On Aug. 9, the Loudoun County School Board voted to keep the new International Baccalaureate program at Heritage High School, rather than moving it to Tuscarora High School.
Tom Marshall (Leesburg) brought a motion before the board that night to change the placement of the program to Tuscarora saying there was no rational reason provided for selecting the two schools.
Loudoun Valley High School was the other school selected.
Marshall had previously questioned the reasoning for that decision at the June 28 School board meeting, arguing Tuscarora was the better choice.
At the Aug. 9 meeting, Marshall said Tuscarora has the space for the program and said the population would benefit greatly from the resources the program would bring, and that the change to Tuscarora would be in line with the board’s equity core value in the strategic plan.
Marshall pointed to the upcoming attendance boundary changes this October that will impact Loudoun County, Heritage and Tuscarora high schools as reasons for the motion to change the school. He pointed out that Heritage is at 95% capacity and Tuscarora is at 73%.
“Students would have to move out of County into Heritage and or Tuscarora. Placement of Heritage at this time doesn’t take into consideration the numbers of students bussed outside of Leesburg into the IB program,” Marshall said.
Despite expressing amazement that the placement of the IB program was at two schools close together—in Purcellville and Leesburg—Marshall said he felt the IB program at Loudoun County should go forward as planned.
Deputy Superintendent Ashley Ellis said the two schools were decided upon in February and began the candidacy process then. She said IB International only accepts applications in April and June of each year.
Ellis said every high school was considered when deciding where to place the IB program. She said there were many factors including space, student access, leadership, staff capacity and location. She pointed out that just because two schools were chosen at this time didn’t mean there weren’t multiple other high schools that would fit the program in the future.
“I would love to have additional IB programs in the future,” Ellis said.
She said if the board voted to move the program from Heritage to Tuscarora, they would have to start the process again there—applications are specific to a school. She noted the process is about one to two years.
“To be clear, we cannot switch candidacy from one school to another,” said Ellis.
Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) said he opposed the motion because he felt the placement of funded academic programs at specific schools is an operational matter and not a matter the school board should overstep or overrule. Second, he believed switching schools would delay the process and jeopardize the program. He expressed frustration at Marshall for not taking opportunities sooner to provide feedback on the selection.
“The IB program and locations for them was discussed in committee numerous times in the past 12 months. Not once, not twice but five different times in the specialized programs committee,” Serotkin said. He pointed out that Marshall was absent for those meetings.
His final reason involved frustration over Marshall initially voting against the IB program during the budget process earlier this year, pointing out Marshall argued at that time that the program was a want, not a need.
Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) also opposed the motion for the reasons Serotkin said and expressed frustration at the lateness in providing feedback by Marshall.
“I also tire of sitting up here and listening to our staff being characterized as unresponsive and not willing to provide answers,” Sheridan said, addressing Marshall’s comments that he received no response to his questions about placement after the June board meeting.
“It is in my opinion unprofessional, and quite frankly rude to throw staff under a bus,” Sheridan said.
Denise Corbo (At Large) disagreed with Sheridan and Serotkin, defending Marshall and saying she believed he wasn’t on the board yet for some of the meetings.
“I do not agree with my colleague’s statements about the decision being made by the superintendent. Yes, he makes the decision, but the school board oversees it and changes directions as needed. That is our job. That is what we are supposed to do. I won’t take everything at face value what comes our way,” said Corbo.
Marshall apologized to Sheridan for offending her.
He also defended voting against the program initially saying at the time the school board was looking for budget cuts and there had been no outcry from the public that he was aware of that they were interested in an IB program.
He emphasized he respected and thought the IB program was a good program.
Marshall’s motion failed 5-4, with Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian), Jeff Morse (Dulles), Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn), Sheridan and Serotkin voting against. Andrew Hoyler (Broad Run), John Beatty (Catoctin), Marshall and Corbo voted for it.
Morse thanked his fellow board members for a great discussion that he said should have happened six months ago.
“This was not given the weight that perhaps it should have, and the boundary discussion just exacerbated the whole thing,” he said.
Morse agreed that the board needed to stay the course and stay with Heritage. He said the board needs to look at the boundary issue first, then see how things have shifted and look at enrollment projections before deciding on more schools for the IB program.
Tom Marshall withdrew from the Leesburg District School Board race on Aug. 15 citing his age, frustrations over not receiving previous endorsement from the Loudoun County Democratic Committee and Loudoun Education Association as well as frustrations over the IB school decision process.