State set to takeover 2 Petersburg schools, vote on Henrico, Richmond schools

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Chronically low test scores at two Petersburg schools mean the state will takeover the failing schools at the end of the school year.

Five Richmond schools and one in Henrico could also soon be under state control due to low Standards of Learning test results, if a vote passes a newly created state authority.

A new law proposed by Governor Bob McDonnell and passed by the General Assembly allows the Commonwealth's newly created Opportunity Educational Institution (OEI) authority to supervise and operate schools that fail to receive accreditation from the State Board of Education (BOE).

Click here to see your school's accreditation ratings for 2013-2014:

Peabody Middle School and A.P. Hill Elementary in Petersburg were both denied accreditation Friday, the BOE announced. Under the new law, the state-run OEI automatically will takeover the failing schools, along with another in Alexandria and three in Norfolk at the end of the school year. OEI can also begin looking at the school's books in January.

Petersburg City Public School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Melvin expressed his disappointment with the results, while emphasizing the district's efforts to improve.

"I'm not happy with the results. We can do better and we will do better!" Dr. Melvin wrote in a statement.

"Petersburg City Public Schools (PCPS) has seen growth in some areas, including history. The foundation to improvement is being laid. Schools have been rezoned to reduce overcrowding. New principals, with proven track records of success, have been hired. Also, the school division has increased student reading time to 3.5 hours daily.

In an effort to increase academic achievement at all PCPS the division has improved accountability measures tied directly to student performance. Targeted professional development has been implemented for teachers, as well as, administrators.

Plans are moving forward to implement a year-round school program at Peabody Middle and A.P. Hill Elementary. This will allow for additional days in the classroom, remediation, and instructional time for students."

Wilder Middle School in Henrico, Dinwiddie County Middle School and Johns Junior High in Petersburg could also be taken over by run by the OEI for receiving an Accredited with Warning status by the BOE for three consecutive years. Five Richmond City Public Schools, Armstrong High School, George Wythe High School, John Marshall High School, Thompson Middle School and Boushall Middle School also received Accredited with Warning status for three or more consecutive years and could be subject to state takeover.

The OEI board must now vote on whether to take over the 19 schools receiving Accredited with Warning status, including those listed above. However, the board has not yet been formed or met according to the Governor's office.

To date, the House and Senate have made their appointments, but the governor's appointments are still being finalized. There is no date set for when that vote might take place.

The recently-passed law is already being challenged in court by the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) and Norfolk City School Board, arguing the law and the new body are unconstitutional. Several other school boards, including Petersburg, have passed resolutions supporting the lawsuit.

However, the Governor's Office stands by the law and the new authority.

"The governor firmly believes every child, no matter his or her zip code, deserves the opportunity to attend a good school. Further, the Virginia Constitution requires state government to provide high quality schools for all students, and gives the General Assembly the authority to establish the necessary institutions to achieve that requirement," said Governor McDonnell's Press Secretary Taylor Keeney. "The General Assembly made the policy decision last session that a means of last resort must be implemented to ensure every Virginia student receives the high quality education they deserve. If some want to sue to keep children in failing schools, that's incredibly disappointing. Virginia's parents and students deserve far better."

Virginia schools struggled with new SOL tests, with only 73 percent of the state's public schools receiving full accreditation for 2013-2014. A year earlier, 93 percent were fully accredited. The number of schools accredited with warning nearly quadrupled to 395, according to the BOE.

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