Last week Governor McDonnell was in town to talk about struggling schools at a roundtable discussion in the Rotunda Room at T. C. Williams High School. It was nice of him to stop by and reminisce about his football career at Bishop Ireton and his brief stint as a young Alexandria city employee. But, as far as education policy is concerned, let’s be honest, little meaningful discussion can take place among nine people (the governor, the state Secretary of Education, two other state policy folks, Mayor Euille, Alexandria school board members Graf, Keating and Lewis, and a moderator) during a thirty-minute chat.
Several current and former PTA presidents and I were in the audience (which also included Del. Kupricka, city council members, school board members, reporters and community members) and we were very pleased and surprised to hear the Governor stress the important role that both local control and the partnership and collaboration between state and local governments play in school reform.
That’s interesting, because the Governor’s signature education reform, the Opportunity Educational Institution measure enacted during the most recent General Assembly, compels localities to give up control of any school that is denied accreditation (including the per pupil local funding that goes to the school) and requires the state to take over the operation of it. The Governor spoke of the OEI as if he were detached from it rather than the architect of it. It was as if he was telling us, “Well, (sigh), it’s the law now and we have to make the best of it.” Fortunately, School Board Chair Karen Graf pointed out the inconsistency between OEI and his T.C. comments, and that OEI doesn’t allow for much, if any, collaboration.
(For more of the play-by-play of the T.C. event, I recommend Michael Chandler’s coverage of it in The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/va-governor-says-local-control-is-key-to-school-success/2013/08/15/398bc526-05c4-11e3-88d6-d5795fab4637_story.html?wpisrc=nl_buzz)
Meanwhile, the good news for Alexandria is that the Norfolk City School Board and the Virginia School Boards Association have filed suit to overturn the OEI (http://www.vaschoolboards.org/images/uploads/news/OEI_PressRelease_Final.pdf). Those organizations, along with many other observers, believe the OEI to be unconstitutional. The Norfolk public school division is much larger than ACPS (32,000 students compared with our 13,000+) and thus has somewhat deeper pockets to cover legal bills. Their action should keep OEI at bay long enough for Alexandria to show Richmond that the hard work of Jefferson-Houston students, teachers, administrators and parents, and the improvement in student performance over the past year are what collaboration is truly about.
Letter to the Editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch by T.C. Williams H.S. senior Brendan Kerwin
Letter to PTA members from PTA presidents in Alexandria regarding OEI, February 15, 2013