Activist Group Rallies Support Ahead of Leesburg School Boundary Vote

There have been a dozen meetings about Leesburg school attendance zone boundaries in the past two months, but none like this.

A standing-room-only crowd of about 200 parents and students packed a room at the Rust Library on Tuesday to protest a proposal by the Loudoun County School Board to reassign hundreds of low-income and non-English-speaking elementary students to schools closer to their homes.

It would reverse a 2011 board decision that distributes about 700 elementary students living in apartments and townhouses near Edwards Ferry Road and Plaza Street to schools as far as three miles away. But that change would also concentrate most of the town’s low-income and Hispanic elementary students to two schools, Leesburg and Frederick Douglass.

That community is at the center of the debate. Few of the residents who live in the neighborhood have attended the School Board’s public hearings. But Educate Don’t Segregate, a group formed in the past week out of the heated debate, did its part to mobilize those families during Tuesday’s session.

“You are a part of our community. We are stronger for having you here. We need your voice in this conversation,” Evan Macbeth, a Frederick Douglass Elementary parent who led the meeting, said to loud cheers.

An interpreter stood alongside Macbeth and translated his comments in Spanish throughout the meeting. And sheets of paper were distributed outlining—in both English and Spanish—principles that the group is urging the School Board to follow as it draws attendance lines.

“We want to make sure everyone in the room understands what we’re talking about,” Macbeth said.

A Univision camera captured the packed Educate Don’t Segregate meeting. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)
A Univision camera captured the packed Educate Don’t Segregate meeting. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

The elementary attendance lines have to be redrawn to reduce overcrowding at Evergreen Mill Elementary School. The Educate Don’t Segregate group favors reassigning just enough students, about 200, to reduce enrollment at that school. But some School Board members see the boundary process as an opportunity to reverse what they consider an unwarranted distribution of the town’s poorest and non-English-speaking students. They have said that families will have more opportunity to be involved in a school that is closer to their homes.

[See related article, “School Leaders Eye Paradigm Shift for Leesburg Boundaries.”]

But Macbeth said that students, even those who ride the bus a few miles each morning and afternoon to class, have built ties in their school. “Each of these schools has a strong community in the greater Leesburg area, and we want to preserve and extend those school communities, not break them apart,” he said.

The group graded four of the proposed boundary maps under consideration by the board. They voiced support for Plan 6, one drawn up by board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg) to maintain the model of distributing students across the town’s schools to balance enrollment by socioeconomics. They spoke against Plan 12, drafted by Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) and board member Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin), which would send students to the school closest to their homes as space permits. That map, Macbeth said, “is least likely to yield the best educational results for students based on the current state of national and local education research.”

[See all of the plans here.]

He stressed that the Educate Don’t Segregate group wants the board to just make the changes that are immediately needed by assigning the fewest students possible, and have a separate, thorough discussion about what type of school settings are best for students outside of the time-strained and emotional boundary process.

Gretchen Falter and Anna Peach hold up a sign opposing the school board’s “Plan 12” after the meeting. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)
Gretchen Falter and Anna Peach hold up a sign opposing the school board’s “Plan 12” after the meeting. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

School Board members who support revamping school assignments have cited their own set of research to support their stance. They said that eastern Loudoun elementary schools with more than 70 percent of low-income and non-English speakers have made impressive improvements in test scores in recent years because the school system has provided them with additional staff.

It would do the same for Leesburg and Frederick Douglass elementary schools, Debbie Rose (Algonkian) said during a March 14 meeting. “We can take what they’ve done and apply it in these schools. … We have authority here to find a way to solve the problem.”

Earlier this week, School Board member Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) said the Educate Don’t Segregate group is mischaracterizing the board’s intentions and implying that it is developing attendance zones based on students’ ethnicity or economic status.

“That’s completely untrue,” she said. “We’re basing boundaries based on proximity to where they live and taking into account the benefits of having a school within their neighborhood, a chance to be involved in school activities, summer school, giving parents easier access to attend parent-teacher conferences…all of the same criteria that we look at for every other LCPS student across the district.”

She added that under Plan 12, “The students who have been zoned based on ethnicity and economic status can now return to their neighborhood school just like every other student across Loudoun.”

Reyna Cruz, who attended Tuesday’s Educate Don’t Segregate meeting, said she wants her youngest daughter to stay at Frances Hazel Reid Elementary, even though she rides a bus past two closer elementary schools. “Yes, it is further away. But it’s a much better school with more resources,” she said, with the help of her oldest daughter translating. She thinks her youngest daughter, Tiffany, does better when surrounded by students of various backgrounds, as opposed to mostly Spanish-speaking kids. “She’s learning English faster, and she’s happy.”

