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Suzanne Wells Testimony – DCPS Chancellor Hearing – December 8, 2016

DC City Council Committee on Education Public Hearing

Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools Antwan Wilson

Confirmation Resolution of 2016

December 8, 2016

Suzanne Wells

Eliot-Hine Middle School Parent

Founder, Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization (CHPSPO)

Thank you for the opportunity to testify at today’s hearing on the confirmation of Antwan Wilson as the next Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). 

On August 11, 2016, the Coalition for DC Public Schools and Communities sent a letter to Mayor Bowser identifying qualities the public school education advocacy groups felt were appropriate for the next Chancellor.  These qualities included:

  • Experience as a professional educator and administrator;
  • Tenacity in advocating for current and former DCPS families;
  • Commitment to healthy and productive relationships with principals, teachers, communities, parents and students;
  • Management skills encompassing core school business functions; and
  • Demonstrated support for a well-rounded education for every student.

Since Mayor Bowser announced the selection of Mr. Wilson on November 22, 2016, I have had the chance to read newspaper articles about his tenure in Oakland, attend a meet and greet with him, and speak to a parent from Oakland.  What I have learned is that Mr. Wilson is in fact a career educator who has experience working in and leading a large public school system.  He has experience bringing about positive change in low-performing schools, and seems genuinely committed to meeting the educational needs of all students and ensuring they get a well-rounded education.

Areas where I believe the Education Committee should take a close look at Mr. Wilson are his 1) tenacity in becoming an advocate for DCPS and 2) commitment to healthy and productive relationships with principals and teachers.

In DC, where we have a strong and robust public charter school sector, and where choice is strongly promoted through efforts like My School DC, it is absolutely imperative that the next Chancellor be a tenacious advocate for our city-run public schools.  At your roundtable last week, Cathy Reilly testified that Mr. Wilson should be held accountable for increasing the enrollment of the students in DCPS and she suggested a modest and achievable growth rate of 3% a year.  I believe this is a very sound recommendation that absolutely should be included in Mr. Wilson’s contract.  If he is true to his word about lifting up low-performing schools, he should be successful in attracting families to their neighborhood schools.  If he is true to his word about meeting the educational needs of all students, he will keep families committed to DCPS.  Increasing enrollment in DCPS will be one of the surest benchmarks  Mayor Bowser and the Education Committee will have to evaluate whether Mr. Wilson is successfully performing his responsibilities.

Many have read the March 4, 2016, article about Mr. Wilson’s efforts to bring closer coordination between the Oakland charter schools and the district run public schools.  Some of the things Mr. Wilson tried to achieve in Oakland, e.g., a common enrollment system, are already in place in DC.  Mr. Wilson appears to want to level the playing field between charter schools and district-run schools by promoting the same criteria for academics, discipline and enrollment.  In doing this, we should hope Mr. Wilson will bring insights that will encourage comprehensive planning between the Public Charter School Board and DCPS before new schools are opened or schools are closed.  I hope he will be successful in working with the charter school community to address public charter school practices that work to the detriment of DCPS — such as starting middle school at 5th grade instead of 6th grade, counseling low-performing students to leave individual charter schools (to be accepted back to a DCPS school) before testing begins, and suspending low-performing or difficult students without working to address their individual needs.

In closing, I hope Mr. Wilson has learned from his experience in working with parents and communities in both in Denver and Oakland that while we may not always agree with each other, it is important to invest the time to listen to each other and sincerely seek to understand other’s perspectives.  Parents and communities can bring enormous support to Mr. Wilson if he works with them as partners, and not as adversaries, such that the changes he may want to bring about can be fine-tuned to address genuine concerns.

If confirmed, I wish Mr. Wilson the best of luck in his new endeavor, and I personally look forward to working with him as a parent of a DCPS student.

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