Tanja Speckmann (Ward 2) Testimony – DC Public Schools Budget Oversight Hearing – March 29, 2019

Committee on Whole and Education

Budget Oversight Hearing of the District of Columbia Public Schools

 Friday, March 29, 2019

I would like to thank the committee for listening to us today. I have been in front of the committee many times before and I do have the feeling we have found an open dialogue and a lot of support for our school needs. I am very lucky to be a parent at this wonderful school and with my son just starting his time at CHM@L I hope my input has a lasting effect on the school.

We as members of the SIT group want to work with DCPS and DGS to build the comprehensive elementary and middle school campus that allows our unique Montessori citywide school to thrive.
We have put a lot of time and effort into describing our specific needs not just to the committee but DCPS and DGS as well. And while we have gotten support on some issues DCPS and DGS unfortunately keeps putting up obstacles to issues that would allow this process to succeed.

Strict Adherence to an Elementary Ed Spec – Even though We also have a middle school. We are starting from a deficit because there is no ed spec for an education campus or a Montessori school. There’s only an elementary Ed Spec and a middle school ed Spec. Before the feasibility process started over a year and a half ago, DCPS and DGS dictated that our school would be built on the elementary ed spec – we have challenged this direction in every meeting. What this means that many of the assets that middle schoolers get have been summarily shut down by DCPS with an answer of “well it’s not in the elementary ed spec”. For example, every middle school has an auditorium and a full-size gym – and many other provisions tailored to middle school students. We are just asking for a few of the middle school assets – the auditorium and full-sized sports gym, but even these simple asks won’t even be considered.

We understand that we will not have a full middle school but we should have some of the learning assets of other middle schools – it’s the only right way to build a true education campus.

We have an unusually small plot of land for the age range and size of school we serve. CHML serves students 3 to 14 years old and our small plot of land included historic and federal property. As you can see from the chart below, when a school serves more grades, there is more square footage except for CHML. CHML has less square footage overall and less per kid square footage than other Ward 6 schools serving PreK-3 through 5th, yet will serve an entire middle school that those schools won’t serve. In addition, CHML has significantly less square footage and per kid square footage than the other Ward 6 education campus school. CHML’s square footage is most comparable to a stand-alone middle school serving grades 6-8 only.

School Gross Square Feet/Acreage Enrollment Grades Per kid square footage
CHML 115,674/2.66 495 (of new building) Pre-K3 through 8th 233.68
Ludlow-Taylor 129,349/2.97 414 Pre-K3 through 5th 312.44
JO Wilson 149,727/3.44 509 Pre-K3 through 5th 294.16
Stuart Hobson 87,528/2 422 6th to 8th 207.41
Peabody 34,998/.8 227 Prek3-K 154.18
Walker-Jones 147,512/3.39 435 Pre-K3 through 8th 339.11

We are a citywide school that serves students from every Ward. See the attached scatterplot that shows where our students reside. Some parents drive 30 to 40 minutes to get here, some Metro over an hour and 15 minutes to get here. We must consider all solutions to ensure this school continues to welcome all families – which includes looking at the feasibility of underground parking. DCPS and DGS have not even allowed the study of this feasibility.

We need adequate outdoor play and learning spaces. We also need adequate outdoor play recreation sports and learning spaces both to accommodate a Montessori experience as well as make sure the physical activity and extracurricular opportunities for our students are available to them and we have to do this with a wide range of ages from three years old to 14 years old in mind.

All of this is to say that while we have made some progress in the SIT – DGS and DCPS heard our ask to hire architects with Montessori experience and we appreciate that very much. They are working with teachers and our principal to make sure the flow of the space and classrooms accommodate a Montessori education in a DCPS environment. But those architects are limited by the DCPS DGS directives to not look beyond the elementary ed spec.

We lost a lot of time during the feasibility process. We have 4 architects on our SIT team all pushing for time and moving the design forward faster – without success. Now we are strapped for time with the design architect group. DCPS and DGS did not allow the feasibility study to look at full-size auditorium, a full-size gym or whether underground parking could help alleviate some of the pressures on a small plot of land for learning and play space. It did not look at how to ensure that this citywide school remains welcoming to all and does not by default create a neighborhood school because parents who travel far – 43% of our students live in Wards 7 and 8 for example – because the city has created too many barriers to adequate transportation that they don’t feel welcomed.

We have a Montessori mission that includes a whole child mission and we have to meet all DCPS requirements on top of it. We have not been allowed to have a real conversation with DCPS about how to creatively solve for these challenges. Instead we are constantly told that our asks just don’t fit with the elementary ed spec or doesn’t fit with precedent. The fact is we wouldn’t have our school is they relied on precedent. Before us there was no other stand-along citywide school and no other Montessori DPCS school. In addition, the precedent argument is an excuse not to look at creative solutions and innovations to meet specific needs. We are unique and deserve a chance for a real conversation about that.

So I ask you today to direct DCPS and DGS look at creative solutions for adopting some -not all – of the middle school assets like a full-sized gym and an auditorium and an additional $4 million to the budget to allow us to accommodate the resulting creative solutions that might arise including underground parking that might solve our need for additional building space, additional green and outdoor space, and our citywide community needs, that is so difficult to accommodate on our small plot of land. Thank you.

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