Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Credibility Gap

The Growler was perusing Alexandrianews.org's site yesterday and discovered that two of the three representatives of School Board District A -- which includes our neighborhood -- are proposing to cut funding for all International Baccalaureate activities in ACPS, including the fledgling program to be initiated at Jefferson-Houston.

According to Alexandrianews.org, last Friday night Alexandria school board members submitted their adds and deletes to the FY 2013 budget, which will be finalized at a School Board hearing on Thursday, February 23.  Both School Board chairman Sheryl Gorsuch and member Mimi Carter have proposed deleting or "pausing" IB activities across the board in ACPS.  It appears from the article that their delete was submitted to balance their recommended budget add which would restore intersession funding for schools like Mt. Vernon Community School. 

Both Ms. Gorsuch and Ms. Carter are from Del Ray so Mt. Vernon is their backyard school, so to speak.  Alexandrianews.org implies that they are allied with District C's Ronnie Campbell and Blanche Maness, who are also concerned about intersession cuts at schools such as Samuel Tucker in the West End.  However, it was only Ms. Gorsuch and Ms. Carter who suggested the IB cuts to balance reinstatement of intersession funding.   

Many in this neighborhood have remained mildly skeptical that a change in curriculum at Jefferson-Houston would really be the academic salvation of the troubled school, which has not achieved AYP under No Child Left Behind since Rebecca Perry was Superintendent. 

But having allocated a whopping $40 million for a new Jefferson-Houston building, why would these School Board officials even consider slashing the one curriculum-related change that has at least pulled a few parents from the neighborhood (especially the Del Ray wedge section of the district) into the school again?

The actions of Ms. Gorsuch and Ms. Carter raise questions once more about what is the purpose of the new Jefferson-Houston School.  If they supported capital funding for a new building but are comfortable with having no viable curriculum alternative or even a real path for improvement for the worst performing elementary school in Alexandria, is Jefferson-Houston really being rebuilt to accommodate a coming enrollment tsunami? 

The Growler wonders if, instead, it is being built as a warehouse to remove "difficult" kids from George Washington Middle School so that school performance can rise and Del Ray can reclaim the historic school as their backyard junior high school.  Readers may remember that Cora Kelly School in Arlandria is also slated to have a PK-8 regime implemented in the future, complete with a new building.  Once book-ended like this on the north and south ends, dandy Del Ray will ultimately have a large contingent of the low-income minority children removed from GW.  That also serves the interests of the District B "Northridge" parents who are zoned to send their children there as well. 

If this is the case, then it's understandable that Ms. Gorsuch and Ms. Carter don't care about curriculum improvements that require further investment and consume resources that would otherwise available for their own school. 

Food for thought ...

The School Board must still act to approve the budget adds and deletes on Thursday, so nothing is a done deal yet.  But this latest development illustrates how the demure masks of concern for all Alexandria children worn by School Board members are slipping.  It also raises the question once again about whether anything we are told by ACPS and its elected officials on the topic of Jefferson-Houston can be trusted.

Besides what we were told about the transformative powers of a new IB curriculum, we were also told that much of Jefferson-Houston's problems stemmed from leadership turnover.  The implication was that this trend would cease under new Superintendent Morton Sherman. 

Then, after five years as Jefferson-Houston principal Kim Graves was suddenly transferred to the ACPS central office last summer and in December 2011 surfaced over at Minnie Howard.   

This was followed by the abrupt departure this month of Stephen Wilkins, the "CEO" of Jefferson-Houston, who wore multiple hats in his brief career at ACPS and is now history.  One may assume his appointment and his unique position were part of an attempt to change (or appear to change) the governance of the school, which conceivably could be considered a remediation measure under No Child Left Behind.  All that this churning seems to have done, though, is to create more doors that revolve faster than ever before at the school.

The community is currently in the midst of discussions about the new Jefferson-Houston school design, which will be some 50% bigger in square footage than the old school.  The building will be designed to accommodate over 700 students and we've been assured it will definitely fill up even though enrollment is currently only at 433, with most of the recent increase due to the addition of middle school classes. 

And if there is no curriculum change, and no gimmick left to give prospective parents enough hope to want to give this school a try, will the new Jefferson-Houston's capacity ever be utilized?