Opinion Your Views — 02 September 2013
Jefferson-Houston was on the road to success, but no longer

To the editor:

In the August 8 edition of the Alexandria Times, former school board chairman Arthur Peabody argued that Jefferson-Houston School is actually a success and state education officials were using too rigid numerical measures in evaluating educational progress (“Jefferson-Houston’s dirty little secret? It’s a success story”). He basically rehashed the arguments made to the Virginia Board of Education in October, when Superintendent Morton Sherman and former board chairwoman 
Sheryl Gorsuch unsuccessfully sought a pass on accreditation for the troubled school.

Their arguments were not convincing then and they aren’t convincing now.

According to the Virginia Department of Education, in 2012-13 some 93 percent of schools (1,716 in all) were fully accredited. This included many Title I schools and even a few with 100 percent of the students eligible for free or reduced meals. (Meanwhile, Peabody wrote that 73 percent of Jefferson-Houston students are eligible for subsidized meals.) Still, less than 1 percent of Virginia schools were denied accreditation as Jefferson-Houston was.

It is preposterous to argue that the state’s regulatory benchmarks are unfair when so many schools across the state make the grade, including those with similar demographics.

Like others who have volunteered — or been recruited — to defend Sherman, Peabody blurs the history of the school’s accreditation efforts by sweeping under the rug past compliance with state standards. It’s time to set forth the facts once again for the record.

State Standards of Learning tests are administered near the end of an academic year, and the results are used to determine status for the following academic year. For example, tests administered during 2012-13 will determine status for 2013-14.

According to documents prepared for the October state board meeting, Jefferson-Houston was classified as provisionally accredited/needs improvement in 2002-03 and 2003-04, a classification that does not include areas of warning. This was two years after Rebecca Perry was hired as superintendent and three years after the disastrous 1999 redistricting.

From 2004-05 through 2006-07, Jefferson-Houston was accredited but with warning in several subject areas. However, with each passing year, there were fewer subject areas meriting a warning.

By 2007-08, the school was conditionally accredited. Then — based on tests administered in spring 2008, shortly after Perry departed — the school was fully accredited for 2008-09 with no warnings in any academic areas. Her tenure saw a solid record of improvement leading to accreditation.
Contrast this with the school’s history under Sherman, who was hired in June 2008 and arrived in Alexandria at the start of the 2008-09 school year. In tests administered during spring 2009, the school’s status for 2009-10 slipped back to accredited with warning.

With each passing year, more subject areas of warning were added. Finally, the school was denied accreditation altogether last year, when four areas of warning were identified: English, mathematics, history and science.

The accreditation history of the school can be found on the commonwealth’s Department of Education website by using this link: tinyurl.com/k7o5eld.

Perhaps Peabody, who was on the school board at the time, has forgotten that — in an August 29, 2008, letter to the Jefferson-Houston community — the newly-arrived Sherman expressed pleasure not only at Jefferson-Houston’s recent accreditation by the state, but also because the school made Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The letter can be found at tinyurl.com/k32syms.

It’s fascinating, and also sad, how the school has arrived at this inexplicable place.

- Leslie Zupan
Alexandria

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