ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Alexandria City Public Schools will have a new interim superintendent this school year and she is a familiar face.
The Alexandria City School Board appointed Dr. Melanie Kay-Wyatt as interim superintendent of the division, Thursday, during a special called school board meeting. Kay-Wyatt, who served previously as ACPS’ acting chief of human resources, will replace Dr. Gregory Hutchings who announced earlier this year he would resign from his post Aug. 31.
Kay-Wyatt, who was born in Charlottesville and attended schools in Prince George’s and Spotsylvania counties, will begin her new role in Alexandria on Sept. 1.
ACPS’ incoming interim superintendent has been in education for 26 years. Prior to joining ACPS last year, Kay-Wyatt held various roles in Spotsylvania Public Schools, Fredericksburg City Public Schools, and Culpepper County Schools.
“I have been a teacher at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, teaching special education,” she said.
Kay-Wyatt has also served as an assistant principal and a principal elsewhere too.
She said she was drawn to her new role because of her past experiences working with the school division’s current senior leadership team in her human resources role.
“Of course, I have the fortunate opportunity of working with all of our departments and offices,” Kay-Wyatt said. “And, because of all of that work that I've done with the current initiatives, I just felt like it was the perfect opportunity to step up and really support this transition for the school year.”
In her last year working in Alexandria, Kay-Wyatt said she has really enjoyed the school division’s collaborative efforts to improve racial equity and diversity.
She said it is work she wants to continue into the upcoming school year as well.
“This year, I would like to focus on our SEAL or social-emotional academic learning, and make sure that each of our students have access to those opportunities each day,” she said.
Kay-Wyatt said she is aware of where ACPS stands in terms of academic achievement. Virginia Department of Education data showed, in the 2020-2021 school year, that fewer ACPS students passed reading, math and science tests compared to their peers on the statewide level.
Kay-Wyatt said it is an issue her team will focus and work to improve.
“Our senior leadership team is looking very closely at our data,” she said. “We're actually having a meeting this week. And, so we will report out our data very soon. But we do have a number of programming options that we will have in place to support those students to make sure that we keep a close focus on those academic achievements as well.”
Over the last two years, public schools across the country have become increasingly scrutinized as parents have held lively debates over topics like Critical Race Theory and the usage of same-sex bathrooms.
But, Kay-Wyatt said she does not want ACPS to become distracted from its main goal.
“Our focus is truly on racial equity in our schools and what that needs to look like for our students based off of our student population,” she said. “We cannot allow those things to be distractors for the work that we need to do around our very clear focus or teaching plan for equity.”
In May, Virginia Gov. Glenn Younkin’s administration also released a report claiming the state’s expectations and standards have been lowered for students leading to a decline in academic performance.
At the time of the report’s release, Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera blamed previous administrations for what she called a lack of transparency and accountability for testing results.
“State policy choices and priorities over the last decades have resulted in lower student achievement in reading and math, wider achievement gaps for our black, Hispanic, and lower-income students," she said.
Kay-Wyatt said, regardless of what actions officials may take in relation to education at the state level, ACPS will remain committed to doing what’s best for its children.
“I know there are a lot of opinions about what our governor may do, but we can guarantee you that in our school system, we will focus on our children and what our school communities are,” she said.
School safety has also been a point of emphasis in Alexandria City Public Schools. In May, Alexandria City High School implemented new security protocols for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year after one of its students, 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez, was stabbed to death during a large fight at the Bradlee Shopping Center, three blocks away from the school.
Earlier this week, a group of ACPS parents conducted a school survey that included recommendations to keep the school system safe.
“It all got started because I started seeing in the school system that our children were afraid to go to school,” ACPS parent Rene Islas said.
Eighty-three percent of the survey’s 179 respondents said community members were concerned about school safety and that parents recommended increasing transparency from ACPS, implementing an early warning system for at-risk students, and maintaining school resource officers.
ACPS’ recent Equity Climate survey also recently revealed the number of students who said they feel safe at school dropped 17% this year compared to last.
Kay-Wyatt said ACPS has been working on how to improve school safety all year.
“We'll also be working with our SLEP, or School Law Enforcement Partnership, who will also be making recommendations to our senior leadership team,” she said. “And, we, of course, will review those and take those into account.
Kay-Wyatt added that ACPS will continue to conduct delayed dismissal for students this school year. The school division has also worked to improve WiFi and PA systems throughout its campuses.
In March, ACPS also voted to formally request an additional year of funding for school resource officers from Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson and the Alexandria City Council.
The board requested funding to continue the School Resource Unit [SRU] program through the 2022-2023 school year. SROs were only funded through the city through June 30, 2022. That request was ultimately approved.
ACPS experienced a series of changes regarding its SRUsystem throughout the 2021-2022 school year. School started in the fall without SROs and then, three months later, that decision was reversed following requests from school leaders.
“We are having ongoing meetings, there has been some approvals, but we will get out those details very soon, too,” Kay-Wyatt said.
Last year, ACPS also developed a SLEP Advisory Group to increase engagement and transparency around the school law enforcement partnership between ACPS and the Alexandria Police Department. That group held its last meeting on Friday.
The SLEP advisory group will ultimately provide recommendations to the school board as to how ACPS' SRU program should look in the upcoming school year. Kay-Wyatt said the public should expect more information on the project by the beginning of the school year.
When questioned as to where she stands on having SROs in schools, Kay-Wyatt did not give a specific answer.
“I support safe schools and making sure that our students and our teachers feel safe in schools,” she said. “And, we will definitely discuss those matters as we come up in opening our school year.
The first day of school for Alexandria City’s 15,000 students is August 22.