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.
“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?”
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.
“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.
“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