The drizzling rain on Valentine's Day did not keep Del Ray parents and community members from learning about area schools. Crimson blazers and candy hearts created a festive atmosphere at the third annual State of the Schools meeting in the new media center at George Washington Middle School. Although the discussion touched upon many subjects, a proposal to change Mount Vernon Community School's calendar created the most controversy for the evening.
The event, which was hosted by the Del Ray Citizens Association, was an opportunity to meet and greet representatives from schools that serve Del Ray area: Cora Kelly, George Washington Middle, Jefferson-Houston, John Adams Elementary, Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy, Minnie Howard, Mount Vernon Community and T. C. Williams High were represented at the meeting. Most of the principals were on hand to answer questions.
Each school was given an opportunity to make a presentation, and then the floor was opened for questions. Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Cathy David answered most of the questions, although Superintendent Rebecca Perry took the microphone to answer one question about the growing demands placed upon the west side of town by expanding population in that area.
"It's important to create a dialogue between members of the community and local schools, " said City Councilman Rob Krupicka, who started the annual meetings in 2003 when he was president of the Del Ray Citizens Association. "Now we have created an atmosphere where parents are staying in Del Ray because they are more aware of what's going on with the schools."
"THE STATE of the Schools started as a way to prevent people making judgments based on faulty perceptions," said current association president Justin Wilson, who took over the position after Krupicka's election in May 2003. "There was a perception that the first thing you did when your kid turned five was to move to Fairfax. And we wanted to challenge that."
As a board member of the association, Wilson helped initiate the event three years ago.
"I like the fact that people come to the meetings who have no involvement in the schools," said Wilson. "Heck, most of their tax money goes to schools. So it makes sense that they'd want to know what's going on."
For Krupicka and Wilson, the event is a way of addressing issues in the community. Both men have children who are too young to be in public school. But when their children are old enough, they will enter a school system that has been poked, prodded and debated by parents, teachers, students and even people who don't have school-age children.
SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS Rebecca Perry addressed her proposal to create a modified school calendar for Mount Vernon Community School. Some parents at the school have objected to the budget item.
It's a continuous learning process," said Perry after the meeting. "I don't think the process was handled as well has it should have, but hopefully we'll be able to come to a compromise before the budget is approved by the City Council."
Opponents of the modified calendar, which shortens summer vacation but allows for longer vacations during the year, raise several issues.
They want data supporting the educational value of the change. They are concerned about planning family vacations, especially if different schools are operating on different calendars. Despite the opposition of some, a majority of parents who took part in last year's vote on the issue approved of the change to Mount Vernon's calendar.
And city leaders seem ready to move toward a new way of looking at the school year. "I support the modified calendar concept," said Mayor William D. Euille. "It's a direction that the entire school system needs to go."