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Max Kieba Testimony – DCPS Oversight – Feb 23, 2017

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Max Kieba. I am a Ward 6 resident, Maury Elementary School parent, and Maury School Improvement Team (SIT) Co-Chair.  This particular performance hearing is interesting as we are understandably in a transition period at DCPS. Really, we’ve been in transition for a couple years now with some organizational changes under the previous chancellor, new process initiatives based on bills started by council, and a new chancellor in place. To that end, like many we do welcome Chancellor Wilson to D.C. and look forward to working with him. However there seem to be some common themes that still emerge

Communication, transparency, and true engagement continues to be an issue

We have far too many examples and have said it far too many times. At times it does get better, but usually that’s only after significant public outcry or pressure from council. We shouldn’t need to have to exert such pressure to do what’s right.  

Don’t forget families are an important part of the DCPS system

When we consider the DCPS system, we should not only think about the schools, teachers, and students, but realize families are an important part of the equation and success of the system. Families are helping to volunteer in the schools, raise funds, advocate for their schools and students and help support their schools, teachers and staff by reinforcing important concepts at home. Or in some cases, if a student doesn’t have a home, families are chipping in to help. However, families feel they are often shut out of important opportunities to engage, or when they are engaged it is usually too late in the process for any real consideration of their input. Even with some of these visits to the schools by the new chancellor, we’re hearing too many stories that families are among the last to know. I don’t know if this is an issue with DCPS communication to schools or schools communicating to families. But we need to do better.  

Don’t Fight with Us, Fight for Us

Much of this is tied to the communication and transparency issues, but it is difficult to trust DCPS when there is a sense DCPS doesn’t trust us. Even if the answer is ultimately no, we can’t implement what you’d like or this is the path we need to take, it is helpful to know the why and hopefully some discussion farther in advance than when the final decision comes.  

On fighting for us, there are other areas that continue to be an issue, including how DCPS and DGS interact with each other, especially in cases where DCPS is effectively DGS’ client on some issues but they don’t appear to put more pressure on them when clearly DGS isn’t moving quickly enough on tasks assigned to them. There are also other issues with how DCPS interacts with other agencies, whether it’s DPR for co-located sites, working with DDOT on certain school issues (like modernizations) or other agencies. Too often when there are ideas to help make things right we just get the answer it’s too complicated trying to make it work through the different agencies or leadership doesn’t even want to try to explore it. We’d also like to see more fight from DCPS up the chain on budgets and modernization more schools more quickly.

Help for all schools, more quickly

For some projects, like our neighborhood middle school Eliot-Hine we are moving along slowly but surely and DCPS and Eliot-Hine are both trying to help recruit for their SIT including the feeder schools. Other great middle schools like Jefferson are still not there other than yes they did have a meeting in January. However, it would be nice to hear discussion on bigger picture larger scale modernization improvements needed, not status of smaller stabilization projects. So many other schools are still not in the picture even though there is good justification to get them going, and they continue to be engaged in advocacy for all. Our friends at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan are a great example. Yes, we need more capital funding to help continue to work through the list with other potential tweaks coming with new ed specs, the master facility plan development and other PACE Act triggered initiatives. However, we collectively can do a lot better to #fixallschools a lot sooner.

Budget Clarity Issues– At Risk Funding

This is a new issue that just surfaced with the new school budgets out, but I understand at risk funding is now even more confusing as it’s lumped even more generally in the overall bucket. It was confusing enough when it was its own line item. There was additional scrutiny whether schools that got a large amount of at-risk funding really deserved to get at-risk funding, or schools that clearly needed it did not get enough. I understand the idea is to help give schools more flexibility on how it’s used. If a school knows what they’re doing and truly trying to do what’s best for the students more flexibility may be better. However, there is also a concern that with all the issues with achievement gaps and making sure we’re appropriately supporting at-risk and disadvantaged students that watering down any allocation that is intended for them might make it worse.  

Overall, while things have certainly improved a bit the last couple months and there are indeed good people working at DCPS that are trying to do their best (and perhaps need even more support, not cutting central office), there continue to be some ongoing issues that it seems are related to culture and climate issues internally, working with other agencies effectively, etc. Hopefully the new Chancellor will help improve a lot of this.

I hope the suggestions above will help improve it even more. I thank you once again for allowing me to testify and I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.  

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Testimony Max Kieba, Public Witness (Maury Parent)

DC Council Committee on Education Performance Oversight Hearing

District of Columbia Public Schools (Public Witnesses Only)

Thursday, 2/23/2017

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