TESTIMONY OF COMMISSIONER ALEXANDER M. PADRO
AT THE Public Roundtable on PR23-0067, the “CHANCELLOR OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC SCHOOLS DR. LEWIS D. FEREBEE Confirmation Resolution of 2019,”
BEFORE THE COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE AND THE COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION OF THE COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
FEBRUARY 6, 2019
Good evening, Chairmen Mendelson and Grosso, members of the Committee, and Council staff. I am Alexander M. Padro, a 19-year ANC Commissioner serving central Shaw. Seaton Elementary School and the site of the old Shaw Junior High School are located in my ANC Single Member District.
Over the past 10 years since Shaw Junior High School was closed in anticipation of the construction of a new middle school to consolidate Garnet Patterson and Shaw Junior High on the site of the old Shaw school, I have had the opportunity to see the DC Public Schools in action under several chancellors. Most recently, under Interim Chancellor Alexander, I have seen DCPS at its worst.
As I’m sure you know, in October of last year, Mayor Bowser announced that instead of renovating Banneker Academic High School’s current historic building on Euclid Street, for which the Council approved over $140 Million in the capital budget, DCPS wants to build a new building for Banneker on the site of the old Shaw Junior High School. This decision was made without a complete feasibility study of the renovation potential of the current building, and with no outreach or consultation with the Shaw community and adjacent Center City neighborhoods that would be served by the Shaw Middle School.
In the wake of this announcement, the families and communities whose children will be forever deprived of the ability to walk to an in boundary, by right middle school in proximity to their elementary schools have banded together to fight to reverse this decision, which was made with zero transparency and no consideration of the decade of promises made to us by three mayors, including Mayor Bowser.
The elementary schools in my community have come a long way in the nearly two decades that I have been in office. All the elementary school buildings have been renovated, enrollments have grown, and achievement has increased. Our five elementary schools have won multiple awards, including principal of the year. Parents even apply to send their children to our schools from out of boundary because of their diversity and programming.
But the lack of an in boundary, walk to middle school is forcing a growing number of parents to re-evaluate their commitment to living in our neighborhoods. When their children are in the third grade, parents are beginning to plan to put their kids in charter schools and even move out of the neighborhood and the District because of the uncertainty posed by the middle school years.
Cardozo Education Campus houses a very small middle school program, which is the de facto middle school of right for our neighborhoods. Unfortunately, because of the distance from the feeder schools and limited programming, Cardozo’s middle school grades are the option of last and only resort for those parents who cannot make other arrangements for their kids’ middle school needs. Some of the feeder schools have dual rights to other schools outside of the neighborhood. Other kids are scattered among the charter schools in the neighborhood. Approximately 3,000 students at our five feeder schools are whittled down to a few hundred because DCPS has failed to deliver on the promise to build a new middle school for them. And now, Mayor Bowser proposes to steal the site that has been reserved for the neighborhood’s middle school for an application-only high school that already has a home.
If confirmed, Mr. Ferebee faces a litmus test: how he handles the unnecessary conflict that DCPS has caused by treating the renovation of Banneker High School and construction of a new middle school in Shaw as a zero sum game, while a win-win option that would address both needs has been left on the table, ignored and unexplored.
Will Mr. Ferebee stand by DCPS’ ill-informed, poorly considered decision to callously ignore a decade of promises made to Shaw and adjacent Center City neighborhoods regarding the need for a middle school for their children and DCPS’ decision to refuse to consider options that would allow enrollment to expand at Banneker without abandoning the school’s historic home? Or will he pause the process long enough to make sure that all parents and families have an opportunity to be engaged in a dialogue about whether there need to be winners and losers in this chess game that Mayor Bowser is playing with two school communities?
How the chancellor nominee handles this conflict and his role, as he perceives it, in overseeing DCPS and his own decision-making process is directly relevant to whether he can ever earn the confidence of the District’s parents and citizens.
There are thousands of people in Shaw and Center City neighborhoods that are furious with the way that DCPS has handled the proposal to build a new Banneker High School on the site of the old Shaw Junior High School, with the resulting loss of the site of the long promised new middle school for these communities. There are also thousands of members of the Banneker community, including alumni, who likewise have been left in the dark and unconsulted in the process.
Will Mr. Ferebee ignore the decade-long history of broken promises and ignorance by DCPS of the needs and desires of Center City parents for a middle school, as well as DCPS’ opaque processes and lack of engagement with affected communities? Will Mr. Ferebee pay lip service to a goal of increasing transparency and genuine community engagement reform or end the minimal, check-the-box outreach for which the school system has been notorious for decades?
While DCPS has begun a series of community engagement meetings about the Center City neighborhoods’ middle school needs, DCPS has reneged on a commitment to engage the Shaw community on the Banneker at Shaw project. No community meetings have yet been scheduled, despite an RFP process to build the new school that has a response date next week.
If Mr. Ferebee believes that he is merely a rubber stamp, that his job is only to implement Mayor Bowser’s decisions, without regard to public input, facts, and common sense, that he has no intention of ever developing fact-based recommendations and making decisions independently and objectively, then this Council should not confirm his appointment as chancellor. If he demonstrates an unwillingness to pause the Banneker relocation process and evaluate the need for a Shaw/Center City Middle School and require DCPS to undertake the vigorous public engagement and exploration of all viable options that should be required when such a momentous decision affecting future generations of our children is at stake, then such a hostile posture should disqualify him from confirmation in this position.
This concludes my testimony. I am available to answer any questions you may have for me here or after the hearing.