Your View: Jefferson-Houston boundaries amount to economic segregation

Your View: Jefferson-Houston boundaries amount to economic segregation

By Alexis Fabrikant, Alexandria (File photo)

To the editor:
The Alexandria City School Board has failed to address the concerns of families in the Jefferson-Houston School district during the current Alexandria City Public Schools redistricting process.

According to ACPS’ Redistricting FAQ, the purpose of the redistricting is to alleviate capacity issues in Alexandria Public Schools as well as to meet several other important criteria.

But contrary to its mission, ACPS has failed to give serious consideration to changing the boundaries of Jefferson-Houston — pre-K-8 school which has long failed to meet every important metric: it is under capacity, underperforming and lacks diversity.

Here’s a quick background:

Accreditation: The school has been denied state accreditation for the last four years.

Poor academic performance: Jefferson-Houston is the third worst performing school in the entire state of Virginia. Making matters even worse is that the district’s poorest performing and only unaccredited school is located within the boundaries of one of the city’s most affluent pockets. Through redistricting, ACPS is perpetuating this under- performance while touting priorities like “diversity” and easing “overcapacity” per the redistricting criteria.

Lack of integration: Free and reduced-priced meals rates are a good indication of the number of students coming from low-income families. School enrollment statistics show a staggering 73 percent FARM rate at Jefferson-Houston. It is less than a mile from two other schools — Lyles Crouch, which only has a 21% FARM rate and Matthew Maury, which has a 30 percent FARM rate. ACPS supports walkability and other criteria, yet it concentrates low-income families into a single underperforming school and sends their wealthier neighbors that live within blocks of Jefferson-Houston to schools that are further away.

Intentional segregation: The Lyles Crouch, Matthew Maury and Jefferson-Houston neighborhoods have sufficient middle- to high-income families to assure that Jefferson-Houston does not have a 73 percent FARM rate. But instead of configuring the boundaries so that all schools have a similar racial and socio-economic diversity, ACPS has refused to change school boundaries in such a way that all three of these elementary schools have comparable FARM rates, rather than having one that sticks out like a sore thumb.

Capacity oversight: Jefferson- Houston’s neighboring schools — Lyles Crouch and Matthew Maury — are over enrollment capacity at 116 percent and 119 percent, respectively. Conversely, Jefferson-Houston is at 89 percent capacity. If resolving capacity issues is a priority for redistricting, why not have Jefferson-Houston take on some of the students from these overpopulated schools?

There are zero options out of the nine presented to date that change current Jefferson-Houston boundaries.

In an effort to turn the school around, ACPS has poured $45 million into its renovation and has hired and fired several principals, yet the school is still not accredited. The Band-Aid approach is not working. Why has ACPS not considered changing the boundaries of this school?

I believe this is a missed opportunity for the City of Alexandria to make Jefferson-Houston a better school. The best way to provide more equitable educational opportunities in our community, and to dramatically improve diversity, is to redraw the gerrymandered Jefferson-Houston school boundaries.

Time is ticking — the school board will vote on redistricting on January 26, 2017.

I encourage residents to let your voices be heard so we do not let an- other 17 years go by without erasing the failed boundaries of Jefferson-Houston, and give the school a genuine opportunity to nurture its families.