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History of Lyles-Crouch

Knowing Our School’s History: Introducing Mr. Lyles and Mrs. CrouchDuring segregation, when white and African American students attended separate schools, many schools for blacks bore the names of prominent black historical figures, like Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. But in the early 20th century, Alexandria named its schools in honor of the City’s early African American educators. Parker-Gray School, which opened in 1920, was named for John F. Parker, the principal of the Snowden School where African American boys once attended, and Sarah A. Gray, who served as principal of the Hallowell School where African American girls went to school.

In 1934, Alexandria announced plans to open a new school to serve to the growing black community on the south side of the city. Located in an old silk factory, Lyles-Crouch opened in 1935. Like Parker-Gray, Lyles-Crouch was named to recognize the contributions of two local educators of color — Rozier D. Lyles and Jane A. Solomon Crouch.

Rozier D. Lyles was born in 1863 in Alexandria as a free person of color. Both his parents were born as free people. When Rozier's father, Reverend Richard H. Lyles, was a teenager, he worked for a white school that was run by the Hallowell family prior to the Civil War. His father's exposure to education might have been the spark that ignited 

Rozier to become a teacher. The Lyles family had the means to educate Rozier and all their other children. In addition to being a reverend at Roberts Chapel (today Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church), Richard Lyles also worked as a caulker on ships. The Lyles family owned a number of real estate properties throughout Alexandria.
Rozier started teaching elementary school around 1883 at the Snowden School, Alexandria’s first public school for African American boys. In 1889, he married Mary Etta Henderson. By 1892, Mary had died from consumption and Mr. Lyles never married again. He continued to teach at Snowden School until Parker-Gray School opened in 1920, when he became one of eleven teachers selected to be the first teachers at the new school. He taught sixth grade and was known as a strict teacher who focused on mathematics, prompting his students to nickname him “Mr. Mathematics.” Mr. Lyles and his niece, Laura Dorsey, were teachers at the same school until he retired at the end of the school year in 1929.

In his retirement, he found employment with the Belle Haven Golf and Country Club. On November 30, 1933, Mr. Lyles died. He had spent 46 years as a teacher in Alexandria. Less than two years after his death, Lyles-Crouch School opened. With this school named in his honor, his family and former students saw that Mr. Mathematics would always be remembered.

While some people believe the school was named to recognize a teacher named Caroline “Carrie” Crouch, it is very likely a tribute to Carrie’s mother, Jane Solomon Crouch. In 1935 when the school opened, Carrie was still teaching and was known by her full married name, Carrie Crouch Brooks. But her mother, born 100 years earlier, was the educational pioneer.

Although her father had been enslaved, Jane Solomon was born free in Alexandria. Jane and her sister Sarah attended the St. Frances Academy, a school in Baltimore run by an order of Catholic nuns. During the years of slavery, it was against the law in many states to teach enslaved people to read and write. In Alexandria, which was part of the District of Columbia at the time, there were some opportunities for African Americans to attend school and Jane also went to a school in Alexandria run by a woman named Sylvia Rogers. But when Alexandria again became part of Virginia in 1847, authorities cracked down and closed such schools.

As a young woman, Jane wanted to use her education to teach others of her race and while she feared the risk of teaching enslaved children, she did teach free people of color. When the Civil War began in 1861, Union troops immediately occupied Alexandria and soon hundreds and then thousands of people seeking freedom from slavery came to Alexandria. Jane and others saw the importance of empowering them through education and in October 1861, she and Sarah Gray established the St. Rose Institute on South West Street where former slaves could attend school in the evening.

By this time, Jane had married a man named Frederick W. Nicholls Crouch. Their daughter Carrie was born around 1867 and Jane was committed to Carrie’s education, sending her to the school in Baltimore that Jane had attended. Mrs. Crouch The Mane Chronicle The Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy Newsletter Spring 2015 edition wrote that she wanted Carrie to receive a “thorough course of training” so that “her usefulness may be a blessing to her race.”

After years of teaching during slavery and wartime, in 1870 Mrs. Crouch became officially qualified through an examination to teach public school in Alexandria. She first taught second grade girls and later taught third and fourth grade at the Hallowell School which was located on North Alfred Street. She continued to improve her own skills, attending a summer session at what today is Hampton University.

During the 1881-82 school year, Mrs. Crouch became seriously ill and was unable to continue teaching. On March 12, 1882, she died of a respiratory infection, probably pneumonia or tuberculosis. Her funeral at St. Mary’s Church brought an “overflowing attendance,” according to one account. Alexandria officials recalled her as an “excellent disciplinarian and devoted to her work” and also noted that “though her acquirements were limited, she made the best use of them for the elevation of her race, and deserves their grateful remembrance.”

