School Board Chairman Talks to DRCA
Student enrollment up throughout the city's public schools.
Alexandria School Board Chairman Sheryl Gorsuch met with the Del Ray Citizens Association on Monday night at Mount Vernon Community School to talk about explosive enrollment growth and other issues affecting the school system.
"It's not really a surprise that we have a lot of capacity issues," Gorsuch told the gathering. "We are full."
Kindergarten enrollment has increased 30 percent over the last several years and K-12 enrollment has increased 19 percent across the school system, she said.
To accommodate the increased number of students while still keeping class sizes small, school officials have allowed students to transfer to schools outside their neighborhoods, and added modular units at such elementary schools as John Adams, James K. Polk and Charles Barrett.
ACPS also plans to build a new K-8 school to replace the existing Jefferson-Houston Elementary School as well as another to replace Patrick Henry Elementary School, she said. The new school at Jefferson-Houston is scheduled to open in the fall of 2014.
The school's 10-year capital improvement plan also calls for the construction of two additional K-8 schools including one at Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology, though the funding has not been set aside for those schools.
"In the short run, we know the growth is going to continue," Gorsuch said. "We're pretty much planning and counting on we're going to see that enrollment growth continue."
As the student population grows, it also continues to change, Gorsuch said. Black students, who used to make up the majority of ACPS students, now account for 30 percent of the school population. Hispanic students make up another 30 percent, while white students account for 25 percent of the student population and 5 percent self-identify as "other."
Among the challenges facing the city's public schools, Gorsuch identified the rise in ELL students or "English Language Learners" which jumped from 22 percent last year to 25 percent this year, and budget constraints. New teachers have been hired to respond to the student population boom and over the last three years, school officials have cut costs from the central office. Salary and benefits make up 84 percent of the school budget, she said.
Gorsuch also spoke to school achievement and made the following points:
- Since T.C. Williams High School was designated a persistently low-achieving school a couple years ago, Principal Suzanne Maxey was hired and is helping turn the school around, she said. Among the changes, Maxey decreased the class loads for math and english teachers so they could provide more tutoring for students.
- T.C. Williams students rank in the top 5 percent of the country when it comes to participation in Advanced Placement classes and their AP test scores.
- Eighth-grade algebra scores have improved and 50 percent of eighth-graders are now taking the math course with a 99 percent passing rate.