To the editor:
Former school board chairman Arthur Peabody has recently argued that Jefferson-Houston School is actually a success, and that state education officials were using too rigid numerical measures in evaluating educational progress. He was basically rehashing the arguments made last October to the Virginia Board of Education, when Superintendent Morton Sherman and former board chairman Sheryl Gorsuch were unsuccessful in seeking a pass on accreditation for the troubled school.
Their arguments were not convincing to parents or the community then and they aren’t convincing now. According to the Virginia Department of Education, in 2012-2013 some 93% of Virginia schools (1,716 in total) were fully accredited. This included a number of Title 1 schools and even some with 100% of the students receiving free and reduced meals (FARM). (The figure Mr. Peabody cites for Jefferson-Houston is 73% FARM.) Less than one percent of Virginia schools were denied accreditation as Jefferson-Houston was.
It is preposterous to argue that the state’s regulatory benchmarks are unfair when so many schools across the state make the grade, including those with similar demographics.
Like others who have volunteered or been recruited to defend Dr. Sherman, Mr. Peabody blurs the history of the school’s accreditation efforts by sweeping under the rug past compliance with the state’s standards. It’s time to set forth the facts once again for the record.
SOL tests are administered near the end of one academic year and the results are used to determine status for the following academic year. For example, tests administered during academic year 2012-2013 will determine status for the 2013-2014 year.
According to documents prepared for the October 2012 state board meeting, Jefferson-Houston was classified as provisionally accredited/needs improvement in 2002-2003 and 2003-2004, a classification that does not include areas of warning. This was two years after Rebecca Perry was hired as Superintendent in June 2001 and three years after the disastrous 1999 redistricting.
From 2004-2005 through 2006-2007 Jefferson-Houston was accredited but with warning in several subject areas. However, with each passing year there were fewer subject areas meriting warning. By 2007-2008 the school was conditionally accredited. Then, based on tests administered in the spring of 2008 shortly after Ms. Perry departed, the school was fully accredited for academic year 2008-2009 with no warnings in any academic areas. Her tenure saw a solid record of improvement leading to accreditation.
Contrast this with the school’s history under Dr. Sherman, who was hired in June 2008 and arrived in Alexandria at the start of the school year in the fall of 2008. In tests administered during the spring of 2009, the school’s status for academic year 2009-2010 slipped back to accredited with warning. With each passing year more subject areas of warning were added, and finally the school was denied accreditation altogether in 2012-2013 when four areas of warning were identified (English, mathematics, history, and science).
The accreditation history of the school can be found on VDOE’s Web site by using the link http://tinyurl.com/k7o5eld
Perhaps Mr. Peabody, who was then on the school board, has forgotten that in an August 29, 2008 letter to the Jefferson-Houston community, the newly-arrived Dr. Sherman expressed pleasure not only at Jefferson-Houston’s recent accreditation by the state but also because the school made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The letter can be found at http://tinyurl.com/k32syms
It’s fascinating and also sad how the school has now arrived at this inexplicable place.
Leslie Zupan, Past President
West Old Town Citizens Association