The contributions and commitment of Jane A. Solomon Crouch were remembered more than 50 years later when a new school bearing her name opened to serve Alexandria’s African American students.

Snapshot of Our School

Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy (LCTA) is a K-5 urban public school located in Alexandria, VA.  Its diverse and dynamic student body is composed of students from historical Old Town Alexandria as well as from many other neighborhoods throughout the city.  The student body of 440 students is 52% White, 35% Black, 10% Hispanic, and 3% Asian. There are 16 languages represented among the students with 11.6% of the population identified as English Language Learners (ELL).  There are 38 students (or 8.6%) receiving Special Education services.  Because of the school’s proximity to Washington, D.C., it has a mobility rate of 19.8% due to military personnel, Department of State employees, and other government worker transfers.  The school’s free and reduced meals program supports 85 children (about 19.4% of the student body) from the subsidized housing projects and the city’s homeless shelters within its attendance zone.

The original Lyles-Crouch Elementary School began in 1934 in an abandoned shirt factory located at 501 South Pitt Street (the school’s current playground area).  The school was designated for the “education of colored children” and remained in the shirt factory until overcrowding precipitated the construction of a new facility on the same property in 1958, but on the other side of the lot at 530 South St. Asaph Street.  The school remained segregated until 1973 when it was paired with the all-White Maury Elementary School.  Lyles-Crouch housed integrated grades 4 through 6 while Maury served integrated Kindergarten through 3rd grade.  In 1993, the Alexandria City Public Schools’ (ACPS) School Board decided to move 6th grade to the intermediate level creating a K-2 school at Maury and had grades 3-5 taught at Lyles-Crouch. However, de facto segregation was prevalent through this time period with White families attending Maury for grades K-2, but these same families chose private or parochial schools for grades 3-5.  In addition, the student enrollment at Lyles-Crouch dropped to under 125 students and was nearly all Black.  So in 1999, to assist in the desegregation of the school district, the ACPS School Board unpaired Maury Elementary and Lyles-Crouch Elementary and created the Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy (LCTA) to entice the White families to attend their neighborhood school.  A new structured approach to education was instituted with a longer day, school uniforms, a focus on the four content areas (Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies), smaller classes (15:1 student-teacher ratio), and a behavior contract for parents and students to sign.  The building was renovated to update the facility, but no additional classrooms were added.  In order to draw White families from the West End of Alexandria to LCTA a lottery was initiated (the lottery ended in 2010 when student enrollment increased).  By the 2003-2004 school year, the student body had increased to 192, but the school was still over 65% Black and not drawing in the children from the surrounding neighborhood.

A new principal (Patricia Zissios, Ph.D.) was hired in 2004 and introduced the Core Knowledge curriculum.  Based on the work of Dr. E.D. Hirsch, Core Knowledge (CK) is a traditional approach to teaching with a content-rich curriculum which continuously builds background knowledge in students while promoting critical thinking skills and student engagement.  The CK Sequence outlines the precise content that every child should learn in language arts/literature, history/geography, mathematics, science, and the visual/performing arts.  LCTA was recognized as an official CK School in 2009 and then became a Core Knowledge School of Distinction in 2015 through a rigorous vetting process (one of only ten schools of the over 1200 CK schools nationally and internationally to earn the designation).  The designation was awarded again in 2021.  Because of Core Knowledge, LCTA is the highest performing school in ACPS and in the top 10% of all elementary schools in Virginia.  Its statewide results for 2018 were 97% English, 96% Math, 97% Science, and History 93%.  (Previous years have also recorded results in the 90-99th percentile in all tested subjects).  More importantly, all subgroups met their benchmarks and performed exceedingly well:  MATH: Black 92%, Economically Disadvantaged 94%, Students with Disabilities 80%, English Learners 100%; ENGLISH: Black 93%, Economically Disadvantaged 93%, Students with Disabilities 91%, English Learners 100%.

The Lyles-Crouch community is very supportive and involved with their school.  LCTA was named a National School of Character in 2012 due to its service learning programs, parent involvement, after school programs (i.e. robotics, chess, crossfit, knitting, environmental science, instrumental music), and volunteer tutoring programs.  In addition, outreach activities and events are inclusive and multicultural (i.e. peer buddies, International Night, Math Academy Night, and Family Movie Nights).  It is a vibrant community that promotes academic excellence, character education, and parent engagement.