Alexandria Schools Serve

The Middle Class Well

Is there a place for the middle class in the Alexandria public schools?

That is one of the questions that Patrick Welsh raises in his article in the Nov. 13 Post. ["It's Not Just Poor Students Who Need Attention."]

As a middle-class parent of two children who successfully navigated the Alexandria public schools and as chairman of the Alexandria School Board, I can say unequivocally, "Yes." In fact, with the number of Advanced Placement offerings we provide; the incredible number of substantial electives; the opportunity to participate in sports, music groups, drama groups and other participatory endeavors; numerous leadership and service opportunities; and the stimulating diversity of the student body, T.C. Williams High School and the Alexandria schools as a whole should be the number one choice of all parents in Alexandria.

College admissions officers have said that T.C. Williams students are preferred over students with similar records from other schools because of the experience with diverse people that gives them a maturity and understanding that more limited educational settings cannot match.

Mr. Welsh refers to the demographic change in Alexandria since the 1970s and 1980s. Another demographic change is occurring now. Because of the dearth of affordable housing in Alexandria, minority enrollment has decreased, most noticeably at the elementary level. At the same time, white enrollment has grown. Parents in areas of the city that at one time had abandoned public schools have once again discovered the benefits and quality of public school education. The resurgence of Rosemonters attending kindergarten at Maury this year is an example of this change.

Mr. Welsh questions the training for and concept of smaller learning communities. The discussion about smaller learning communities at T.C. Williams is ongoing. Mr. Welsh and the public are invited to a discussion regarding these issues at 7 p.m. Nov. 29 at T.C. Williams.

Mr. Welsh raises some important questions about the effect that federal legislation is having on our schools. The standards-based reform movement came early to Virginia. National exams show that Virginia students have improved their performance over the past five years as the Standards of Learning curriculum was implemented.

However, the No Child Left Behind Act might destroy the benefit of the standards movement by setting unrealistic goals. More than 75 percent of our students are meeting the minimum standards, but raising the achievement of the remaining 25 percent to meet the standards will take enormous effort and require a commitment of additional resources. The squeeze on resources placed on schools by the federal law is coming.

The School Board intends that the standards in AP courses be maintained. More minorities are being encouraged to take these challenging courses, with the support of teachers dedicated to making sure all of our students are prepared for college.

I wonder if Mr. Welsh did anything to support the student to whom he gave an F. Did he give the student a sample of A-level work? Did he return the paper to the student with comments for improvement and not accept the work for a grade until the paper met the standards? Can't we challenge the top students and at the same time guide lower-performing students to higher achievement levels? We can have more challenging coursework for more students if we hold standards up and support those who cannot reach all the way on their own. (If what Mr. Welsh said about the test conditions was correct, that needs to be improved, and any student whistling during an AP test should be removed.)

Mollie Danforth


Alexandria School Board