Alexandria School Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry has asked all the teachers at Maury Elementary School to reapply for their jobs, part of an effort to raise the school's standardized test scores and win it full accreditation.
Maury was the only Alexandria school to be "accredited with warning" after last year's Virginia Standards of Learning exams, and Perry said she wants to erase the asterisk before the state takes action. She also is trying to avoid sanctions under the new federal No Child Left Behind Act.
"I'm trying to correct it before it gets to that point," Perry said.
Such a comprehensive makeover of the staff is a last resort and rarely used.
Prince George's County has "reconstituted" about 15 schools, recruiting experienced teachers and adding enrichment programs. More than a dozen D.C. schools have been overhauled in the last two years. At the District's so-called "transformation schools," staff changes have been accompanied by increased teacher training and reduced class sizes.
In Fairfax County, Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech instituted a master teachers program several years ago, paying a bonus to experienced teachers who volunteer for transfers to coach less-experienced colleagues at schools with lagging scores.
Perry is beginning from the inside out. Maury's principal, Kristine Ruscello, will remain, but its 22 teachers and 12 instructional assistants will each be interviewed by curriculum specialists and another principal to determine whether they should stay. "Teachers are not being dismissed," Perry said. "If they are not selected to go back to Maury, they will go to another school."
Teachers who stay on will receive a $3,000 bonus and will have additional duties, such as providing after-school tutoring and making contact with students' families. If the school meets accreditation standards in two years, teachers will receive another $3,000 bonus, she said.
In the last three years, Maury has lagged behind as Alexandria's other schools continued to improve on SOL exams. By 2007, all public schools in Virginia must meet the SOL standards or risk losing accreditation. In 2001 and 2002, Maury received a provisionally accredited/needs improvement rating. Last year, it dropped a notch to "accredited with warning" ranking.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law last year, any school that does not make adequate progress after four years will be required to make staff and program changes and extend the school day or year.
Initially, teachers at Maury were concerned that the superintendent's actions would reflect badly on them, said Lisa Cashion, executive director of the Education Association of Alexandria, which represents about 1,000 teachers.
"We thought this could send a message to the community that the teachers are to blame," Cashion said. "I don't believe that is the perspective of the administration or the School Board."
In a speech last month at a School Board public hearing, Francis Chase, the association's president, said redistricting caused instability at the school, which has had four principals in six years. "No faculty could overcome such obstacles," Chase said.
So far, Cashion said she has not received any complaints from teachers. Cashion said the teachers group generally opposes special pay provisions but is not taking a stand against the bonuses because they come with "different expectations and more duties in this case."
Maury's PTA president, John Sprinkle, whose 5-year-old son is enrolled at the school, said parents were worried at first that the transition would cause more disruption. Besides the turnover in principals, the school is undergoing a $2 million renovation.
"Between a new school and new teachers, we think this a good thing," Sprinkle said. "We hope this helps the students that are there and encourages people to come to Maury."