Rebecca Reina Testimony – DCPS Performance Oversight Hearing – February 26, 2019

Testimony of Rebecca Reina

to DC Council, Committee on Education, Performance Oversight Hearing

DC Public Schools

on 2/26/19 at 12:00 pm, John A. Wilson building, room 500

 

Hello, I‘m Becky Reina, Chair of the Ward 1 Education Council. Our Education Council advocates for a stronger public education system that supports all our students and families, while making sure we safeguard our by-right neighborhood schools and work for greater resources, equity, transparency, fairness, and safety across both educational sectors.

I am also the mother of 2 Cleveland Elementary School students, where I have in the past served on the PTA and LSAT. Thank you for this opportunity to provide feedback on the performance of DC Public Schools. I want to preface my critique by saying I think all DCPS employees are striving to educate and support DC students. I have been very happy with my children’s direct classroom experience and I am proud to send them to a DC Public School. My critique is focused on DCPS as an institution. I have found DCPS Central Office employees to be smart and exceptionally hardworking; yet, the negative institutional and systemic pressures on them are often insurmountable.

Sometimes, I feel like DCPS is changing for the better: the creation of the Ward 1 Education Council was warmly received by DCPS and since our formation in January, we have already had some productive conversations on how our Education Council and DCPS can work together. However, I have also been disheartened by DCPS’s sometimes opaque decision making, poor communication, and tardiness in addressing urgent problems.

The W1EdCouncil is deeply concerned that the planning leading up to and underlying justification for the announced move of Banneker HIgh School has not been discussed publicly. While the decision appears to have been made solely by Mayor Bowser, DCPS employees have struggled – often ineffectively in multiple public meetings – to address public concerns, choosing instead to silo various stakeholder communities, pitting neighbors against each other due to perceived scarcity. After looking at the proposed Educational Specification for the new Banneker building, I am concerned that the Banneker community is not being afforded the robust planning process, focused on the school’s uniques needs, that has been afforded to other DCPS application high school such as School Without Walls. Banneker not only deserves a beautiful building on time, but also deserves the attention of thoughtful planning in collaboration with its community.

I see similar deficits in the school budgets that were released last week, many weeks late, leaving very little time to engage stakeholders. Teacher raises are well deserved. They should have been properly funded to protect the buying power within school budgets. The decision to imbedded the cost of security into individual school budgets is a laudable move toward transparency, but in some cases it obfuscates large cuts to individual schools. In Ward 1, H.D. Cooke, Cleveland, and Tubman all face substantial cuts. These three schools also have some of the largest percentages of At-Risk students in Ward 1: with H.D. Cooke at 49%, Cleveland at 61%, and Tubman at 65%.   In the case of Tubman, the funding cut is initially hidden when looking at the proposed budget because the “increase” in year over year allocation is entirely swallowed by security costs, leaving a proposed deficit of over $65,000. The Comprehensive School Model of budgeting hides even more cuts, because school leaders have so few real chances to reallocate money from one category to another. If Tubman decides not to use its allocated money for the library books they don’t need, they lose $10,000; they cannot reprogram the money to other uses. Outside of Ward 1, the cuts to comprehensive high schools across the river are truly horrifying: H.D. Woodson, Anacostia, and Ballou High Schools appears to face cuts in the $100,000s according to their public allocations, perhaps even a million dollars in the case of Ballou when security costs are included. These budgets are being justified by unrealistic enrollment projections for schools that receive new students through the school year. These budget games do not serve our students. The schools facing the worst budget cuts should not be the schools with the most needs. Even the schools with large raises now need to fear that the tap dries up next year and they are faced with losing staffers they brought on only a year before. Students need stability. Budgets that swing wildly year to year, forcing teacher and staff turnover and constant programmatic changes need to stop.

I am similarly concerned that DCPS employees continue to tell the MidCity community that there are enough DCPS seats at the middle school level.  Planning for by-right, neighborhood middle and high schools feels particularly pressing for Ward 1, because of increasing evidence that our neighboring schools of MacFarland and School Without Walls at Francis Stevens will be over-enrolled in the near future, in addition to the ongoing overcrowding in the Wilson High School feeder pattern. DCPS is holding well-run community meetings on these issues, but outreach and advertising of these meetings to parents has been lacking and the data that is being presented there does not match reality. In the 2017-2018 school year, over 1,600 students were enrolled in middle school grades in the area in and surrounding the Cardozo feeder pattern, and yet DCPS says it is satisfied with the status quo, with only 147 students in middle school at Cardozo that same school year. Charter schools can and do close without warning. Also in Ward 1, 294 Cesar Chavez Prep students are now looking for places to land; DCPS is the educational sector legally required to catch them if their families so chose. DCPS needs to welcome them and generally focus greater attention on the middle grades in the middle of the city.

