The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School


The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School


The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School


Benefits of Academy Reorganization

Casonja Lee in the new T.C. Learning Academy 3

By Emma Carroll and Katherine Conner

Despite his intention to “better support students,” when new T.C. Williams Principal Peter Balas abruptly reorganized the structural relationship between students and administrators upon his arrival this 2017-2018 school year, he left many students and staff confused and aggravated.

First, in order to rectify feedback of the principal’s lack of presence at Minnie Howard, Balas said, “I put lead administrators in charge of each campus to allow me the flexibility to go between the two campuses.” Minnie Howard and King Street Lead Administrators for Campus Operations and Student Support Jessica Hillary and Tammy Ignacio regulate day-to-day operations, including lunches, buses, and bells” at each campus, which allows Lead Administrator for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment 9-12 Kennetra Wood to focus on “teacher learning and teacher support,” said Balas..

Furthermore, Balas said in order to “create a manageable number of students for an administrator to support,” he replaced the Learning Community (LC) organization with ten academies between T.C.’s two campuses. Each academy of 400 students contains an administrator for instruction and student support, two counselors, and a social worker for every two academies.

Instead of providing each grade of 1,000 students and the International Academy with a Dean of Students and four counselors through their LC, students at the King Street campus are randomly sorted, with an equal number of students per grade, into Academies 1 through 6. Students in the International Academy (IA) are sorted into Academies 7 and 8, and students at Minnie Howard are sorted into Academies 9 and 10.

The administration and counselors in Academies 9 and 10 will remain at Minnie Howard as years change in order to “become experts in the ninth grade transition year,” said Balas. Therefore, upon tenth grade arrival at the main campus, students will receive a new counselor, but they will remain with that same counselor and administrator from tenth to twelfth grade.

Balas said that the change was necessary due to T.C.’s increasing population of 4,000 students and only four LCs, which created a disproportionate ratio of students to counselors and administrators.

“Each administrator [will] get to know a fewer number of tenth graders, eleventh graders, and twelfth graders,” said Balas.

Additionally, instead of counselors attempting to know and write letters of recommendation for at least 200 seniors, they have 60 seniors instead, which is “a less daunting task.”

Balas said that one of the greatest challenges in creating the new model of administration was the decision to reorganize the senior class. Some seniors were concerned with losing the counselor that they developed a relationship over their three years.

“The whole point of having a counselor is to create a bond, and at the end they write you a recommendation,” said Junior Tessa Bowman, “[My counselor] was there when I realized my learning disability was affecting my school work. She supported me and helped me succeed, and because of the whole change, I lost that bond.”

Last year students and counselors were able to request each other, but administration could not accommodate everyone. However, Balas said that seniors can have the counselor they have the strongest relationship with write their letters.

Balas said that in old administration system, when there were deans and academic principals, the “barrier between those two teams [was] not effective.” By connecting the curriculum and operations administrators through one administrator in each academy, that gap is eliminated.

“I wanted administrators that would be able to support students and teachers,” said Balas, “If there is disfunction on one side, it might be the function of something on the other side.”

“I used to work here at T.C. as a teacher and administrator for so many years that I did not need learning year,” said Balas. Even though Balas has worked in ACPS for 17 years, he has not been at T.C. for several years; therefore, this particular group of students have had different experiences and may require a different set of needs than his classes in the past.

Despite that Balas did not take a learning year, Balas said he is using his first year as T.C. principal as “a change year, we [made these changes] all at once, students and teachers had to deal with the change, students had to deal with possible new counselor assignments.”

Especially since Balas remodeled the administration system, hired new administrators, and added new policies all within the first year, it will take time not only for the T.C. community to understand the new model, but for it to begin functioning smoothly and completing the goals Balas intends it to.

Consequently, administration may exist with problems and inefficiency that result in frustration from the T.C. community. Administration will use feedback from the community in order to learn and create an administrative team that works to set students up for success.

Balas said that in order for this model to fulfill its purpose administration must “explain this model not only to students but to the community,” which they attempted to do through holding assemblies for each academy to explain the purpose of the academies.

However, once the T.C. community understands this model and begins to function with it, Balas hopes that the school will begin to function smoothly, students and teachers will be supported by the administration, attendance rates and test scores will increase, and T.C. will move forward.

Furthermore, this organization system will support T.C.’s exponentially growing population. For example, if there is another 400 student increase, as there was this year, another academy can be added to maintain an equal distribution of students to administrators, instead of trying to equally sort students into LCs.

While the academies will support T.C.’s large population in this aspect, it is impossible for administration to adequately support individuality in teachers and students when the ratio of administrators to students is 1:400. Once the T.C. community has adjusted to the new system, it will effectively contain the large population, but it is unrealistic to expect a vast improvement in student and teacher achievement, as they cannot gain undivided attention or enormous support from administrators, as there are simply not enough.

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Benefits of Academy Reorganization