Her new title is School Board vice chairwoman. But for many longtime Alexandrians, Blanche Maness is simply known as “Cookie.”
“The name was given to me by my mom,” Maness said. “She said that I was sweet kid, so she called me Cookie and the name stuck.”
What kind of cookie is Maness?
“Oh, that’s easy. I’m a ginger snap,” she said. “I’m spicy. I love people, and I’m personable.”
Minnie Howard School Principal Grace Taylor was ready to sit down with a book and read. It was shortly after 10 a.m. on the first day of school, and Taylor decided to pop into one of the school’s classrooms and participate in “Read Alive” — the school’s daily 15-minute period of silent reading. She had a copy of “Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from High School Students” by Jill Davidson. Margee Walsh, the division’s executive director of secondary programs, had given it to her over the summer and she was eager to dig in.
“I hadn’t had a chance to crack it yet,” Taylor said. “So I found a classroom and sat down. They didn’t know I was coming.”
Taylor found a silent classroom where students were perusing copies of National Geographic or the latest James Patterson novel. She said that she has great hope that the 15-minute reading initiative will hook the students on a love of reading. Meanwhile, at a back-to-school meeting for School Board members, Superintendent Rebecca Perry suggested that board members should read “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.
“Good can sometimes be the enemy of great,” Perry told board members, echoing the message of the book. “Alexandria schools can do better.”
Later in the meeting, Assistant Superintendent Cathy David suggested another book: “Results Now: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching And Learning” by Mike Schmoker.
“We need to make sure we are challenging our students,” David said, adding that the author suggests more supervision and instruction of teachers. “And so I plan on being in the classroom more this year.”
In the age after Sept. 11 and Katrina, emergency preparedness is experiencing somewhat of a revival. Disaster scenarios are easy to imagine, and Superintendent Rebecca Perry wants Alexandria schools to be ready for anything. At the School Board’s annual retreat, she said that emergency planning would one of her major goals for the upcoming school year. Perry plans to spend the next few months updating the division’s emergency plans.
“You can’t decide what you are going to do when crisis strikes,” Perry told School Board members during the retreat. “You have to be ready to go.”
Money is often a contentious topic of conversation — a truism that was evident at the School Board’s annual retreat last week. At issue was the City Council’s new budget process, debuted last year, which gave the schools an expenditure target and asked for an early forecast. The school’s October deadline forced the central administration to put a budget together with incomplete enrollment numbers, data that isn’t usually available until well into the school year.
Reviews of the new process were mixed. Board member Sheryl Gorsuch said that she was disappointed. “They set a target, and we came in under the target,” Gorsuch said. “Then we got cut anyway.”
Charles Wilson, the only returning incumbent from the previous board, was also highly critical of the new timeline. “We got shafted,” Wilson told his fellow board members.
But Claire Eberwein, a former member of City Council, defended the city’s need to get early information. She said that School Board members should refrain from making too much noise about the new schedule, which accelerates the budget process to add more time for public deliberation.
“That’s probably why you are going to get a less-than-sympathetic nod,” Eberwein said. “We don’t want them to make assumptions for us, and we don’t want to get whacked in the end.”