The smiling 8-year-old chimed in. “I don’t want to move schools. I have a lot of friends I wouldn’t want to leave.”

Marshall, who sat on the board in 2011 when the current boundaries were set, acknowledged that there is no plan that everyone will like. “There are trade offs,” he added. “If studies show economic balance is better for students, then the trade off is a longer bus ride for some and dealing with the transportation issue.”

The hundreds who gathered at the library Tuesday are expected to make their positions known to board members when they return from spring break and meet for a vote on the matter Tuesday, March 29. Macbeth urged the parents to “show up in force,” wear brightly colored shirts and fresh-off-the-press sticker “Educate Don’t Segregate,” and sign up to speak.

“They need to hear from you,” he said. “You can make your voices known.”

[See more on the boundary process: Debate Over Race and Class Surface in School Boardroom.”]

School board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg) answers questions on camera for Univision. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)
School board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg) answers questions on camera for Univision. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

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19 thoughts on “Activist Group Rallies Support Ahead of Leesburg School Boundary Vote

  • 2016-03-22 at 9:56 pm

    Jill Turgeon was quoted as saying “We’re basing boundaries based on proximity to where they live and taking into account the benefits of having a school within their neighborhood…all of the same criteria that we look at for every other LCPS student across the district.

    That is a lie. When the key supporters of Plan 12 rezoned northern Ashburn in 2012, led by Ashburn’s rep Hornberger himself, they decided to bus nearly half of Lansdowne 5 miles down Rt 7 to Steuart Weller. They passed 3 other schools in Ashburn that were closer (guess those families don’t get even a remotely close school, eh Jill and Eric?) and based their decision on using Lansdowne students to lower the FRL rate of Weller to about 20%. Rose, Hornberger, Turgeon are simply congenital liars. You cannot trust a single word that comes out of their mouths.

    Here are their loyalties:

    1. DeKenipp wants to turn his kids school, Evergreen Mill, into a low-poverty school going from 40% FRL to ~5% despite it already having great results. He also wants to pay back his old neighbors in Potomac Station returning them to Tolbert and booting out all the poor kids from Tolbert, even those who live within walking distance.

    2. Rose is terrified that Algonkian schools will not be able to remain segregated with high-poverty Sterling just across Rt. 7. She knows that it is untenable to have integration in Leesburg but not in Sterling. I advocate for an immediate redistricting in Algonkian/Sterling after this vote to right the wrongs that have been enacted there.

    3. Hornberger and Turgeon are just playing favorites again. Frankly, I’m not sure Turgeon understands anything that is going on anyway. But Hornberger must either be seeking retribution against an enemy or assisting an ally.

    The most ironic statement of the week was made on Debbie Rose’s closed Facebook page. When asked whether she would ask for help to interpret the research, she declined and said she was “up to the task“. During the last week, Debbie Rose has been unable to even comprehend the results of the Fairfax schools analysis. She failed to even observe or comprehend Professor John Friedman’s testimony, of Brown University, against this very Loudoun County school board. Aggressive ignorance – believing one understands when one is spectacularly wrong – is possibly the most dangerous attitude anyone in power can have. I guess Debbie is just taking after her hero – Donald Trump – who recently said his best adviser was himself.

  • 2016-03-22 at 10:51 pm

    The intentions of the School Board are less important than the results. The end result of the proximity-based plans is de facto segregation, and “Educate Don’t Segregate” is completely correct to name it as such. Just because segregation isn’t explicitly de jure doesn’t remove its harms.

    I think we also need to be skeptical about the promises of additional funds for these two Leesburg schools – the School Board’s already facing the possibility of having to make budget cuts depending on the Board of Supervisors’ upcoming tax rate vote. What is the School Board going to cut to pay for the extra help those schools will need?

  • 2016-03-23 at 7:13 am

    Awesome article. Thanks to the Educate, Don’t Segregate crowd. Quality schools > close schools.

  • 2016-03-23 at 7:56 am

    Except for the kids you moved from Creighton’s last year to sycolin. They don’t get to go to their neighborhood school. And also the 200 you displaced tobdo that. All so you don’t have to disrupt Ashburn. This is all because of Ashburn getting their way because they are tired of being redrawn and the rest of the county must suffer as well for the poor development choices.