I will end on a bright spot: DCPS listened to advocates and allocated money for better school technology. The perfect follow up would be a comprehensive plan that supports not only laptops for testing but also continuing classroom use even during testing of a computers, laptops, tablets, headphones, and SMART boards and maintenance of all these devices. I look forward to seeing that from DCPS soon.

Thank you again for this opportunity.

Sandra Moscoso Testimony – DC Water Performance Oversight Hearing – February 26, 2019

Sandra Moscoso Testimony

Committee on Transportation & the Environment Performance Oversight Hearing:

DC Water

February 26 at 10:00AM JAWB

Good morning, Chairperson Cheh and Councilmembers. I am Sandra Moscoso, Secretary of the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization, the education council for Ward 6. I am also the parent of a 7th grader at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan and 10th grader at School Without Walls.

First of all, I would like to thank DC Water for being a fantastic longtime partner in our flagship community events. For at least 13 years, Capitol Hill public, charter, and private schools have been coming together to celebrate Walk to School Day in October and since 2012, Bike to School Day in May. These events signal our community’s commitment to collaborating to strengthen Ward 6 schools. They also bring attention to the importance of getting students to and from school safely. To give you a sense of the events, we partner with our community foundation, D.C. Councilmembers, the Mayor and local government agencies, environment and transportation focused non-profits and businesses, national partners like the National Transportation Safety Board, the National Center for Safe Routes to School, the National Park Service, and we’ve even had my personal hero Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis join us.

Since 2013, we have counted DC Water as a trusted partner for our events, bringing the message of conservation ethic and personal health with their reusable water bottles, filling station, and best of all, free hugs from Wendy the Water Drop. We appreciate the support for our schools, and we appreciate the reminder to the hundreds of families who celebrate with us to drink tap water and reduce consumption of plastic.

My son rows with the Capital Rowing Club Juniors team out of the Anacostia Community Boathouse. Last Saturday morning I cheered him on in an ergathon to raise funds for rowing scholarships to make the sport inclusive and more DC-area students have the chance to experience rowing and to make their own memories on the water.  In the Spring and Fall, my son and his team mates spend 5 days a week on the Anacostia River. The river plays a central role in our daily lives and you can imagine our families do a lot of thinking about the quality of the water. I applaud DC Water for initiatives like the tunnel to keep trash and toxins out of the river.

My family’s Martin Luther King Day tradition for the past 5 years has been to brave frostbite and participate in Anacostia River cleanup efforts with the Anacostia Riverkeeper and the Student Conservation Association. There’s nothing like collecting 4.5 tons of trash (bottles, metals, frozen diapers!) to help open your eyes to how we overwhelm the river.

My family has benefited from education programs like the Anacostia Riverkeeper’s tours and much like DC Water programs influence behavior, the Anacostia Riverkeeper’s education programs have influenced my family to reduce waste, and go beyond our blue recycling bin to drop off plastic film at recycling centers and food scraps at our farmer’s market. I hope DC water will make the most of the new Anacostia River headquarters and use it to showcase much needed green infrastructure like living shorelines. I am also probably the last person in DC to learn about the Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge and the equity issues around it. I hope DC Water will prioritize working with the federal government to fix these and incentivize property owners to install green infrastructure to continue to reduce stormwater runoff in the Anacostia’s drainage.

With your support, we can hopefully look forward to more Walk to School Day hugs, and future MLK Days which do not feature frozen diapers.

Thank you for your time today.

Mary Levy Testimony – DCPS Performance Oversight Hearing – February 26, 2019

TESTIMONY BEFORE THE COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE AND THE COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COUNCIL

 Performance Oversight on the District of Columbia Public Schools 

Mary Levy      February 26, 2019

As an education finance lawyer, a budget and policy analyst, and a DCPS parent, I have studied DCPS data and policies for almost 40 years, including the period when both our daughters were going through DCPS, from pre-kindergarten through grade 12.  Below are summaries of some of my recent analyses, but first I want to talk about funding for DCPS local schools.

