When the Washington Jesuit Academy (WJA) was founded in 2002, its leaders sought to answer an important question: “What more can we do for our students, our families, and our community to change the face of urban education?” During a recent visit, staff from the Office of Non-Public Education sought to identify lessons that could be shared with other educational leaders who are trying to answer this same question. WJA, a Catholic middle school for boys from low-income neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., has established a model that seeks to defy the city’s opportunity gap and prepare its students for long-term success. The school provides tuition assistance as well as social, nutritional, and health services to nearly 100 students, an enrollment intentionally kept low to ensure students receive focused, individualized attention.
“We really don’t care if it’s public or private” stated Veronica Tate, director of the Office of Administration and Accountability at the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). “We want to make sure parents have the right and most up-to-date information to make good choices.”
In April 2014, the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Office of Non-Public Education (ONPE) facilitated a promising practices webinar in which officials from the VDOE and Virginia Council for Private Education discussed their successful partnership to launch a state-level equitable services working group. The state takes its obligation to provide equitable services seriously, and has taken a deliberate review of the law and associated guidance. “It is up to us,” Tate emphasized, to “ensure that our students, parents and the teachers … are served.” In addition, she indicated that technical assistance provided by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) influenced the state’s efforts to help districts understand their obligation to provide equitable services under applicable federal education programs.