Letter: How To Measure Excellence

Letter: How To Measure Excellence

To the Editor:

For the past several years around the May timeframe, the Mount Vernon Gazette has published a nice picture of the Waynewood Elementary School principal, who — along with a teacher — is receiving an Academic Excellence Award from Dan Storck (see last week's edition of the Gazette). While I think it's great that Waynewood receives this award year after year after year, I wonder what type of message that sends to the other hard-working school administrators and teachers in the area who cannot compete with Waynewood's "success" on many levels.

For example, Waynewood is the only school I know of in the Mount Vernon area that has been given the gift of only serving a community made up almost entirely of upper-middle class families that normally consist of two college-educated, English-speaking parents; many of these families include one parent who is able to stay at home to raise the family. Thus, a majority of the students attending Waynewood arrive to school every day dressed, fed, and ready to go after receiving much time and educational support/assistance at home from their parents. It is not hard for a school to achieve Academic Excellence when it experiences neither adversity nor diversity as a part of its daily learning environment, but I'd say this excellence cannot be entirely attributed to Waynewood Elementary's educational efforts.

In contrast, our area also includes several Title I (or "at risk") elementary schools that experience a large percentage of students whose families live below the poverty line, whose parents do not speak English and/or who are working multiple jobs just to pay the bills. Many of the children living within these school boundaries do not come to school with full stomachs, warm coats, or a great deal of assistance from their parents due to the financial or communication constraints experienced at home. Thus, it is a much greater challenge for the administrators and teachers at these schools to meet the same level of "excellence" that Waynewood is able to achieve. There is no level playing field for comparison of these vastly diverse demographics.

This begs the question as to the fairness of the competition for this award. Comparing Waynewood Elementary to Riverside Elementary is like comparing apples and oranges. It would be nice if Mr. Storck and the other officials in the Fairfax County Public School system would advocate for/implement a way to incorporate a more fair metric for determining the level of "academic excellence" of the elementary schools in our area. Otherwise, Waynewood will continue to receive this award without any competition whatsoever as there are no real hurdles between Waynewood and the finish line.

My children have attended Waynewood Elementary as well as Washington Mill Elementary and Riverside Elementary, so we have experienced several different school communities and approaches to education. It has been my observation that there is a much higher level of effort from the administrators and teachers at the Title I schools than I observed at Waynewood, which can probably be attributed to the different level of challenges that exist in the communities that these schools serve.

Thus, since this is Teacher Appreciation Week, I'd like to give my own recognition for "academic excellence" to Dr. Howard, principal at WMES for her hard work, personal dedication, and advocacy for the children facing a multitude of challenges in achieving educational standards. Dr. Howard is a perfect example of someone who lives, eats, and breathes her profession, and every member of her staff goes the extra mile in dedicating their personal time to assist the children of their community. I'd also like to thank Ms. Andujar, Mr. Wilson, and Mrs. Harrington at Riverside Elementary for their willingness to go the extra mile for my son and our family as well as other special needs children at Riverside. My son — who was considered a "bad kid" in his early elementary school days — was eventually diagnosed with various neurobiological disorders including Asperger's Syndrome. He still faces many challenges in school, but thanks to the ongoing efforts of Ms. Andujar, Mr. Wilson, and Mrs. Harrington in exhibiting a high level of support, patience, understanding, and a belief that my child is a good person who simply has special needs, my son has made considerable progress in his ability to manage himself at school. My family — and many others in our community — are all the better for having known these wonderful individuals. Thanks for all you do!

Heather Houck