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Patrick Jackson Testimony – DCPS Performance Oversight Hearing – February 21, 2018

My name is Patrick Jackson. I am the current PTA President at Tyler Elementary. I’m a parent to a first grader at Tyler, and a parent of a hopefully incoming PK3 student as well. I am a lifetime resident of DC, and a 20 year resident of the Ward 6 neighborhood within Tyler’s boundary.

Our public schools, and our community schools are critically important to me as a resident of DC, not only because I currently have children enrolled, but also because I know they are a unifying common service in our community. I believe that strong public schools are essential in making us all better citizens of the city, and can be a force for community engagement, and greater integration across the city.

I am here today to testify on two issues that are facing the Tyler Elementary community, where we feel as though the performance of DCPS and DGS can be greatly improved.

The issues I would like to speak to today are facility repairs and greater support of the existing dual- language Spanish program at Tyler.

I am joined today by two other parents who are also dedicated to Tyler, who will be speaking in more detail about these two issues as well.

Tyler Elementary received the early stages of modernization roughly 10 years ago now, and since that time it seems as though the largest elementary school on Capitol Hill has been largely ignored. Resources have been since placed on other school in Ward 6, and Capital funding is budgeted for most of the other schools in our area, but not Tyler.

Meanwhile the building disrepairs and lack of adequate outdoor play areas are impacting the 500+ children who attend Tyler. The improvements that are urgently needed for Tyler are not insurmountable, in fact they seem rather small and manageable by comparison to updates being made to other schools- yet the benefit to children’s education in making the repairs would be huge.

The most critically needed improvements are the need for a new and enlarged playground, and updated water fountains.

When the playground was last renovated, Tyler had an attendance of around 200 children. Well, Tyler has grown- and due to its own success in the past decade our student population is now more than twice that.

Tyler currently has one badly broken play structure for K through 5th grade, surrounded by a massive area of underutilized, hot and barren concrete and asphalt. There is more than enough space on the Tyler playground for a play structure that would provide adequate space for the larger population, as well as more opportunity for children to actually get the needed exercise during free-time.

In addition to being inadequate in size, the equipment is badly broken, and at times dangerous. While other schools in the area are displaying gleaming new play structures- the 500+ children at Tyler have been playing on a play structure partially wrapped in police caution tape for the majority of the year.

Dangerous, ad-hoc, repairs have been made by adding bolts and rough wood in places, and the image of watching children stare at unusable play equipment wrapped in police tape has been a daily reminder to Tyler parents of how inadequate the facility is. As recently as this month there is less tape, but the repairs made are temporary. We expect police tape to wrap the main playground again before spring is really here.

The playground, and outdoor area at Tyler has historically been improved by PTA and parent funding. It has gotten us this far- but at this point the growing school needs full support from our city. Tyler is a Title 1 school with a large population of at-risk families, and our ability to fundraise to build our own school ground has limitations. The PTA currently works very hard to raise roughly $30K per year, which largely goes to support the FoodPrints program, mini-grants provided directly to classroom teachers for supplies and class improvements, and our thriving drama clubs, including a musical program, and a Spanish Film Club that creates and shows a movie each year at a local theater, paying for our own playground is currently out of reach.

On the next pages I’ve included some pictures showing:

  • The broken play structure
  • Torn soft surface- chunks of which are often lying around and coming home in kids clothing
  • Fences and concrete in disrepair next to playgrounds
  • Puddles filled with broken cement
  • Unused open cement spaces where more new play structures could be added

In addition to our terrible playground, Tyler is facing a drinking water-access issue.

Since the beginning of this year parents at Tyler have been working with DGS and DCPS to get working water fountains to replace the often broken and outdated units in the school.

For many months this school year the second floor had no working fountains, and often the 3rd floor, and cafeteria fountain would also be broken for weeks at a time.

Thanks to the advocacy, and support from our Ward 6 Council member’s team, and lots of pushing, the water fountains are mostly working today. But week-by-week they break. Our facility manager opens a work tickets at DGS, and we wait, this cycle repeats itself continuously.

Meanwhile we still have a school with a large population of students, who have one outdated, frequently broken fountain in their cafeteria, with a makeshift step so that shorter children can access it.

At Tyler we often have 2 working water fountains for 500 + kids spread across 3 floors. This often means that all our students do not have access to water. Which is a basic requirement of DC law for schools. We urgently ask the city to upgrade the fountains, and finally provide Tyler with an adequate solution. We cannot wait until the next stage of modernization for drinking water.

On the next page you will find pictures of the fountains on the 2nd floor and one on the 3rd floor.

Tyler urgently needs these upgrades for our highly enrolled building. We believe that our city government needs to provide these improvements in addition to the full-school renovations that are currently budgeted.

These are two needs where the performance of DCPS and DGS are impacting the health and wellness of Tyler students.

And these are two relatively small asks for improvements, where attention would have a massive return on investment. These are improvements that cannot wait until the next stage of modernization for Tyler.

The next topic I would like to raise is the challenge of the stranded programs at Tyler.

At Tyler we currently have two strands- a dual language program, and a traditional program, operating within our school. Today the strand approach creates several challenges for our community. I believe that the current way of operating multiple programs within one school is unnecessarily diverting valuable time and energy away from education and reduces our ability to create a more visible and immersive environment benefitting all children.

I also believe that the current approach to strands affects the ability of the dual language program to fully reach it’s potential, ranging from things as simple as preventing signage and common spaces curated in 2 languages, to issues as large as negative impacts to overall school culture with the perceived difficulties of a “school within a school.”

I strongly feel that now is the time to provide much more support- and dedication from DCPS- to bolster the dual language program at Tyler. I feel that this could be done both to benefit Tyler families, as well as grow the dual-language program to meet the rising demand for immersion programs that is increasing every year.

There is little doubt in the academic and research communities about the positive impact of dual language education on achievement. We believe that DCPS can rely on its internal data on achievement in these programs to support, and invest more in the dual language program at Tyler. Additionally, research shows that the benefits of dual language are independent of language spoken at home or socioeconomic status, making the case for expansion to primarily English speaking populations even stronger. The additional opportunity brought by bi-literacy is of course an added incentive.

Greater support of the dual-language program would provide many advantages:

1. Rapid increase in highly desirable dual language program seats (at this year’s new parent open houses at Tyler, over 95% of the parents attending were interested in the dual-language program)
2. Increase in achievement
3. Significant improvement in unsustainable school culture issues
4. More efficient use of school based resources
5. Equity of access. We know from research by the University of Maryland Foreign Language Center, that dual language programs bring socio-economic and racial diversity to classes and schools.
6. Clearer and more robust feeders. By doubling the number of students in dual language programs at schools that already have a dual language strand, DCPS can create clearer and more robust feeders

I truly feel that there is a huge opportunity for DCPS to invest in the Dual Language Spanish-Immersion option for DC families – by investing more in the program that already exists, and brings with it a very dedicated group of families, at Tyler Elementary

I would now like to let my fellow Tyler parents continue these topics, including specific ways in which DPCS could enhance the performance of the programs at Tyler.

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