By Sam Wingfield and Alex Mathews
New Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings Jr., hired December 14, wants to continue Alexandria’s “tradition of excellence” and, in the immediate future, wants to make ACPS “one of the premier school divisions in the country,” he said in a Theogony interview.
On May 10, 2017, four years into his tenure as Superintendent, Dr. Alvin Crawley resigned, adding his name to a growing list of ACPS officials who have left positions early. More than seven months later, the School Board selected 1995 T.C. Williams graduate Hutchings as the new Superintendent. He will return to Alexandria as a recognizable face in his hometown.
Dr. Lois Berlin filled Crawley’s role on an interim basis starting July 28, 2017, when Crawley began working at George Mason University as an Associate Professor in Leadership in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development.
In fall 2013, when Crawley arrived in Alexandria, 13 ACPS schools were fully accredited; in 2016, after three years of Crawley’s leadership, 11 ACPS schools were fully accredited, and three were newly partially accredited–a group that included T.C. Williams.
Last year Dr. Jesse Dingle (who joined T.C. in 2015 when it was fully accredited) also resigned his post after only two years as Principal, making new Principal Peter Balas the fifth T.C. leader in the last decade.
Balas has since acknowledged an ACPS turnover problem that extends from its highest administrative positions to its teachers. In light of the brief tenures of his former colleagues, Balas, in an interview with Theogony immediately after his hiring as Principal, committed to a lengthy stay at T.C.
Hutchings spoke similarly, citing his graduation from T.C. and his children’s place in ACPS schools as chief reasons for committing to a long tenure.
He also emphasized the importance of retaining school staff. “We need to make sure we value them so they feel a commitment to our schools,” he said. “I think it’s important to vet the creme de la creme of employees.”
Hutchings attended several Alexandria elementary schools, Francis C. Hammond Middle School, and was a member of the track and field team at T.C. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Old Dominion University, a master’s in educational leadership from George Mason University, and a doctorate in educational policy from William & Mary.
He speaks of his homecoming warmly, having been ACPS Director of Pre-K-12 Initiatives and Director of Middle School Programs only five years ago, and plans to draw often from his experience in Alexandria.
“Being a graduate, you have a different sense of passion and pride about Alexandria,” he said. “This is where it all began for me… it’s an honor to be able to serve the community that allowed me to become the person that I am.”
In 2013 he left Northern Virginia for the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio to become Superintendent of the Shaker Heights Schools, where he worked for five years. There, he “collaborated with community stakeholders, administrators and teachers to close the achievement gap and ensure that students of all backgrounds had access to the resources, tools and opportunities needed to succeed,” according to an ACPS press release.
Hutchings readily conceded that he is sure to make mistakes in his new position, but hopes that he will learn from his missteps in Shaker Heights.
“I am more comfortable within my skin now,” he said. “I’m more comfortable within my leadership. I’m coming back to Alexandria now as a better person and a better leader.”
He is also comfortable taking firm stances on issues of contention at T.C. Stadium lights have been debated long before even Hutchings was a student. Despite consistent protest from neighbors, mainly residents of Woods Place and Bishop Lane, Hutchings is “a supporter of the lights,” though he proposes “coming up with some guidelines and expectations.”
“I would love to be at the first game,” he said.
Overcrowding increasingly plagues T.C., Virginia’s largest high school, and its feeder institutions–including George Washington and Francis C. Hammond Middle Schools.
Hutchings proposed expanding current programs that combat overcrowding, citing the “great partnership that’s going on with George Washington University.” The partnership, which launches next school year, offers Career and Technical Education (CTE) credit for students interested in health and medicine.
“Maybe we have partnerships with other colleges and universities, and high school students are able to take those courses on the campuses,” he said.
He focused on other off-campus opportunities, such as online courses, because many “students today are taking class online and never stepping foot on campus.”
Under Hutchings’ direction, Shaker Heights was one of eight school divisions nationwide to offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program to students kindergarten through twelfth grade, according to the Shaker Heights Schools website. It was the same program he had implemented at Jefferson Houston more than five years earlier. Despite his familiarity with IB, he does not plan to make any sweeping curriculum changes at ACPS.
“The community has to want something like the International Baccalaureate. It’s such a huge commitment,” he said. “It is not something I would just bring to Alexandria. There would need to be a means assessment to determine what is the best thing for Alexandria.”
T.C. presently offers Advanced Placement, and not IB, classes.
It seems Hutchings, though unknowingly, has been preparing for his new role his entire life. Since he learned in Alexandria’s elementary schools and led as Vice President in the student government in its only high school, Hutchings appears to have been on a path to be the top educator in his home district.
“I can’t wait to meet our students, visit our schools, work with our teachers, and rekindle relationships,” he said.