Port City Notebook

News, views and random observations around Alexandria

An Open Letter to the School Board

Dear Chair Anderson, Vice-Chair Nolan and Members of the School Board:

Your decision this Thursday about whether to maintain one connected T.C. Williams High School or to build a second comprehensive high school is about as clear-cut as it gets: Choose the option for adding capacity that is quickest, least expensive and most equitable.

Most equitable: To avoid repeating the sins of the past is the most important reason why you should maintain one connected T.C. I’m under no illusion that the current T.C. is as equitable as it should be or as equitable as it can be. But those in the higher-ed admissions world hold T.C. in high regard for its diverse and college-ready student body. Who amongst the “in the know” parents will want their children to attend the new high school and effectively give up that reputational advantage when it comes to college admissions? That alone will lead to inequities between the two schools—preceded by one heckuva redistricting fight.

Least expensive: The cost of rebuilding Minnie Howard is less than the cost of building a second comprehensive high school building and providing the requisite equivalent academic and extracurricular experience for students.

Quickest: Rebuilding Minnie Howard has been under consideration for more than five years. (As you know, it was the recommendation of T.C. faculty members.) There are no serious obstacles to moving forward. Just do it. Swapping Chinquapin and Minnie Howard might have been a nice option if considered years ago, but just as with the stadium lights, inevitably litigation from neighbors and bureaucratic red tape will create unacceptable delays to building on the Chinquapin field. As Superintendent Hutchings has explained, building a second comprehensive high school will be a more complicated—and more time-consuming—undertaking. After years of procrastination, we’ve forfeited the luxury to consider whether some other approach might be slightly more preferable; we need to give weight to expediency.

Among the reasons I hear from parents who support a second comprehensive high school is that more students would be able to participate in interscholastic sports. I certainly hope that athletics are not driving this decision and would add that many sports at T.C. are welcome to all who wish to participate, with no cuts, and that there are also intramural teams as well as hundreds of clubs and student organizations.

I also hear from parents of elementary students in particular that T.C. has gotten just too big. I sympathize with that concern. It’s the largest public high school in the state of Virginia. It’s too easy for some kids to fall through the cracks. But as a parent of two Class of ’16 graduates, I try to reassure those parents that the opportunities available at a large, well-resourced school are nearly limitless, and that our children had meaningful, close relationships with educators that shaped them in important ways and influenced their future courses of study.

A little more than a week ago, the City Council voted 4-3 on an issue that bitterly divides the city—whether to eliminate one lane for vehicles in order to add bike lanes and sidewalks on a small portion of Seminary Road. My neighborhood listserv is still litigating—and relitigating—the matter, and the vitriol directed toward the city council members who voted to follow the city’s transportation plans and policies virtually assures that qualified candidates will think long and hard before running for city office.

But there is at least one thing that draws Alexandrians together regardless of race, class or ethnicity, or whether you love or hate bicyclists, and that’s T.C. Williams High School. We all share together in the pride of a winning soccer team, a choir that performs at the Kennedy Center or a brilliant student who wins a $250,000 prize for discovering a new planet. It’s Titan Pride. It has been years in the making and it’s worth preserving.

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