District B Candidates Discuss Teacher Morale

The Taylor Run Citizens Association hosted an Alexandria school board candidate debate Wednesday night at MacArthur Elementary.

Alexandria School Board candidates in District B debated for the second time Wednesday night, with differences emerging in their opinions of teacher morale and the relationship between the board and City Council.

The event was held in the Douglas MacArthur Elementary School cafeteria and hosted by the Taylor Run Citizens Association. The event came a week after the candidates met for a debate in North Ridge that offered more agreement than disagreement.

That wasn’t the case on Wednesday.

When asked about teacher retention and morale, Justin Keating said there’s a “systemic morale problem” despite Alexandria’s teachers being among the best compensated in the region.

Keating said teachers have been frustrated by the swift integration of new programs like Success For All (District A candidates debated Success For All in a forum last week). He said that metrics are needed to determine whether or not these programs are working.

Marc Williams, the lone incumbent in District B, denied there was a morale problem.

“I reject the thought our teachers don’t love teaching in Alexandria,” he said. “To simply say this is a systemic problem, it just ain’t so.”

He said the school system is in the midst of massive changes to boost achievement. He said “anxiety” is expected in such situations.

“The last four years, we’ve tried to put children first,” he said.

Williams said there was a need for a “sense of urgency” in the implementation of some programs, but ultimately there have been “great gains” in standardized reading tests as a result of Success For All. He also said Alexandria continues to have some of the smallest class sizes and highest teacher salaries in Northern Virginia.

Michael Brookbank and Kelly Carmichael Booz said making sure teachers have a voice in the decision-making process is critical.

“Teachers feel like they don’t have a voice in what is happening,” Brookbank said.

“Salary and class size alone won’t help alone,” Carmichael Booz said. “There has to be respect, and teachers must be involved.”

Chyrell Bucksell said professional development for not just teachers but administrators and others is important in raising morale and retention rates.

When the subject of the relationship between the School Board and City Council came up, Brookbank said it needs improvement.

He said an accounting firm’s declaration in March that the management of ACPS’ Capital Improvement Program was “dysfunctional” has made things tough, especially when ACPS needs funds to address new facilities.      

“How do I go to council and say ‘trust me’?” he said. “We have to make a very good case. … It’s going to be very difficult.”

In March, the “dysfunctional” definition even pushed Vice Mayor Kerry Donley to call for the resignation of ACPS Superintendent Morton Sherman, something Keating said set off some sniping between the two bodies that only “hurts the kids.”

Keating anticipates the next council and board will have a new kind of relationship. He mentioned wanting to partner up with council members to lobby for funding from Richmond and elsewhere.

Bucksell said questions from voters about Sherman’s tenure only came forward when “a city council member said something about him.” She said doing more than just holding work sessions would help improve the relationship between the two bodies.

Williams said ACPS already works closely with the city, which keeps a demographer on staff to assist when enrollment projections.

“The city, quite frankly, has been very generous,” he said. “But too many city council members say something about only 10 percent of the city’s residents having kids. … The strength of the community is based on how it educates and treats its kids.”

Carmichael Booz said both bodies “need to be on the same page.”

She said the board needs to prioritize funding to tackle the achievement gap, which she said can be directly confronted by investing in early education, reaching out to kids at the low-income level and having conversations about finding places for more pre-K classrooms.

District B voters can select up to three candidates on their Nov. 6 ballot.