Last Thursday, DCPS released proposed local school budgets for next year.  Although schools were closed for winter break, principals and LSATs were given until Sunday to petition for changes to the many required positions and expenditures, along with another five days to make the limited choices permitted.  Parents are reporting that their schools will have to cut staff, even where enrollment has not decreased.  We have just received a spreadsheet from DCPS showing all the schools, but I have not yet had time to analyze it to assess these concerns definitively.  Nonetheless it is apparent that many schools will suffer higher pupil/staff ratios and less money for supplies and materials because increases are small, while the average staff position costs have almost all risen significantly and budget totals include substantial new sums for security costs now transferred from central accounts.

We do not yet know DCPS total budget for next year, nor where the rest of the money is going, but we do know that DCPS central offices are very expensive and much larger than they once were, and given this, we have to question whether local schools should be losing staff.

Screenshot 2019-02-26 14.31.01

For many years I have categorized DCPS employees by whether or not they serve students directly, which is what most members of the public want to know when they ask about central office or “administration.[1]”  The number of central office full-time equivalent staff performing the same functions that DCPS now performs has risen from 516 in 1981, when we had 95,000 students to 626 in 2007, when we had 52,000, to 797 this year for about 49,000.

Below are November 2019 counts of central office staff with common titles.  Certainly the system needs some number of these people.  Those who are really good are worth a great deal.  But do we really need 45 Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs?  86 Directors?  180 Program Specialists?

Title # of FTEs Title # of FTEs
Chief 14 Program Specialist 180
Deputy Chief 31 Project Manager 73
Director 86 Coordinator 144
Manager 79 Analyst 55
Specialist 84 Program Coordinator 9

According to the most recent statistics from Census Bureau fiscal reports, DCPS central office spending in FY 2016 was 10.8% of total current expenditures, compared to the U.S. average of 1.9% percent.  DCPS is spending $2,260 per pupil, which is ten times the US average of $226.[2] If central office were reduced to a more reasonable level, DCPS would not have to cut local school resources or use at-risk funds to supplant rather than supplement services for at-risk students.

What is happening is all the more painful given that we are spending more money on schools in recent years but seeing only limited academic progress.  Since 2007, the District has spent an average of 25% more per pupil in inflation adjusted dollars than in the decade before.  Yet DC schools made greater progress on the NAEP assessment in the decade before the mayoral takeover than in the ten years since. The larger NAEP score increases that used to be occurred for all subgroups—low income, black, Hispanic, and special education.  The significantly higher spending has brought many benefits, but slower improvement suggests that we need seriously to question the efficacy of recent reforms.  As to performance specifics for DCPS:

  1. Low overall achievement.  Scores on the best test available, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), have increased at about the same rate since at least 2003, but remain dismally low.  If one adjusts scores to control for the demographic changes, about two thirds of the DCPS gains since 2003 remain for 4th graders and 8th grade math students, but 8th grade reading gains almost disappear.  Comparing the adjusted scores to the big city NAEP average, DCPS 4th graders are improving faster, but remain noticeably lower.  DCPS 8th graders improved only a little more in math and not really at all in reading, and remain way below the big city average.  PARCC scores, only available for the last four years, resemble NAEP scores, and like them are inching up, but so slowly that it will take decades to reach respectable levels.
  1. The lowest achieving groups are black males, at-risk students, and special education students.  PARCC score proficiency rates are about 14% for black males and at-risk students and about 7% for special education students. In ten of twelve of our non-selective high schools only a handful of individual students perform at the “college and career ready level.”  At the current rate of improvement – about 2% annually – scores for these groups will remain pitifully low for years. Achievement gaps remain horrendous.

