Cathy Reilly Testimony – DCPS Public Budget Hearing for FY20

DCPS Budget Hearing – November 27, 2018
Phelps High School- Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators Budget Testimony Cathy Reilly

It is my hope that one of the lenses DCPS will use as it crafts the budget for this year is that of how best to support the public infrastructure of DCPS schools. This would have to include an Education Plan written with your stakeholders, this is different than goals.

Middle Schools are our missing link and if we are not mindful our neighborhood high schools could follow. Mayor Bowser won in 2014 on a promise of Alice Deal for All. DCPS has opened up MacFarland MS and is poised to open a middle school at Coolidge. I support the elementary parents and neighborhood associations in the Shaw community in wanting their middle school in that central location. The elementary and neighborhood energy is the future of DCPS. Further, 3 of the 4 State Board of Education members elected came out strong as supportive of a strong DCPS neighborhood system. I hope that DCPS also has a plan for a middle school in southeast where we have only one feeder school to Woodson that also feeds into Eastern. This was the recommendation of the Student Assignment Committee after extensive outreach.

The funds are there for Banneker on time and within the generous budget allotted. We support their modernization on site as has been the recommendation. It is across from Howard University and they have access there to extensive recreation facilities. We can see from existing projects like School Without Walls, Roosevelt, Coolidge that a modernized building can be beautiful and functional.

The decisions so far this year have been to expand application enrollment through the Bard Early College Program, the Coolidge Early College Program and now a 300 student projected expansion at Banneker. We have not seen a full environmental impact study that would tell us how this might affect the existing high school structure DCPS and the city has already invested in. Announcing them both this fall has had a chilling effect on the remaining high schools working to improve and increase their own programs and enrollments. DCPS is separating students who aspire to be in a selective environment from students in their neighborhood schools, why? We could have looked at more programs like the one at Coolidge or other academies like the former Business and Finance Academy at Woodson.

This is what a further investment in our neighborhood infrastructure could look like:

The Ward 4 transition to middle schools should include the funding to expand the education campus pre-k 3 and pre-k 4 seats. It should also have a plan in place to ease the transition by ensuring that staff can follow their students and that remaining staff that stay to keep the education campus middle school programs operating, are retained with good future options. This will require a funding stream.

At the high school level, DCPS should use its advantage as a system. Each school should not have to operate essentially as an LEA. There should be support and economical purchasing options for technology and a technology plan that promotes this as well as flexibility at each site.
Most importantly DCPS should unveil a system of resources and supports that will meet students where they are at each high school. This should happen prior to the release of the report cards that will initiate the STAR rating system. It could include smaller classes, enhanced summer programs, rich extracurricular opportunities.

DCPS should be able to offer multiple language options across our schools instead of just two years of Spanish at many comprehensive high schools. We should have ways to share the fantastic career opportunities offered at a number of our schools as well as advanced math classes.

We would be delighted to work on this with you.


Jessica Sutter Testimony – Education Public Roundtable – DCPS’ Plans for Shaw Junior High School and Banneker Academic School – November 15, 2018

Thank you Councilmember Grosso and Members of the Committee on Education for holding this Public Roundtable on plans for the Shaw Junior High School Campus. I appreciate the opportunity to testify this morning. My name is Jessica Sutter and I was recently elected to serve as the new Ward 6 Representative to the DC State Board of Education. I am here to offer my support for a middle school to be built on the land previously home to Shaw Junior High.

I have three main reasons for supporting this use of the property.

My first reason is honoring community trust. The recent DME Cross-Sector Task force report cited interest in “a cohesive, coordinated, citywide approach to education.” One suggestion for actionable, cross-sector solutions cited by the same report was the need to “share information.” I note both of these points because the current plan for the Shaw property from DC Public Schools and the Mayor’s office seems to have fallen short on both coordination and information sharing.

Community members in Shaw have been engaged in an effort to re-open a middle school on the Shaw property for a decade. Discussions about re-locating Banneker High School to the property appear to be less than a year old. These discussions began with only one community – the Banneker High School community – as part of the modernization planning process in October 2017. Even after a February 2018 meeting announced a “feasibility study” to consider the possibility of relocating Banneker HS to the Shaw site, the Shaw community was not engaged by DC Public Schools.

This change in plans for the Shaw site without engaging the Shaw community is a breach of community trust. Acting-DME Paul Kihn noted in his confirmation hearing last week that he is charged with rebuilding trust that has been lost between the community and education leaders. This recently announced plan is certainly a rough start to rebuilding trust with the Shaw community.

