Yvonne Folkerts, Alexandria School Board Chair
That intriguing statement was delivered to the School Board last Monday, when Superintendent Sherman was unveiling the Board’s first look at the division’s education plan – the specific steps needed to implement our strategic plan.
Such a bold statement succinctly stated the superintendent intends to see the staff work on two parallel tracks: one, build the foundation for a redesigned K-12 curriculum over the next two to three years; and two, address immediate needs in the classroom to advance student achievement.
Dr. Sherman is directing the staff to make the School Board’s vision, set the international standard for educational excellence, where all students achieve their potential and actively contribute to our local and global communities, a reality.
Building principals and Central Office administrators have been working for months developing the comprehensive document we saw. Some elementary schools have completed their education plans already. All other schools will have done so in the near future. In December, Dr. Sherman will bring the plan forward again, this time with targets and metrics to be used to judge whether ACPS accomplishes the targets. The Board will also schedule a meeting to receive a mid-year progress report.
One example of “triage and building a foundation” is the ACPS mathematics curriculum. The Board has requested that mathematics improvements be a continuing emphasis within the staff’s work. Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum Cathy David reported at the meeting: “the current level of student achievement in ACPS and the rate of participation in 8th grade algebra is unacceptable and must improve.” Consequently, mathematics will be the first content area of curriculum redesign.
Building a foundation will include an outside assessment of current math instruction; learning how to build a curriculum of deeper understanding while still meeting the standards of learning; learning how to make Algebra 1 the default course for all eighth grade students; and providing professional development for all K-12 teachers, including elementary/middle school transition meetings between fifth and sixth grade teachers.
Simultaneously, the staff has been doing triage to work toward the Board’s goal of more students enrolled in 8th grade algebra. The staff has identified 77 students who are not in Algebra 1 but have demonstrated they are capable of that level of work. This puts ACPS at a 42 percent eighth-grade enrollment rate in Algebra 1. These students will be given the support they need to make a successful transition into Algebra 1.
It will take two to three years to implement an overall curriculum redesign. As the superintendent told us, a wholesale reform of the ACPS curriculum will not be done until the foundation is built. Building this foundation will require a high level of energy, a commitment not to fall into the standards of learning (SOL) mentality and ongoing communication among teachers, administrators, staff, and the community. The Board and the superintendent must remain focused on timetables and targets while attending to triage in the classroom.
The Board saw this week what the corporate body of ACPS can do for our students. We understand implementing this education plan may be challenging, may bring about some anxiety and may cause increased stress levels for our staff. At the same time, it is exciting and right for our students. We have said ACPS will set the international standard of excellence so all students can achieve their potential. This education plan is a solid step in that direction.