State rebuffs Alexandria City Public Schools officials’ accreditation request

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(File Photo)

By Melissa Quinn

Despite the efforts of Superintendent Morton Sherman and Alexandria School Board chairwoman Sheryl Gorsuch, the state Board of Education will not grant Jefferson-Houston School conditional accreditation.

The Parker-Gray neighborhood school has struggled to earn full state accreditation throughout the past decade. Jefferson-Houston lost the status earlier this year, and state board members rejected an appeal from Alexandria City Public Schools last month.

“Our approach has always been an approach that’s focused on fixing the problem,” said Charles Pyle, spokesman for the commonwealth’s education department. “Now the school has to take specific steps to implement effective reforms.”

The denial forced local officials to draw up a corrective action plan — outlining steps to meet Virginia’s standards for accreditation — and accept state intervention.

School officials are required to submit status reports to Richmond describing the plan’s implementation. Sherman, Gorsuch and Rosalyn Rice-Harris, the school’s principal, can expect to spend more time before the state board as well.

Contrary to popular belief, a loss of accreditation does not mean a loss of state or federal funding. Instead, a state-hired consultant has begun working with the school and more help from Richmond is expected in January.

“We’re trying to do the best we can to show them when they get there that the plan we put in place is working,” said school board member Ronnie Campbell. “Now there’s going to be more resources there, and that’s a benefit.”

State accreditation for an elementary school is based on students’ performances on the annual Standards of Learning tests. Students met state standards in two out of the four subjects tested — English, math, science and history.

In Virginia, 96 percent of schools are accredited. Alexandria was the only district in the state to appeal an accreditation denial. And the school — along with T.C. Williams — similarly fell short of meeting federal standards outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act.

Even before the appeal denial, local officials were focused on bolstering academic achievement at the neighborhood school. Administrators adopted Success for All — a program designed to boost reading levels — and officials extended the school day by 90 minutes.

During her presentation to the state board, Gorsuch argued the school’s unique demographics are a key component to its struggles. About 68 percent of Jefferson-Houston’s students are economically disadvantaged, and more than 90 percent are minorities.

Campbell believes the district’s efforts at the school are making a difference but with little fanfare.

“They’ve made so much progress and the children have worked so hard … it seems a shame they’re not getting any credit for it,” she said. “A lot of children there have shown incredible growth … but the progress that’s being made isn’t being shown at all. None of the growth is.”