Jefferson-Houston arts designation may go

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Dropping the arts academy designation from Jefferson-Houston Elementary Schools curriculum is being examined by the School Board, but many feel that this would only be a start to solving the schools woes.

Concentrating on the basics in elementary education needs to be partnered with changes to the facilities, community involvement, district boundaries and communications to make real progress in getting the school out of the red with the Virginia Board of Education and the No Child Left Behind officials, said parents and school board officials at the School Board meeting held Oct. 4.

Several parents voiced their opinions as fodder for a coming School Board decision on whether to abolish the arts designation. The board will consider the ramifications, hold a parents informational meeting on Oct. 11, and come out with a final decision at the board meeting Oct. 18.

Tray Hanbury, who lives across the street from the school, has been a vocal advocate for change throughout the years. Finally putting it on the School Board docket has been a long time coming, he said. The schools downfall started in 1999 when the arts focus was first suggested, said Hanbury. The arts focus never attracted anyone, he said. Hanbury feels the only viable options are to close the school altogether and give students other choices, rezone the school district, or completely change the educational focus to make it more appealing.

Helen Morris also lives across the street and has a two-and-a-half year old child who will possibly be attending the school in a few years. Getting rid of the arts focus is dodging the issue, she said. Morris had a list of solutions similar to Hanburys. The arts focus is great as long as the school is doing well, she said.
Board member Arthur Peabody said that doing away with the arts focus is one little piece of the pie, he said, noting that there is a host of underlying factors the board must consider. Peabody wants the board to spread their focus, and get to the root of the problem. If they dont, we are really going to regret not getting to the bottom of the real solution, he said.

Options to consider
Other factors the board must consider is the opt-out option parents have now, where students can opt out of an arts focus school and go to one of the other schools in the immediate area. Parents are also free to opt out of a school that has not met the No Child Left Behind status for two years in a row, like Jefferson-Houston has.

For the next two years they will still have the choice over No Child Left Behind, the focus choice would be gone, said Superintendent Rebecca Perry. The board also must consider what to do with students that already transferred because of the arts focus. If the arts designation is eliminated, the arts curriculum specialist, Kate Graham, will be moved to a vacancy as a first-grade teacher as well.

Perry and Assistant Superintendent Cathy David, traveled to Richmond on Sept. 25 to discuss the situation at Jefferson-Houston with Virginia Department of Education officials. Jefferson-Houston is among 30 other Virginia schools that did not meet the No Child Left Behind requirements for two years in a row.

Jefferson-Houston arts teacher Francis Chase had mixed feelings about the arts program, noting that arts will always be a part of a students education in one form or another. It was a good idea, but never really had a chance to come to fruition, he said.

In the wake of the No Child Left Behind push, the School Board discussed a resolution to reject the federally mandated measure, calling on Congress to make fundamental changes in the NCLB law, it stated. The resolution went on to address the Limited English Proficiency students assessment, and the challenges schools and districts have with a large number of those students. Other schools across the country have adopted similar resolutions, including Arlington Public Schools. Board member Sheryl Gorsuch borrowed some of the verbiage from their resolution when putting this together. The board will vote on officially adopting this resolution on Oct. 18 as well.

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