Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Losing Focus?

Jefferson-Houston is back in the news again, and it appears the crisis at the perennially troubled elementary school is deepening.

At this point, no-one is sure what the future holds for Jefferson-Houston, where enrollment has fallen from 486 pupils in its first year with arts integration focus to only 281 students for the 2006-2007 academic year. Enrollment at the school in the 1999-2000 academic year before the controversial redistricting took effect had been nearly 700.

For the past four years, Jefferson-Houston has not met State accreditation benchmarks based on the annual Standards of Learning (SOL) exams. At the request of Alexandria City Public Schools, the Virginia Board of Education granted conditional accreditation late last month but required ACPS to create an oversight committee to monitor school performance.

However, the Board of Education questioned the arts integration focus as the school struggles to meet basic academic standards. As a result, ACPS Superintendent Rebecca Perry brought the subject of school focus up for discussion at the school board's annual retreat and also at the the October 4 school board meeting.

At the public meeting the Superintendent laid out the options she gave to the board at the retreat, including redistributing existing student populations to other buildings, dedicating Jefferson-Houston for kids with severe special needs to reduce overall costs of sending them to other districts, shifting to a performing arts focus, and removing the arts integration focus entirely.

According to the Gazette article, Ms. Perry also put forward the idea of closing Jefferson-Houston and carving out new attendance zones. "This would also help us address the overcrowding problem at Tucker Elementary School. One of our biggest fears is that someone will move into Cameron Station and be told that their child cannot attend Tucker because it's full."

On October 18, the board is scheduled to vote on whether to remove Jefferson-Houston's arts integration focus.

What are the consequences for parents in our neighborhood? Once the arts integration focus is gone, they will no longer be able to use it as a justification for opting out. However, they will still be able to opt out based on the school's inability to meet annual standards under No Child Left Behind or through the lottery.

In the meantime, the school district has scheduled a meeting for Jefferson-Houston parents on Thursday, October 11. A dinner will be served at 6:00 PM with the meeting commencing at 6:30 PM. Child care will be provided.