My second reason for supporting a middle school on the Shaw property is the possibility of building a diverse-by-design school in the heart of our city. DC’s growth in population and changing demographics has led to gentrification, increasing racial segregation in housing patterns and in school enrollment. During my campaign, I listened to neighbors who wanted strong neighborhood schools and racially diverse schools. In so many of our neighborhoods in Ward 6 – and all across DC – figuring out how to meet both of those interests is difficult, a bit like finding the mythical unicorn. But a middle school on the Shaw property – fed by Cleveland, Garrison, Ross, Seaton & Thomson ES – might come pretty close to unicorn status. Each of the schools serves a racially diverse population. Four of the five meet the community-eligibility status for Title I funds. All five serve 19 percent or more students who are English Language Learners (ELLs). At a time when our District neighbors say they want diverse, community-based schools, we have the opportunity to offer them both, in a location that is less than 1 mile from each of the slated feeder schools. (For reference, the possibility of a new middle school in the current Banneker site would be 1 mile or more walking from 4 of the 5 schools. It would be .7 miles from Cleveland ES).

My final reason for supporting a middle school on the Shaw site is meaningful choice. As part of my campaign, I made no secret of my support for the robust choice system we have developed in the District. I am glad our families have so many options when deciding on schools. But I want all our families to have a realistic opportunity to access the kinds of school choices that may best suit their child. Students should not have to travel west of the Anacostia River to have a selective admissions high school option. Students in all eight wards should have access to language immersion programs. Students in the middle of our city should have access to a traditional middle school option, serving grades 6 through 8. Right now – they don’t.

As a former middle school teacher, I think middle school is a magical time. Adolescents are fascinating. They are figuring out who they are and who they want to be. Adolescence is also an awkward and challenging time. Our tweens and teens are susceptible to bullying, and struggles with depression and substance abuse. The best middle schools are home to educators who embrace the wonder and challenge that comes with this developmental stage. While a traditional middle school may not be the right configuration for every child in Shaw, it should be a choice available to families. And right now, it isn’t. Neither DCPS nor any of the public charter schools in and around Shaw, Logan Circle, or Dupont Circle offer a traditional grades 6-8 middle school program. The nearest option is Howard University Middle School of Mathematics & Science, a public charter school located just over a mile away from the current property, just down the street from the historic Banneker High School.

Thank you for your time and your consideration.


Suzanne Wells Testimony – Education Public Roundtable – DCPS’ Plans for Shaw Junior High School and Banneker Academic High School – November 15, 2018

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today about the recent announcement that Banneker High School would be relocated to the Shaw Middle School site, and discussions would begin about future plans for a new middle school for residents who live in the Center City communities.

Today you will hear differing opinions, some supporting the decision to move Banneker Academic High School to the Shaw Junior High School campus, and others wanting to see the Shaw campus renovated for a middle school. I believe though there is much common ground among those testifying including:

– A flawed public involvement and consultation process was used to reach the decision to move Banneker to the Shaw site;
– Wanting Banneker to be renovated on schedule, and to have a high quality middle school in the next few years for students who live in the center of our city; – Our tax dollars should be spent wisely on school modernizations.

Flawed Public Involvement Process

There was $55 million in the Capital Improvement Plan as late as 2015 to renovate the Shaw Middle School as a by-right middle school for families in Wards 1, 2, 5 and 6. Without discussions with the community, the funding for the Shaw Junior High School was removed, and shifted to another school. About a year ago, in the Fall of 2017, DCPS began a feasibility study looking at moving Banneker to the Shaw Junior High School site. At no point during this time were there thoughtful discussions with parents in the center city area about how the middle school needs would be met, if Shaw Middle School was not renovated as a middle school. It appears there were limited discussions with the Banneker community after the feasibility study was completed in August 2018.

Had there been a genuine and transparent public involvement process, it would have allowed for thoughtful discussion on important issues such as:

– What are the pros and cons for expanding Banneker? And, if it is to be expanded, what is the right number?
– Are additional seats at Banneker really needed when we have an estimated 3000 open seats at our comprehensive high schools across the city? – What more should be done to strengthen our comprehensive high schools in order to attract students instead of adding more seats at a selective school?
– How might creating a middle school at the Shaw site help create predictable feeder patterns from elementary school through high school for residents in the center city?

Renovating Banneker and Creating a Center City Middle School

Nobody wants to see the renovation at Banneker delayed. It will be one of the last high schools in the city to be renovated, and it deserves a stunning renovation.

There is a general consensus that a new middle school is needed for families living in the center of our city.

Our tax dollars should be spent wisely on school modernizations

A recent analysis by Mary Filardo, Executive Director of the 21st Century School Fund, found a renovated Banneker at its current site could comfortable serve 700 students.

