Alexandria poised to appoint interim schools chief

Alvin L. Crawley, a veteran educator who spent the past year as the interim superintendent of Prince George’s County schools, is expected to take on the role of interim schools chief in Alexandria.

The city School Board is scheduled to act on a contract with Crawley on Thursday night, the school district announced Wednesday. Crawley would lead the 13,500-student school system while the board conducts a national search for a permanent superintendent to replace Morton Sherman, who resigned abruptly before the beginning of the school year.

Karen A. Graf, the School Board chairman, highlighted Crawley’s expertise in special education and experience working with English-language learners as among the assets he would bring to the job.

“He has a very broad base of experience in different districts with similar issues as Alexandria,” Graf said. “I felt like he was intimate with our district’s needs.”

Crawley, 55, has held top administrative posts in Chicago and Boston, and he spent 17 years in the Arlington County school system, including assignments as director of special education and assistant superintendent of student services.


Alvin Crawley (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Crawley has training in communication disorders, and a doctorate in education, focusing on instructional leadership and administration, from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Crawley said that after working in neighboring Arlington, Alexandria feels very familiar. He described the city as a place “where the community is committed to the school system and . . . it seems like the School Board is also committed.”

He said his experience working to eliminate achievement gaps among racial and ethnic groups and to conduct long-range education planning should prove helpful in his new role.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the leadership team in Alexandria City Public Schools this year,” Crawley said in a news release.

During his tenure as interim superintendent in Prince George’s, Crawley was one of three finalists to become the permanent schools chief there.

That search was derailed by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s proposal to take over the school system. Crawley withdrew his name from consideration as state lawmakers debated Baker’s request, and in April, he announced his decision to resign the interim job. The announcement came only weeks after state legislation was passed that allowed Baker to select the new schools chief.

Crawley planned to leave the Prince George’s job in June, but Baker asked him to stay on until August to help with the transition. Crawley left in July.

Crawley took over in Prince George’s during a leadership upheaval similar to Alexandria’s. He stepped in after William R. Hite Jr.’s abrupt departure as Prince George’s schools chief in September 2012. Crawley became the district’s seventh superintendent in 14 years.

“He obviously came at a time when the system needed some stabilization, and I think he fulfilled that obligation for the school system and the community,” said Verjeana M. Jacobs (District 5), the former board chairman. She said that many parents found him to be responsive and a good listener and that his potential appointment in Alexandria was “well deserved.”

Doris Reed, the president of the Prince George’s principals union, who was hoping for a change agent to take the reins of the school system when Hite left, said Crawley’s leadership style during his short tenure did not live up to her expectations.

“I think he maintained, and I think that’s what the board brought him in to do,” Reed said.

Alexandria and Prince George’s face similar academic challenges, and many Alexandria administrators and teachers have worked in schools in the larger Prince George’s school district, across the river in Maryland.

Some parents have been concerned that Sherman’s surprise departure could put the city at a competitive disadvantage as it seeks applicants. Nearby, Loudoun County is beginning a search to replace Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick, III, who plans to step down in June.

Under Virginia law, the School Board is supposed to appoint a superintendent within 180 days. Graf said board members hope to name a superintendent within that period but that the search could be longer. The board plans to keep in close touch with the state regarding the search’s progress.

Immediately after the board approved Sherman’s resignation, it appointed Margaret May Walsh, a veteran Alexandria administrator, to serve as the acting superintendent. Graf called her a “calm and steady presence” during the past month.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in Northern Virginia.
Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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