Screenshot 2019-02-26 14.37.37

Perhaps we could speed rates of improvement by dealing with the following:

  1. At-risk funds too often supplant rather than supplement other funds.  The at-risk funds added by the Council five years ago are now allocated at the same amount per at-risk pupil at every school, but according to my analysis, somewhere between 26% and 45% of at-risk funding in the FY 2019 school budgets supplanted base funds, in contravention of governing law.  The unclear 19% is used for mental health professionals, most if not all of whom perform special education services required by law, hence not extra services eligible for at-risk funding.  DCPS could, but does not, separate out extra services.  The level at which supplanting occurs varies enormously from school to school, and those whose funds are used this way have less, sometimes almost no extra resources dedicated to at-risk students.
  2. Local school general education funding discrepancies.  When funding for the variable special needs (special education, ELL, at risk, and Title I) is filtered out, there are variations of thousands of dollars per student unrelated to academic or other student needs.  Such discrepancies are displayed in the C4DC interactive web tool for FY 2018, http://dcpsbudget.ourdcschools.org/.  For example, two high-need middle schools with the same size enrollment differ by about $3,000 in their general education per pupil allocations as do two high schools. In addition, individual school funding goes up and down from one year to the next, frustrating the continuity of programming.  Figures for next year are currently unavailable.
  3. “Highly effective” teachers are less available to low-income students.  The schools with the highest percentage of teachers rated “highly effective” by the IMPACT system in 2017-18 were in Ward 2 (58%) and Ward 3 (54%).  The schools with the smallest percentage of “highly effective teachers” had only half as many:  Ward 5 (28%) and Ward 7 (29%).  Figures in previous years are similar.
  4. High levels of teacher turnover generally.  System-wide, almost 20% of the entire ET-15 workforce (including counselors, librarians, etc.) leaves DCPS each year.  At the school level, 25% leave each year.  Over a period of three years, 55% of teachers leave their schools and over five years, 70% leave their schools.  These rates are much higher than those of other school districts, including urban districts.  Almost half of all newly hired teachers, whether experienced or new to the profession, leave the system within two years; 75% leave within five years of their hiring.
  5. Staff instability in schools with the highest percentages of at-risk students.  In these schools one-third of the ET-15 staff leave annually, compared to 20% of teachers at schools where 20% or fewer of the students are at-risk. Over three or four years some of these schools have almost no continuity.  They also change principals more often than other schools.
  6. High principal turnover ranges in the last six years from 16% to 26%.  From last year to this year it was 20%. Research finds that principals need about five years to improve their schools’ performance, but only one-third of DCPS schools this year have principals that lasted that long.  Most schools have two or three principals in five years.
  7. Teachers and students by race/ethnicity. Since 2009-10, DCPS teachers have consistently been about 32% white and about 59% minority, with the remainder not reported.  Blacks have made up about 50% of teachers, Latinos have risen from 3% to 7%, and Asians have been 3-4%.  Student enrollment in the last six years has gone from 10% white to 15%, from 71% black to 60%, and from 15% Hispanic to 20%.
  8. DCPS enrollment increased in the last ten years, but not nearly as fast as the school-age population. DCPS is losing almost one percent of market share each year.  Attrition of grade level cohorts beginning with 1st grade dipped a little a few years ago but is now rising to earlier levels in the decade.  The biggest drop-offs occur between 4th and 5th grades (about 12%-13%) and between 5th and 6th grades (about 33%).  One bright spot is that in 28 schools in affluent and gentrifying neighborhoods, in-boundary enrollment has risen in the last ten years by 2,755 students.  These schools are thriving.  Unfortunately, others are declining.
  9. Budget transparency is lacking, as is meaningful participation in budget decision-making.  Parents and community are invited to state general preferences, but have no opportunity to affect the criteria or other specifics of budget allocation because budgets are announced only when it is too late to change them.

Parents and community have pleaded with DCPS for improvement on all these issues.  We need the Council to play its part in advancing the school system in a more constructive direction.  Our schools need critical friends.


[1] The source is lists of DCPS employees, obtained by FOIA or from submissions to the D.C. Board of Education (before FY 2008) or to the DC Council (since FY 2008), based on office of employment, program, job title, purpose of applicable grant funding, and DCPS website descriptions.  Employees performing functions subsequently transferred or contracted out are excluded in the earlier year calculations.

[2] Derived from U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finances:  2016, May, 2018 Tables 6, 7 and 19.  https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2016/econ/school-finances/secondary-education-finance.html.  These figures are self-reported by DCPS.

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Status

Goodbye CHPSPO, hello CHPSPO? Help us find a new name – please vote!

