To the Editor:
Reporter Michael Lee Pope’s two articles, “Historic Tax Hikes” and “Uncertainty Haunts Groundbreaking,” are inextricably linked. In the former Mr. Pope writes: “One of the leading drivers of the need for capital spending is the public school system.” In the latter he states: “when the new $45 million Jefferson-Houston School facility opens its doors, it may not be under the control of city leaders.” Jefferson-Houston School, my family’s failing neighborhood school, becomes the responsibility of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2014.
The new school building is not only poorly considered, it is poorly timed. Alexandria City Public School promotes an oversized building in the face of declining enrollment. Jefferson-Houston School is Alexandria’s only preK-8 School, an invention of Dr. Morton Sherman. My guess is that the present School Board has yet to seriously analyze the plans or understand the core problem. “I will be uneasy donning that stupid hat and smiling for the cameras as we put the shovels in the ground,” said School Board member Bill Campbell. “I don’t think that we are where we need to be yet in terms of surety of what this building needs to look like from a design perspective and what its use is going to be.” Mr. Campbell should be uneasy. Our tax dollars are not being wisely spent.
Bricks and mortar, historically old or literally new, should not provide cover for poor academic performance. Only one in five or 20 percent of Jefferson-Houston School’s fifth-graders passed the math SOLs. More insulting, the scores plummeted 60 points in just the last two years. How does a new building correct academic failure? Did the new T.C. Williams building solve the high school’s academic problems?
Jefferson-Houston was conditionally accredited in 2006-2007, fully accredited in 2008-2009. Superintendent Rebecca Perry outperformed her successor. Alexandria is in the throes of an educational crisis. The city’s children deserve better as do taxpayers.
The assumption that one can dress something up, use a little “spit and polish” and it will sell is just that; all surface without depth. Superficial looks does not equate to academics.