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Letter to the Editor: Support School Construction

To the Editor:

Right now, Alexandria is facing the same issue as many other school districts: increasing enrollment. This year, ACPS enrollment jumped 5.8 percent, but this is not an anomaly; it’s a trend. From 2007 to 2013, enrollment has been steadily rising at an average of 3.2 percent per year and is projected to increase 4.5 percent for the 2013 school year (SY). Even after that, future predictions foresee an average growth rate of 3.7 percent until FY 2019. Decisive action must be taken before our at-capacity schools become overcrowded. The Children Youth and Family Collaborative Commission supports the efforts of the Joint Long Range Planning and its work thus far in addressing and solving this growing problem.

Currently, ACPS is investing in a long-term solution, but there’s also a short-term method to cope with the influx of students. In Superintendent Dr. Morton Sherman’s recent budget proposal, he presented several Capital Improvement Projects (CIPs) for capacity buildings and maintenance. This CIP budget calls for $189.3 million over the course of 10 years, which will be used to add classrooms — increasing instructional space — and renovate cafeterias and auditoriums, parking lots and libraries — making these communal areas functional for the growing population.

This plan calls for the following:

  • Charles Barrett: four classrooms, larger cafeteria and parking lot (SY 2014-2015)

  • Douglas Macarthur: one classroom, improvements to library, parking lot and cafeteria (SY 2015-2016),

  • George Mason: two classrooms, renovations to library, parking lot and cafeteria (SY 2014-2016)

  • Matthew Maury: two more classrooms, more parking (SY 2015-2016)

  • James K. Polk: four classrooms, wing of ten classrooms (SY 2014-2015)

  • Patrick Henry: 10 classrooms, additional 10-room wing (SY 2015-2016)

  • T.C. Williams Minnie Howard Campus: second-floor addition (SY 2018-2019)

Besides these renovations, there’s a proposal to build a new K-8 school on a TBD site, a project that will be completed in time for the SY 2017-2018. Another idea calls for the demolition of Cora Kelly and a new K-8 building in its place, which would open in SY 2019-2020. So, why are all these projects essential? It’s simple, actually. ACPS is committed to maintaining a classroom cap, now set at 20 for kindergarten, 22 for grades 1-2 and 24 for grades 3-5.

According to a Denver Post article, “Research into the effect of class size on achievement has found that it can have significant impact in kindergarten to second grade … large increases in class size suggest certain intuitive results — challenges in classroom management, less individual attention, a reluctance to assign homework — that could affect student performance” (“Education experts disagree on importance of school class size,” Simpson 2012).

To manage this year’s increased enrollment, Dr. Sherman and the school board raised the kindergarten cap by two students since construction is a longer process. Because ACPS would never turn any students away, if the issue of capacity continues to be a problem, and at that, one that goes unresolved, class size could continue to increase. Since it appears that the student population is only increasing in the coming years, these CIPs should be supported to prevent a surge in class size and ensure our schools have enough room, providing our students with the best possible learning environment.

Emma Beall

T.C. Williams High School Student

And member, Alexandria Children, Youth and Families Collaborative Commission