How Did We Get Here?
The High School Project began as an attempt to resolve an urgent need for space due to growing student enrollment. ACPS has used this opportunity to redefine the high school experience for future generations of Alexandrians. The goal: to expand both learning spaces and learning opportunities for all students.
Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr., ACPS Superintendent, outlined the task: “How do we allow kids to have experience in the workplace before graduation? Or obtain an Associates Degree before they graduate from high school?”
By focusing on what is best for students and envisioning what can be, the discussion progressed into new territory.
In 2004, when Alexandria came together to expand and rebuild TC Williams High School we designed a building that would support smaller learning environments. That has grown into five academies and as we outgrew space at TC, we added a Satellite Campus and have plans for two more off-site programs.
In 2012, a work group with key community leaders from the City and the School System came together and spent five years studying PreK-12 school learning options and developed a Long Range Educational Facility Plan (LREFP) to guide future school renovations and new construction. The school board also commissioned a study of the best way to configure grades in school buildings as a way to plan for space. The report recommended keeping all four high school grades together.
In January 2017, the school board adopted the base set of space requirements for high school recommended by the work group.
More recently the discussion veered from brick and mortar to programming.
During the second phase of the LREFP process, stakeholders started saying they want more college courses, internships and apprentice opportunities with local businesses, as well as specialty programs that meet the needs of different kinds of learners.
In 2018, ACPS contracted with an architecture firm and an educational planning group, to design a high school that meets each student where they are and prepares them for the world that will exist ten, twenty and thirty years from now.
The consultants spent time learning about Alexandria’s past and present, and heard:
- We need to be flexible because enrollment trends can change quickly;
- We need to be adaptable to the changing economic climate;
- We know some of our struggling students aren’t getting an education that works for them;
- We know Minnie Howard needs to be modernized and there are inherent issues when it comes adding onto the former elementary school to accommodate thousands more students;
- We know it would be difficult and expensive to offer the same level of programming and staffing as TC Williams.
The consultants engaged, researched national trends for high school, considered options such as additional comprehensive high schools, creating off-site programs or expanding the existing TC campus., the consultants recommended delivering more programs at multiple sites.
The resulting vision is rooted in community partnerships, integrates diversity into programs and offers hands on learning.
While there are other places around the country successfully implementing parts of this concept, Alexandria would be a first if we build a Connected High School Network or a version of this concept. It will be homegrown and built on best practice and what works for kids.
“What we are embarking on is a new day, it is innovation,” Superintendent Hutchings said, adding that future high schools need to give kids multiple pathways to get a diploma. He admits this is groundbreaking and untraditional, but it will result in preparing Alexandria’s youth for life.
“It was huge for us to desegregate the schools” he said, but just as we came together in 1971, we will connect to make this vision a reality to deliver a 21st century education to our students.