  • 2016-03-23 at 10:47 am

    Mr. McBeth was correct in saying “Each of these schools has a strong community in the greater Leesburg area, and we want to preserve and extend those school communities, not break them apart,”
    My view because I grew up in a Title 1 school is this… The school only 5 miles away from us had better playgrounds because of the PTO, better computers, better field trips, better teachers and a more robust education. Yes it is true that the teachers would make the same amount, however, you are changing the complexity of all these schools with the same demands of a school in a more affluent area. Also these students will be missing out on experiences that they will not get at a Title 1 school. Right now they are being exposed to different levels of living. They get to strive and dream of things that they don’t know exist if they were in a Title 1 school. They get to have experiences that they might not have if they were in a Title 1 school (see my experience above). Everyone at the schools that are integrated have a more positive learning experience. The students who are within walking distance learn valuable lessons as well such as diversity, tolerance, friendships, and a more robust knowledge of how the world works outside of their own neighborhood. Both sides benefit from each other. And let’s face it ALL of the schools are overcrowded. My view is based on experience from both sides of the tracks.

  • 2016-03-23 at 12:50 pm

    This group better get a handle on what’s it is advocating. On the one hand, it says that integration is “better for all” and that test scores rise. On the other hand, folks are saying that poverty has a “school effect” and that for each % pt school poverty rises, student outcomes fall over and above any effect from individual family poverty. Those are mutually exclusive arguments. Here are the different sides:

    1. Pro-integration for integration’s sake
    – argues that some poverty/diversity is good for kids.
    – doesn’t have concrete metrics in the research but simply point to better “critical thinking skills” without any specific measures
    – seems to be advocating mostly for ESL students, many of whom are likely illegal immigrants
    – asking for more money mainly to help ESL students achieve their best. This is a self-defeating argument because you are essentially asking US citizens to cough up more $$$ for the interests of folks who are here illegally. That is the whole reason this dispute has occurred. Many on this side do not want the US gov’t to restrict illegal immigration as they view it as a good thing. There is no quicker way to lose this debate than to take this position.
    – appear to be arguing that both the FRLESL students in a 60% FRL school and the rich students in a 5% FRL school will be “losing out” because they lose contact with each other

    2. Pro-integration for fairness sake
    – these folks acknowledge that school-level poverty has a deleterious effect on ALL students at a given school, be they rich, poor, ESL or whatever
    – argue that it’s not fair to abandon the 40% of the non-FRL students in an artificially created Title 1 school with 60%+ FRL and 50%+ ESL status
    – argue that when ESL and FRL students are spread out, it’s easier to handle for the school and that LCPS can keep most schools around the 20-30% level
    – might also argue that LCSB has failed to provide these schools the additional resources that they deserve when FRL populations are at 20% or higher. There is no need to wait on a title 1 school status or for more $$ from the BOS for differentiated instruction. FRL students (be they white, black, hispanic, etc.) are estimated to cost 40% more per pupil and that funding (mainly via class size and/or tutors) should be provided (have been provided) in the current/past budgets

    The other issue that this group must address is whether this concept should be applied to the rest of Loudoun. It seems untenable to argue that only Leesburg should be integrated. If that is your position, then state why Leesburg should be but Sterling should not be integrated with Algonkian. Avoiding this issue is crazy as you will lose in court.

    And this group should jettison Evan MacBeth as soon as possible. He thought he was at some Bernie Sanders/Dennis Kucinich rally last night talking about how we should jack up the tax rate and that we couldn’t expropriate funds from other LCPS schools to help the Leesburg ones. That is exactly what should be done now. Leaving these schools at 30-35% FRL/ESL with no additional help is not fair. That’s why so many non-FRL parents are complaining. Argue that LCPS should track (put kids not ready for grade-level instruction in classes with lower student ratios but don’t hurt the general ed kids) AND provide additional $$ as FRL/ESL rates rise on a sliding scale. Don’t wait till the combined % = 75%. Affluent kids are fine in a class with 28 students/teacher.

    You all are going to get creamed in court. It’s like trying to play checkers in a game of chess. It actually reminds me of arguing against VDOE and LCPS (Judkins) down in Richmond. They were totally unprepared for all of our arguments. And when you have an unbiased judge (like in Richmond), you win if your argument is better. This court case will be in federal court with a very competent judge. To claim that despite evidence to the contrary, integration is “just good” and that it’s ok for the board to zone Leesburg one way but Sterling another may get you a summary judgment… in favor of Plan 12.