We’ve outgrown Capitol Hill and we’re long overdue for a name that reflects our work in support of Ward 6 schools and all of the students enrolled in our schools (and across the city!). Help us by voting on the suggestions submitted by our community!

Scott Goldstein Testimony – Deputy Mayor for Education & District of Columbia Public Charter School Board – Performance Oversight – February 15, 2019

EMpowered

Performance Oversight Hearing- PCSB and Deputy Mayor for Education

Testimony of Scott Goldstein, Executive Director EmpowerEd

February 15, 2019

Good Morning Chairman Grosso and Chairman Mendelson.  My name is Scott Goldstein and I am the Executive Director of the teacher advocacy organization EmpowerEd.  We asked teachers to submit input for oversight into both PCSB and the Deputy Mayor for Education.

First, on the Deputy Mayor for Education, I want to point out that I have been very pleased by the willingness of this Deputy Mayor to listen to the community.  He has listened clearly to teacher voices and clearly integrated their thoughts on issues like the crisis in teacher turnover into his thinking and made it a priority.  He has been out in the community regularly meeting with advocates and engaging in conversations- but not just with those who we might already agree, but soliciting broad feedback from diverse voices.  We all applaud that approach- and others in the DC education community should take note.

I asked teachers what key questions they had for the Deputy Mayor.  The top four questions were these:

  1. How are schools being guided to implement the Fair Access to Schools Act, since this applies to both sectors? How will schools and principals be held accountable for following the Act? What funding is available to them to implement?
  2. How would you define a viable, matter of right public school system? How are you working to achieve it?
  3. Do you support subjecting all public schools, including charter schools, to the same basic transparency rules- including FOIA and the Open Meetings Act?
  4. Is it a priority for you to take serious action to de-segregate our schools both racially and socio-economically?

The overriding question that faces the Deputy Mayor for Education is how will we plan comprehensively for education in this city.  Teachers and parents are deeply frustrated that we continue to open and close schools at random without considering the whole picture.  Acting Chancellor Ferebee said himself in his confirmation hearing that we should not just be opening new schools, especially next to existing neighborhood schools, in places where the specific demand does not exist. What is the Deputy Mayor’s strategy and timeline for implementing a comprehensive school plan in DC?

At the Deputy Mayor’s confirmation hearing I proposed an idea I would like to re-surface and hope to work with the Deputy Mayor on in the coming weeks and months.  Much like any new building must receive an environmental impact report before being permitted, any new school should have to receive an equity report before being granted permission to open.  There is a lot we need to take into account- including neighborhood demand, over and under-enrollment at surrounding schools, programming relevancy, the impact the new school will have on both enrollment and diversity at existing schools, what plan exists for ensuring the school will be staffed by a diverse teaching staff that reflect the student population and many more factors.

To start, there are several questions teachers wanted you to put directly to Director Pearson.

  1. Do you believe there should be accountability for charter schools as a system, related to its effect on education in the city, or only accountability for individual schools?
  2. Do you support teacher collective organizing in charter schools and would you support allowing charter teacher the options to participate in the DCPS pension plan?
  3. Who are all the agencies and actors that you believe have authority over the charter sector? If you believe it to be only PCSB, where in the law do you find that interpretation?
  4. What do you plan to do about the correlation between PMF scores and the at-risk status and SPED populations of the students the school serves? Will you prioritize intentionally de-coupling those indicators in how you measure schools to ensure you are measuring HOW the school serves instead of WHO they serve?
  5. How many discussions have you had with stakeholders about ways to improve teacher retention in the past year?
  6. Do you support subjecting charter school boards to FOIA and the Open Meetings Act? Why or why not?
  7. Do you believe it’s important for your schools to recruit and retain teachers of color? If so, what do you do to collect teacher demographics, analyze them, and take action to improve.  If you’re leaving this up to LEA’s- how are you ensuring equity for all DC students, so that they can learn from adults who look like them, an incredibly important factor in their education.

We very much appreciate that PCSB has taken new steps to consolidate information that was already public into one central transparency hub on their website. That’s helpful for the public. But the overwhelming top concern we heard from teachers was this one- when the public charter school board proactively seeks input on policy- it is rarely teachers.

