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Alexandria Leaders Fear State Takeover Of Troubled School

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Alexandria school leaders are worried about a state takeover of  Jefferson-Houston Elementary.
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Alexandria school leaders are worried about a state takeover of Jefferson-Houston Elementary.

A decade of turnaround attempts has failed at Jefferson-Houston School, the long-troubled former elementary school that now offers kindergarten through eighth grade. None of the reforms have worked, and now Alexandria School Board Chairwoman Karen Graf says she's worried about a state takeover.

"I think this board is against the idea of having the state come down to the local level, and I would say that Thomas Jefferson himself would be opposed to that," says Graf.

Thomas Jefferson isn't around to give his opinion about Jefferson-Houston, which was named in part for the declaration and civil rights pioneer Charles Hamilton Houston. Both the House and the Senate have passed education reforms, although a final version has yet to emerge from a conference. Newly installed Jefferson-Houston principal Rosslyn Rice-Harris admits that the last decade of reforms have not worked.

"The line was drawn, and we have to make changes for Jefferson-Houston," she says. "Ten years is too long, and change has to happen now."

Last year, the Virginia Board of Education forced administrators to hire an outside group to help lead a transformation. Instead of selecting one of the vendors that have already been vetted by the state, Alexandria leaders decided to strike out on their own and hire a separate provider, awarding a $370,000 contract to American Institutes for Research. Last November, board member Christian Braunlich said he was frustrated that the city would delay the process by selecting its own provider rather than going with one of the pre-approved providers.

"We've talked a lot here about flexibility," says Braunlich. "But a school system that has allowed this to happen for 10 out of the last 11 years has earned no flexibility in my opinion."

Next week, Alexandria school administrators will travel to Richmond to present their corrective action plan to state leaders. Meanwhile, leaders in Richmond may be setting the stage for a state takeover of the school.

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