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Turning Around Jefferson Houston

Specialist Annette Shupe named principal.

Annette Shupe of Roanoke has been named as the new principal of Jefferson Houston School for Arts and Academics. She will replace Marcia Baldanza, who has been at the school since 2004, when she was moved from the principal position at Patrick Henry Elementary School.

"Dr. Baldanza is an exceptional principal and has made incredible progress at both Patrick Henry Elementary School and Jefferson-Houston since she came to Alexandria in 1999. We are very sorry to lose her," said Superintendent Rebecca Perry. Baldanza resigned because her husband accepted a new job in another state. "She has paved the way for Ms. Shupe, who, I am confident, will take Jefferson-Houston to the next level."

Shupe is one of 10 "turnaround specialists" participating in the Virginia School Turnaround Specialist Program, an educational initiative of Gov. Mark Warner. Since 2001, she has been principal of Morningside Elementary School in Roanoke. Like Jefferson Houston, Morningside was identified under the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act as a school that needs improvement. In her first year at Morningside, Shupe was able to raise test scores and bring the school to full accreditation.

"I always tell people that making accreditation isn't such a big deal, it's keeping accreditation that's the important part," Shupe said. "At Morningside, I was able to make some changes that helped us improve like modifying the master schedule to allow teachers who are in the same grade level to have shared planning periods where they could discuss innovative ideas with one another."

AS A RESULT of her success in improving the school in Roanoke, Shupe was asked to become a "turnaround specialist," participating in a program that encourages educational leaders to use business models of management to help schools become more productive.

Warner selected the University of Virginia Partnership for Leaders in Education to administer the Turnaround Specialist Program in 2004. The partnership pairs the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration and the Curry School of Education to teach leadership skills, decision-making abilities, communication methods and strategic change. Turnaround specialists are trained by the partnership to improve performance in consistently low-performing schools.

"My philosophy of administration incorporates a collaborative and cooperative model," she said. "I appreciate and encourage the sharing of ideas, and I have a lot of appreciation for what teachers do on a day-to-day basis."

A NATIVE OF SALEM, Shupe graduated from Salem High School in 1978. She majored in elementary education at Virginia Tech, and taught in Salem City Schools for 14 years. In those years, she taught in a variety of areas, but she spent most of that time teaching Kindergarten.

"I loved the children and the familiarity of teaching in Salem," she said. "And since I've been an administrator, my experience in the classroom has really given me a great deal of credibility with teachers."

In 1996, she moved with her husband and three children to Georgia, where her husband worked at the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center. While teaching in Georgia schools, Shupe enrolled in graduate school at Troy State University and earned a master of arts in educational leadership.

When Shupe's mother became ill in 2001, their family moved to Roanoke. Shortly after her mother died, Shupe landed her first job as principal — at the school where her mother had attended elementary school.

"I didn't even know that it was the school that she went to until after I had been hired as principal," she said. "So that was a very emotional time."

And after her first year as principal, the school became fully accredited by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

"Some decisions are uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean that they don't need to be made," she said, noting a controversial proposal to pair special-education teachers with mainstream teachers. "After the year was over, I asked one teacher who had not been receptive to the plan if she wanted to be reassigned and she told me that this was one of the best initiatives that she had ever been involved with as a teacher."

JEFFERSON HOUSTON faces many challenges. About 80 percent of its students qualify for free and reduced lunch. Its students are 79 percent black, 12 percent Hispanic and 8 percent white. School administrators estimate that the school will have 253 students next year, declining from 281 students in the 2004-2005 school year and 327 students in the 2003-2004 school year.

Jefferson Houston is one of four Alexandria schools that has not been able to meet federal standards for annual yearly progress under the 2001 No Child Left Behind legislation. In 2003, the school was reconstituted when every teacher was asked to reapply —meeting stricter standards and completing additional training. In 2004, the school met 24 out of 29 benchmarks toward meeting annual yearly progress — but the Virginia Department of Education requires all 29 benchmarks to be met in order to receive full accreditation.

Last year's test scores were improved from the previous year, but they are still some of the lowest in the division. English performance at the school was 55 percent, below the division average of 73 percent. Math performance was at 59 percent, below the division average of 75 percent. Science performance was at 52 percent, below the division average of 74 percent.

"I enjoy a challenge," said Shupe. "I love looking at data to see how a school can change and adapt. That's why I agreed to be part of the Turnaround Specialist Program."

Built in 1970, Jefferson-Houston School for Arts and Academics is located on the west side of Alexandria's Old Town. The school is named for Thomas Jefferson and Charles Hamilton Houston, a lawyer who pioneered the movement to integrate schools in Virginia and the District of Columbia. It has 58 licensed staff members, 86 percent of whom have post-graduate degrees.