Welcoming state intervention at Jefferson-Houston

Welcoming state intervention at Jefferson-Houston

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

While city and education officials stand united in opposition to a state takeover of the struggling Jefferson-Houston School, more than a few parents and residents are leaning toward it.

During a city council meeting last month, Alexandria’s top elected officials endorsed a school board resolution supporting a legal challenge against the state takeover of local schools. Norfolk City Public Schools and the Virginia School Boards Association are spearheading the litigation.

“I believe it is extremely important for local governments to stand behind, and in some cases, stand with their school districts,” said City Councilor John Chapman. “We feel that our school board and new district leadership is working hard to improve academic achievement for all of our students, and we are proud to support them and the local effort to enact change in our district.”

But it’s not a black-and-white issue. After years of trying — and failing — to meet state and federal benchmarks, there are city residents and parents who think it’s time to let someone else take the wheel at the school.

During the most recent Standards of Learning exams, 50 percent of students at Jefferson-Houston tested proficient in math, compared with only 35 percent last year. But students fell behind on reading — like most schools in Virginia — because of a new, more rigorous test on the subject.

Bea Porter, who has two grandchildren enrolled at Jefferson-Houston, said she has had enough with the constant scrambling to improve performance.
“They’ve done everything they could possibly do,” Porter said. “They’ve replaced multiple teachers and staff. Staff have come in, and staff have quit. … It’s time to just get the whole thing switched up and stop trying and trying and trying.”

Porter also has seen her grandchildren being pulled from one learning strategy to another over the past few years, with no discernable results.

“I don’t think it’s improved enough; I don’t think the scores are showing enough [improvements],” she said. “[These] kids are suffering. They just passed my grandson with all D’s. How can you pass him with all D’s?”

Kathleen Wiederman, a city resident whose daughter attends a private school, said education officials have had more than enough chances to fix problems at Jefferson-Houston.

“Obviously, we’re past some sort of threshold that if they can’t handle it themselves and manage their own schools, I’m for [a state takeover],” Wiederman said. “I think it’s pretty interesting that this is such an educated and somewhat affluent area, and yet schools could be taken over and people feel they need to send their kids to private school.”

Porter said the constant flux of staff and pedagogy not only affects school employees, but also the children and their ability to perform.

“I don’t think it can get better if you keep changing and changing and changing,” she said. “We need someone to come in with a fresh start and a fresh outlook, who can come in and fix this.”