I look forward to my weekly conversation with the community through the Old Town Patch. This week, the community shared questions about overcapacity, sharing knowledge among schools and the science curriculum. I responded to the following questions that were submitted to Patch by teachers or parents of children attending Alexandria City Public Schools.
Question: It appears that ACPS is having difficulty providing capacity for its students, and that this is a problem that extends across all school districts. There are simply more students than there are spaces at schools. I am aware of the potential lottery, but this will not address the problem at all if there are not spots available at any schools, and currently, it appears the problem is district-wide. What steps are being taken to address this capacity issue in the short and long term? Is the building of new schools, and the timeline for this, the responsibility of ACPS or the City Council?
Dr. Sherman: ACPS has seen an increase of students from the spring of 2008 of 10,600 students to over 12,400 students this spring, 2012… an increase of over 17 percent.
Our school building program has been aggressive and will continue to be as we have added the equivalent of a new elementary school by constructing over 25 modular classrooms throughout the school division (Polk, Barrett, Patrick Henry, John Adams), will soon start construction on a new PreK-8 school at Jefferson-Houston, will begin planning this coming year for a new PreK-8 school at Patrick Henry, will add 12 more modular units in the next two years, and have plans to build a new PreK-8 school at Cora Kelly. We also have alerted the city that we need two more elementary schools. One on the west side and one on the east side of the city.
We work very hard not to have lotteries, and so far have not had to use that approach to place children in elementary schools.
The responsibility for building new schools falls to the School Board, but we work very closely with the city in our planning. One significant approach to long range planning is the development of a joint schools/city long range planning committee to look at enrollments, facilities, and new schools. We had a school committee in place two years ago, and now will restart and enlarge their efforts when our new Director of Facilities comes on board this summer.
Question: Some ACPS schools have been in the news lately for winning awards for different achievements. For example, Lyles Crouch recently was named a “National School of Character.” What is ACPS doing to pass along some of the lessons-learned from some of these award-winning schools to other school leaders and parents who could benefit from their knowledge?
Dr. Sherman: We are very proud of the many achievements of our students, staff and schools this year and in past years.
Lyles-Crouch is but one of several schools to receive recognition…for academics, the arts, sportsmanship, athletics, community service. Our School Board won a national award for its strategic plan and its impact on our efforts to improve achievement for all students: The First Place Magna Award, presented by the National School Boards Association.
We recognize these achievements at each principals’ meeting. Depending on the award or topic, we share information about the lessons learned. In addition, all principals are required to “walk-through” other schools with a team of administrators, encouraging sharing and learning among our administrators. Our leadership academy which takes place during the summer includes shared learning around themes and emerges from lessons learned and changes needed.
Question: My elementary-school age daughter seems to rarely have science taught to her in school. Why is science not taught at the lower grade levels? Is it a budget issue or a curriculum issue?
Dr. Sherman: There is a curriculum and a budget. The elementary schools have been well supplied with hands-on science kits. Time seems to be the factor that often keeps science from being taught… with a relatively short school day and with so much to do, principals and teachers work hard to include all areas of the curriculum. We agree that science is one of those wonderful curriculum areas around which so much can be integrated: writing, thinking skills, math, reading and so much more. Our curriculum can be found at this link: http://www.acps.k12.va.us/curriculum/.
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