Putting the Students First

Recent events surrounding the Alexandria city public schools have caused tremendous angst in our community. What followed resulted in a loss of focus by some in the community. The real goal is assuring a high-quality education for all children in Alexandria city public schools. We, the undersigned former (appointed and or elected) ACPS School Board members, and many others in the community, are committed to making the ACPS an excellent school system for all children. We want to see the focus back on our children.

We know that our school system is not perfect, but remarkable strides have been made in the last three years that will assure that all children in the school system receive a high-quality and challenging education in a supportive learning environment. Below are a few significant achievements.

* Eighty percent of ACPS kindergarten, first- and second-grade students met or exceeded fundamental literacy skills in the 2002-2003 school year.

* Differentiated resources put more than $1.1 million of additional resources in schools with the most needs.

* The kindergarten preparation (K-Prep) program has been expanded to 12 elementary schools. Previously offered only at Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy, this program, which targets incoming ACPS kindergarten students who have no previous preschool experience, provides a free, two-week, full-day introduction and orientation to the school building, kindergarten curriculum and routines.

* Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School has become ACPS's first year-round school. The new schedule will maximize student achievement by increasing student time-on-task and reducing summer learning loss, providing all students with opportunities to participate in a variety of remediation (as needed) and enrichment classes throughout the year. This initiative may well be the most influential in getting rid of the achievement gap.

* A dual language program was added for students on the east end of the city at Mount Vernon Community School to complement the program at John Adams. In both programs, children in kindergarten through fifth grade are instructed in core subject areas in both English and Spanish.

* SAT scores have risen for four consecutive years. This increase is especially significant because compared to both the state and nation, ACPS had more minority test takers; more test takers from families with incomes below $30,000; more test takers whose first language was other than English; and more test takers with parents with no high school diploma.

* In the T.C. Williams class of 2004, 146 graduates received the advanced studies diploma; more than 60 were members of the National Honor Society; 25 earned a grade point average of 4.0 or above throughout their high school career; and members of this class were accepted at more than 100 colleges and universities, including Duke, George Washington, Hampton, Harvard, the University of Virginia and Yale.

* ACPS has one of the highest percentages of national board-certified teachers in Northern Virginia.

* All teachers benefited from a restructured compensation package this past year with a revised scale for fiscal 2004 designed to retain and attract high-quality teachers. Premiums were instituted for master's degrees.

* Significantly improved and expanded staff development workshops, seminars and courses have been added.

* Increased financial support for teachers seeking advanced degrees, including an ACPS master's degree incentive program and tuition assistance grant program.

* Significant changes have been made to the math curriculum to increase emphasis on algebra concepts in elementary school, and math specialists have been added at each elementary school to support teachers and student learning and to achieve the goal of algebra readiness for all children by eighth grade.

* The middle school science curriculum has been revamped to encourage all students to take higher-level science.

* Automated "intelligent tutoring" has been installed at four elementary schools.

Notwithstanding the above, there are still challenges and opportunities for continued improvement, such as:

* Two elementary schools are struggling -- Maury and Jefferson-Houston. So far, attempts to improve these schools have not been successful.

* Two schools lost their accreditation -- George Washington Middle School and Patrick Henry Elementary School -- by only a few points, but it's still a step back.

* Additional challenges include two major construction projects at the high school level, the most challenging of which will be the construction of a new high school on the campus of the existing T.C. Williams High School.

* A revamping of the educational delivery system at the high school.

* There are four principals who are either new to their school or new to ACPS (at Lyles-Crouch), all of whom face significant challenges and who will need and deserve the full support of parents and the community.

* Increasing parental involvement is crucial.

Whether you agree or disagree with recent School Board decisions, there are significant challenges facing the ACPS that will impact the futures of our children, our school system and our community. They must be addressed now.

We believe that it's time to get back to the business of education.

Henry S. Brooks, Patricia Anne Broussard, Lynnwood G. Campbell Jr., Linda D. Cheatham, Lou Cook, Sallie Craft, Ferdinand T. Day, Timothy Elliott, Mayor William D. Euille, Judith A. Feaver, Angie Godfrey, Nelson E. Greene Jr., Leslie Barnes Hagan, Stephen J. Kenealy, Susan J. Johnson, Gene C. Lange Charles W. Linderman, A. Melvin Miller, Carlyle C. Ring, Norman Schrott, Judith S. Seltz, Shirley N. Tyler,

Claudia C. Waller