To the Editor:
The letter to the editor, "Former Board's Achievements," read as if it were a carefully crafted, self-promoting pamphlet generated by the superintendent’s office. Those who drafted and signed the letter relied heavily and almost exclusively on ACPS press releases and ACPS presentations to bolster their case of support. By only citing ACPS material the authors and signers of this letter nearly passed along the unsubstantiated beliefs of ACPS. Believing that something is taking place and presenting clear evidence that it is occurring are two very different things. That was the lesson learned by the former board and the superintendent when they took their beliefs to the Virginia Board of Education to seek conditional accreditation for Alexandria's lowest achieving school. The state board reviewed the facts and determined that the facts did not support the beliefs held by ACPS. The same is true in this case. There are beliefs and there are facts. Independent review and assessment from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and local media suggest that a number of points in this letter must be addressed with a dose of reality.
1) ACPS is failing to meet the most important core principle of its strategic plan, “educational excellence.” As a school division ACPS failed to meet all federal annual measurable objectives. According to the VDOE SOL Division Report Card (available to the public) 14 of the 19 ACPS schools failed to meet state and/or federal accreditation benchmarks. The status of those 14 schools: Charles Barrett- Improvement Plan Required, Francis Hammond 2- Accredited With Warning, Francis Hammond 3- Improvement Plan Required, George Mason- Improvement Plan Required, George Washington 2- Improvement Plan Required, George Washington 1- Improvement Plan Required, James K. Polk- Improvement Plan Required, Jefferson Houston- Accreditation Denied, John Adams- Title 1 Focus School, Maury- Improvement Plan Required, Mount Vernon- Improvement Plan Required, Patrick Henry- Title 1 Focus School, Samuel Tucker- Improvement Plan Required, T.C. Williams- Title 1 Focus School.
2) The ACPS 21st Century Curriculum mirrors the Virginia Standards of Learning. The one-page summary available to parents cites SOL objectives and is in line with the pacing guides and curriculum ACPS already had in place prior to the arrival of the “new” curriculum. The current curriculum was hurriedly and haphazardly pushed out with mistakes and problems and has had to be reworked a number of times. ACPS is currently using and changing curriculum version 3.0 which halfway through the school year remains incomplete. A number of the “new” ACPS curriculum “resources” are nothing more than existing VDOE SOL links, hardly custom-designed.
3) A “transformed” T. C. Williams High School is still failing to meet the needs of its students. Advanced placement enrollment has increased while the number of students actually taking the AP tests has decreased from 765 students in the 2010-2011 school year to only 659 students in the 2011-2012 school year. Between the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school year the number of drop outs at T.C. Williams nearly doubled from 60 children to 109 children.
4) ACPS makes a budget look good, what they actually do with the money is another story. This past spring one of Alexandria’s most respected public servants, former two-term mayor of Alexandria, parent of five former ACPS students, former T.C. Williams administrator, and, until recently, Alexandria’s vice mayor publicly called for the resignation of the superintendent due to the gross mismanagement of taxpayer dollars within the school system. Mismanagement which was allowed to occur under what ACPS’ former chief financial officer was called an “extremely hostile, abusive and punitive work environment.” According to the Virginia Department of Education SOL Report Card for ACPS, nearly 40 percent of ACPS operating expenditures do not go towards instructional costs. A recent Freedom of Information Request by the Education Association of Alexandria called ACPS administrative spending into question. The EAA went as far to state that the administrative “salaries, benefits, and bonuses of which Mrs. Gorsuch has been made aware are staggering, considering this staff does not work with children.”
The majority of ACPS schools requiring improvement plans, a historically failing elementary school having its accreditation denied, increasing drop-out rates, declining SAT trends, haphazard policy and curriculum decisions, and questionable spending are just a few of the ongoing concerns within our small school system. The new school board has a variety of issues to address before congratulations or blame should be bestowed upon anyone who served on the previous school board. ACPS’s record of recent years should lead many to hold the applause.