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Improved Graduation Rates and Greater Equity Is the ACPS Plan

Dr. Gregory Hutchings visiting an ACPS classroom. (All photos courtesy of ACPS)

Alexandria, VA – Kindness. Generosity. Care. Love. Respect. These are the words Dr. Gregory Hutchings uses when he talks about the years ahead for Alexandria City Public Schools. The highest graduation rate in Alexandria City Public High School’s history in the 2020-2021 school year is a significant segue into the positive future he foresees.

Covid restrictions that forced students to learn from home last school year provided an opportunity for students to learn without any misperceptions or judgment. “There is a connection to kids being in their [home] comfort zone. The moment students of color step into a classroom or building, they feel like they’re being judged. Knowing you will be judged due to the color of your skin the moment you walk in, whether you are intelligent or not, that’s a lot of pressure on our black and brown children across America,” said Dr. Hutchings.

Hutchings is aware that students can have adverse experiences in their homes, but it is important to note that the 2020-21 school year at home produced some of the highest academic achievements ever seen. “I know there’s something there. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is quite yet,” Dr. Hutchings said, “but I will over the next couple of years.”

Alexandria City Public Schools Strategic Plan

The Equity for All structure that will lead Alexandria’s students through 2025 and beyond was adopted in June 2020 by the Alexandria City Public School Board.

“Equity is a buzzword around America. What we’re striving for is anti-racism. Everyone has racist thoughts or tendencies. It’s important to learn what those racist tendencies are, what they look like, so that we can check our own racist behaviors,” said Dr. Hutchings.

Dr. Hutchings believes that at times he is “perceived to be an aggressive person,” but if one takes time to sit with him, they will learn how his passion for the district may be misunderstood. Hutchings is invested in improving the lives of children in Alexandria. Being a graduate of the district he now supervises, he understands the history and has a clear vision of the direction the district needs to take for ACPS students.

“We have been saying we need to go deeper and start having anti-racism training for our staff, for our leaders, and eventually for our students,” said Dr. Hutchings. The district is striving to look at its policies, with the ultimate goal of having all students be in an equitable learning environment.

Anti-racism training sessions will take place throughout all divisions of Alexandria City Public Schools over the next three years. All staff will be certified anti-racist by the district. Dr. Hutchings believes that training is needed before striking out on a new educational path because without being sensitive to the needs of the teachers, students, staff, and community, it could turn into a “disaster.” The training will be ongoing and become part of the identity of the school system.

“Sometimes I hear people say we shouldn’t talk about race (in schools) and I’m always shocked by that,” Dr. Hutchings said. “As an educator and educational institution, our job is to teach our history, to talk about our past and present as well as our future, to share factual information, and for students to learn new material,” stated Dr. Hutchings.

Recently In The Media

Recent fights reported in local news seem to have washed away all of the positive work being accomplished in the district. “Our kids have been through a very traumatic time. The whole world has been through a very traumatic time,” said Dr. Hutchings. “Covid is like a beast. Our young people have been in isolation for almost two years without socialization with their peers. They have experienced trauma, and what we know about trauma is that other sorts of behaviors manifest when you’ve been through a traumatic experience. It’s different for everybody.”

With some students losing loved ones, family members losing jobs, evictions and moving, or abuse within have heightened the trauma for some students. “We have to deal with our safety challenges. We have to address our students’ emotional needs because research tells us that typically when students are involved in misbehavior, there is a core issue going along with it that can only be resolved through social or emotional support,” said Dr. Hutchings.

Just as school board meetings across the country have changed, so have threats that people post nationwide on social media platforms. Cruelty and disengagement from the feelings of others have intensified since the onset of Covid. “When everyone pauses to think about our country as a whole, we can’t be surprised that we’re seeing certain behaviors manifest with our students. But that doesn’t make an excuse for it. We’re going to have to work through it, and we are doing it in ACPS by providing social and emotional as well as academic supports.”

Should you wish to offer support to underserved students within Alexandria City Public Schools, you may donate to the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria (www.alexscholarshipfund.org). Also, the community is always welcome to cheer at ACPS sporting events (www.acps.k12.va.us/athletics). Finally, should you like to volunteer as a community partner in tutoring, connect with Alexandria Tutoring Consortium (alexandriatutors.org) or Running Brooke (www.runningbrooke.org).

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