State rebuffs Alexandria City Public Schools officials’ accreditation request


By Melissa Quinn

Despite the efforts of Superintendent Morton Sherman and Alexandria School Board chairwoman Sheryl Gorsuch, the state Board of Education will not grant Jefferson-Houston School conditional accreditation.

The Parker-Gray neighborhood school has struggled to earn full state accreditation throughout the past decade. Jefferson-Houston lost the status earlier this year, and state board members rejected an appeal from Alexandria City Public Schools last month.

“Our approach has always been an approach that’s focused on fixing the problem,” said Charles Pyle, spokesman for the commonwealth’s education department. “Now the school has to take specific steps to implement effective reforms.”

The denial forced local officials to draw up a corrective action plan — outlining steps to meet Virginia’s standards for accreditation — and accept state intervention.

School officials are required to submit status reports to Richmond describing the plan’s implementation. Sherman, Gorsuch and Rosalyn Rice-Harris, the school’s principal, can expect to spend more time before the state board as well.

Contrary to popular belief, a loss of accreditation does not mean a loss of state or federal funding. Instead, a state-hired consultant has begun working with the school and more help from Richmond is expected in January.

“We’re trying to do the best we can to show them when they get there that the plan we put in place is working,” said school board member Ronnie Campbell. “Now there’s going to be more resources there, and that’s a benefit.”

State accreditation for an elementary school is based on students’ performances on the annual Standards of Learning tests. Students met state standards in two out of the four subjects tested — English, math, science and history.

In Virginia, 96 percent of schools are accredited. Alexandria was the only district in the state to appeal an accreditation denial. And the school — along with T.C. Williams — similarly fell short of meeting federal standards outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act.

Even before the appeal denial, local officials were focused on bolstering academic achievement at the neighborhood school. Administrators adopted Success for All — a program designed to boost reading levels — and officials extended the school day by 90 minutes.

During her presentation to the state board, Gorsuch argued the school’s unique demographics are a key component to its struggles. About 68 percent of Jefferson-Houston’s students are economically disadvantaged, and more than 90 percent are minorities.

Campbell believes the district’s efforts at the school are making a difference but with little fanfare.

“They’ve made so much progress and the children have worked so hard … it seems a shame they’re not getting any credit for it,” she said. “A lot of children there have shown incredible growth … but the progress that’s being made isn’t being shown at all. None of the growth is.”



  1. Alexandrians need to listen to the hearing on the Board of Education Web site: Gorsuch asked that ACPS be given a Conditional Accreditation because the lack of accreditation was scaring off middle class parents and demoralizing teachers. In fact, she criticized the admittedly not very rigorous SOLs and had the temerity to tell the Board that they needed to advise the General Assembly to revise them. What kind of message does this send? ACPS can’t meet the standards that other school divisions do, so lower the standards?

    The Board of Education didn’t buy the excuse that because Jefferson-Houston has a large percentage of minority and disadvantaged students it cannot be turned around. They told Gorsuch and Sherman that there were other schools in Virginia with similar demographics and yet they were performing and meeting the state’s standards. They were also told that the middle class parents would come back when the scores rose, but the accreditation was given on results, not on hope.

    Some of the people who were least impressed were the Board’s members of color who are professional educators.

  2. I am a parent of two Jefferson-Houston students, and the State Board of Education voted correctly. You can receive “conditional accreditation” when you obviously bring up the test scores.
    This is personal for me, the school has taken some measures to bring about “change” to the school.
    With that being said, the “changes” they desire to bring to the school are not about “parent” requests, it’s what they believe is in as Dr. Sherman stated “we what believe is best”..
    I ask who is “we”?
    I’m in involved parent, my children are going to college and deserve the best and I will continue to be vocal about this administration not being assertive enough and consulting the parents who are involved with their children.
    I’m beginning to believe it is because most of our children live in public housing, so they are “written off”.
    It’s not about free and reduced lunch students, because if it was other schools in Alexandria with a high percentage of free and reduced lunch would also be continually failing. But they are not. I’m fed up and moving to more action than I have taken thus far.
    Accreditation = Denied!