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Engage and Challenge All Students To Be Full Contributors to our Community and the World

Serving on the School Board for the last 4 years has been gratifying. When I first ran for the School Board, too many families expressed frustration that their children were not being afforded opportunities for more challenging work.  But, by believing in every child, I am proud to report that we have made tremendous progress. There is not space to recount all the successes we have had but I want to tell you about the ones I am particularly proud of. 

We have substantially improved elementary writing, with dramatic gains even in the first year of implementation of the Columbia Teachers College Writing Project program. Writing gives our students so many things we want them to have. Writing is arts education. Writing develops critical thinking skills. Writing encourages life long learning.  We also have improved science instruction in elementary schools by providing training to teachers and instituting a visiting science teacher program that enhances hands-on science.

When I started my service on the Board, only 17% of students took Algebra in the 8th grade -- far below the percentage in neighboring jurisdictions and in private schools.  I am pleased to report that this year, well over 50% of 8th graders in our public schools are taking Algebra in the 8th grade. This matters because taking Algebra earlier gives students the ability to take more challenging math and science classes in high school. We also have made reforms to give all students in our middle schools the chance to challenge themselves in math, especially creation of open enrollment honors math.  This, in combination with the creation of an honors curriculum in the middle schools, will position our students for even greater success in the future.

The honors curriculum comes in the second year of the roll out of the ACPS K though 12 curriculum. Most people I speak with are surprised that ACPS has never had a curriculum. But, we have one now and while it contains the requirements of the SOLs, it goes well beyond them to give our teachers and students greater tools to develop the critical thinking skills we want them to have.

We have developed inclusion plans that are being implemented to meet the needs of our special education students and English Language Learner (ELL) students. Inclusion is designed to improve the quality of content received by these students. Likewise, the Autism plan and the ELL plan are being implemented to meet the needs of autistic students and ELL students, respectively. The Board has adopted the 2012-2016 Talented and Gifted Plan this year, which includes measures to do a better job identifying the potential pool of gifted students through additional universal screening in the early grades, and to improve services for gifted students. We have also made reading instruction a top priority, especially to ensure that all students are reading on grade level by the third grade. Third grade is a crucial year because from 3rd grade to 4th grade, a student moves from learning to read to reading to learn. Language acquisition, especially academic language, is important for raising student achievement.

At certain elementary schools, in the middle schools, and in the first two grades of high school, we have begun to implement the International Baccalaureate Program.  This program creates an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving that we all know is so important for use in our daily lives. This interdisciplinary approach is achieved through greater teacher collaboration, specifically in planning, and we have given teachers more time to plan.

Just a few years ago, T.C. Williams High School was declared a "Persistently Lowest Achieving" school by the federal and state departments of education.  It was painful but the truth was that we were not doing right by all our students. We brought in a new principal, Suzanne Maxey, a new administrative team, many new teachers, and added more counselors. These and other changes are bringing positive results.  Last Spring, T.C. Williams’ rating in The Washington Post's Jay Matthews' Challenge Index jumped and T.C. Williams High School is now in the top 4% of all U.S. high schools because of the large percentage of students taking Advanced Placement courses.  Earlier this year, the highest number of students in the history of T.C. Williams took AP and dual enrollment courses.  This is what we want  -- college-ready students. 

There is much work left to do to challenge every student and make sure that each one has what he or she needs to be successful. We know we must prepare our children for the challenges of a global world.  The Internet has opened up a whole new horizon for all of us and means that our children will compete with their counterparts across the globe for jobs. To thrive, our children must know how to think expansively, analyze problems, and design and articulate potential solutions. We must ensure that all ACPS students are given every opportunity to develop these skills.

Attract & Retain the Highest Quality Teachers and Administrators

There is nothing more important to the success of our children than our classroom leaders. The Board and Administration must foster an open, healthy environment of trust for our teachers and give them what they need to do their jobs effectively for the benefit of all our children. School management should be flexible, supportive, and empower our teachers to be innovative and creative. We need to ensure that our school buildings are effectively and wisely run by those who understand how to create conditions for effective learning environments.

To do this, class sizes have been kept manageable so that teachers have the opportunity to work with each child. The School Board adopted class size caps for elementary schools that are the lowest in the region.  We have kept secondary class sizes manageable as well. Another important component of fostering an environment of trust and respect is making sure that the package of teacher compensation and benefits are competitive. I have supported the Administration’s active consultation with teachers over creation of a contemporary compensation system and how best to use additional instruction time. Also, unlike many neighboring jurisdictions, ACPS teachers have received pay increases every year for the last 4 years.