Priscilla Z. Goodwin October 19, 2012 at 02:15 PM
I am not defending Sherman, I am defending Marc Williams! I don't want to get into your family business here. My point is that student achievement is up and that should be the main priority for our schools. Marc cares about every child and one of his best accomplishments was leading the charge for middle school honors classes to be open enrollment, not just for TAG kids. If he only cared about a small clique of families he would never have spent all those hours making that change happen. Now, every child who wants to challenge herself in middle school honors classes can.
Drew Hansen (Editor) October 19, 2012 at 02:17 PM
A comment was deleted for violating our terms of use.
NoBS October 19, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Priscilla, defending Marc Williams or any current school board member IS defending Mort Sherman. They hired him and they renewed his inflated contract.
NoBS October 19, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Drew, how was my post inappropriate? I posted facts. The wrong doings of those involved in the lacrosse mess are well documented in news accounts and court records, and it is also true that I won't let anybody mess with kid and I stand by my words. The entire reason I got involved in local politics was to bring about change at the local level after what ACPS did to my child and my family. I am going to hold those responsible accountable until the day I die.
NoBS October 19, 2012 at 02:46 PM
There is another very big problem with many people with kids in ACPS. They're afraid to rock the boat because they know their own kids will suffer for it. It's awful that parents have to be afraid of their superintendent and school board but even more awful that parents cower before the Mighty Mighty Mort Sherman.
Bill Campbell October 19, 2012 at 04:55 PM
This “kids come before teachers” pitch presents several logical fallacies. If we include teachers early-on in the decision-making and implementation planning, does it follow that we’re putting teachers before children? Is low teacher morale and helter-skelter program implementation an indication that children are being put first? Also, what are agreeable progress metrics? Is the number of kids taking AP or Honors courses significantly relevant? If we found that TCW has more kids taking AP and Honors courses than does Thomas Jefferson or St. Stephens & St. Agnes, would this make it a “better” school? How about accreditation? Jefferson-Houston has met “accreditation” requirements for years. School districts will always have differing attitudes and outcomes. Some folks will have wonderful experiences, some “middle of the road”, some sadly, will have indifferent failures and still other families may have to bring legal pressure to ensure rightful outcomes. Most agree that ACPS, consistent with our strategic plan, can never be seen as “an international leader” until we better serve our low-income, ELL, African-American and special needs students. We’ve talked about this for years. I’m not sure that we’ve applied a laser focus. I submit that it begins with us agreeing on the priorities, agreeing on metrics, and then pulling together to implement programming and improved, consistent and meaningful communications with ALL of our families.
Linda Kelly October 19, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Gail, I have been a parent leader in ACPS for the past several years and I haven't seen any cowering at all. I have in fact witnessed quite a bit of pushback. Since you no longer have any direct involvement in the school system, I am wondering where you have observed this?
NoBS October 19, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Linda, several families have contacted me in the years since the lacrosse scandal with concerns about retaliation against their children for speaking out. Three of those families still have kids at ACPS. I will not name those families. One family threatened legal action, another is considering it, one stuck it out and their kids are all out of ACPS now and another family is too afraid to do anything at all. Other famlilies have shared with me their concerns, not necessarily about retaliation, but other matters, such as failure to provide for special needs kids.
Pat Hennig October 19, 2012 at 09:02 PM
ACPS has total enrollment of 13,222 as of October 1, 2012. In the two “priority” schools – Jefferson Houston and TC Williams, the total enrollment is 3,319 – 25% of the population is in a “priority” school. The two “focus” schools, John Adams and Patrick Henry, have a total population of 1,345.00, a total of 10.2% of the population. The total enrollment for the five elementary schools which now must have “improvement plans” is 1,814, or 13.7% of the total school population. The middle schools – FCH3 and both George Washington schools have a total population of 1,384, or 10.5% of the total population. So, we now have 59.4% of the total school system populations at some form of risk – and did not have that before Dr. Sherman came. If this is an indication of how "student achievement is up", they must be in a hot air balloon.
Andrew Wilson October 20, 2012 at 12:11 AM
The commas in "...pompous, show boating, over superintendent." are not necessary. It changes the flow of your last sentence by slowing it down and does not add anything to your point--plus it's just clutter. Instead I would leave the commas out and just add dashes between "show boating" and "over paid" to connect the concepts. Also, your phrase "They know what a mess they've been." suggests that they are no longer creating a mess, which could be interpreted as they have adapted and are no longer creating a mess. That sort of adaptability and change is what we want in elected officials. That is only one interpretation, but mainly what that sentence does is deplete your credibility, which you cannot afford to do because you destroy your ethos with your angry tone and lack of evidence to support your argument. Perhaps you should take a couple of classes at T.C. Williams High School so that you can learn to write better arguments. I know that my education through all thirteen years of ACPS, which improved throughout my time in the system, is really helping me be successful now in college.
Andrew Wilson October 20, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Actually, Marc Williams won in a special election after Mort Sherman had already been hired. Could somebody get Gail a fact checker?
NoBS October 20, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Oh look, a little kid getting smart! Google the Washington Post article on the case. Note that Marc Williams voted to renew Sherman's contract.
Drew Hansen (Editor) October 20, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Let's refrain from the personal jabs, folks. There's a good dialogue here and I don't want to suspend comments on this article.
NoBS October 20, 2012 at 10:44 AM
