Port City Notebook

News, views and random observations around Alexandria

In the News

Given our schools’ laser-like focus on standardized testing and meeting ever-more stringent benchmarks, it’s only natural to believe that public education has become a giant assembly line and students are just a commodity.

home_news_postitMichael Alison Chandler’s article in The Washington Post a week ago, “Driven to Their Diplomas,” shows why that doesn’t have to be the case. She writes about the extraordinary lengths that the staff at T.C. Williams High School go in order to ensure that as many seniors graduate with their class as possible. For dozens of students, Principal Suzanne Maxey and her team of administrators and counselors know exactly what those students need to make it happen, whether it’s a morning wake-up text message, a ride to school, a conference with a teacher about make-up work, or an occasional Big Mac.

Because of their efforts, T.C.’s graduation rates have been rising steadily for the past several years, particularly among minority students. During city and school budget deliberations, however, there’s often a suggestion to eliminate administrator or counselor positions as a cost-saving measure. Rather, we should continue to look for ways to reduce counselor caseloads, so that all students—not just those at risk of not graduating–have someone who is personally invested in their success.

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Another topic that has been in the news lately is the study that’s underway to determine the feasibility of stadium lights at Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium on the campus of T.C. Williams High School. The study was not completed by its original June 14 deadline, and a revised release date has not been announced. More information about T.C. stadium lights is available on the ACPS website.

Supporters of stadium lights can follow this issue by visiting the Lights for T.C. Facebook page and following on Twitter @Lights4TC.

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Coming up: On Tuesday, June 24, the Educational Specifications subcommittee of the Long Range Educational Facilities Plan Work Group, a joint city/schools effort, will have a community meeting to present its draft specifications for elementary and middle schools. The meeting will take place at 4:00 p.m. in the multipurpose room at Jefferson-Houston School, 1501 Cameron Street.

The draft specifications are not site-specific for certain schools, but they contain the guiding “recipes” and benchmarks for future school renovations and new construction projects.

Participants will tour the new Jefferson-Houston School currently under construction and will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the Draft Ed Specs, as well as understand how the approved PreK-8 Ed Specs were applied to the new building.

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While attending a recent meeting of the Long Range Education Facilities Plan Work Group, I was reminded of a misleading statement that appeared a few weeks ago in an editorial in The Alexandria Times. The writer asserted that because Alexandria’s non-Hispanic white population in 2010 made up 53.5% of the total population and white students account for only 21% of the T.C. Williams High School student body, “it is clear that many whites opt out of Alexandria’s public school system.”

But that arithmetic doesn’t add up. Let’s look at some figures that actually shed light on recent enrollment trends:

  • At the kindergarten level, according to the Enrollment Forecasts/Demographics subcommittee of the Work Group, a higher percentage of families have been enrolling in ACPS. For the past five years, the “kindergarten capture rate”—kindergarten enrollment as a percent of births five years ago—has been above the 33-year average.
  • Overall, 88% of Alexandria children attend public school, which is the same percentage as Fairfax County and slightly lower than the national average (90%).

Families of all types, for a variety of reasons, choose to attend private schools or to relocate to other school districts, but rising enrollment and other data trends do not support a conclusion that many white families are opting out of ACPS.

 

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