contact Neighborhood Health.

Will Rec and/or Campagna programs be open?
Please check their websites: https://www.alexandriava.gov/Recreation and https://www.campagnacenter.org.

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Alexandria Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings needs help, and says that his newly approved chief of staff will is a key component to the success of the school system’s organizational structure.

“Right now I have nine direct reports, so that’s nine department heads reporting directly to me,” Hutchings told ALXnow. “Each of those individuals has a department that they oversee.”

Dr. Stephen Wilkins, the incoming chief of staff, was hired as the chief human resources officer for the school system last June. His relationship with Hutchings goes back a decade, when the future superintendent unsuccessfully applied to be the principal of T.C. Williams High School. At the time, Wilkins, a retired U.S. Army colonel with master’s degrees from Harvard and the U.S. Army War College, and a doctorate from Walden University, was serving what would be a three year stint as the ACPS HR chief.

In 2013, Hutchings became the superintendent of the Shaker Heights City School District in Ohio, and hired Wilkins to be his assistant superintendent of business operations and human resources. Wilkins was later appointed interim superintendent for Shaker Heights when Hutchings left to become ACPS superintendent in 2018. He held the position for nearly a year, and then Hutchings reached out and asked him to return to Alexandria.

“Steve is just an anomaly. He’s just a rare find,” Hutchings said. “And there’s so many things that we’re doing right now, as we’re embarking on the ACPS 2025 strategic plan, as we’re trying to establish systems and processes, and to have alignment throughout the organization, that me as being the only person to work with our senior leaders makes it challenging.”

Wilkins is currently transitioning to his new role, which begins on July 1. The reorganization means that he will oversee the human resources department and the department of facilities and operations. That’s in addition to hiring new directors within each department, including a new director in the office of capital planning and design, the director of the office of employee engagement and relations and a director of the office of recruitment and retention.

The chief of staff’s duties also include supporting the office of the superintendent and assisting with the strategic management and execution of action items among the senior executive staff.

“That will be my role. It’s an interesting role, to say the least. It’s one that’s going to be developed as we go along, but we’ll get it done,” Wilkins told the school board at its Dec. 19 meeting.

Hutchings said that the new chief of staff will allow him to focus more on the school system’s strategic vision.

“Once you get to the CEO, superintendent level, it really should be around what is going to be our strategy, our processes, our systems, to get to that outcome that we are all seeking,” Hutchings said. “And this new structure will hopefully keep me out of the weeds as often as I am in there now.”

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Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings Jr. was recognized with a leadership award from a non-profit promoting healthy living conditions for children in the D.C. area.

Hutchings was awarded the Tom Cookerly Exceptional School Superintendent Leadership Award 2019 earlier this month by the National Center for Children and Families, citing his “his success as an outstanding leader in education and as an advocate, role model and mentor for minority youth in schools,” according to a press release.

The award comes near the end of what’s been a good couple months for Hutchings, who oversaw all ACPS schools becoming fully accredited for the first time in 20 years and successfully urged the School Board to stick with a single high school. As superintendent, Hutchings has also been at the forefront of a push to address inequalities within the school system.

Hutchings has been superintendent for a little over a year, starting in July 2018, and was a class of 1995 graduate from T.C. Williams High School.

“It is a great honor to receive this award and see recognition for the work ACPS has undertaken to close achievement gaps,” Hutchings said in the press release. “We continue to strive for equity for all our students. It is a long road but our goal is for each child to experience success regardless of their life circumstances.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The School Board has shot down a plan to add a second high school in Alexandria and is sticking with — as several members of the audience chanted throughout the night — “One T.C.

After a long debate at its Sept. 26 meeting that dredged up Alexandria’s history of segregation in schools and the ongoing achievement gap, the School Board voted 6-3 in favor of expanding the current high school into a “campus.”

The new proposal calls for the expansion of the Minnie Howard (3801 W. Braddock Road) site — currently a satellite school a few blocks west of T.C. Williams High School currently used as a facility for 9th grade students. Designs for the campus and what types of programs would be located across the different buildings remain to be determined.

With the approval of the campus-style high school, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings Jr. said the planning process for the design is about to start. In addition to determining the physical location and layout of the new buildings, Hutchings said the school district will look at the high school curriculum and determine which programs could best utilize separate buildings across the campus.

The design phase of the project is scheduled to run from 2020-2021.

“Now we will reconvene the educational design team and add additional members to that team to look at educational programming now that we have a model,” Hutchings said. “We have to start beginning the design phase and look at educational specifications to look at what these specs will be for the building.”

Keeping Alexandria’s high schoolers united in one school was the choice favored by several T.C. Williams students at the meeting, as well as Hutchings and T.C. Williams Principal Peter Balas.

“Urge you to cast your vote for one high school,” Balas, a former social studies teacher at the school, said in an impassioned plea during the public comment portion of the meeting. “T.C. is the heart of the city.

“I strongly encourage you to support our diversity as one of our greatest strengths,” he continued. “Our Titans experience diversity greater than anywhere else in this country. Two high schools lead us down a path of divisive battles [with] inequity between the two schools and leaving certain groups facing increasing disenfranchisement. These inequities will become deeper over time. Separation may be in our school’s name, but you can oppose it by voting to keep us together.”

Balas and Hutchings were also direct with their frustrations with current inequity within the schools and their struggles to try to eliminate that. Hutchings echoed the concerns of other parents and School Board members when he said he was worried multiple high schools would exacerbate those problems. Particularly, Hutchings noted, with the proposal for split high schools specializing in arts or science and technology.

“When you have more than one high school, whether it is reality or perception, someone is going to say ‘they’re getting more than I’m getting, they’re better than I am, they’re getting more options than I’m getting,'” Hutchings said. “It is inevitable that we’re not going to be able to offer those same courses. I want us to be honest about that. We are going to limit the options some of those students have.”

A contingent of students from Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS), both T.C. students and some in lower grades, spoke at the meeting against a separated high school system. Lorraine Johnson, a student at T.C., said that students involved in the early stages of the decision-making were focused on a collective good of the schools in a way that she didn’t see from parents.

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