Written by PWCS Superintendent Steve Walts
Hard to believe that summer is almost over and a new school year is about to begin, filled with hope, enthusiasm, and endless possibilities.
More than 90,000 students will energize Prince William County Public Schools (PWCS) classrooms this year. All will be greeted by dedicated teachers and staff members eager to give each of them an engaging, enlightening, safe, and enjoyable educational experience. Some will attend our newest school, Covington-Harper Elementary, a facility with the latest in educational thinking and technology. It is named for two people who reflect our community’s commitment to excellence, equity, and eliminating barriers erected under old and discarded ways.
Whatever school their students attend, parents and guardians across the county are unwavering in the optimism and expectations that have fueled public education for generations. Despite differing heritage, religion, and political beliefs, they share the conviction that every student will get the guidance, tools, and opportunities to reach their full potential, to succeed, and to thrive. PWCS is committed to making that a reality.
Yet we face a cloud of divided local and national opinion that overshadows even our brightest aspirations. Old political arguments are resurfacing, shared values are being questioned. Debates grow increasingly coarse. At times, harsh talk gives way to tension, or worse. We must work together to prevent this cloud from darkening our schools.
Reasonable people can disagree on whether Stonewall Jackson or Stonewall are appropriate to remain the names of their respective PWCS high school and middle school. But questions of where, when, and how that debate takes place are equally important.
I urge elected officials and residents to exchange civil views on the issue at appropriate community meetings, online, and in publications. Please do not make our schools the scene of demonstrations or disruptions that will distract students and staff from the business of getting back to learning, especially during the important first weeks of a new school year.
Our First Amendment freedoms allow students and others to display sincere, non-offensive views on clothing and through other forms of expression—but please keep those views respectful to avoid disrupting the educational environment and interfering with the rights of others. Let’s reject hate, and keep discussions civil. In some cases, those discussions may fit well into properly structured learning opportunities. Let’s make that happen, but keep the focus on learning, and on learning to work together.
I know that our Prince William County community can resolve difficult issues civilly. That belief underscores my confidence in the education we will be able to give our students, and the benefits it will provide for all of us. Regardless of views on other issues, I believe we share an unwavering commitment to the future of our kids. Let’s work together to deliver on that commitment as we begin a great new school year.