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Kenyon Weaver Testimony – DCPS Oversight – Feb 23, 2017

Good Morning. I’m Kenyon Weaver, a parent at Maury Elementary and member of the Maury PTA, as well as the Maury SIT, or School Improvement Team.

Today I want to focus on DCPS engagement with the community, through the example of Maury Elementary’s expansion.  
Today, Maury is well overcapacity. The trailers on our blacktop are permanent features; our multipurpose room no longer fits parents at All School Meetings. Fortunately, this summer, DCPS will be starting the school’s expansion.

This expansion has been in discussion for a few years, with DCPS interacting with our SIT. My fellow parent Max Kieba has been Maury’s key point of contact on the SIT. He could easily fill a binder full of correspondence between him and his DCPS counterparts on the Maury modernization.

This past January 12th, DCPS held a meeting for Maury community members to discuss the options for Maury’s expansion. There, nearly 200 Maury parents and other community members came to hear Acting Chancellor Davis and others from DCPS present four options. One of these four options was a new option, for a right-sized school that meet best practices in educational design. This option, DCPS explained, addressed all the previous feedback but DCPS did not want to present it until they felt they could deliver on it. And this option, indeed, met with broad appreciation from the community. Acting Chancellor Davis and his team led a very productive meeting. But for those who were at the meeting – and Councilmembers Allen and Grosso, you were – you will remember just how frustrated Maury community members were.

Angry, even.

This January 12th meeting and the new expansion option, I think, clearly shows what DCPS can do well, and where it falls short. The meeting and the option are a good window into where things go wrong, and where DCPS can correct it.

  • First, the reason why so many people were so frustrated was because DCPS had first informed Maury that it would reach a final decision with almost no meaningful input at all. That is because DCPS in December informed Maury that within a few weeks it would choose one of three options. Just imagine if DCPS had done something similar with anything else of similar magnitude, like choosing a new principal.  
  • Second, the reason why so many people were frustrated at DCPS was that all of the options had serious unaddressed unknowns. The three options were: (1) a building that would be too small, and therefore require a re-drawing of boundaries; (2) a building that would fail to meet many best practices in design and use; and (3) a building that would be deliberately too small, but where Maury and Miner would cluster. DCPS was in effect coming to Maury and saying “because of some mistakes we’ve made with regard to enrollment and budgeting, your elementary school is now going to deal with the consequences – so just choose which of those consequences you want.”
  • Third, the reason why the meeting was productive was that by holding the meeting, presenting also a fourth option, and handling all the questions, DCPS in effect corrected these procedural mistakes. DCPS was responsive.

Is the January 12th meeting the exception, or the new rule? We will see. The January 12th meeting gave the Maury community hope, and we have every reason to continue hoping under new Chancellor Wilson.  

And here is what it will take:

  • DCPS needs to engage early and consistently with parents on a meaningful basis. We know our school very well. It was Maury community members who rightly called into question the initial enrollment projections and Maury community members who are now identifying achievable ways to mitigate the construction’s negative impacts on students and on teaching outcomes. But much of what Maury parents and others are pushing for and proposing requires early, responsive, and coordinated action by DCPS. Since the January 12th meeting, for example, Maury parents have identified a way for Maury’s expansion to save DC $6 million and to significantly reduce strain on students and teachers, but it takes DCPS and the District acting now.  
  • DCPS needs to come up with a modernization plan that genuninely meets the needs of all schools. DCPS needs to start with: What do these schools need that will allow them to serve the next generation of District youth? Instead of: What can we do with these schools that will temporarily fix the issue, but likely leave underlying problems intact or create new ones that we are not prepared to address? We tell our kids: if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. That should apply here, too.

Thank you for your time and attention. I’d be happy to answer any questions.

—————-

Testimony by Kenyon S. Weaver, DCPS Maury Elementary parent

DC Council Committee on Education Oversight Hearing

February 23, 2017

 

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