Port City Notebook

News, views and random observations around Alexandria

What’s Next for ACPS?

A month has passed since the school board ousted Mort Sherman as superintendent. What now?

The good news is that our students haven’t suffered any disruptions. Acting Superintendent Margee Walsh is managing our school division effectively during this period of transition, and progress is being made on some important issues under her direction.

The bad news is that the window for hiring a permanent new leader for our school division is short and getting shorter by the hour, given that the code of the Commonwealth of Virginia states that the school board must aim to appoint a replacement within 180 days—or roughly by March 1. So far during the past month, the school board has launched a search for an interim superintendent, has set up a website for the search process (http://www.acps.k12.va.us/superintendent-search/), and has solicited proposals from search firms who want the job of helping the school board hire the permanent appointment.

My wish list for the school board going forward:

  • Retain the highest-quality search firm available that can cast as wide a net as possible for candidates. There’s no time to waste with the wrong firm, as we learned the hard way six years ago when a switch was made mid-search.
  • Bring in someone to provide internal training to this novice board on the role of the board (set priorities, make policies and approve the budget) versus the role of the superintendent (the CEO and educational leader). Job candidates will be most attracted to vacancies in school divisions where board members have some clarity about this distinction.
  • Adhere to high standards of professional conduct. Board members who make damaging comments to the news media, or behave unprofessionally in community meetings should be held to account by their fellow board members. Both private and public censure processes can be brought to bear, and given some recent patterns of behavior, these options should be exercised.
  • Decide what, if anything, from the 2010-2015 Strategic Plan, which was a joint effort between the community and the schools, will be retained as priorities for the year ahead and communicate those and other priorities to the public.
  • Avoid dismantling Mort Sherman’s initiatives solely because they were Dr. Sherman’s. Be clear and honest to the public about changes that are being implemented, and why.
  • Publish the agenda, supporting documents and action plans from the upcoming board retreat.

My wish list for ACPS parents going forward:

  • Let your school board members know what ACPS is doing right as well as what needs improvement. Satisfied customers are not as likely to speak up, but if you don’t, your voice may not be heard by this board.
  • Communicate with your school’s PTA leadership about the issues that are most important to you. They are in regular contact with board members and administrators, and they testify at school board meetings on behalf of their schools.
  • Take advantage of the opportunities that the board plans to make available for parents to provide input about our next superintendent.

My wish list for the community going forward:

  • Take advantage of the opportunities that the Board plans to make available for citizens to provide input about our next superintendent.
  • Get involved in your neighborhood school, whether through volunteering, tutoring, or helping the PTA.* Sign up for the ACPS Daily Digest at http://www.acps.k12.va.us/lists/ to get the latest school news and learn about sporting events, concerts, plays, and other worthwhile programs.
  • Expect school board members to be smart stewards of our tax dollars and to pursue an aggressive agenda of continual improvement in our school system and its ability to serve students at all levels of academic achievement and from the entire spectrum of backgrounds.
  • Stay engaged in our electoral process.

*If you would like to know how to get in touch with the PTA or the tutoring program at your neighborhood school, contact me by going to the Feedback page.

Reminder: These opinions are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alexandria PTA Council.

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