Monday, September 28, 2009

Not Our Burden

While the Growler has been on vacation, there's been an stimulating discussion among commenters about Jefferson-Houston School. Here are some salient points that are emerging, which readers may want to grasp.

First and foremost, readers need to understand that Jefferson-Houston School is not our fault nor is it our issue to solve. Any attempts to guilt young parents in Parker-Gray is contemptible. and misplaced.

Second, residents here shouldn't waste time agonizing about Jefferson-Houston if they have pre-school children. The ongoing failure of Jefferson-Houston has given them an out and there are alternative and reasonably-priced choices outside Alexandria City Public Schools, as one commenter noted. We already have many parents in Parker-Gray who take their children elsewhere, and in fact this flexibility seems to give them the ability to stay longer in the neighborhood than expected.

Third, the issue of the school's failure is not independent of the public housing issue: it is directly related and is a byproduct of the City's reluctance to deconcentrate the mass of low-income housing in this neighborhood. In fact, it may be the school issue that is driving decisions regarding public housing.

First, elected and unelected leaders in the City of Alexandria created the mess we know today when in 1999 they redistricted the school system to leave JH a predominantly minority, predominantly poor school.

The current plight of JH is no accident. The 1999 redistricting was the key element of a strategy — not one unique to Alexandria either — to bring white families back into public school systems by ending cross-town busing and creating "safe," predominantly white schools in predominantly white neighborhoods to lure reluctant parents back in.

The clique that pushed hardest for the redistricting centered on protecting George Mason School (a group led by Claire Eberwein) wanted the "rougher" students from our neighborhood out of their school. They were quite candid at the time about the fact that they wanted pupils from our neighborhood — who were perceived as problems — out of George Mason.

In 1999, many black leaders like Ferdinand Day and Glenn Hopkins spoke out strongly against this segregationist measure. Their voices were drowned out.

In decade that has passed since the 1999 redistricting, not a single black Alexandria leader has protested the worsening situation at Jefferson-Houston although the majority of students there are black and impoverished. The silence from the NAACP and the Northern Virginia Urban League is deafening.

The Parker-Gray Alumni Association is also mute. Its members experienced the anguish of educational discrimination before the 1970s and might have been expected to protest the new forces of segregation, which essentially resurrected the ghost of the old, segregated Parker-Gray elementary school. Nevertheless, they remain silent as well.

So if these groups apparently don't speak out and fail to take action, why should any reader spend a moment agonizing except to deplore the ethical and moral failure of Alexandria's leaders?

And may the Growler ask if the new ACPS superintendent's plan to establish middle school classes at elementary schools like Jefferson-Houston may be less progressive than it appears on the surface? If the motivation in 1999 was to keep Parker-Gray kids out of George Mason and other elementary schools, it may well be that the new strategy is designed to keep them permanently out of George Washington Middle School as well. Chew over that one, folks.

Second, the failure of Jefferson-Houston to achieve Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind Act means Parker-Gray parents have other choices. Some parents may opt to send their children to Jefferson-Houston, but others will now see the path open to several different ACPS schools as well as private institutions. It's sad that some parents may not feel comfortable entering their children in the neighborhood school, so tantalizingly close by. But they are under no obligation to sacrifice their children to a perverse and discriminatory policy created by others years before.

Third, it's time we confront head on the relationship of Alexandria's public housing issues to the plight of Jefferson-Houston. The Growler has not dwelled on this before, but it's time for readers to wake up to the nexus of players active on both the public housing and educational issues. ARHA's current chairman A. Melvin Miller formerly served as chairman of the Alexandria School Board. Current ARHA board members Carlyle "Connie" Ring and Leslie Hagan are veterans of the School Board, with Ms. Hagan having served as vice chair. And one of ARHA's biggest apologists is former school board member Rodger Digilio of alexandrianews.org.

With these relationships in mind, it's time to pose a key question not previously posed on this blog.

With other public housing redevelopment projects like Quaker Hill and Chatham Square, ARHA demonstrated it could disperse and deconcentrate public housing units. Is ARHA's entrenched opposition to doing the same in our community because its leaders are protecting segregated schools?

In short, is Alexandria's public school segregation driving public housing segregation rather than the other way around?

And do our politicians truly recognize what they have wrought?