EDITORIAL: Though not ideal, state intervention is necessary

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Local officials and more than a few parents are up in arms at the prospect of the state taking over the struggling Jefferson-Houston School. But after careful consideration and more than a bit of soul-searching, we believe the city and school district should give Richmond a chance — with a few caveats.

Though the community has fought valiantly to turn the embattled school around, it still lacks state accreditation. Let’s be honest: Despite longer school days, a voluntary dress code, applying for International Baccalaureate status, and too many other changes and initiatives to mention here, Jefferson-Houston still comes up short.

Have there been gains? Of course, which is why we want to be clear that we are in no way passing judgment on community efforts. But the successes over the years, laudable as they may be, do not represent a decisive victory.
It’s time to give someone else a shot.

This is not a wholesale endorsement of the controversial Opportunity Educational Institution, the state entity created by Gov. Bob McDonnell and the General Assembly to oversee school takeovers. We share many of the same concerns as those in the city adamantly opposed to it.

Most disturbingly, the legislation behind the institution is far too vague when it comes to relinquishing seized schools.

For instance, once a school receives full accreditation, it “shall be eligible” to return to local control, according to state code. And if a school goes five years without reaching full accreditation, then the state “shall decide” whether to hang on to the institution or give it back.

The language is such that Richmond — if state officials felt like it — could retain control of these schools indefinitely.

There’s no reason to be wishy-washy on this point. If a school earns full accreditation, then it should immediately fall back under local control. If after five years the state can’t turn the school around, then it should return to the locality.

This is particularly pressing in Jefferson-Houston’s case. Since the city is committed to building a multimillion-dollar replacement building, it’s critical knowing when — and under what specific circumstances — control of the school would return to Alexandria. For this, we turn to our state representatives, who already have indicated that they would seek clarity on this point.

We recognize this legislation isn’t perfect. But we all understand there comes a time when intervention is more than OK, when it becomes necessary. Jefferson-Houston School is at that point.

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