Anyone who would like to know the facts about the lacrosse incident need only read the court filings. The Washington Post had an article about it too but I'm not sure if it's still up. It should be in the archives somewhere. Mort Sherman had ample evidence of potential criminal acts by coaches and teachers and did nothing until forced to act. He kept McKeag on for another year until the basketball scandal erupted. You can google that too. Marc Williams was on the board then and was one of my representatives from District B. He knows what happened and he failed to act as well. He doesn't even have the guts to apologize. No way should he be re-elected. We need an entirely new school board; preferably one that will fire Mort Sherman at the first opportunity.
Anonymous October 20, 2012 at 11:59 AM
Please demand an ANONYMOUS climate survey to be distributed to teachers. Do not let ACPS run the survey...have some sort of outside authority. Include some kind of space for comments. Your eyes would be opened.
NoBS October 20, 2012 at 07:48 PM
Whatever happened to ACPS underground? Did Sherman cause that to be shut down? I second the call for an anonymous survey of the teachers. Let them speak without fear of retaliation.
JD October 20, 2012 at 11:05 PM
The first order of business of the new school board should be a lengthly anonymous survey for all teachers!! This should then be published not filed under lock and key . I can tell you all your jaws will hit the floor. As far as teacher morale? Take a quick look at how many new teachers/administrators are at your school this year, ask around what happened to them... because only a small % "retired". Marc Williams is clueless about teacher morale, or maybe teachers just don't want to talk to him because he is such a blind supporter of Sherman.
Anonymous October 21, 2012 at 01:22 PM
Periodically, you should check the "careers" section of the ACPS website (jobseekers>vacancies). Check the dates.
NoBS October 21, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Thanks for the tip, anon. I noticed a slew of vacancies for "licensed" (which means teachers) were announced in March, then none at all until August, and a relatively steady stream since then. What is the significance of that?
Anonymous October 21, 2012 at 05:39 PM
People are leaving AFTER the school year has started.
NoBS October 21, 2012 at 09:24 PM
I can see that, anon, but can you give us any insight into WHY teachers are leaving ACPS? For anyone who is interested - Marc Williams' TAG initiative was a way to appease white, high income parents in MacArthur and George Mason. It basically results in segregated classes. Check the stats. Lower income families and families for whom English is a second language are far less likely to take advantage of TAG classes.
Justin Keating October 22, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Discussion of test scores continues to give the public the wrong idea that these things are relevant for anything more than satisfying arbitrary legal benchmarks. I don't think everything in ACPS is perfect, but the schools would be better off if we if the level and volume of positive community discussion about the schools came close or exceeded the level and volume of negative discussion. SOL scores tell me very little about the quality of education my children can get in ACPS. If elected to the Board, I plan on working with the community to let everyone know that their children can do very, very well in ACPS; but I also plan on looking for weaknesses that even the best organizations have and looking for ideas to fix those weaknesses. Unfortunately, if a candidate or Board member says anything good about ACPS, he/she is accused by some of being an apologist for Sherman, or of whitewashing problems; but if he/she says anything negative, he/she is accused of held up (usually unwillingly) as another person that thinks our schools are a disaster zone. I have been very impressed to see fellow Board candidates like me who believe that we can achieve this balance while working hard to maintain progress where it is already happening and figure out how to spread it to other parts of the system. If only this was simple enough to be resolved on a message board.
NoBS October 22, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Justin said: "the schools would be better off if we (sic) if the level and volume of positive community discussion about the schools came close or exceeded the level and volume of negative discussion." When the negative comments far outnumber the positive comments about a school system, the takeaway is that parents and taxpayers are fed up. There is no point in making Pollyanna-ish statements and pretending everything is just peachy when it isn't. ACPS is a disaster, and it's not the fault of the teachers or the parents, it's the fault of the adminsitration. People ask why I am still so angry about what was done to my family back in 2009. The answer is this: I'm still angry because the same crap is still happening. It infuriates me when certain people come here or elsewhere and yammer on about how great ACPS is or was for THEIR kids. What about all the other kids? What about MY kid? What about the teachers? What about the wasted tax dollars? If you're not angry about ACPS, you're not paying attention...or you are indeed an apologist for Mort Sherman, Marc Williams and other cronies and you like the status quo because let's face it...it's good for YOUR kid(s) and you don't care about anyone else. That's okay, but if you want to be selfish, admit it and own it. Don't pretend that your support of Sherman and his minions is for any reason other than your own personal benefit.
Mark Williams October 23, 2012 at 01:50 PM
We're an ACPS family, I'm not the Marc Williams who sits on School Board, we're now in our second ACPS school, and I don't know a single family from our schools that thinks the totality of ACPS is a disaster. Far from it, in fact.
NoBS October 23, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Mark, you don't know me outside of this site, but I think the totality of ACPS is a disaster and I know I'm not alone. I'm glad your family is doing well with ACPS, but not everyone's family has been as fortunate. My point is that ACPS works only for some families when it should be working for all. It's not good for Alexandria when the school system fails to serve all as well as it can. I don't expect ACPS to be perfect; no school district is. I do expect ACPS to be fair in both allocation of resources and treatment of students, and it isn't.
NoBS October 23, 2012 at 03:46 PM
"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." ~ Arthur Schopenhauer Some people are in the first stage when it comes to the truth about ACPS being a disaster. Quite a few are in the second. Those of us with first hand experience dealing with the administration are decidely in the third.
Andrew Wilson October 24, 2012 at 04:16 AM
Man oh man! So much anger! And people worry about my generation?
Andrew Wilson October 24, 2012 at 04:23 AM
Uh, excuse me, but that is the exact opposite of what was pushed for. But, alas, you are right, the TAG program is to appease upper class white parents. I am sure you were very pleased with it while your child was in school.
Andrew Wilson October 24, 2012 at 04:25 AM
Why yes! Her imaginary friends agree with her.
Andrew Wilson October 24, 2012 at 04:27 AM
Actually your in a stage of your own. I believe it can be found in the DSM-IV


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