Good morning Chairman Catania and other members of the Council. My name is Vincent Morris and I am the President of the PTA for Peabody Pre-K, Watkins Elementary and Stuart Hobson Middle School – the Cluster school.
I have three daughters: one each in 6th, 4th and 2nd grade and I, like many of the parents who are engaged in public education, feel very strongly that school reforms and improvements can’t come soon enough.
This is an urgent issue for us and we support taking bold action to improve the school system to benefit all students in all wards. By that, I mean less focus on test scores, more programs to keep families from skipping off to charter or private schools and a full embrace of the effort to modernize school boundaries so they are logical and build community.
I’m going to begin by giving everyone a quick overview of the Cluster and some of our top areas of concern.
For starters, when you think of the Cluster, you probably think of Capitol Hill.
That’s not wrong but today the Cluster is composed primarily of students who live in Wards 7 and 8 and 4 and 5. We attract students from all corners of the city because the program at our school is among the best and most exciting east of Rock Creek Park.
We have one outstanding principal – Dawn Clemens – in charge of 3 school buildings and more than 1,200 students. The helps align the campus vertically and thematically but also gives parents a level of certainty and familiarity for their children from age 3 to 13.
Because of that size, year to year fluctuations in funding can cause real problems at all grades. So we’ve asked in the past and will ask again this year for consistent funding for our operating budget.
We also feel pretty strongly that Kaya Henderson has not followed through across the board on commitments to give middle schools new investments and a path to excellence. At Hobson our FARM population is triple that of Deal, our students are overwhelmingly African American and we have more poor families than that school – yet we are constantly under the gun advocating for resources.
At Stuart, we consistently do more with less.
On a related note, as you know our middle school does not have a full size athletic field for students and athletes. We argued for the construction of an underground parking garage to maximize green space for the school and neighborhood – just like DCPS did for schools like Janney in Ward 3 and will do for Duke Ellington in Ward 2. Others will speak more about this but I will say to you Chairman Catania that I appreciate your willingness to wade into this issue in an attempt to come up with logical alternatives.
While we argue about finishing the renovation at Hobson, the children at Watkins attend school each day in a building that is one of the most run down in the whole city.
The bathrooms never smell right and sometimes stop working. This winter we had leaks in the roof and water dripped into a classroom. Some of our heating units went out and students were forced to wear jackets, while other parts of the school were like a sauna. And windows are in many places taped shut to keep out squirrels, pollen and the elements. I won’t even get into the broader issues about the small spaces and dated layout.
It’s not logical for DCPS to push back the funding for Watkins by another year as the new budget for Fiscal Year 2015 proposes. If anything, the budget should be moved up and DCPS should take a good look at its facilities and programs and ask themselves why they’d impose a delay on Watkins and the 500 students and engaged parents there.
Finally, I want to say a word about the school nurse situation at Watkins. Unlike 90 percent of DC schools, we don’t have a full time nurse – which I’ve been told is because our students do not have as many chronic or profound health care issues or sicknesses as other schools.
By that logic, we could close ambulance service near Foggy Bottom because college students are healthy and close fire stations near Capitol Hill because everything is built with bricks and is less likely to catch fire.
In closing, I encourage the Council to work closely with the Chancellor on the budget during the next few months. I think DCPS has been spending money on the school system it wishes it was, rather than on the school system that it is. That needs to change.
TESTIMONY OF VINCENT MORRIS,
PRESIDENT CAPITOL HILL CLUSTER SCHOOL PTA
Education Budget Oversight Hearing
Thursday, April 17, 2014 10:00 a.m.
John A. Wilson Building, Room 500