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McDonnell Talks School Takeover Law at Alexandria Forum

Gov. Bob McDonnell says local control of schools is key, but that the state is obligated to step into persistently struggling schools.

McDonnell Talks School Takeover Law at Alexandria Forum

Gov. Bob McDonnell says there is broad agreement in Virginia about increasing rigor, resources and classroom performance in K-12 education, but different ideas on how to get there.

One idea from the governor’s office—the creation of a state body that can take over specific struggling schools—has been greatly maligned by the Alexandria School Board.

Members of the board want to maintain local control of Jefferson-Houston School, which has lost accreditation and is in line for takeover from the new Opportunity Educational Institution.    

McDonnell, Alexandria School Board members and other city officials discussed the issue Thursday at T.C. Williams High School during a forum on improving K-12 education in the state.

“With OEI, we can appreciate the effort to focus on struggling schools,” Alexandria School Board Chair Karen Graf said. “But we feel as written it does not collaborate with the local school district.”

The bill requires any school that has been denied accreditation or has been accredited with warning for three consecutive years to be transferred to the control of an OEI board. The schools are to remain under OEI control for five years or until the school achieves full accreditation.

The bill also sets forth requirements for student attendance, staffing and funding.

The governor said the state has a “constitutional obligation” to provide high-quality, free education for all.

“If we don’t keep standards, accountability and resources high, we’re failing,” McDonnell said to reporters after the forum. “OEI is one tool that we have. … After three or four years, if a school is still getting a D or an F, the state has to step in. … I’m here to collaborate [with the Alexandria school board]. We need to find out how we make this work best.”

He also said that the most important element to quality education and achievement is a local government and school board “that shows love for its children.”

McDonnell said the governor’s office will continue to do its part and asked Alexandria officials to keep telling state officials what’s going right and what’s going wrong with new legislation.

“We strive for academic progress and helping every kid, not just looking at school houses,” Graf said. “It’s a student-by-student effort, not school-by-school.”

School Board member Chris Lewis said the state-local dialogue would be effective in tackling the citywide issue of kids showing up to school as kindergarteners ready to learn.

“That’s an issue that’s spread all over our schools,” he said. “We need flexibility to come from the state to make sure we’re looking at the early education issue.”  

After the forum, McDonnell said his visit as part of a tour of the Commonwealth was not a “rehabilitation” effort following the news he is under federal investigation for unreported gifts. He has said he has returned all gifts and repaid all loans.

“I’ve done this every year I’ve been in office,” he said of the tour. “We tour the Commonwealth every year around August. … It gives us a chance to talk about some of the things we do in Richmond that [residents] might not know about.”

The visit marked a rare official appearance in Alexandria from McDonnell, who graduated from Bishop Ireton High School and worked for the city for several college summers helping prepare for the country’s Bicentennial.

“This is a special place,” he said. “I have fond memories of this great city.”

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