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Maury Parents Face Choices

No Child Left Behind Act complicates school opening next week.

Families whose children attend Maury Elementary School have been given the opportunity to move those children to other schools in the Alexandria City Public school system because the school failed to meet the federal No Child Left Behind guidelines.

Parents received notification from Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry by mail last week and were asked to return a postcard to Central Office by Friday, Aug. 22, stating whether they wished to move their child to an accredited school. The notices came less than two weeks before the start of school.

“We sent out the notices as soon as we had an opportunity to review the SOL data and look at the federal guidelines,” said Charles Pyle, the Director of Communication for the Virginia Department of Education. “Unfortunately, we have been discussing No Child Left Behind and trying to reconcile Virginia’s standards of accreditation with the requirements of the federal law. We are complying but we are protesting some of the requirements in the strongest terms.

“We sent out notifications to schools that did not meet No Child Left Behind based on a priority system with notification going to those districts in the far western part of the state that began school on Aug. 11. At least two notices a day went out throughout that week,” he said.

Melissa Luby, one of the newest members iof the Alexandria School Board said, “I know that some parents are very concerned that they did not receive notice sooner. However, the superintendent received the notice about Maury on Aug. 18, and then some conflicting information from Virginia Department of Education staff on Aug. 19. Based on that information, the letter that staff had already drafted to go to Maury parents had to be rewritten and was sent out on Aug. 20.

“The superintendent did not have to give parents the option to move their children until October but she decided to do so at the beginning of the year because she felt that this was the right thing to do.

"As a parent, I appreciate that because you make daycare plans and you don’t want to move a child after he or she has already gotten adjusted to a classroom, a school and a teacher. I believe that the staff has handled this situation in the best way that they could have,” Luby said.

THE NO CHILD Left Behind guidelines are different than the state’s SOL requirements. The increased achievement of Virginia students under the SOL program in effect since 1995, is reflected in the fact that the Commonwealth’s adequate yearly progress (AYP) objectives under No Child Left Behind for 2002—2003, were among the highest in the nation. For a school or school division to make AYP under the federal education law, it must meet or exceed 29 to 35 separate requirements and objectives. A school or school division that falls short on a single requirement or objective is not considered to have made AYP.

A fully accredited Virginia school in which the overwhelming majority of students passed SOL tests in reading and mathematics during 2002-2003, may not make AYP if fewer than 95 percent of its students with limited English proficiency, took SOL tests in either reading or mathematics.

Under Virginia SOL guidelines, schools were allowed to give limited English-proficient students a one-time exemption from taking an SOL test to allow that student to become more proficient in English.

Schools that receive federal funding under Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act, to serve children from low income households, enter a “Title I School improvement” plan if they do not meet AYP objectives in the same subject area for two consecutive years. That is what has happened to Maury.

THE 2003-2004 AYP status of all Virginia schools and school divisions will be available later this month on the state’s web site as part of the Virginia school report card.

No Child Left Behind specifies that parents may now choose to keep their children at Maury or send them to another fully accredited school. The schools that have been offered to Maury families are Charles Barrett Elementary School, Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy and George Mason Elementary School. The priority for transfers will be given to the lowest achieving students from low income families. Bus transportation will be provided to transport Maury students to another school.

There are many new initiatives at Maury to help improve student achievement. There will be more teachers and aides so that classes can be smaller, a new program to improve student behavior and classroom management and a stronger parent involvement program.

“We already knew that we needed to make some significant changes at Maury,” said Perry. “We started to implement changes last spring, including having all the staff reapply for their positions and providing intensive support from the central office.

“Adequate Yearly Progress, as laid out in the No Child Left Behind statute, is only one measure of school success,” Perry said. “We are focused on getting Maury fully accredited and making sure all children are succeeding. I believe we now have the resources in place at Maury to do just that.”

Dana Lahorne, whose three daughters attended Maury is not so sure. “Once Carl Smith left four years ago, things went downhill at Maury,” he said. “He left just before the unpairing of Maury and Lyles-Crouch and the timing of his departure just wasn’t good. Maury had its challenges, of course, but nothing like today. It was an active school with a lot of parent participation.

“Redistricting and a lack of commitment of resources by the School Board and general neglect have created the problems that we are seeing today,” he said.

SHOULD PARENTS keep their children at Maury? “Each parent has to make that decision based on the individual needs of their children,” Luby said. “Personally, my children attended Jefferson-Houston at a time when it was not necessarily the most popular school in the city. We got involved and my children did fabulously there. Parent involvement is critical to the success of any child and any school. No matter where your child attends school, get involved. That is what will make Maury and every other school in the city successful.”