Parents look for ways to tackle student achievement issues in Petersburg

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PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — Parents and community members joined forces Wednesday night to boost academic achievement at Petersburg’s public schools after the state Department of Education released accreditation results.

The results come from standardized tests and graduation rates from last year. Only two of Petersburg’s six schools earned fully accredited status – an improvement from the year before, but parents are now looking for ways to further increase student performance.

“There’s so much more out there to learn and look forward to,” said Ashley Johnson, sitting at a circular table in the Petersburg High School cafeteria with other parents and community members.

9054f4785b294fa6abe8f62d6d7d19ccJohnson’s daughter Amaya is only in Pre-K, but she is already doing what she can to improve the preschooler’s future education.

“I want my children not be put into a box or think standardized tests are the only things they have to look forward to,” Johnson told 8News as parents made recommendations to school officials.

“Our parents have ideas and thoughts about what they believe a safe supportive learning environment looks like,” said compliance officer Dr. Patricia J. Johnson, who presented parents with a corrective action plan mandated by the state for the school system.

“This is all designed to improve student achievement,” Dr. Johnson explained.

Quality learning, strong teachers, and student safety were all goals that took top priority during discussions Wednesday night. The school system has a long way to go in meeting its goals.

“Our parents have ideas and thoughts about what they believe a safe supportive learning environment looks like.” — Dr. Patricia J. Johnson

Peabody Middle school is still one of the most poorly performing schools in the state, failing to become accredited for the 11th straight year.

Vernon Johns Junior High closed as a way to save money and students were moved to other schools. The students were split by determining which classes were the best for them. The 8th graders went to the middle school and 9th graders to the high school.

“We’re going over the action plan, and brainstorming what we’ve come up with individually,” A. Johnson said during the community engagement session of the back-to-school meeting. She added that getting more kids involved in the arts and service groups outside the classroom is a place to start.

“I want to see more facilitation of organizations that are not athletic or extracurricular that’s so merit-based,” she told 8News, opting for activities that focus less on competition and more on positive self-expression.

Two Petersburg schools are still in accreditation limbo- Robert E. Lee Elementary and J.E.B. Stuart Elementary. Those schools have applied for partial accreditation as reconstituted schools.

At the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Marcus Newsome also presented those in attendance with recommendations to save $3.4 million after the city of Petersburg drastically cut funding to the school system. Dr. Newsome proposed freezing all vacant positions not required by the Virginia Standards of Quality or state incentives, including eight elementary positions, ten secondary positions and three central office positions.

Dr. Newsome also proposed eliminating funding included in the current budget for educational program enhancements, including technology upgrades, smaller class sizes, classroom materials and supplies, and professional development.

In the upcoming budget development process for the fiscal year ending in 2018, the superintendent said additional reductions may be necessary, including staffing, salaries, and insurance benefits.

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