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Some Remain Concerned Over Principal Shift

Parents square off with superintendent over decision.

Despite a meeting with members of the Alexandria School Board, Superintendent of Schools Rebecca L. Perry and members of her staff, parents at Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy remain concerned about their principal's reassignment.

Perry had not planned to attend the meeting at Lyles-Crouch last Thursday night. She changed her mind after a flurry of e-mails demonstrated the level of parental concern about her reassignment of the school's principal, Lucretia Jackson.

"I have had many discussions with Ms. Jackson and if you think I am forcing her to do anything, you clearly don't know her as well as you think you do," Perry told about 100 parents who attended last week's meeting.

"Principals are moved all of the time and have been moved in Alexandria. This is an opportunity for Ms. Jackson and an opportunity for another school to benefit from her experience and leadership."

Parents were informed that Lucretia Jackson was leaving the school to become the principal at Maury Elementary School, via a letter that was sent home on April 19. "I found out when I read the article in the newspaper," one parent said.

Jackson has been a staff member in the Alexandria Public school system for 31 years and the principal at Lyles-Crouch for the past eight years. The school has been accredited for the last two years.

"Many of us chose to send our children to this school because it is a traditional academy and because of Lucretia Jackson," said Martha Wellman, a pediatrician with the Arlandria Neighborhood Health Services. "There are no problems at this school because Ms. Jackson makes everyone feel safe and welcome here no matter what their background is."

AT VARIOUS TIMES, eight of the nine School Board members attended the meeting. "I have been around schools for a long time and, believe me, Lyles-Crouch will be fine," said Board chair Mark Wilkoff. "You need to trust us."

Parents questioned why they should trust the Board or the school administration after the way the matter was handled. "I have just come back from Liberia where I have been teaching an emerging democracy about transparency in government," said Ed Brown. "Perhaps I should have stayed home and given the seminar to this Board."

Perry said that she and Jackson made the decision on April 15. "I informed the Board at the meeting that night," she said. "The next day, we told the staff at Lyles-Crouch and then, on Monday, we sent letters home to parents of children at both Maury and Lyles-Crouch. What would you have had me do? Would you have had me come to you and say, "I'm thinking about moving your principal, what do you think"?"

The parents responded that that is exactly what they would have had her do. "That will never happen," Perry said. "This was a personnel decision and it is my job to make decisions that are in the best interests of the entire school system and of all of the children."

After the meeting, parents continued to express their concerns. "It was definitely a heated meeting at which parents expressed their concerns to the superintendent and the Board," said Kate Watters, the incoming PTA president at Lyles-Crouch.

"We were hoping that they would listen to us and reconsider this decision. The superintendent wasn't interested in our opinion and the Board members were condescending and dismissive. There was a lot of chest thumping and very little listening. I was very disappointed."

Council members Paul Smedberg, Rob Krupicka and Ludwig Gaines also attended the meeting. "It is important to have a dialogue with parents when these kinds of decisions are made," Smedberg said.

"This school and all of our schools are vital to the city's success," Krupicka said. "We are committed to doing everything we can so that Lyles-Crouch remains a great school."

Jackson made it clear that she had been approached by Perry and that she had agreed to accept the assignment at Maury. Principals serve at the will of the superintendent and can be reassigned as she deems appropriate. The School Board was informed but personnel decisions are strictly within the purview of the superintendent.