Things to Know About The High School Project

  • ACPS needs to build capacity to teach 5,000 students. ACPS staff is comparing expanding Alexandria City High School (formerly T.C. High School) to serve an additional 1,600 students with having two separate high schools in Alexandria, the second high school would be built for 1,600 students.

    Project Phases

    Phase 1:

    From July 2018 to January 2019, in consultation with the larger community, concepts were developed, and the core values and vision for the High School Project were established.

    The Superintendent recommended expanding Alexandria City High School into a Connected High School Network (CHSN) which means maintaining Alexandria City as the single high school in Alexandria. Alexandria City King Street remains as the home location and additional building locations (or campuses) will be added for classroom and program space. The Minnie Howard site would be one of the expansion locations.

    The School Board accepted that recommendation and also directed ACPS to examine a second comprehensive high school in their analysis. This means there would be Alexandria City King Street and another high school elsewhere in Alexandria with its own classes and programs.

    Phase 2:

    February 2019 to March 2021, parallel planning activities are underway:

    Educational Design Planning: Putting students first means appealing to their career interests, providing real-life learning experiences and moving toward more project-based teaching and learning. An educational design team will engage with working groups and advisors to identify priorities and recommendations for The High School Project courses and curriculum of the future.

    Site Planning: The project core team will evaluate sites, land and building opportunities and potential environmental impacts. Work will also continue around costs, logistics, support and implementation across the entire project.

    By March 2021, the educational program design and the site evaluation will be presented to the board for decision-making. Expected decisions will include a definite site or set of sites to move forward with design and construction of the new high school model and the high-level educational programming approach that will guide further development and implementation planning.

    Throughout the process, ACPS will inform and engage the community on a regular basis.


    Educational Design Planning: Expanding Learning Opportunities

    Educational programming is a combination of the various classes or courses that make up a school’s overall program of studies.

    Educational Design Team (EDT)

    An Educational Design Team will be responsible for the planning. It will be comprised of educational experts, school administrators, teachers and students. Dr. Terri Mozingo, Chief Academic Officer for ACPS, and Dr. Gerald Mann, Executive Director of Secondary Instruction for ACPS, will lead the effort along with Alexandria City Principal Peter Balas.

    There will be approximately 15 EDT members, each representing their particular area of focus. Each EDT member will facilitate working groups of their peers who will act as a sounding board and a resource to ensure that a strong complement of ACPS school-based voices are integral to the process.

    EDT members will also obtain input from Industry Advisory Boards (IAB): four panels that together represent the 16 program areas defined by the state as necessary for high school education. These Industry Advisory Boards will bring expertise to bear from related industries, businesses, nonprofits and government institutions. The four IABs will be: Science/Technology/Engineering/Math (STEM), Business and Government, Education and Human Services, and the Arts.

    Timeline for Educational Programming for the Future High School

    We expect the development of new programming to take up to two years. Year One will focus on establishing the new academic structure, identifying every field of study and determining implications for the site evaluation planning and building (s) design - this would lead to new site-specific educational specifications for The High School Project.

    Year two will dig into the details. The current plan is to examine the courses and programs that are successful for Alexandria City students today and expand them into enhanced learning for tomorrow’s workforce. The EDT will also examine models of teaching and learning for high schools that are being piloted in similar school environments as Alexandria.

    Community Involvement

    There will continue to be community meetings and town halls on the issue, as well as focus groups and requests for feedback.

    • Students can get involved by joining Titans Connected - a virtual community of interested youth; and by requesting to join the student working group to be set up by student representatives on the educational design team.
    • Parents can get involved through the PTA, attending school board meetings, attending community meetings, participating in focus groups and by answering surveys.
    • Business owners, higher education staff and teachers can get involved by asking to join an Industry Advisory Board, as well as attending community meetings, volunteering for focus groups and responding to surveys.

    Site Planning: Expanding Capacity

    Incorporating Programming into Building Design

    Redesigning American high schools to better prepare students for the workplace and higher education, alongside advances in technology and an emerging economy that isn’t focused on brick and mortar have an impact on how architects create learning spaces. In the last decade, school building design has moved from classrooms with lines of desks facing a teacher, to students sitting around tables with laptops open, they offer collaboration space and science laboratories adapted for technology. Virginia’s Profile of a Graduate challenges localities to “change the structure and operation of high schools” to promote rigor and innovation.

    Space Size

    If we build a second high school, we will need learning space, staff and course offerings for 1,600 students.

    We estimate that 2,900 students will attend the King Street campus, 100 students would attend the Satellite Campus (based on current enrollment) and 400 students are expected to take advantage of the early college program at NOVA’s campus. That totals: 3,400 students, by subtracting that number from 5,000 we get 1,600 students.

    Going forward, ACPS is using the 1,600 students number to determine the expanded need for space, staff and course offerings and programming for either a Connected High School Network or two separate and distinct high schools.

    Our existing high school education specifications (PDF) state that we would need approximately 290,000 square feet to teach 1,600 students, or 181 square feet per student. Using updated guidance and recent new high school benchmarks, ACPS increased per student square footage for planning purposes to 195 square feet for a total need of approximately 312,000 square feet. This number also considers a reasonable allowance for site constraints, special use spaces, community use spaces, and etc. Also, we must consider what requirements or tradeoffs are important to include for a site or in a building for the other amenities that complement a typical high school, such as athletic facilities and fields.

