Enrollment, lack of community involvement an issue at Jefferson-Houston

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In the 1999-2000 school year,  669 students were enrolled at the Jefferson-Houston School for Arts and Academics. That number has dwindled to a projected 269-student enrollment this year, leaving everyone concerned about the future.

Jefferson-Houston is a focal point for the surrounding community, and many believe that addressing the school needs begins with community involvement.

Bill Campbell, president of the PTA at Jefferson-Houston, is trying to keep the school and parents moving forward. Campbell has two boys in second grade, and is in it for the long haul, he said.

In the surrounding community, many of the parents work at least one job, so PTA attendance isnt what he hoped, but he urges parents to back the school and show a commitment, he said. He wants to model it around Maury Elementary on Russell Road. I think we need that type of community involvement, he said.

Reaching out to the community is a focal point for School Board member Sheryl Gorsuch, who put Jefferson-Houston on her priority list at a work session in August. Our next step is to go forward with a list of ideas, she said, looking forward to the School Board Retreat on Sept. 29 where it will be on the agenda. Nine heads are always better than one when talking about how to reach out to the community, Gorsuch said.

School officials have examined a number of plans for the aging elementary school, including staff changes, redrawing the school boundaries, increasing parental involvement or closing the school altogether. Jefferson-Houston took another blow when the school did not meet the Adequate Yearly Progress requirements released in August. This was part of a federally mandated No Child Left Behind program.

Following that report, ACPS staff has processed the transfers of an additional 11 students from JHAA to Polk through the process, said Cathy David, ACPS deputy superintendent in an e-mail responding to parental concerns. Any Jefferson-Houston students who are being transferred are going to Polk because that is the only school in the area with room for additional students.

Since Jefferson-Houston is a school for arts and academics, students can opt out for this reason, too. Since early July and August, 54 students transferred out of Jefferson-Houston because of the Focus School Opt-out program, David said. Discontinuing the arts focus at the school is one of the things we need to discuss, Gorsuch added.

The computer-based Support Jefferson-Houston list serve is an active way parents keep in touch, even those whose children havent started school yet. Trey Hanbury falls in that category and is already up to speed on the issues.

Im trying to get involved, Hanbury said. He was concerned about the response time for the opt-out letter from ACPS in response to the AYP status. Although the school system did respond to his inquiry, his particular question wasnt addressed. I find it really hard to get the straight answers, he said.

Susan Lavington is a parent of 4-year-old twins who could be attending Jefferson-Houston next fall. She is looking for some kind of a plan. Im disappointed that we have such a poorly performing school, she said.

Some are happy with Jefferson-Houston, said Phyllis Mayo, a resident at the Jefferson Village apartments next to the school, whose granddaughter Amiya Chisolm, 5, is starting her second year. Last year was pretty good, said Mayo. Weve had no problems whatsoever.

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