We know that schools with stronger family, student and teacher engagement produce stronger results- so we should do everything in our power to arm our families and educators with everything they need to be part of the discussion. If we want schools to be responsive to the needs of those they serve- we should ensure every single LEA is subject to the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

Transparency is in the system’s best interest.  When stakeholders are involved in solutions on the front end, you rarely see bad headlines on the back end. A disturbing argument is often made that somehow transparency is divorced from our work to better outcomes for students.  If you believe that, you don’t genuinely believe in the power of community engagement.  Too often those in positions of leadership see transparency as oppositional. But transparency is the opposite- it’s how an organization shows it values those it serves and it’s how those in the community show loyalty to an institution they care deeply about. No one spends their free time attending a charter school board’s meeting because they don’t care about that school.  All public schools should be equally public.

We hope that both the Public Charter School Board and the Deputy Mayor for Education will listen to the voices of teachers as they make policy with recognition that there are not “adult issues” and “youth issues” and that in fact better teaching conditions are better learning conditions.  When teachers ask for policy makers to address turnover- it’s to ensure they’re students have consistency.  When we ask for transparency, it’s to ensure students are being treated equitable across our schools.  When we demand a diverse workforce, it’s because that matters to student outcomes, and when we demand diverse schools it’s because all students benefit from diversity. We look forward to working together more with teachers at the table as key stakeholders who should be engaged and respected in the policy process. Thank you!

Martin Welles Testimony – Deputy Mayor for Education & District of Columbia Public Charter School Board – Performance Oversight – February 15, 2019

Public Testimony of Martin R. Welles, Esq. For

PERFORMANCE OVERSIGHT HEARING: 

COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION & COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE

Deputy Mayor for Education

District of Columbia Public Charter School Board

Friday, February 15, 2019

10:00 a.m., Hearing Room 120, John A. Wilson Building

 

Good Morning Co-Chairman Mendelson and Grosso, members of the Education Committee and Committee of the Whole.

My name is Martin Welles and I’m a parent of 3 children who attend Hardy Middle School.  My children have also attended Amidon-Bowen Elementary School and Appletree Charter School.  I am an active volunteer and serve on the Jefferson Middle School SIT (school modernization team), Amidon-Bowen and Payne Elementary LSAT teams, and on the Board of Directors of Hardy PTO as Vice-President Civic Engagement, the Board of Directors of Near Southeast Community Partners as Treasurer, and on the Board of Directors of Capitol Hill Little League as Treasurer to name just of few of my volunteer activities. I do have a full-time “day job” as well.

My comments today will be directed toward both the DME and the Charter School Board:

Deputy Mayor of Education Paul Kihn:

First of all, I would like to welcome DME Kihn to DC government and thank him for his hard work since arriving.  Many of you know that Near Southeast Community Partners (NSCP) originated the “Feed the Feeder” series – a Principals Roundtable and Networking event to strengthen our neighborhood feeder school patterns.  In DME Kihn’s first week on the job, he attended our Ward 6 Feed the Feeder event and was one of the first to arrive and last to leave.  He spent the entire night meeting and speaking with teachers and parents.  I heard many positive comments from attendees and they were impressed with his willingness to listen.  When offered the microphone to provide some words, he said he was just there to listen.  I’m not sure I would ever pass up a microphone – so I don’t know what to make of that.

On another occasion, after reviewing the facts and understanding the situation, DME Kihn honored a commitment made by the previous administration.  It was the right decision and put an end to a contentious situation.  In short, DME Kihn’s approach has been reasoned and informed.

However, I did attend another event in which DME Kihn was a panel speaker on “Equity in Education.”  His presentation and remarks were focused on the District of Columbia, but I did find the narrative conveyed to be a little off-putting.  He articulated data that pit one Ward against another.  He seemed to convey that a Ward that was showing high scores, was somehow to blame for another Ward’s low test scores.  I walked away thinking that his comments seem to suggest that a high achieving Ward, rather than being celebrated, should be punished for being successful,  I would like to see excellence celebrated and invigorated, regardless of what Ward it exists.  Making every Ward’s neighborhood schools strong and desirable should be the priority, but it should not be a zero sum game.  There is room for growth and excellence everywhere in DC.

