Richmond is poised to deal another blow to local control

Richmond is poised to deal another blow to local control

To the editor:

The Alexandria PTA Council, on behalf of its 3,000 members throughout the city, is writing to express our strong opposition to the Opportunity Education Institution legislation recently adopted by the state Senate and House of Delegates and awaiting Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signature. While we support the goal of improving the quality of education for all, this legislation would transfer local authority and local taxpayer dollars for certain schools to a vaguely defined state entity that would not be accountable to the parents in the communities in which the schools reside.

The most alarming aspect of this legislation to us as parents and PTA leaders is that it ignores and erases the crucial role that parents — and by extension, PTAs — play as advocates for children in their community. PTAs serve as an important conduit between parents, administrators and elected officials. One of the hallmarks of the National PTA organization is that local school PTAs provide a platform “for equitable participation among parents, students, community members, principals, teachers and other staff and … promote an environment in which parents are valued as essential partners in their children’s education and development.”

In Alexandria, PTAs work in partnership with teachers, school administrators and school board members to improve struggling schools, and we are seeing the results. When T.C. Williams High School was designated a “persistently lowest-achieving” school by the state in 2010, the community was presented with several reform options, including shutting it down and reopening it as a charter school and firing half of the staff. With active input from a strong resident task force, the school board and administration chose the transformation model of reform, and T.C., the state’s largest high school, is now also one of the highest performing. The pending legislation does not allow for communities to make their own choices for reforming their schools.

Just as we are about to break ground on a badly needed new facility for the Jefferson-Houston School, Alexandria City Public Schools has brought in a team of outside consultants, at the request of state officials but at the expense of Alexandria taxpayers, that is working with the school administration and PTA. The most recent data on student achievement indicates the school is on a positive trajectory, and it would be foolish and wasteful for this new state entity to force us to abandon these efforts before they have had a chance to succeed.

Alexandria parents are more familiar than anyone with the challenges confronting our schools — challenges that are unique to our city. Alexandria simultaneously has the highest percentage of residents with Ph.D.s in the nation while nearly 60 percent of its school students — who represent 120 countries — qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. The legislators from elsewhere in the commonwealth who voted to pass these bills assume that a cookie-cutter remedy from an office in Richmond will produce better results than local parents and residents advocating for change and holding their local school officials accountable.

We know there is much work to do to raise achievement for each and every student in Alexandria. But we — as parents, residents and taxpayers — want to be the ones providing input on how best to invest our taxpayer funds in our children’s futures. Alexandrians who want to protect local control of our schools — all of our schools — should contact McDonnell at 804-786-2211 or and ask him to refrain from signing the Opportunity Education Institution legislation. No one cares more about Alexandria’s children than Alexandrians.

– P.J. Lepp, President, Alexandria PTA Council

Kelly Dresen, President, Jefferson-Houston K-8 School PTA

Ramee Gentry, President, Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School PTA

Mary Catherine Gibbs, President, Douglas MacArthur Elementary School PTA

Marianne Hetzer, President, T.C. Williams High School PTSA

Keith Jabati, President, Francis C. Hammond Middle School PTA

Lonna James, President, John Adams Elementary School PTA

Laurie Kahl, President, Matthew Maury Elementary School PTA

Linda Kelly, Past President, Alexandria PTA Council

Leslie Kruse, President, James K. Polk Elementary School PTA

Nicole Maaia, President, Charles Barrett Elementary School PTA

Karen McManis, President, George Washington Middle School PTA

Hector Reyes, President, Mount Vernon Community School PTA

Tom Tyler, President, Cora Kelly Elementary School PTA

Rosie Wiedemer, President, George Mason Elementary School PTA

Melynda Wilcox, Past President, Alexandria PTA Council