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Building for the Future

Preliminary results released Aug. 19 show that nine Alexandria schools -- including four Title I schools -- failed to make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years. Perry said the district has budgeted $450,000 to cover transportation costs, including pay for more drivers and buses to transport those students who opt to move to new schools. The Title I schools that must offer the transfer option are John Adams, Jefferson-Houston, Maury and Patrick Henry elementary schools. The other schools that failed to meet the benchmarks are George Washington and Francis C. Hammond middle schools, Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy and T.C. Williams High School. The fifth school, Cora Kelly Elementary, is a Title I school, but because this is the first year that it failed to make its target, it does not have to offer the transfer option to parents.

In Arlington, 10 of 30 county schools failed to meet the annual benchmarks, according to preliminary results: Gunston and Jefferson middle schools, Washington-Lee and Wakefield high schools and Title I schools Abingdon, Barcroft, Barrett, Carlin Springs, Hoffman-Boston and Randolph elementary schools. Parents of students at the Title I schools will be notified of their options, and the school system has budgeted $358,000 for transportation for those who choose to transfer, officials said.

From left, new Alexandria teachers Andre Wright, Candace Lawton, Marie Jones and Rashida Johnson talk about their plans. (James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

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Last year, Alexandria's Maury Elementary was the only local school required to offer the transfer option, and 14 percent of its students chose to do so. This year is Maury's third year on the list, which means that it must also offer its students free tutoring.

Overall, at least 15 Northern Virginia schools must give their students the option of transferring to other schools, according to the preliminary data.

Perry has already taken steps to improve Maury, including transferring in Lucretia Jackson, the school's new principal.

This year, Samuel W. Tucker Elementary became the first Alexandria school to switch to a year-round calendar; its students returned to school in July. And a pilot pre-kindergarten program was expanded to 12 elementary schools.

"Our major projects this year are about educational change -- the way we teach, the way we learn," Perry said. "We're breaking some of the molds that we've learned in traditional ways."

Perry might also have to contend with continued fallout from her conviction on a drunken driving charge in April. The incident has drawn criticism from some parents who believe Perry should have been removed from the post. It also prompted one parent to launch a petition drive to have School Board member Melissa W. Luby removed from her post. Luby was a passenger in the car Perry was driving the night of her arrest. Luby, who was being driven home after the two had spent an evening at an Alexandria restaurant, has said that she did not believe that Perry was intoxicated when they left.

Perry declined to comment on the issue, but Danforth said that the board "is ready to move on past that issue and concentrate on the issues that we face with our children."

In Arlington, school officials will be revamping the system's long-term strategic plan, Superintendent Robert G. Smith said. In the past, the focus has been primarily on two goals: raising achievement for all students and closing the achievement gap between white and minority students in the 19,000-student system.

Smith said that based on results of a customer satisfaction survey last spring and focus groups, school officials have added more goals to the strategic plan. The new goals include teaching cultural competence in which students would be prepared to "live and work in an international world by building on the variety of experiences and diversity available to them"; preparing "each graduate to make choices and experience success in post-secondary education, work or other pursuits"; and ensuring that each school is "a place where every student wants to be and feels encouraged, supported and challenged."

The expanded goals will be discussed at a public hearing next Thursday, and the School Board will act on the revised plan at its Sept. 21 meeting, Smith said. He added that educators will work with parents, faculty and students throughout the year to come up with ways to implement the plan.

"These are goals that deal with the quality of school life, and that goes beyond the issue of student achievement and gets them ready for the next step in life," Smith said.

Other projects on the agenda for Arlington schools this year include implementing an advanced reading curriculum for sixth-graders and continuing to work on closing the achievement gap, Smith said.

"I hope for continued improvements in student learning and clear advancement in the quality of instruction," Smith said. "We will continue to work on issues related to teaching for meaning. We'll account for test scores but we're certainly going to go beyond what is tested."

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