Letter to the Editor: Progress at Jefferson-Houston

Letter to the Editor: Progress at Jefferson-Houston

I am a parent of a kindergartner and first grader at Jefferson-Houston School. As the redistricting process within ACPS comes to an end, there has been a late push for major changes to boundaries on the east end of Alexandria. I firmly oppose these proposed changes, and ask the School Board to stand with the success of Jefferson-Houston when they vote on redistricting ACPS on Jan. 26.

Like many parents zoned for Jefferson-Houston I was concerned about sending my children there. After careful consideration our family registered with three requirements in mind: is our child happy, learning, and safe? The answers were clear. We have not only remained, but enrolled our second child as well. My children are very happy at school, are learning above national grade level standards, and safety has never been a concern.

I am confident about sending my children to J-H regardless of its accreditation status because I can cite a large body of research showing that children who come from advantaged households reach the same level of achievement regardless of the racial or socio-economic makeup of the school. Children whose basic needs are well met, are exposed to math and literacy early and often, and have received quality preschool education statistically perform well in any school placement. Research also supports that these students do particularly well in math when attending truly diverse schools.

We should still examine why J-H is under enrolled, has such a high FARMs rate, and has a more segregated student makeup than nearby schools. It has been suggested that a gerrymandered district is the root of the problem. This fails to acknowledge a far deeper problem: administrative transfers.

Families zoned for Jefferson-Houston could previously request an administrative transfer to another ACPS school. Through the 2015-2016 school year, a full class of students opted out of Jefferson-Houston.

These were kids from economically advantaged families that could wade through the process and provide private transit to and from school. Less affluent families lacking reliable transportation were effectively excluded from this policy.

After years of administrative transfers schools like Lyles Crouch and Matthew Maury are now over capacity and Jefferson-Houston under. The FARMs rate is out of balance. ACPS has realized its mistake and starting in 2016-2017 it all but stopped administrative transfers. The striking socio-economic imbalance between J-H and other neighboring elementary schools is correcting. ACPS projects that when students districted for J-H attend J-H, the FARMs rate will correct itself. ACPS also projects that expanding the boundaries would overcrowd the school.

Alexandria residents must understand why boundaries did not change for Jefferson-Houston during the redistricting process. The trouble wasn’t our boundaries; it was that the boundaries were regularly bypassed.

This is not a “neighborhood without a voice.” We have been heard by Dr. Crawley, ACPS central office, and Jefferson Houston advocate Veronica Nolan. Our voices have combined to halt administrative transfers. If you are a parent of a rising kindergartner, your child will enter a Jefferson-Houston that is a representative cross-section of Alexandria thanks to the cooperation of ACPS, our parents, and Ms. Nolan.

Visit J-H and see teachers guiding students through our International Baccalaureate program, enthusiastic kids interacting and learning alongside friends from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Deep and meaningful learning is happening at Jefferson Houston. I invite residents who are doubtful to visit the school, and to take another look at the recent data. There is a new narrative at Jefferson-Houston, and it important that the truth begins to overpower rumors.

Wendy Montes de Oca