Alexandria School Board reconsolidates middle schools

The Alexandria School Board unanimously approved a plan Thursday night to re-consolidate the city’s middle schools, dissolving the five smaller schools within schools that were created just four years ago.

Under the new plan, Alexandria will once again have two middle schools at George Washington and Francis C. Hammond starting in fall 2014. The new schools will be set up to nurture personal relationships, officials said, with additional guidance counselors and academic principals for each grade that will follow the students throughout their middle school years.

“It is imperative that we have a plan in place to effectively impact student achievement and develop those critical relationships between teachers and students,” said board Chairman Karen A. Graf.

The smaller schools were created under former superintendent Morton Sherman to improve performance by creating more personalized learning environments. But four years later, most of the small schools are struggling — with four of the five falling short of full state accreditation because of low test scores.

The new structure will help the overall accreditation status.

If a school is accredited with warning for three years, it could be at risk of losing accreditation and/or being taken over by a state board created last year by the General Assembly to oversee chronically under-performing schools.

Typically, when schools are created, even because of boundary changes, they can earn conditional accreditation from the state, essentially giving them a clean slate, said Charles Pyle, spokesman for the Virginia Education Department.

That is not happening in this case, he said.

Instead, the state has agreed to revert to the rating of the small school that had maintained the federal code, which is used for tracking and accountability purposes, of the original consolidated school.

That means that George Washington Middle School will assume the status of George Washington 1, which is the only school of the five that is fully accredited.

And Francis C. Hammond will assume the status of the Francis C. Hammond 1, which is in its first year of “accredited with warning” (compared to the second year for Francis C. Hammond 2 or 3).

The actual 2014-2015 accreditation status for each school will depend on performance on state tests this spring, but the new starting point gives the city more breathing room before it risks losing accreditation — or control — of any middle schools.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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