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A New Day At Virginia's Largest High School

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Administrators at Virginia's largest high school are working to change public perceptions, after T.C. Williams High was designated a persistently lowest achieving school last year.

Principal Suzane Maxey says she tries not to think about the designation her school received last year -- persistently lowest achieving school. It's a category created to identify schools that consistently fail to meet federal standards but don't receive sanctions associated with taking federal money.

"It's a really very narrowly defined thing," Maxey says. "There are schools that have lower test scores than we do that are not on the list. I don't even pay attention to that anymore. What we are doing is we are moving forward in a really very positive direction."

Last year, Maxey created a tutoring system that uses students to help teach other students. The school board also created a new policy that allows administrators to retest students who fail the first time.

T.C. Williams failed to meet federal standards again this year, even though Superintendent Morton Sherman says the school raised test scores to historic highs.

"In one year's effort we have shown we can make a significant difference," says Sherman. "And yet even with that, the school would continue to be under sanction and given no credit for the tremendous work."

The school did, however, receive $2 million federal dollars for each of the three years it failed to meet federal requirements. School Board Chairwoman Sheryl Gorsuch says most of that money went to personnel.

"Identifying the persistently low achieving schools was good. It had the right motivation," Gorsuch says. "The problem was the implementation doesn't necessarily get to the nuances and the specifics of what's going on in a given school."

Next year will be the third and final year of the persistently lowest achieving school designation. What happens after that is an open question -- one that will be determined by the fate of No Child Left Behind.


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