  • 2016-03-23 at 6:09 pm

    “Affluent kids are fine in a class with 28 students/teacher.” “Both sides benefit from each other.”
    I’m sorry but as a parent, I expect more than a “just fine” education for my kids. The whole notion that smart kids will do just fine no matter what is really toxic and will lead to exodus from the schools. In Alexandria, there is tracking and honors programs that allows motivated students/families to get a high quality education prior to high school. In Loudoun, everybody is lumped together. All Middle school students at Smart’s Mill take Honors English. Seriously. Those on the low end likely benefit, those on the high end have lost an opportunity to be taught at an accelerated pace. But in Loudoun, education takes a back seat to more important matters like how many square feet your home is and what car you drive. Affluent/middle income Loudouners who send their kids to public schools are fooling themselves if they think they are getting an excellent education.

  • 2016-03-23 at 9:35 pm

    Just for the official record, not all 200 attendees we at the “rally” to support the educate don’t segregate cause. Many, many were there in vehement opposition to their cause and wanted to get a better understanding of the movement. Based on feedback, it was very similar to what Virginia SGP indicated and lacking true direction. It’s very saddening that interpreters were needed not only for the rally, but also for the Plaza Steet extended neighborhood to garner the extremely little support from the community to attent the “rally”. How are caretakers, parents, etc. supposed to assist their kids education as part of the overall “team” when they can’t speak or understand the common language, which is ENGLISH, which is also a large issue with a moderate percentage of the children who attend school with our kids who are being dummy-downed to their level? On a very local level, we need some leaders in the Leesburg community to reach-out to those in the Plaza Street Latino community to convey that learning our language is paramount for the future success of the kids, parents, etc. and integration into OUR extended community as it is a 2-way street. Everyone keeps wanting to dance around all the PC aspects of Plaza Street, but the reality is that the extended area is a massive, massive burden in about a dozen respects and yet we all keep trying to channel our liberal energies to help the people who apparently aren’t doing much to help themselves and continue to take and take. We will all continue to help generously, but their extended community needs to accept OUR values, and all that goes along with it, including deciding if they are going to stay in our town, county, state, or country, regardless of legal status, and ACTIVELY participate in affairs in lieu of being dragged along as part of a “Univision Dog and Pony Show”.

  • 2016-03-24 at 2:25 pm

    Dear Jill Thurgeon,

    If your statement is true then why am I having to drive my children to a school that is several miles down the road when my “neighborhood” school is within walking distance? Clearly you cannot make a statement that says “boundaries are based on proximity and this plan has students returning to their neighborhood school.” Stop making excuses for Plan 12.

  • 2016-03-24 at 5:11 pm

    Downtowner, EXACTLY!!!! You’ve hit the nail on the head. Some of us were bringing up this exact point on the WaPo article discussions. Or even for years….

    1. The whole reason I asked for value-added metrics data (SGPs) was because I was trying to determine if our schools were good in an objective way. I asked when Seldens Landing got rezoned because I wanted to compare it to Weller and the SOL data being discussed by the board is not sufficient to make that determination. Hornberger lied to me that it didn’t exist in 2012 when it had already been created in 2011. I am within weeks of getting the whole kit and kaboodle including down to the individual teacher level based on my Richmond case against VDOE.

    2. Tracking is the solution. Even in our affluent-only schools now, some kids are bored and some are struggling to keep up because everybody is lumped into the same classes. None of us had this “all-as-one” mentality when we grew up but now the PC crazies don’t want any parent to believe their child cannot learn as fast as any other child. That is simply false. The teachers will tell you in private they cannot teach so that the bright kids are challenged and the slower kids can keep up.

    3. Tracking is NOT illegal. One fix would simply be to teach honors classes at an honors level and let the strugglers drop the course. But teachers feel guilty about it so they dumb down the class. Obviously, if you have ESL students in the class, that gets exaggerated. The only ones who don’t actually want this tracking is what I call the pretender class of Loudoun county. They want to think their child is as smart as everyone else because they believe it reflects on them as parents. That’s not true in either case. The child ends up struggling. The kids who don’t want to be thrown into the deep end have too little time to learn the material and the bright kids are bored out of their minds.

    4. If we had tracking, this rezoning would not be contentious. You can still have student mixing because you wouldn’t need to track the social studies and science classes. Just track the core skills of math and English. The current students in schools with high FRL/ESL rates wouldn’t be slowed down as they currently are.

