Port City Notebook

News, views and random observations around Alexandria

A 2014 Wish List

year-2014-with-confettiIf I could wave a magic wand, these would be nine of my wishes for our schools and students for 2014:

1. Six tennis courts would be completed at T.C. before the end of the spring season. Last month the City Council unanimously overruled a Planning Commission recommendation against including conduits for future lighting on the courts; with that uncertainty resolved, construction should begin as soon as weather permits. Funds have not yet been allocated for the actual lights, but including the conduits for future installation is prudent planning.

2. The feasibility study that’s about to be undertaken at the Chinquapin Recreation Center would conclude that the site can accommodate a 50-meter competition pool.  This would pave the way for a second pool to be constructed in 2016-2017 (with funds already approved by the City Council). That additional pool capacity would make it possible for ACPS to join Arlington County in providing swim instruction—an essential life skill, especially for a riverside community—to all elementary students. The new pool would also allow the T.C. Swim & Dive team to hold their home meets on the T.C. campus rather than at rented facilities in Fairfax County.

3. Single-sex Algebra I classes would be offered as an option to 8th-graders at George Washington and Hammond middle schools. (See What I’m Reading: Whistling Vivaldi, a previous Port City Notebook post.)

4. The world language “wheel”—a seven-week introduction to Spanish, French, Latin, German and Chinese that used to be a required course for 6th-graders—would be provided to all 5th-graders who are not enrolled at Jefferson-Houston (where every child in each grade receives Spanish instruction as part of the IB Primary Years Program) or in the Spanish immersion programs at Mt. Vernon or John Adams. For background, before the current 9th-graders began taking the first two semesters of a world language course for high school credit in 6th grade, students in their first year of middle school were given the opportunity (known as “the wheel”) to explore different world languages before choosing one to study for high-school credit. Fifth-graders would benefit from having that same opportunity to explore languages and cultures before selecting their 6th-grade courses.

5. Parents of incoming kindergarten students throughout the city would consider the option of enrolling in the new school (with, hopefully, a new name) on the Jefferson-Houston site as an alternative to their over-crowded neighborhood school.  If you’re curious about the unique features and opportunities that the new school will offer, contact Mark Eisenhour, Principal on Assignment, at 703-772-1072 to schedule a tour. There will also be an open house in February.

6. The quality of Spanish, Amharic and Arabic translations of important ACPS documents for non-English-speaking parents would be improved.  The common refrain I hear is that translations are often so poorly done that not only the grammar suffers but the content, too.  We should strive for excellence in all of our communications—in all languages—between the school division and parents.

7. Middle school and high school students would be expected to participate in an after-school sport (intramural or interscholastic), club, or activity, and this participation would be included as a goal in the students’ Individual Achievement Plan. Such an initiative would require the middle schools to develop a larger variety of clubs alongside of the existing intramural program, but it would send the important message to our students that they are part of a school community that cares about the “whole child” and that will help them develop and foster a passion that will strengthen their connection to school.

8. Our community would exercise patience toward the new superintendent during his or her first 12 months on the job. It will take time for the new superintendent to survey the landscape of our complicated school division and craft a plan of action. As many will recall, the previous superintendent was criticized for making too many changes too fast, even though he felt strongly that our underachieving students did not have the luxury of time. I predict that the new leader will be successful partly because he or she will learn from the criticisms of the two most recent superintendents. And I won’t be surprised if the new superintendent suggests some reforms, grounded in research on best practices, that look a lot like those that were implemented during the past five years.

9. A new generation of parents would step forward and become advocates for students and families. You can volunteer in your school, or you can serve on a school advisory committee. But now more than ever, during this period of significant transition for our school division, it is important for parents to assume key leadership positions in their school PTAs and the PTA Council, and for parent voices to be heard. Please contact me if you’d like more information.

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Coming Up!  The Alexandria PTA Council’s popular Summer Camp Fair will be held on Wednesday, February 19, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 pm in the T.C. Williams High School cafeteria.  More than 65 camps are expected, and pizza by the slice will be available for purchase.

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