I have been supportive of reconfiguring the school calendar to provide more time for teachers to plan collaboratively.  The Board has approved relevant professional learning for teachers and administrators, particularly “Skillful Teacher” and “Skillful Leader.  These pedagogical programs as well as the ACPS curriculum enable greater differentiation in the classroom. “Differentiation” means focusing on the learning needs and gifts of the individual child and then tailoring the instruction to these needs and gifts.  Differentiation is needed for all students and we should continue our efforts to give our teachers the tools they need to be adept at this instructional approach.

I also have been a proponent of ACPS implementing Response to Intervention (RtI) and Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS), two methods teachers can use, respectively, to support students academically, and to meet their socio-emotional needs. Both are designed to enhance learning for students.

Build a Culture of Accountability and Assure Good Fiscal Stewardship

When I first ran for the School Board in 2008, I pledged that I would hold all of us accountable -- the Board, the Superintendent, administrators, teachers, parents and students -- once the Board makes a decision. I have done this and will continue to do so. The process of building a healthy accountability system began when the Board, Superintendent and the community created the ACPS Strategic Plan.  Earlier this year, the ACPS Board won the prestigious Magna Award for its Strategic Plan from the National School Boards Association.  ACPS has begun to implement the Malcolm Baldrige educational performance excellence program.  This means that everyone is held accountable for student achievement. Here are two examples of how a culture of accountability is being built:  first, every year, the Board adopts a set of educational goals and these goals are translated to school education plans and individual administrator and teacher Professional Learning Plans. Each year, schools and individuals are evaluated based on how they perform relative to the goals set in their plans. Second, there is a motto in our schools of "This is important, you can do it, I won't give up on you".  Building a healthy accountability system is hard work but once built, it will pay dividends for years to come.

As a member of the School Board I will continue to serve as a thoughtful steward of our tax dollars.  Citizens are rightfully concerned that tax dollars are spent wisely and efficiently. We should have a bias in spending for the highest direct impact on classroom learning. I have pushed to make the budget more efficient and to reprogram spending to move more resources to directly support classroom instruction and away from Central Office. 
We have a challenge to meet.  Since 2008, ACPS has grown by almost 25% or 2600 students.  This is the equivalent of T.C. Williams King Street campus or of five elementary schools.  And growth is projected to continue at over 3% per year, at least for the near term.  Our schools are full, so this means that we will need to build more classrooms and additional schools. It also means that we will need more teachers and support staff, especially if we are to keep our class sizes the smallest in the region. Please keep these facts in mind as you go to the polls this year, not just for School Board but also for City Council.

Build Open Channels of Communication and Unity

I have promoted unity and open communication among all community stakeholders– students, teachers, administrators, the School Board and concerned citizens in our community.  An essential ingredient to my personal and professional success has been my ability to openly communicate with all stakeholders–especially as early as possible–about needs and resources and to build consensus.

Education of our children should be something we all rally around and we have great resources at our disposal. Our teachers should be our primary source of ways to actively engage our students in exciting 21st century learning. In addition to teachers and other educators, I will continue to consult with parents and community members about their ideas for improving our schools. Engaging all those with a stake in making the city of Alexandria and its public schools the finest in the region can reap long lasting benefits.

Make our Public Schools Alexandria’s Greatest Source of Pride

The prophet Jeremiah said, "seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you . . . because if it prospers, you too will prosper."  Too often I hear people say that only 10% of the City's households have school-aged children and argue that we should not devote the necessary resources to our schools. I disagree with this sentiment and agree with Jeremiah -- "If Alexandria prospers, we too will prosper".  Not only do our students deserve a great education, great public schools are crucial to the prosperity of our city. This is true whether your children are grown, your children are in private school, or if you have no children at all.

The Board is building public confidence in ACPS by striving for excellence. We must engage our parent and community assets to improve our schools, including the wealth of cultural, scientific, governmental and historic resources available in the metropolitan area.

By staying abreast of leading edge thinking about education and the world, we can better prepare ACPS to be one of the premier school divisions in the country. ACPS’s vision statement is “will set the international standard for educational excellence.” Education in today’s world is a complex enterprise and calls for those leading the system to model lifelong learning. We need to stimulate community-wide dialogue about the trends and drivers that are affecting the world our classrooms exist in now and going forward.

It is a crucial time for our school system as well as for our City.  The success of our children and our schools affect all aspects of our lives as Alexandrians, whether we are parents, grandparents, or concerned citizens.  With an ACPS Strategic Plan and management system focused on taking ACPS to higher standards, we must seize this opportunity for all of us to work together to believe in every child and move our system and our city to the highest level of performance.