There are several hot button issues that I will require attention in the near future:

Amidon-Bowen:  Developers are trying to get a zoning variance to build a 50-foot tall, 32-foot wide, 40 unit dormitory to house actors and interns.  The lot is restricted to 3 stories, but more importantly the want relief from property line setbacks because the lot is only 40 feet wide.  The proposed building will be right on top of the playground and become a constant source of noise complaints.  Additionally, granting a zoning variance to the developer will waive the District of Columbia’s property rights to add capacity to the thriving Amidon-Bowen school in a neighborhood where 18,000 housing units are slated for development.  The developer has submitted a bad plan, and neither the DME nor DC Council should support it.

Hardy Middle School – Science Teacher Position:

The 7th grade students at Hardy Middle School have been without a permanent science teacher for almost the entire year.  Due to a series of unfortunate events, a substitute had to come in and teach.  Even though it was doubtful the permanent teacher would return quickly, the position was encumbered and that prevented hiring a dedicated science teacher.  DCPS and the DME’s office need to figure out a way to attract a permanent “substitute” teacher, and double encumber the position.  It would be nice if the DME could step in with a special budgetary authorization to double encumber a position so that when, and if, a teacher returns, the long term substitute is not forced to leave and so that two teachers could make up for lost ground.  An offer was finally made to a full-time science teacher, but I learned yesterday that the new hire was not able to start.  This is a serious problem, not only specific to Hardy Middle School 7th grade, but likely throughout the school system.

Hardy Middle School Capacity:  Hardy received a 5 star rating and that has certainly increased the desire of families to attend Hardy.  The 3rd floor of the building contains the Fillmore Arts Center.  As Hardy continues to grow, the need for classroom space becomes greater.  It is time to start shrinking the footprint of Fillmore Arts Center at Hardy Middle School and find a new location for them.  The first step would be for the Fillmore Arts Center to vacate classrooms that are in the 6th grade hallway.  These classrooms could be used for 6th graders so that they do not have to run up and down stairs to get to their classes on time.  It is also my understanding that the number of schools busing to Fillmore has reduced due to expansion and modernization at their own schools.   Fillmore offers a great curriculum, but it is only available to relatively few students anyway, and Hardy needs the space.

Thank you DME Kihn. Thank you to the Council for listening to my comments I look forward to continuing to work with you.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CHARTER SCHOOL BOARD

I’m not sure the taxpayer of the District of Columbia is getting what they bargained for with the Charter School sector.  The reason I am unsure is because Charter Schools are not subjected to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or open meeting laws.  Therefore, there is not any real way to know how much of our taxpayer dollars are spent on teacher salaries, benefits, building leases, and administration.  We do not know to whom the Charter Schools are beholden, if anyone.  I would like the Charter School Board to contractually require Charter School operators, in exchange for the $100s of millions of taxpayer dollars, to hold open meetings, to operate transparently at the same level as DCPS, and to be accountable to their customers – the parents and students who attend and the taxpayers who fund their enterprise through the FOIA.

The time for reform is ripe.  Of the 17 schools that received a 5 Star rating – 12 were DCPS schools and only 5 were charters.  The promise of Charters was that through innovation and freedom from regulation, they would be able to provide superior education to our children.  With the number of Charter School closings – either through abandonment or loss of license – it is clear that promises made during the application promises were hollow.  Granted, closing a low performing Charter school may be a way to instill fear among operators, but it really has an adverse impact on families who are now left without a familiar place, a familiar teacher, or a familiar peer group.

What was a promise of niche education, has turned in to mass education.  The Charter School model has now become to replicate DCPS and all its great offerings.  The innovation and methodologies that were promised 20 years ago materialized in very few schools.  And while there are several excellence Charter Schools, I’m not sure that the bulk of the sector has lived up to the hype and expectation.

I implore this Council and the Charter School Board to adopt transparency and compliance with the FOIA and open meeting laws. It can be done on a contractual basis, it doesn’t necessarily have to be legislative.

Sincerely,
Martin R. Welles, Esq.

Parent of 3 Children at Hardy Middle School

Vice President, Hardy Middle School PTA

Member, Student Assignment and Boundary Committee

Member, Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Cabinet

Board of Directors, NSCP – Treasurer

Board of Directors, CHLL – Treasurer

 

LL.M. Georgetown University Law Center – Taxation

LL.M. George Washington Law School with Highest Honors – Litigation

J.D. Loyola New Orleans – International Law

M.A. Loyola New Orleans – Communications

B.A. Viterbo University

A.A. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse

 

 

Suzanne Wells Testimony – Roundtable on Chancellor of DCPS Dr Ferebee Confirmation – February 12, 2019

Committee on Whole and Education

Public Roundtable on the Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools

Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee Confirmation Resolution of 2019

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  My name is Suzanne Wells.  I am the president of the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization, and the parent of an 8th grader at Eliot-Hine Middle School.

