Our View: Feed student minds before developers wallets


If youre a toy store owner having trouble selling a dysfunctional dollhouse, you might dress it up in the window display to solve the problem. A neon backdrop highlighting the dollhouse, perhaps, might catch the eyes of passers by, increasing foot traffic in and out of your shop and upping sales of the product via a thin and misleading guise.

The Alexandria City Public Schools system is not a business. The plan to redevelop Jefferson-Houston K-8 school seems like an attempt to veil the failing schools academic problems with a sparkling new structure that will also house the new ACPS headquarters.

A paint job cannot cure the ailing school. Better teachers can.

Currently, 79 percent of Jefferson-Houstons teachers have masters degrees, compared to 69 percent for the system as a whole. That figure is good, and shows that the administration pushed its resources toward its most consistent problem child. But the redevelopment of the school is expected to cost $21.5 million (not including the headquarters) according to the ACPS capital improvement plan. Alternatively, it would cost about $9 million to make the most necessary repairs. The nearly $12 million left over if ACPS chose to repair rather then renovate could attract new, high-quality teachers and retain others already in the system.

Remember T.C. Williams? Taxpayers paid exorbitantly for the state-of-the-art structure, and just this year Richmond and the federal government deemed it a persistently low-achieving school one of the worst performing high schools in the state. You would think that the citys school system would have learned its lesson by now: Its whats on the inside that counts. Its clich but true. 

Who will benefit from the new Jefferson-Houston? Will the renovation enhance academics for children? It cant hurt. But prettier walls can only go so far. Feng shui does not teach math, science or English. Teachers do.

If the renovation is part of a private-public partnership, as is the plan, the developer will surely benefit its participation is predicated on a profit but that seems like the sole sure thing in the plan thus far. It should be the education of ACPS students, not the fattening of developers wallets, that comes first.