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Accreditation Denied at MLK Middle School

When the school accreditation results were released last October, MLK Middle’s status was listed as “to be determined.” In a press release on Thursday, the VDOE reported that the school has been denied accredidation.

The 2015-2016 school year is the first for the school under Principal Derrick Scarborough and a somewhat reconstituted staff after years of ineffectual leadership, a disintegrating culture, and plummeting test scores. Word has it that Scarborough has been given job #1 to first rebuilt the environment and culture at MLK instead of chasing standardized test results. This has been (for the most part) the most outwardly quiet year at the school in a while.

When a school is denied state accreditation, the local school board must submit a corrective action plan to the Board of Education and enter into a binding memorandum of understanding with the state board detailing steps to be taken to raise student achievement to state standards. Schools denied accreditation, however, do not lose state funding, nor are they subject to state takeover.

Elementary and middle schools are Fully Accredited if students achieve all of the following pass rates:

  • English – 75 percent or higher
  • Mathematics – 70 percent or higher
  • Science – 70 percent or higher
  • History – 70 percent or higher

In addition to Fully Accredited and Accreditation Denied, there are a number of new status options this year, including:

  • Partially Accredited: Approaching Benchmark-Pass Rate, Approaching Benchmark-Graduation and Completion Index (essentially very close to passing)
  • Partially Accredited: Improving School-Pass Rate, Improving School-Graduation and Completion Index (essentially made enough of an improvement from last year)
  • Partially Accredited: Warned School-Pass Rate, Warned School-Graduation and Completion Index (essentially did not make the score, was not close, did not improve, but hasn’t been bad long enough to lose accreditation)
  • Partially Accredited-Reconstituted School (did not meet the requirements for full accreditation for four consecutive years and has been reconstituted, and has not made it to one of the other categories yet)

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neighbor 02/01/2016 at 9:14 AM

This is why the focus on raising $35,000 for a baseball field is misplaced. We should not be worrying about extracurricular activities when the students can’t read or write.

John M 02/01/2016 at 10:15 AM

I’d argue the exact opposite.

While the test scores are terrible, the problem isn’t the students’ can’t read or write. The issue, in my experience, is behavior and a lack of focus (by the student) and structure (homelife).

Involvement in anything positive outside of the classroom/home both gives the student another way to learn responsibility and being part of something larger than themselves, and another area where they can succeed individually.

Involvement with a team also offers the student access to another adult in their life who can be a positive, stable force. One of the huge success stories at MLK year after year is the cheerleading squad, due to the love and work of one great teacher/coach.

Broken culture 02/01/2016 at 11:21 AM

A shiny new building doesn’t fix the systemic issues, including the many that are outside the walls of the school. Fixing the “culture” has both internal and external components, and when home life is garbage, and parents (if even present) aren’t parenting, then teachers and admin have a tough row to hoe. We keep throwing money at problems when money can’t fix the most pervasive issues.

Karen Jones 02/01/2016 at 11:35 AM

I agree with John. While my children did not grow up with any of the challenges that the students at MLK face, their academic development was still enriched by outside activities in sports and the arts. They gained confidence and learned social and leadership skills that they would not have gotten from the classroom alone. I know this probably not the best analogy, but I think it brings home the point that a student is not just made in the classroom. I once read an interview with an Ivy League admissions officer who said that if he had the records of two students in front of him and all things were equal but one had taken music lessons he would pick that student every time. They learn to think more creatively. I think good outside activities can teach a kid to think in a different ways. You learn how to balance many factors in order to make a decision that is not in the abstract. Also sports in particular teach kids the importance of taking care of your bodies through exercise – something missing with many kids today. And of course everything John said about these kids having a positive adult influence in their life is crucial.

BAF 02/01/2016 at 11:38 AM


If I recall, in a previous thread, I think you said you worked at MLK at some point, so I’d be interested in your perspective on this question:

You mention this structure/homelife issue. That is something that is fundamentally beyond the control of the school’s teachers and administrators, yet it stands to reason that it would be a major contributing factor in-school outcomes. I remember talking with someone who was reviewing a push by Petersburg schools to get more funding, who said, to the effect of “even with more funding, the problem in so many cases is that these kids go home every night to chaos.”

How does MLK overcome an obstacle like that? Is it even realistic?

John M 02/01/2016 at 12:16 PM

@BAF – that is the *huge* question, right?

Yeah, I was at MLK for 8 years, and at an alternative school in Henrico for a year before that. I taught special ed for a while, and 6th grade history. I was the MindGames coach for 4 or 5 years.

I saw a ton of half-implemented programs thrown at MLK while I was there. Almost all had merit in some way or another, but were difficult to make succeed because they were all just add-ons to the structures in place. A real environment change could make a huge difference.

If it were up to me, I’d throw resources at creating a 100 small communities in the school. Make sure each kid is involved in some way with something that offers another structure, another pull to be at school and to be engaged. There’s got to be a channel for positivity, personal engagement and responsibility, adult support, and structure coming from somewhere. You’ve got to make the school environment seem a lot smaller, with a sense of community there strong enough to cut through everything else.

This can’t be built on the backs of teachers or existing staff, though – these folks for the most part are already giving it their all in the classroom every day. Look at the success that Richmond Cycling Corps has had, and the work that they have to regularly put in to have that impact.

My $.02.

BAF 02/01/2016 at 12:39 PM


So, if I am hearing you right it would take a huge influx of money for (I’m guessing) a lot more staff.

It makes sense, but in Richmond, given they can’t even maintain the schools with the current revenue stream–and raising taxes is probably unrealistic when real estate taxes are something like 25% higher than Henrico, that seems like a long shot to have happen.

What’s sad is that without it, they can reconstitute the school every week, change the leadership every month, and see no improvement, if a major driver is outside of the school’s realm of control. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to go to work each day, knowing your school has this scarlet letter of non-accreditation, and yet also knowing that turning it around is not fully in your control.

John M 02/01/2016 at 12:47 PM

@BAF – it’s a conundrum for sure. MLK as a school is carrying the burden of the concentration of the regions’s poverty.

It is hard seeing the students and teachers take hits for the situation when so much of it really is beyond their control.

Accreditation or not was never really high on my daily radar as a teacher. You go in every day thinking about your classes, your students, that day’s lesson. The event horizon stays real close.

BAF 02/01/2016 at 2:00 PM

@John–I suspect it stays very close indeed. Thank you for sharing your insights. I appreciate it greatly.

neighbor 02/01/2016 at 5:02 PM

This extracurricular activities issue and arts/music in school is a long on going debate. My concern is that though there is a focus on the village mindset to raise the children, if the employer or school admissions officer has two students to consider, the students have to be equal academically first.

I was raised that extracurricular activities were just that, extra. One did not play sports, join the drama club, or take music/art class when the educational fundamentals are lacking. There are only so many hours in the day and the focus should be on academics until a level of competency is achieved. I was raised that extracurricular activities, or going outside to play, was not allowed until the homework was done successfully.

Though sports, arts, and music may develop a more rounded citizen, those activities are not going to lay the groundwork for a successful life and break the cycle of poverty.

If our society spent a fraction of the money on education as is spent on sports (look at the price for a 30 second commercial during the Super Bowl) our communities and students would be better off.


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