    5 . Will you and everyone else who feels the same way make a concerted effort to bring this up to the board? Some on the board don’t think there is a problem. They were never bored in school so they can’t imagine that any of our kids really are. They resent anyone claiming another student is brighter than their neighbor because that board member would have to acknowledge they are not as bright as their peers. That’s life. Get over it. There is always somebody else brighter than any of us are. If you are not willing to bring this up and force a discussion, then it will never get solved.

    6. Ever notice how the board only discusses the budget and rezonings but NEVER the actual instruction and quality thereof? When I asked about the PISA results, they buried them. The very first time I met with the principal of Seldens Landing (after learning about SGPs), I asked about tracking. She said she would never consider it. Why? In PTA meetings, we are not even allowed to talk about instruction. I’m down here in Williamsburg taking my kids to Jamestown/colonial village because our school canceled the 4th grade field trip. I think that’s a good decision based on time/cost but the parents lit into the principal about that cancellation at a PTA meeting. They were considered “engaged parents”. At that same PTA meeting, I asked why we were coercing kids to retake the SOLs and violating privacy rights (FERPA). The parents agreed with me but within a week I was banned from my kids’ school simply for calling out their illegal/unethical actions in front of other parents. If you ever ask an instruction question or policy question about performance, you are blacklisted.

    In the end, not every kid can learn calculus. Take Debbie Rose for example. In the Fairfax research, it talks about an inflection point regarding effects on test scores. In math terms, that is where the second derivative equals zero. The effect is still negative and increasingly negative as FRL rates rise, but it simply drops at a slower rate. Debbie got confused and thought the negative effect was getting smaller, thus a positive first derivative. Debbie simply cannot understand the very basics of calculus and functions. She should not be holding back the other students in her class (or members of the board) who can. But under current policy, we run the race at the pace of the slowest student. That is certifiably insane!

  • 2016-03-24 at 5:38 pm

    Jill Turgeon right now is asking “what in the world are they talking about”. Jill does not need to be holding anyone back!

  • 2016-03-25 at 8:17 am

    For folks that think I’m too harsh on Rose and Turgeon (like the Educate Don’t Segregate folks), remember that Rose first trotted out selective pass rates (only) for a few Sterling and Leesburg schools to make her case. She directed discussion to her own Facebook page so that she could ban critics. When constituents asked if she would consider having outside experts weigh in on the merits, Rose declined remarking “I am up to the task”! I simply pointed out that NO, Rose is nowhere near up to the task.

    Who in their right minds would oppose legitimate experts from the outside? I certainly had an expert come down to Richmond to testify against VDOE and LCSB. I like to think I’m more knowledgeable than most on effectiveness data, but none of us do this for a living or have published papers.

    What possible reason could Rose and Turgeon have for rejecting experts? Certainly if they had their minds made up and didn’t want their positions to get undermined, they would have incentives to block outside experts. Everyone can make up their own minds on the plans but I fail to see how anyone can justify Rose (et al)’s “know nothing” stance.

  • 2016-03-27 at 9:05 am

    While we are talking about the “know nothing” crowd on the school board, let’s revisit some of their great ideas:

    1. They opposed school board around the country from even learning more about Common Core. Their ignorance about CC is astounding. Instead of having some political slant, CC merely raises standards in English and math only. And it asks students to demonstrate their knowledge on more rigorous tests so kids are not given participation trophies for academics.

    2. Speaking of measuring objective results, the whole discussion on Leesburg’s rezoning has centered around SOL results. But you wouldn’t know it from prior school board discussions. They have asked that all SOLs be scrapped in favor of local, subjective assessments. In other words, Loudoun can go from an affluent district that scores high to a district that get 10/10 on every single assessment because …. well it’s officials and school board says so!

    3. Let’s not forget about the leader of that crowd, Delegate Tag Greason. He told a tearful story of how his 3rd grade daughter was traumatized by having to take the SOL. Greason serves down in Richmond in the state capitol. I took my kids on a Virginia history tour for spring break and have always been a big fan of Thomas Jefferson whose statue is so prominent in the capitol he designed. Jefferson would be turning over in his grave knowing that folks like Tag are trying to dumb down our curriculum and eliminate any objective standards for K-12 education.

    These folks lack the critical thinking skills to analyze test scores or understand the new CC standards. But they are the **** in charge. Lord help all the kids in Loudoun!

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