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School Board Questionnaire: Christopher Lewis

Patch asked candidates for School Board to complete a questionnaire to shed some light on where candidates stand in issues important to Alexandria City Public Schools. Here's what they had to say.

Patch School Board Candidate Questionnaire

District C Candidate Christopher Lewis

Age: 33
Occupation: VP for Government Affairs, Public Knowledge
Incumbent or non-incumbent: Non-incumbent
How long have you been an Alexandria resident?  3 years at my current residence. 6 years total in my life.
Which neighborhood do you live in?  Holmes Run Park
Website, Facebook page or other contact information: Website - www.lewis4acps.org; Email – Chris@lewis4acps.org; Twitter - @Lewis4ACPS; Facebook - www.facebook.com/lewis4acps

What unique perspective, experience or expertise would you bring to the School Board?

I’m a fourth generation Alexandrian by choice, moving 10 years ago after college to live in the city where my grandparents and great-grandparents raised their family, including my father, and where I already had long ties and relationships.

I am running for School Board because I want to continue to see Alexandria strengthen, and there is no issue more critical to the strength of our city right now than the reputation and quality of our schools. I’m a veteran community and political organizer and my work taught me the importance of building consensus and bringing all stakeholders together before making important decisions.

I have worked with young people for years, from running tutoring programs and summer camps, to volunteering with gang prevention programs, to promoting youth civic engagement as the Virginia State Director for GenerationEngage. My own academic success in Virginia’s public schools and at Harvard University, combined with my years of work with young people, developed my interest in closing the achievement gap and serving as an example for other minority students. I’ve have years of policy experience as a former U.S. Senate staffer and in my current career as a public interest advocate.

I believe all Alexandrians, whether you have children in ACPS or not, have a stake in supporting and building a stronger school system and I am encouraging everyone to find what they can do to contribute to this effort.

What are top challenges facing ACPS and how do you plan to engage the community to address them?

The greatest challenge facing ACPS is continuing to improve academic achievement for ALL our children. This means maintaining excellence in our high achievers while making sure that any child who is struggling is provided the assistance they need to succeed and prepare for college and a career. We cannot achieve this without facing two other challenges in ACPS:

  1. The need for greater community engagement and support
  2. The importance of administrative accountability and transparency to restore trust in the school system.

Greater community engagement is needed to bring everyone in Alexandria behind the effort to strengthen our schools. We’ve all heard the complaints and the gossip. Its time for all of us to stop talking about what’s wrong with our local schools and begin to find how each of us can contribute to making them stronger.  I will work to promote opportunities for all Alexandrians to participate and collaborate with ACPS. I will also promote administrative accountability and transparency by demanding sound fiscal management practices, and ensuring that teachers and families have real input before major decisions are made.

What role do the members of the School Board play in ensuring transparency and accountability at the ACPS Central Office?

School Board members set the policies and expectations for ACPS leadership and these policies and expectations are the guide for proper transparency and implementation by Central Office leaders. If community members are not afforded information on decisions with adequate time for input and implementation, it is the responsibility of the School Board to address these concerns. We must find the proper balance between the urgency to improve and not letting students slip through the cracks with the importance of community buy in and careful implementation of new policies and programs.

What is your opinion of the superintendent’s job performance?

It is often said that the superintendent is the only employee of the School Board. This is correct and so the School Board must hold the superintendent accountable for properly managing ACPS and implementing the policies they adopt. I believe that the previous School Boards hired the current superintendent to bring rapid change and new ideas towards academic achievement and he has achieved this, although at times to the detriment of community trust. Our next School Board must work with the superintendent to rebuild this trust by demonstrating greater accountability and transparency without slowing the pace of academic improvement.

How can a School Board member improve communication between ACPS and parents/caregivers?

There are many ways to improve communication about initiatives and policies in ACPS, but I will share three. First, I will push for basic expectations for accuracy and timing of public information from ACPS central office. Too often online event calendars that are relied upon by parents to get engaged through school meetings and events are not up date.

Second, I will not accept major policy or programmatic changes without adequate time for input from the community prior to board decisions, and adequate time for effective implementation after decisions have been made—including teacher training. We cannot continue to make progress as a school system without rebuilding the trust deficit between the Board, Superintendent, and the larger community.  Often times it has been the process that has eroded that trust, rather than the changes themselves.

Third, I believe that School Board members can take on a larger role in promoting and communicating about ACPS to both parents/caregivers and the larger community.

For example, I would welcome the opportunity to conduct C District town hall events or other community discussions regularly. Including broader community participation is important, so that residents without children in the system hear facts and not rumors about ACPS while at the same time learning about ways that they can support and get engaged with their local schools.

What are some of your ACPS budget priorities? For example, do you favor spending more money to keep class sizes low or a longer school year or day? Are there certain areas that should be trimmed financially?

The largest priority for the upcoming budget process is finding funds to address the overcrowding of schools. Every C District school is over capacity, as are most other schools in the system. By accelerating the creation of new classroom space we will be able to address several priorities at once, including the need for greater pre-K opportunities, keeping class sizes low, adequate space for art, science, and special education, and support for struggling students as we address the challenge of the achievement gap.  I look forward to working with City Council to address this priority in the budget.

The next School Board likely will need to address the possibility of boundary adjustments and attendance zone changes. What are your guiding principles regarding economic or racial segregation, neighborhood schools, magnet schools, class and school sizes, busing policies and other considerations?

The next School Board should lay out the process by which attendance zones will change only after finalizing the decision on the number of new facilities to be added to the school system.

I would prefer to not adjust boundaries prior to and following the building of new facilities due to the disruption that it will cause to students and families. In other words, we should redraw the lines once, not twice. Setting out a timeline will also provide certainty for current families as well as parents moving into the city. As we set up the process for changing attendance zones, I believe the School Board and staff should factor in the importance of economic and racial diversity, capacity and growth projections, as well as proximity to schools in determining the new boundaries.

What role does a School Board member play in helping raise academic achievement for all students and close the achievement gap?

As School Board members, we must monitor academic achievement progress and provide policies, curriculum, and resources that give principals and teachers the tools needed to provide an environment for academic success, especially for our achievement gap demographics. The current School Board has worked with ACPS Central Office leaders to implement several new programs and initiatives targeting our struggling students. I believe the new School Board must work with staff to evaluate the effectiveness of these new initiatives as well as the quality of the initiatives’ implementation. Some programs may need to end, others may need to be expanded, and still others may only need changes or improved implementation.

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