Patch School Board Candidate Questionnaire
District B Candidate Marc Williams
Occupation: Governmental Programs Executive, Intellectual Property, IBM Corporation
Incumbent or non-incumbent: Incumbent
If incumbent, how many years have you served on the board? 4 years; 2 terms
How long have you been an Alexandria resident? 20 years
Website, Facebook page or other contact information: Website:
marcwilliamsforschoolboard.com; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Facebook: facebook.com/pages/Marc-Williams-for-School-Board
What unique perspective, experience or expertise would you bring to the School Board?
It has been a privilege to serve on the School Board these last four years where I have made raising student achievement a top priority. This includes significant gains in writing at the elementary schools, honors curriculum for the middle schools, tripling the participation rate in Algebra in the 8th grade, and increasing the number of T.C. Williams students taking Advanced Placement courses.
My wife, Nancy, and I have lived in the North Ridge neighborhood of Alexandria for 20 years. We have three children—Jack, Ford and Bridget. Jack graduated from T.C. Williams High School earlier this year; Ford is a sophomore at T.C. Williams; and Bridget is in sixth grade at George Washington Middle School.
When I joined the Board in 2008, there was a great deal of turmoil. My election played a strong role in bringing stability to the Board. I have a track record of building consensus and working collaboratively toward a common goal—abilities critical to this important position.
There will be at least 6 new Board members next year. Because of my four years of service on the Board and with three children who have been or are being educated in ACPS, I have the experience, judgment, and commitment to continue to work for the benefit of all of our children.
What are top challenges facing ACPS and how do you plan to engage the community to address them?
My priorities are to continue to:
1) promote policies to challenge all students academically and give them what they need to succeed
2) address demand for learning space driven by substantial enrollment growth
3) attract and retain high quality teachers
4) serve as a thoughtful steward of our tax dollars while ensuring that ACPS has the resources it needs
The School Board must forge a good partnership with the City Council to ensure that ACPS has sufficient funding for adequate learning space for students and for fulfilling our goal of raising student achievement. Given the substantial growth in enrollment, we will also need to hire the teachers and staff needed to challenge all of our students in a growing student body. I will continue to advocate for the needs of our students, while serving as a good steward of our tax dollars. In addition to City Council, I will continue to work with PTAs, civic associations, and other groups to educate them about the successes, challenges, and needs of the school division.
What role do the members of the School Board play in ensuring transparency and accountability at the ACPS Central Office?
When I first ran for the School Board in 2008, I pledged that I would hold all of us accountable—the Board, the Superintendent, administrators, teachers, parents and students—once the Board makes a decision. I have done this and will continue to do so. The process of building a healthy accountability system began when the Board, Superintendent and the community created the ACPS Strategic Plan.
Earlier this year, the Board won the prestigious Magna Award for its Strategic Plan from the National School Boards Association. ACPS has begun to implement the Malcolm Baldrige educational performance excellence program. This means that everyone is held accountable for student achievement. Here are two examples of how a culture of accountability is being built: first, every year, the Board adopts a set of educational goals and these goals are translated to department and school education plans and individual administrator and teacher Professional Learning Plans. Each year, Central Office, schools and individuals are evaluated based on how they perform relative to the goals set in their plans. The Board receives periodic reports from the Superintendent of how the division is progressing in meetings its goals, where Board members have an opportunity to ask probing questions. Second, there is a motto in our schools of "This is important, you can do it, I won't give up on you". Building a healthy accountability system is hard work but once built, it will pay dividends for years to come.
What is your opinion of the superintendent’s job performance?
The Superintendent has done a good job carrying out the priorities set by the School Board, especially raising student achievement. We have expanded pre-school; substantially improved elementary school writing; rolled out an ACPS curriculum, including honors curriculum for middle school; increased the number of students taking Algebra in the eighth grade from 17 percent in 2008 to nearly 60 percent today; and transformed T.C. Williams High School to a school where more students took AP courses this year than at any time in its history. Likewise, the Superintendent has prepared responsible budgets that meet the needs of the students while being respectful of taxpayers. For example, since my election in 2008, the Board has moved spending away from Central Administration and toward directly supporting classroom instruction and has adopted a modified open enrollment policy to make the most efficient use of space before adding on to, or building new schools. Also, during the last four years, per pupil spending has been reduced by 12 percent.
