Laura Hansen Marks
Council of the District of Columbia: Committee On Education
Councilmember David Catania, Chairman
Public Oversight Roundtable:
Student Assignment and School Boundaries Review Process
Friday, November 15, 2013, 9:00 am
Room 500, John A. Wilson Building
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Laura Marks. I am a resident of Ward 6 and the parent of two young children, one in first grade at School-Within-School and one in third grade at Watkins Elementary.
I am grateful for your visit to Watkins last month and will look forward to seeing you at School-Within-School on Monday. It is precisely because of your strong record of engagement with virtually every public school community in the city that I am particularly glad this Committee is focusing on the Student Assignment and School Boundaries Review Process.
I see this effort as a critical crossroads for public education in Washington, DC. This review is long overdue, and will help shape the future of our schools and neighborhoods for many years to come. I very much believe this process can and should be used to strengthen our neighborhood schools, providing a high-quality, predictable, by-right pathway from elementary through high school for every child in Washington, DC. I’m much less concerned about how and where boundaries are drawn than that every DC Public School is fully resourced and supported, with high quality programs and outstanding school leaders who are empowered to innovate and respond to the needs of their school communities.
Without strong, by-right, neighborhood pathways through school, we cannot build the kind of excellent academic programming that keeps families committed to DC Public Schools and ensures students are prepared to succeed in high school and beyond. Ward 6 elementary schools have experienced a tremendous resurgence of neighborhood involvement and enrollment in recent years. At Eastern High School, we have one of the country’s top principals in Rachel Skerritt, a rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme, and an absolutely beautifully renovated building – much nicer than any public school I ever attended.
But there is still a missing step on the road to Eastern.
We must build strong programs at the middle school level to attract students and families from our elementary schools and prepare them for success. The Museum Magnet Program at Stuart-Hobson Middle School and the coming IB Middle Years Programmes at Eliot-Hine Middle School and Jefferson Academy are important steps in that direction.
But to succeed, they need the appropriate resources, both in terms of programming budgets and facilities funding, to support those efforts. The full commitment of DCPS to strong neighborhood middle schools is absolutely essential.
I’m sure I join nearly every other parent in this city in hoping this process will be as transparent and collaborative as possible, with real and ongoing opportunities for community input and feedback. I look forward to your engagement in this regard, helping ensure parents and school communities are able to be heard, and our hopes for ways to strengthen our schools considered carefully throughout.
As a parent at School-Within-School as well as a neighbor, I also want to note my strong support for the creation of a proximity enrollment preference for prospective students living near the school. SWS has always valued its connection to the neighborhood, and the example of the rest of Ward 6 clearly shows how important community support is to the success of our public schools. To me, a proximity lottery preference strikes the right balance between protecting the enrollment stability at neighboring elementary schools, offering neighbors reasonable access to a high quality public school, and SWS’s desire to continue its long tradition of engagement with the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
In conclusion, it’s my hope the Student Assignment and School Boundaries Review Process will move our city toward a fully resourced system of high quality neighborhood public schools that offer families a stable, predictable, by-right path from preschool through high school. I welcome your engagement with this process and hope you continue to advocate for more parent and community voice throughout.