This week, “Old Town Alexandria Patch” readers ask questions about the merits of switching to more targeted educational environments, the policy regarding ACPS students attending Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and the status of the No Child Left Behind Waiver.
I am pleased to have the weekly opportunity to respond to the thoughtful questions submitted to me by community members, teachers and parents of children attending our schools. Please join in the dialogue. Here are this week’s questions and my responses.
Question: I ask this question as a supporter of you and of the positive direction you are taking ACPS. My view is that ACPS does not truly excel at reaching any particular type of student. A student from a middle-class home that is not very education-orientated is probably better off at a KIPP school in D.C. A genius student is better off going to some Arlington or Fairfax County school where there is a larger peer group, more rigor, and they can apply to Thomas Jefferson for high school. A smart and largely motivated but non-genius student from a college-educated home is probably better off in an Arlington or Fairfax school where the overall educational climate is more in their target zone.
One concrete example of the non-customization is that ACPS has divided its high schools and middle schools into sub-schools, but the students are randomly assigned preventing any intensive educational specialization. T.C. Williams now has “Individual Achievement Plans,” which seem like a good step, but one meeting a year is not a targeted educational environment.
Do you see any merit in discussing a shift to more targeted educational environments, especially if students have the choice about which one to enter? If not, why not? How might ACPS shift to a model where we can offer more targeted approaches? Just based on who lives where, other districts have an easier time offering targeted educational situations, but to me, that does not mean Alexandria cannot or should not.
Sherman: Thank you for this question…It goes to the heart of several issues we must address. The transformation of T.C. Williams and of ACPS is at its core the creation of an exceptional curriculum coupled with great teachers who care about, respect and support students. We have made terrific progress in those areas. The next generation of our work now that we have a solid foundation for all students is to focus on the “how” or the delivery of the curriculum. By this I do not mean just the pedagogy, but the settings.
For example, schools across our region are creating STEM Academies. We have a committee developing a proposal. We have a finance academy; yet, as successful as that program is, it can be expanded with greater connections to the business community.
Our new satellite program (starting this fall) is designed to create personalized, extended learning opportunities. This is not a lot of jargon. The setting will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday mornings. It will use a blended model of online learning.
The IAPs that you mention will evolve into Individualized Career and Academic Plans for each student grades 6-12. We have learned a great deal the past two years as we have implemented the Individualized Achievement Plans, and will be making changes for this coming year.
The trick in creating focused environments for our students is to provide broad, college and career-ready skills and knowledge as we tap into their particular interests and abilities.
Question: Do you support a policy change allowing some City of Alexandria students to attend Thomas Jefferson High School?
Sherman: This is a logical and good question which follows the first question this week.
In our next generation of work for our students, we need to be sure that all of our students are provided with challenging and engaging work. That is why we are looking at STEM academies, IB academies and business academies, among others.
T.J. is a great school… all indicators clearly point that way. However, I wonder if there has been any study of an individual’s achievement levels at T.J. versus equally talented students back at their home schools?
Students at T.C. Williams have won many science awards this year and in recent years, regionally and in the country. Similarly, our awards in the arts, mathematics, athletics, journalism, history, CTE and others are impressive. T.C. students’ achievement and opportunities are vast in a diverse environment. Given the rich opportunities and the impressive achievement for our top (and the broad spectrum of) students, I do not support a change in policy at this time.
Question: What is the status of the No Child Left Behind Waiver and if it’s approved before the start of the 2012-2013 school year, how will that affect newly registered students, including administrative transfers? How will it affect students in the following school year?
Sherman: The state has revised its waiver application to the federal government. They are waiting to hear whether the new version will be approved. The state’s most recent update said that they should know something about May 23.
Although many changes are proposed in the state’s waiver, the one that seems to most affect our parents is the one dealing with the elimination of School Choice. This means that families who wish to place their children in a school other than their home school if that school has not made Adequate Yearly Progress, may not do so in the future.
We still have administrative transfer options on the table as part of the board policy. The reality is that placement in other schools is limited to our increased enrollments pushing all of our schools close to capacity.