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Heather Schoell Testimony – Public Oversight Roundtable on the Future of School Reform – March 19, 2018

This city is filled with smart people who get paid a lot of money to do their jobs to make education work, and to prepare students for success. I have several jobs that I take seriously. I’m the PTO president at Eliot-Hine Middle School, the PTO secretary at Eastern High School, and the LSAT secretary for both schools, and I do these jobs and come here today not because it’s good business sense taking time away from my actual job as a Realtor, or because I enjoy giving up me time and family time. I do it because there are kids who depend on someone to look out for their best interest. Every time a student is allowed to go onto the next grade, be it 1st or 11th, who isn’t on level, that is a student failed. Failed by his or her family, by teachers, by the administrative team, by the chancellor, by you, and by me.
A kid who I used to tutor in math when he was a little boy, who now towers over me as a senior in high school, I see him walking by house most every day, and I think of how the failure of the adults around him have allowed him to become a functionally illiterate man with few prospects, and that’s painful – he doesn’t deserve this. And I know that same failure of adults will affect the trajectory and the quality of the rest of his life, his future children’s lives, and likely their children as well. I beat myself up about it because I know I could’ve pushed to do more. He is only one of so many kids in this city whose lives are going be hard every day, scraping to come up with rent, being dependent on jobs that might pay just enough to get by, but never enough to save, let alone to thrive, to feel secure, to travel, and to make decisions based on future goals, rather than have few choices based on current circumstance. This is not about raising the minimum wage, but about raising the minimum standard of outcomes of our students.

So first, I’d like you to acknowledge that we’re talking about people when we’re talking about policy. Then I want you to step back and reorient your perspective so that when you’re taking about policy, you’re thinking about people – young people who will or will not have chances in life.

1. Reading is everything. If you can’t read, you can’t understand the math instructions (my young friend’s reason for doing poorly in math) and you can’t refer back to text to support your point of view in social studies. Worst of all, you’re excluded from understanding anything on your own – package contents, product descriptions, pharmacy instructions, your kids’ homework. You can’t read to your own children, perpetuating the cycle of illiteracy and poverty. These are the people we’re graduating – people who are ill prepared for life. Make early reading intervention a true priority with adding intervention teachers, with requirements for moving to the next grade, and with resources every year until we don’t have to talk about this anymore. Stick to the plan long term. And for older students who are somehow slipping through each year, that should end now with targeted interventions before school, during school, at lunch, after school, and over the summer. I don’t care if the District needs to hire a whole army of reading intervention partner organizations to share among geographic clusters. Just make it happen because this is more important than anything.

2. Partner organizations. I have been harping on this for years, but why is so much non-education support taking up so much of the education budget? Why do schools need to hire social workers and psychologists instead of teachers? Why isn’t the Dept. of Health on the hook for supplying school psychologists? Why isn’t Child and Family Services on the hook for social workers in schools so that kids don’t fall through the cracks and schools can hire teachers to teach? This is the reality of schools, that with the budget they’re given to work with, and the population of students that require social/emotional intervention, that they have to cut teachers to hire more social/emotional support. Stop it.

3. Charter schools continue to open and operate with opacity. They continue to thin resources, and in many cases, they are failing to meet standards. Charter schools can expel students who make trouble for them behaviorally and/or educationally, and DCPS schools must take them in, often mid-year, which has a huge impact on a school – usually negative, trying to get this student in line with the culture and climate, and with as little effect on the other students as possible. Charters should not have this advantage over neighborhood schools.

This shouldn’t be so daunting, fixing these three issues. Let’s just do it so we can get to making impactful and real differences in the future lives of these students. Let me know how I can help.

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