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Letter: City’s Students Deserve Better

To the Editor:

The people of Alexandria would be wise to recall the headlines of 2004 when ACPS Superintendent Rebecca Perry was arrested for driving while intoxicated as she left a school board meeting; that is, as she left work.

As punishment, the School Board reduced her contract by one year and asked that she donate $10,000 to the T.C. Williams’ All Night Graduation party. Later, the same Board extended her contract through mid-year 2008, and gave her a raise.

Indeed that School Board acted as though Ms. Perry was the only person in this world qualified to run what is, essentially, a mediocre (by regional and national standards) school system.

Now, if we were to put 100 people in a room to each give us one reason why our school system is plagued with this mediocrity, we’d leave with 200 answers. Everyone has an opinion; most of us are smart enough to figure out some of the solutions.

It does not appear that the root cause can be found in our educators; for the most part they are dedicated, creative, caring professionals.

The problem is certainly not money — well, it’s not a lack of money. Here in Alexandria, we have money in measures: don’t let the City Council tell you different when they go to raise your real estate taxes — as municipalities go, we’re rollin’ in the dough.

A big part of the problem could be found in parental involvement. Few would argue that parental involvement is the key to a young person’s success in school. It's no secret that the socio-economic demographics of our community don't match the socio-economic demographics of our school system. There's a disconnect; the affluent here decry the state of our schools but refuse to send their kids to T.C. Williams — the perception is the poor kids go there. We have to honestly confront that if we want real change in our schools.

(For the record, I do not have kids but I am a product of the public school system in Georgia and I am the son of a former public school teacher. I believe in public schools.)

So if we’re loyal enough to maintain that those we’ve entrusted to educate our children are doing the best they can, and we’re wise enough to know we don’t need to throw any more money at the problem, and if we as a collective are honest enough to admit to ourselves that we’re partly at fault by "buying out" of ACPS; and there’s but one place left to turn for incremental victories — that is, the administration of the schools; the administration of the resources we’ve entrusted to the School Board and Superintendent.

Now I’m no fan of Kerry Donley but School Board Chairwoman Sheryl Gorsuch is wrong to say he has more appropriate ways than in the Council Chamber to share his opinion regarding the dysfunctional budget office Morton Sherman ultimately manages. As part of the elected body that oversees the City’s budget in its entirety, including what is awarded to the schools each year, that’s exactly the venue for Mr. Donley to express his opinion.

Let’s not forget, this isn’t the first time members of the public have had a reason to question Dr. Sherman’s ability to lead our school system.

ACPS is the largest single part of the City’s budget — if the Council Chamber isn’t the place to talk about the administration of resources and the future of those administering the resources, when and where is the place, Ms. Gorsuch? I am concerned that Ms. Gorsuch may be falling into the same trap that so many of our City leaders often do — the trap of believing it’s acceptable to conduct the public’s business behind closed doors. Furthermore, I am concerned that Ms. Gorsuch views Dr. Sherman as the old School Board viewed Ms. Perry — in spite of the questions surrounding his ability to effectively lead ACPS — that he is the only person in the world qualified to run a mediocre school system; that he is the only person around who can improve on average.

I don't buy it. And neither should you.

Our students deserve better, don’t they, Ms. Gorsuch?

George G. Demetriades, Jr.

Alexandria