The Highs and Lows of Opening Our Schools

A message from Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr., Superintendent of Schools

First, let me welcome you all back to school and extend an especially warm welcome to our new students and families.

Overall, our first day of school went very smoothly. I was truly impressed to see students at their desks learning minutes after the first bell, given the excitement — and sometimes confusion — that filled the halls as students found their way to their new classrooms and met their new teachers and classmates.

Many of our students loved watching the pep band and cheerleaders welcome students outside the front of T.C. Williams High School and seeing students take selfies and share video clips of their first day on the red carpet. I even got a picture on the red carpet! There was a sense of genuine Titan Pride in the air.

At our elementary schools, there was a sense of excitement mixed with nervous energy as some of our younger students walked into school hand-in-hand with a parent, guardian or with friends. Some stepped off the bus for the very first time.

There were some especially touching moments at Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School and the Early Childhood Center as they opened their doors to students for the very first time this week.

Not everything went as smooth as possible and I want to share what we learned from the bumps in the road and what we are doing about them.

The new policy around walk zones and bus transportation has meant changes for many of our families this school year. We’ve learned some lessons about better implementing new routes and bus stops from this experience and appreciate the feedback from our families. We are still refining our bus routes and stops. Please be assured that you will hear from our Office of Transportation if you are impacted by any adjustments. When adjustments are made, they are communicated on Thursdays so that bus drivers and families both receive updated schedules in time for the following week. Even small changes have to be planned carefully and communicated to all families, as a seemingly minor change can have an impact on the entire route.

At the beginning of the week, we also experienced issues with the buses themselves and some of our students were late to their after-care programs. Thankfully these issues were short-lived and things were running smoothly by Friday.

Kudos to the large number of students who joined the walking buses to Ferdinand T. Day and William Ramsay elementary schools that were organized by Alexandria Families for Safe Streets. We encourage walking as part of a healthy lifestyle and are proud that our students were sensible and careful as they walked to school.

We also want to acknowledge the great work done by the City’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, which made significant safety improvements on N. Beauregard Street, including the implementation of a 25-mile-per-hour school zone during times when students will be walking. Our neighbors and the Alexandria Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities department also made sure all greenery was cleared along sidewalks so that students could use the full width of the sidewalk.

With the unusually high temperatures for September, we had some trouble keeping our buildings cool last week. We experienced A/C issues in John Adams, George Mason and Douglas MacArthur elementary schools, Jefferson-Houston School, Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology, the Early Childhood Center, and T.C. Williams. All of these schools currently have contractors addressing the issues with the goal of having more comfortable classrooms and school buildings this week.

Unfortunately, the very high humidity levels and wet weather resulted in an outbreak of quick-growing mold in the auditorium at Mount Vernon Community School. Also, a class at Hammond had to relocate to the library for the first couple of days.

We appreciate the patience of students and staff at Francis C. Hammond and George Washington middle schools, where cafeteria renovations are still underway. These are both delays that we were aware of and planned for before the start of school.

Finally, several of our schools were impacted by the excessive amount of rain and experienced leaks over the weekend. The entire metropolitan area has been subject to an abnormal amount of rainfall over the past few months and the amount of waterfall put an extraordinary strain on our buildings.

Reopening schools after summer break is a rather large undertaking. While our students were away, hopefully enjoying a fun break in routine, many aspects of ACPS kicked into super-high gear. We were busy engaging in the work that’s involved in getting our schools, transportation, operations and many other elements ready for instructional staff to return in mid-August and our students and families to join a short time later.

The reopening process runs more smoothly in some areas than others. I want to personally thank you for your patience as we resolve issues and address challenges so we can all focus squarely on the business of teaching and learning.

I look forward to meeting you while I am out in our schools at back-to-school nights this week and at PTA meetings.

Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr.
Superintendent of Schools

P.S. – Enjoy these highlights from #ACPSFirstDay!

ACPS, Alexandria City High School, Brooks, Charles Barrett, Cora Kelly, Early Childhood Center, Ferdinand Day, George Mason, George Washington, Hammond, Jefferson-Houston, John Adams, Lyles-Crouch, MacArthur, Minnie Howard, Mount Vernon, Patrick Henry, Polk, Ramsay