Opinion Your Views — 14 November 2013
Advocating a state takeover 
of Jefferson-Houston is unconscionable

By Shanelle Gayden, Danna Andrews, Helen Morris and Delphine Stewart President, vice president, treasurer and secretary of Jefferson-Houston PTA
(File Photo)

To the editor:

We disagree with the Alexandria Times editorial in support of a state takeover of Jefferson-Houston School (“Though not ideal, state intervention is necessary,” October 17). It was not well considered, and the Times has not conducted due diligence in reaching its conclusion.

We acknowledge that there have been academic concerns at Jefferson-Houston. These problems are historical and require the adequate amount of time for change.

If a quick-and-easy solution existed, it would have been put in place long ago. What we do have at Jefferson-Houston are strategically chosen reforms that are bearing fruit.

We strongly disagree that the best course is to jettison these reforms and replace them with question marks.

We speak as parents who are willing to send our children to Jefferson-Houston. We have first-hand experience with the interventions being made at our school — experience that few Alexandrians or any of the vocal critics have — and we support these efforts because we have seen results. There is strong collaboration among the school administration, teachers and the parent community to improve the school.

The combination of intervention and collaboration has yielded the following results:

• Overall test scores have increased in multiple areas. Our kindergarten readers have outscored their peers in Alexandria City Public Schools and statewide in the PALS, an early literacy assessment. Our sixth-grade math scores outpaced the district and the state. We also are serving our special education population, as evidenced by our multiple disabilities program’s 100-percent pass rate on the alternative state assessment.

• End-of-year test scores in mathematics and science increased at a rate higher than the state average this past year. Although we have not yet met all designated targets, we, the Jefferson-Houston parent community, are well aware that our students have consistently made 1.5 to 2 years growth per year over the past two years.

• Eighty-eight percent of our algebra students passed the spring exam, surpassing district and state rates.

• As of February, 100 percent of last year’s kindergarten students were reading at or above a first-grade reading level.
To those who support a state takeover of Jefferson-Houston, we have the following questions:

• Who will decide what programs will be implemented in Jefferson-Houston? And how will they be decided? Will anyone pay attention to parent input? Will we have to drive down to Richmond just to have our voices heard?

• What programs will be implemented? Does anyone in Richmond, or does anyone who supports a state takeover, even have a clue about that yet? Why should we believe that any new programs would deliver better results than the ones already in place? How can anyone, particularly those of us with children in Jefferson-Houston, even begin to analyze that?

• What teachers and administrators will be selected to work in Jefferson-Houston, and who will select them? Many staff members left positions in other schools where they successfully taught populations similar to Jefferson-Houston’s. They were handpicked to help improve our students’ outcomes. What happens to them if Richmond takes over the school?

• What will it cost to implement a whole new set of programs with a whole new school administration? Does Alexandria think it’s getting good value for money by throwing away the investment that already has been made in teacher and staff training with the current set of programs?

• How will a state takeover team enhance or enforce parental engagement, which we know is central to student achievement?
We appreciate that everyone in the community is striving for solutions that will continue to improve Jefferson-Houston. Like other Alexandria residents, we want information about public expenditures and the services that are delivered.

Therefore, we question why anyone — particularly anyone who has no direct knowledge of what happens inside Jefferson-Houston — could recommend a state takeover when there is zero information on which to make a case that it would be an improvement.

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(1) Reader Comment

  1. I know its tough to swallow this and I don’t ordinarily advocate for a state takeover of anything – but these kids have struggled for a very long time and ACPS is failing them. The arrogance at some levels of ACPS, most notably with its now past superidendant, is astounding. I dont know that the team in place is capable of admitting their errors and looking at this in a fresh way. ACPS for years has glossed over the problems, celebrating minor steps forward when we need major reform. I would like to see heavy state involvement in the situation at Jefferson Houston with participation from those people within the system who will be champions for change instead of holding on to reforms that haven’t worked. All the positive steps should remain and the rest should be questioned. I really feel for the students, staff and families, but enough is enough.

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