By Erich Wagner (File photo)
The Virginia Department of Education announced Tuesday that T.C. Williams will leave the “priority schools” list, while Jefferson-Houston will remain on it for a second year.
The annual list of low-achieving schools identifies institutions that either receive or are eligible for federal Title 1 funding. Schools — which must stay on the list for a minimum of three years — also are required to hire partner organizations for assistance with turnaround efforts.
Natalie Mitchell, the Title 1 director for Alexandria City Public Schools, said T.C. Williams was removed from the list, in part, because of test-score improvements in recent years. Although it did not receive Title 1 funds, T.C. was grandfathered onto the list for accepting now-defunct school improvement grants.
Clinton Page, accountability director for the school district, believes T.C. will continue improving even without a partner organization offering additional support.
“ACPS is extremely proud of the work that has taken place at T.C. Williams,” Page said. “The dedicated students, staff and administration made significant strides and gains, not only in standardized testing, and we look forward to see them continue in the coming years.”
With Jefferson-Houston still on the list, Mitchell said the city school board renewed a contract with the American Institutes for Research, which had been providing — among other things — instructional assistance for students to improve math skills. The school saw a 15-percentage point gain on math scores in the preliminary Standards of Learning results this summer, but it still did not meet federal benchmarks.
“This year [American Institutes for Research] will also add some reading support,” Mitchell said.
Reading scores dipped in schools across Virginia this year with the advent of a new, more rigorous test.
The federal government will fund the added support from the research institute, according to Mitchell, so parents don’t need to worry about money leaving other educational initiatives.
Since the list is tied to federal education funding and regulations, Page said the district still doesn’t know whether Virginia plans a state takeover of Jefferson-Houston. Officials predict that the school will not receive accreditation again this year.
The Alexandria School Board passed a resolution last week supporting a legal challenge by Norfolk City Public Schools and the Virginia School Boards Association regarding the new Opportunity Educational Institution, a new state entity designed to take over failing schools.
“This is separate from [the Opportunity Educational Institution] and that designation, which is based entirely on the accreditation results, which are scheduled to be released Friday,” Page said. “We haven’t been given a specific timeline [for the possible state takeover] outside of maybe later this winter or next spring.”