Letter: Questions for School Candidates

Letter: Questions for School Candidates

— To the Editor:

In the din of the campaigns for president, Congress, mayor, and City Council, the races for Alexandria School Board are largely being ignored.

But on Monday, Oct. 8, in Del Ray, residents will have an opportunity to hear the candidates in District A discuss some of the key issues affecting our schools. The forum will be held from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the Mount Vernon Community School auditorium. Childcare will be provided.

The six District A candidates, who are vying for three seats, will certainly have some vexing issues to debate.

Superintendent Mort Sherman has said that “eliminating academic achievement differences among race, income, disability and language subgroups must be the highest priority.” He called this “an educational and moral imperative.” Schools across America are struggling to close these achievement gaps. Do the candidates believe that Alexandria is making progress? If so, what are the best examples? If not, where and in what areas do we need to do more?

Given the major focus on closing achievement gaps, do the candidates believe that the school system is doing enough to support students who are achieving at high levels? If not, how would they change or improve programs for the most gifted students?

Many parents want to understand how Alexandria measures the success of its schools. They also want to know if they are sending their child to a good school. What measures of achievement are now being used? Are they adequate or are additional metrics needed?

Because of big enrollment increases in recent years, Alexandria’s elementary schools are bursting at the seams. But these enrollment increases appear to be limiting elementary school choice. How would the candidates address the capacity challenges facing the schools and their effects on parental choice?

Despite increasing enrollment, there is a perception that some parents continue to question the quality of Alexandria’s public schools and send their children to private school or to a public school elsewhere. Is this perception accurate, and if so, what can and should the school system do, if anything, to convince these families to stay in Alexandria schools?

In an August 2011 column in this newspaper, Superintendent Sherman stated that, “Our community and students deserve candor and a complete picture when it comes to looking at school and division performance.” How do the candidates grade the school administration on communication, transparency, and candor? If they give a grade of less than A, what changes to improve the situation would they recommend?

One of the school board’s major responsibilities is overseeing and managing the superintendent. What do the candidates believe is the right relationship between the school board and the superintendent?

Another one of the school board’s major responsibilities is developing and overseeing the school system’s budget. How would the candidates work to restrain costs while ensuring that students receive the services they need?

There is pressure on school systems to develop rigorous teacher evaluation systems. Virginia requires that 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student outcomes. Because the state allows districts some flexibility in determining those outcomes, what makes sense for Alexandria?

After the U.S. Department of Education designated T.C Williams High School a persistently low-achieving school in 2010, significant changes were made. To what degree have these reforms been successful? Do the candidates believe that additional steps need to be taken? If so, what?

Is the school system doing a good job at retaining good teachers and principals, or could more be done, such as more generously rewarding high-performers?

Is the school system doing all it can to prevent students from dropping out of school? If not, what more could be done?

These are difficult questions, but ones we hope the candidates will grapple with.

Bill Hendrickson

President, Del Ray Citizens Association