How can a School Board member improve communication between ACPS and parents/caregivers?
Communication has improved in the past year because the School Board has made it a priority. For example, the Jefferson-Houston community has been engaged consistently throughout the planning process for the new school and the design of the site and building has been done with a great deal of stakeholder input, including teachers. Board members have been integral to this process. This should be the model for engagement as we move forward with other major building projects. In addition, the revamped ACPS website provides a great deal of useful information as does the Education Digest sent to all families and the community. This year, with my strong support, the Board added two student liaisons to the School Board to gain a student perspective and to open up a channel of communication with T.C. Williams High School students.
I have made presentations to PTAs and civic groups to keep them informed, and spoken with many community members. The Board can do more. The School Board has recently set a goal of broadening communication with civic groups. In addition to speaking with parents, staff, students, and residents, I recommend that the School Board consider formal surveys of these stakeholders to make sure we have the best information when making decisions.
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?
ACPS has grown by almost 25 percent or 2,600 students since 2008. Growth is projected to continue at over 3 percent per year. Although the Board has adopted the modified open enrollment policy as referenced above, this will not meet demand in the long term. For the long term, ACPS must add on to existing schools and build new schools, including high school classrooms to provide space as the students advance. Keeping class size among the lowest in the region is important. I will continue to work closely with City Council to advocate for new facilities and find innovative solutions for space.
While program evaluation is ongoing, every year during the budget process, the Board and the Superintendent evaluate programs and their effectiveness for achieving the Board’s Strategic Plan goals, especially with respect to raising student achievement. Because of the Board’s responsibility to be a good fiscal steward, difficult choices must be made.
Savings may be achievable in the operating budget with respect to leases that will expire this year for office space housing Central Administration and Adult Education/Interim Education. Not renewing these leases and finding more cost-effective space for these functions is a priority for me. The savings from this action can be used to support classroom instruction to raise student achievement. Also, the “Persistently Lowest Achieving” grant for T.C. Williams will be expiring this year. The Board—as with all changes—will continue to evaluate which reforms have been most effective before deciding whether to continue funding them.
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?
As noted above, ACPS student population has grown by over 25 percent since 2008, and growth is projected to continue at over 3 percent per year. With this much growth, actual and projected, redrawing the attendance zones is a short term solution, and based on my conversations with School Board members in neighboring jurisdictions, only serves to aggravate the public. Instead, I recommend the Board consider a modified school choice plan. The Superintendent has suggested models such as that used by White Plains, N.Y. I will recommend that certain principles guide the Board’s work and that these principles be developed in conversation with the community. Examples of such principles are proximity—students should be able, as much as possible, to walk to school—and diversity—one of the great strengths of our school division.
What role does a School Board member play in helping raise academic achievement for all students and close the achievement gap?
Throughout my four years on the Board, I have made raising student achievement my top priority. There is no one program or “magic bullet” that can raise achievement for every student. It takes a combination of actions by the School Board, which adopts policies and sets priorities for the Superintendent. The School Board, in the objectives it adopts annually for the division, has taken this combination of actions approach. Last year’s objectives were specifically designed to focus on raising achievement for minority students. These educational goals are translated to school education plans and to individual administrator and teacher Professional Learning Plans. Each year, the Superintendent, schools and individuals are evaluated based on how they perform relative to their goals. This accountability system is part of the Malcolm Baldrige education excellence program being implemented in ACPS. It has already yielded positive results at Cora Kelly STEM School, a high poverty school, which achieved a 98% SOL math pass rate last year and a 98 percent SOL reading pass rate this year.
Implementation of the ELL Plan and the Reading Guidelines are also part of this combination of actions approach. In addition, the School Board has approved an extended school day at Jefferson-Houston K-8 school for one year. If this additional time raises student achievement, the Board should consider implementing extended time at other schools where students are not achieving at high levels.