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Suzanne Wells Testimony – DCPS Performance Oversight Hearing – February 21, 2018

Thank you for the opportunity to testify this morning. My name is Suzanne Wells, and I am the founder of the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization, a group that serves Ward 6. My daughter is in 7th grade at Eliot-Hine Middle School, our family’s in-bound neighborhood DC public school.

The recent revelation that Chancellor Wilson abused our city’s public school lottery is indeed unfortunate. As I’ve thought about what happened, I’ve tried to step back and look not only at this individual action, but at what has brought our city to this point. The forces that have shaped our city’s education landscape predate the current administration. But, the Mayor and City Council have continued to support the establishment of a choice public education system that has at its core a lottery many families feel compelled to enter and anxious to win in order to send their children to what they perceive is a quality school. While Chancellor Wilson skirted the rules of the lottery, it is not a system he created.

Our neighbors in Virginia and Maryland don’t have to compete in lotteries or send their children across town to charter schools or other DCPS schools in order to send their children to high performing schools, and neither should the families in the District. Our city can do better for children. It is time to re-evaluate the education reform policies our elected leaders have been promoting for the past twenty years.

Chancellor Wilson absolutely should not have by-passed the lottery system for his own child. What is as troubling as by-passing the lottery system is the fact that the head of DCPS did not feel his in-boundary schools were the right choice for his children. Families, like mine, from across the city are working hard to support our by-right neighborhood schools. We have learned how to advocate for our neighborhood schools, and worked hard to improve them for all children. Unfortunately, Chancellor Wilson, in his own words, is “agnostic” when it comes to families choosing between their by-right neighborhood schools and charter schools. Think what a powerful message it would have sent if Chancellor Wilson’s family had chosen to attend and support their in-boundary schools.

In light of the Chancellor abusing the city’s public school lottery, there will be temptations to place blame on a few individuals and not on the decisions that led our city to create a system of choice between the DC public schools and privately managed charter schools, and the reliance on a lottery. There will also be some who think this is a DCPS issue while ignoring all the decisions that have gotten our city to the place it is today where only half of the students attend DCPS and the other half attend privately managed charter schools; thus threatening the viability of our by-right neighborhood public school system, something families in our city have repeatedly said they support.

This latest scandal is a serious setback for a school system that cannot afford another serious setback. We need an urgent strategy to strengthen and support our by-right neighborhood public schools. To that end we need leaders who will guarantee in plan, policy and budget that the city will maintain and grow our public sector DCPS schools, intentionally strengthening our neighborhood schools so residents in every Ward have matter-of-right schools from Pre-K through 12th grade that fully serve them with strong programs and buildings.

In a statement Councilmember Cheh wrote on Sunday she said “On a journey it is not always clear when or where you’ve made a wrong turn. But then the evidence piles up that you are going in the wrong direction. That’s the case with our school system now.” The question for me is whether the Mayor and the City Council realize we’ve been heading in a direction that fundamentally doesn’t support sustaining and growing a by-right neighborhood public school system, and whether they are willing to fight for fundamental changes in the governance structure or whether they plan to continue the same flawed strategies.

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