Agenda Alexandria to host a discussion on the ACPS overcrowding crisis

High School Crush

School officials say the one connected high school approach will even out disparities that currently exist in elementary schools and middle schools. (Graphic: ACPS)

By Michael Lee Pope

ALEXANDRIA,VA- The crush of new students is causing pressure all over the city, from crowded elementary school classrooms to trailers at the high school. Alexandria City Public Schools have, in some ways, become a victim of their own success. Students are streaming into schools, leaving school officials scratching their heads trying to figure out how to handle them all.

In October, Agenda Alexandria will host a discussion about how the school system is handling rising enrollment and what the options are for the future. The discussion panel will be composed of representatives from the ACPS administration and the T.C. Williams student body.

Mikaela Pozo, a senior at T.C. Williams High School, immigrated to the U.S. from Bolivia as a child. She founded a student-led group known as Operation Integration to advocate for educational justice and immigrant rights.

“Families are not sure whether their kids are going to have a chair to sit on, and the high school is where all the capacity challenges have landed,” said Eileen Rivera, a member of the Agenda Alexandria board of directors who will be moderating the discussion. “As the city fixes the sewer outfalls, are we also going to fix the moldy ceilings in our classrooms?”

ACPS Chief Academic Officer Terri Mozingo has a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Before becoming the school system’s chief academic officer, she was a classroom teacher, an assistant principal, and an assistant superintendent.

The Alexandria School Board voted in September to expand T.C. Williams High School rather than build a new high school. The six-to-three vote came after a contentious and protracted debate about how to handle the overcrowding crisis at Alexandria’s only high school, a discussion that featured concerns about racial segregation and socioeconomic inequity.

Ultimately, a majority of school board members approved a plan that sidestepped a potentially perilous process of drawing boundaries designating which neighborhoods would attend T.C. Williams and which students would attend a new school.

ACPS Chief Operating Officer Mignon Anthony has a degree in business management and economics from Philadelphia University and a graduate certificate in organizational change and development from American University. Before joining the school system, she managed private sector real estate deals and expansions in Crystal City and Alexandria and oversaw projects for the federal government.

“This is not a forever decision,” said School Board Chairwoman Cindy Anderson before casting her vote. “This is a now decision, and I think it’s the best thing moving forward.”

Supporters of the unsuccessful push to build a new high school in Alexandria were worried that expanding a school that’s already bursting at the seams would be a mistake. They were concerned that nostalgia and inertia were handicapping the decision making process, arguing out that the cost of building a new high school was roughly equal to the cost of the one connected high school model that won out.

A native of New York City, Bridgette Adu-Wadier moved to Alexandria from NYC as a child and is now a junior at T.C. Williams. She writes for the Alexandria Gazette Packet and T.C. Williams newspaper Theogony about overcrowding and the high-school expansion project. She has also contributed to PBS Extra, and she hosts a local news talk show called “Behind the Headlines.”

“I’m not naive to the idea that to build a second high school would mean basically going to war,” said school board member Meagan Alderton, who represents the West End. “It would require outstanding courage, fierce confrontation, and massive resistance.”

What: High School Crush: Alexandria’s Overcrowding Crisis

Where: Hermitage, 5000 Fairbanks Ave, Alexandria VA 22311

When: Monday, Oct. 28, 2019

Time: Reception starts at 6:30 pm, program starts at 7:15 pm

Cost: $5 at the door, optional dinner for $32