I first want to thank Amanda Alexander who has served as interim Chancellor.  She stepped into the role at a difficult time, and she led DCPS for the past year with a calm and steady hand.

Last March, the Education Committee held a hearing on the Future of School Reform in the District of Columbia.  I testified at that hearing about a book called Improbable Scholars by David Kirp.  The book describes the efforts the education leaders in Union City, NJ took to improve the poor performance of its public school system.  They didn’t open a single charter school; they didn’t fire teachers, and they didn’t hire people known in the ed reform movement to lead their school system.  Instead, they realized there were no quick fixes to rebuilding their public education system and closing the achievement gap.  They began focusing on quality early childhood education, a strong focus on literacy and project-based learning throughout the school district, and nurturing and supporting their teachers.

Today the city has made large investments in modernizing the schools, textbooks arrive at the school on time, we have quality PK3 and PK4 programs, and DCPS has developed a curriculum for teachers to follow. But there are so many more critical changes that need to occur.  Last May, a group of education activists issued an open letter saying the next Chancellor needed to change the culture at DCPS. The culture of an organization is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes it.  Today, DCPS’ culture is characterized by:

  • One of the highest teacher and principal turnovers among comparable urban school districts across the nation that creates tremendous instability in our schools;
  • Differences across the schools in the course offerings and experiences the students receive;
  • Inequitable funding in relation to the student’s needs;
  • Too many top-down mandates including those from the Mayor;
  • Too much listening to the needs of individual schools and communities, and too little action to address those needs;
  • Inadequate support from city agencies that should be providing wrap-around services to overcome students’ non-academic challenges to learning;
  • Too much politically-motivated hype about DC being the fastest improving school district in the nation, and a lack of willingness to look honestly at data to understand where our schools need to be improved, and how best to improve them;
  • Rolling out short-lived initiatives that take resources away from the basics, and then get forgotten when the next leader takes the helm; and
  • Broken feeder systems that do not support a city-wide system of quality, by-right neighborhood schools.

To address these deep and widespread problems will take an exceptional leader. One who is experienced at turning around a school system that is not performing. Someone who is skilled at doing the day-to-day, often unglamorous, common-sense work that will be required to change the culture of DCPS.

The next Chancellor of DCPS will face many challenges:

  • Trying to achieve the Mayor’s campaign promise of an “Alice Deal for all” that is no closer to being achieved than when she made the promise over four years ago. Trust me, the middle school my daughter attends, and the middle schools in Wards 7 and 8 are no Alice Deal.  The next Chancellor must find ways to close the great disparities found in the offerings at middle schools across the city, stop the high turnover among their teachers and principals, and begin attracting families with middle school students back to DCPS.
  • Reversing the top-down decision that was made to move Banneker to the former Shaw Junior High School site instead of creating a new Shaw Middle School that was promised to the community for years. Will the next Chancellor be able to convince the Mayor there needs to be a willingness to change the decision as public input is gathered on a middle school for this part of the city?
  • The Sunday Washington Post contained an article about admission to the selective high schools being based on PARCC test scores. Will the next Chancellor find a fair way to address the needs of students who this year are being unfairly screened out of five selective high schools solely based on their PARCC test scores without looking at their overall student record?

As the Council considers the nomination of Dr. Ferebee, I’m reminded of a 2010 article in The Washington Post about the search for a new Montgomery County superintendent to replace Jerry Weast who was retiring.  Someone speculating on the replacement to run one of the top school systems in the country said “It will be a crowning accomplishment of someone’s career to be the superintendent there.  It’s probably not going to be a hotshot young reformer.”  DC has had its share of hotshot reformers.  Let’s not make the same mistake again.  I ask the Council to confirm Dr. Ferebee only after they have thoroughly vetted he is someone who has the experience needed to successfully run an urban public school system, and the skills needed to bring about a desperately needed culture change at DCPS.