Councilmembers, thank you for holding this hearing and for inviting the public to testify. As I think you know, I have two children at citywide DCPS elementary School Within School at Goding. You are probably expecting me to talk about how SWS needs our modernization, but I’m going to leave that to my fellow SWS parent Beth Bacon today.
I’d like to talk about the need to provide robust, well-funded and well-staffed programming for social-emotional learning, special education, and wraparound services at every school. There are a number of reasons I’m feeling deeply disappointed in our mayor and her education staff today. One of them is that I was so very hopeful that we were seeing such a focus on social-emotional learning in the last year—and that’s now been derailed.
But to get back to the kids. My concern about funding these services at every school is twofold. One, there are kids that need those services at every school, not just schools with large populations of at-risk students. And two, when kids who need those services have to go to a Title I school where the economies of scale make it possible to fund robust services, you are segregating those students. But under current funding models and policies, it is extremely difficult for a small school without a large population of at-risk students to fully fund and provide SEL, SPED, and wraparound services.
I want to share my own family’s story with you. My youngest son was first referred for evaluation two years ago when he was in PK3 and his perceptive preschool teacher noticed something was amiss. At that time, the process was to have him evaluated at the Early Stages assessment center, by people who did not know him and spent just an hour or two observing him and asking us questions. That process resulted in the recommendation that he did not need services. But by the end of PK4 last year, it was clear to us and his teachers that he was struggling, so we held him back to repeat PK4. This year, he was again referred for evaluation, but I’m told the process has since changed. He is being evaluated by teachers and staff at his school. They know him, he knows them, they have had multiple interactions and opportunities to observe him over an extended period. And they can see that he needs significant supports, although he doesn’t necessarily fit into an expected pattern. This change in the way evaluations are done, moving them into his home school, was huge for my child.
But I wouldn’t be here if that were the end of the story. At my school, we have a staff that is especially devoted to social-emotional learning. The school was founded by teachers and a social worker who believed in the importance of that. We have also developed a particular emphasis on special education. We have two classrooms of students who are severely disabled, and we have a high-functioning autism program. What we don’t have is a lot of funding or additional staff for special education and social-emotional learning. Our dedicated teachers and staff dig deep to keep providing the high quality, intensive services they are providing, but they really need our help. Honestly, I am worried that they are going to burn out.
We can’t expect that teachers and staff at schools like mine keep burning the candle at both ends. But we also can’t expect that students who need extra services congregate in Title I schools where there is extra funding available. This is a flawed funding model, and something has to be done about it.
I understood that the former chancellor wanted to do something about it. I’m as frustrated and disappointed about the interruption to that work as I am about the abuse of power and apparent cover-up by the mayor’s administration. But we can’t let that distract us from the urgent work of educating our children. We must pick up the ball and go on. We must improve the way we fund SEL, SPED, and wraparound services in every school.
Parent at School Within School at Goding