    Future for 9th Graders

    ACPS will be completely integrating 9th graders into the King Street campus. The ACPS Grade Level Report (PDF) commissioned by the School Board in 2016 recommended against the split model that ACPS uses with 9th graders taking most of their classes at the Minnie Howard campus. Another recent ACPS report by the Hanover Group highlighted research that indicates the challenges with physically separating 9th graders. These reports and the interviews held by Fielding Nair International and Stantec Architecture led to a fundamental recommendation by The High School Project team to incorporate the 9th grade cohort into the Alexandria City King Street building. This requires that courses and programming use for the Minnie Howard location in the future will be entirely reimagined and redesigned.

    Size and Space Considerations: Comprehensive High Schools

    The state code recommends that a school the size of the Alexandria City: King Street campus have 20-30 acres of land to accommodate the school building (including administrative offices, laboratories, cafeteria space, gymnasiums, etc) parking and athletic fields. But even Alexandria City’ current campus doesn’t have that much space. King Street campus is less than 20 acres and Minnie Howard is built on 12 acres. Approximately half of the total Minnie Howard acreage will always remain dedicated to Public Open Space land (green space) according to city zoning law. This limits how expansive ACPS can be towards building on the Minnie Howard site.

    Size and Space Considerations: Connected High School Network

    The Connected High School Network model is based upon the fundamental concept of carefully distributing the needed expanded learning spaces for Alexandria City in other places in the Alexandria community. Some of these spaces may need additional supports, such as a food service or dedicated parking spaces, but these centers could be located in already existing office buildings. The Minnie Howard campus will definitely be one of the expansion locations. Logistics will be key and part of the planning work for consideration.

    5,000 Student Projection

    ACPS and the City work closely to ensure our projections are accurate and are taking into account new and expected development. For this reason, the projections indicate that 5,000 is the appropriate number to work with.

    If we build a second high school and enrollment declines, we will have unused infrastructure. If we adopt the CHSN concept it allows us the flexibility to change the learning spaces with student enrollment and interest.

    Important Considerations:

    Impact to Learning Opportunities: Two Comprehensive High Schools

    A second comprehensive high school will need to deliver a complete set of educational programs that align with the Virginia Department of Education graduation requirements. There would also be more interaction with the local community -including internships and mentoring - allowing for more hands on experience for students. The two high schools model will require us to limit courses and student opportunities at each location. Courses need to have a minimum of students in order to support a teacher, therefore course options will shrink if we divide up the student body. Alexandria City would also need to eliminate some courses since Alexandria students will be divided between two schools and decrease the number of course requests to have all the courses the school now offers.

    Impact to Learning Opportunities: Connected High School Network

    Because all 5,000 students would be attending the same high school, Alexandria City would be able to add to what it already offers providing all students with more choices, more pathways and more opportunities. There would also be more interaction with the local community, including internships and mentoring, allowing for more hands on experience for students.

    Student Assignment

    The two high school approach will require the school board to develop an assignment policy that ensures students are assigned to attend each school with equity in mind. The high school project team has identified the most common options for student assignment including: neighborhood redistricting (changing the boundaries), lottery, school choice or an application process.


    The goal is to have expanded learning space for students by the 2023 school year.

    In Alexandria, about two years is spent on design and the development special use permit (DSUP), permitting and site development planning process, that begins in phase three. We expect design to start in 2020. Construction can take up to two years, but recent projects have moved faster than that. In order to maintain our budget commitments, we need to have our educational programming decisions made and be ready to design our future high school by 2020. This information will inform how much we will need to adjust the CIP budget for 2021.

    Minnie Howard: Comprehensive High School

    All necessary components for a second comprehensive high school beyond just the learning space, such as parking, athletic spaces, cafeteria, gymnasium and media center, will not fit on the Minnie Howard site for a school for 1,600 students.

    Minnie Howard: Connected High School Network

    Once the educational design team identifies the educational program for the high school project, space at Minnie Howard could be used for this purpose.

    Next Steps for Minnie Howard

    The Board will need to agree to the relationship and role of the Minnie Howard campus in either the two comprehensive high school model or a Connected High School Network model before the team can move forward with a design and renovation of the site.

    Funding for the Project

    In January 2018, the Ad-Hoc Joint City/Schools Facilities Investment Task Force report recommended that ACPS clearly define the education they plan to deliver and then define the scope and budget of the capital project needed to deliver that education.

    The $103M currently in the 10 Year CIP (FY 2021 column) was proposed by ACPS and derived by using a cost per square foot amount for new construction of the complete square footage as outlined in the 2017 High School Educational Specification with an applied inflation factor. This number only represents the construction budget. In the CIP, ACPS has $5.15 million in 2019 for planning - the phase we are in right now - and $15.4 million in 2020 for design. There is also a reserve fund of $30 million for ACPS land acquisition in FY 2019. This may or may not be needed for The High School Project and will be determined during the planning and design.

    The proposed funding reduced by the decision to use the old Patrick Henry school for Douglas MacArthur swing space in the CIP (FY2021 and FY2022) space could also be a source of funding for The High School Project along with a reinvestment of other ACPS capital needs.

    We are in the planning process now. Everything we learn between now and the fall will inform the FY2021 CIP budget, including fine-tuning of the $103M (FY2018 - FY2019) estimate. The School Board approves the funding for projects through the budget process. This is a normal budget process for a project of this size.

    Educational programming is not a direct cost-driver. It will influence the use of the sites acquired and interior space design. Programming costs, which is primarily staffing, come out of the Operating Budget, not the CIP.