Her analysis also showed the current budget of $143 million to renovate Banneker is inflated. Roosevelt High School which was renovated in 2015 has twice the square footage of Banneker, and was renovated for $143 million. Banneker also received an extensive renovation to its third floor in 2017 that included a fully modernized library. Assuming limited renovation would be needed to the library, this could result in further savings and/or allow capital dollars to be used in other parts of the building. If the existing Banneker was renovated at a more reasonable cost than what is currently in the Capital Improvement Plan, the remaining funding could be put toward renovating the Shaw site as a middle school.

In closing, I recommend the city “take one step back before taking two steps forward.” The one step back would involve briefly holding off on moving Banneker to the Shaw site, and setting up a public engagement process with key stakeholders including Banneker families, families who would be served by a new Center City Middle School, and representatives from the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals, and Educators. The goal of the engagement would be to find common ground and solutions that best meet the education needs of our city. It’s only after this engagement that the city can move confidently two steps forward with renovating Banneker and creating a new middle school for residents in the center city.


Maggie Koziol Testimony – Education Public Roundtable – DCPS’ Plans for Shaw Junior High School and Banneker Academic High School – November 15, 2018

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on this important issue that affects hundreds of families in Shaw and Center City. I moved to Shaw in 2007, my husband has lived in Center City since 2002. We brought both our children home to our little house across the street from the original Shaw Junior High School, and our son now attends Seaton Elementary. Go Stingers!

I’m here because I want a stand-alone middle school to be opened at the Shaw Junior High School location that provides a feeder for all children from Seaton, Garrison, Cleveland, Thomson, and Ross Elementary schools – schools that serve Wards 1, 2, 5, 6 and beyond. I want what was promised to the community years ago and as recently as last year by Mayor Bowser at a public ANC meeting. A change of mayor should not invalidate processes or outcome decisions that predate an administration. At some point — even under mayoral control — community input and Council oversight has to start meaning something.

I also want the high-achieving students and hard-working staff at Banneker High School to get their long awaited and much deserved modernization.

And, I want both to happen transparently, through data-driven, thoughtful, long-term planning, and with the community engagement that’s absolutely critical to decisions of this magnitude; decisions that will impact these communities for a generation or more.

None of this should be a zero-sum game.

Today, I’d like to focus on a question I have regarding process and oversight, the importance of listening to constituent and community needs, and how we get to a resolution that makes sense for the communities involved and the city as a whole.

We know that as recently as 3 years ago the Capital Improvement budget had $55 million allocated for a renovation of Shaw Middle School. Without community engagement, and despite repeated appeals for a feasibility study to be conducted regarding the future of Shaw Middle, that money was reallocated to another school. Under similarly opaque circumstances, the announcement that Banneker High School would be moved to the Shaw Junior High site was made two weeks ago, blindsiding the community and making one wonder if DCPS is prioritizing exclusive test-in only schools over serving predominately at-risk populations.

I understand that the budget has already been allocated for the modernization of Banneker High School, a modernization the students and staff have been waiting for a long time, and is much deserved. Now, as someone who has managed $100 million dollar projects for the US government, I want to ask a question regarding the scope of work changes to the Banneker modernization project. In my experience as a project manager, a project whose scope deviates or changes substantially after it has been approved must be reevaluated and reapproved. An example from my own past work: if a decision had been made to build 10 health clinics in one location, but then later it was determined that a different location was desired, then the contractor would have to through a standardized reapproval process due to deviations from the original plan. Likewise, if I want to build an addition on my row house in Shaw, get my permits, but then decide that I’d prefer to build a roof deck, I’d have to go back to DCRA for new approvals. All this to say, that the budget that was approved for Banneker’s modernization called for a renovation and expansion of the school’s existing building. The Mayor’s announcement from a couple weeks ago is a major deviation from that. Given these substantial changes in the project’s scope of work what is the Council’s role is re-evaluating the budget and decision more generally?

Further, rather than thinking about this as a challenge, I believe that this substantial change in scope and necessary reexamination presents an opportunity for the Council to put a check and appropriate oversight on this opaque process, and for Mayor Bowser, the Deputy Mayor, and DCPS to right the wrong in this matter as it relates to working with the community to come to the best solution for ALL kids in Center City – whether they attend Banneker or will attend the Shaw Middle School.

To close, we have independent analysis that shows we can renovate and expand Banneker AND provide Shaw with the middle school it deserves. And, to the latter point, we know that communities are strengthened through neighborhood schools. The families who attend these schools and those who live in the center of this great city deserve strong, by-right stand-alone schools from elementary to middle and high school, and nothing less.

Thank you for time, and I implore you, please do not let this go unchecked.


Sarah Livingston Testimony – Education Public Roundtable – DCPS’ Plans for Shaw Junior High School and Banneker Academic High School – November 15, 2018

Greetings Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. I’m Sarah Livingston, a 12 year resident of Shaw and I appreciate the opportunity to comment on this subject.

I support the DC government in keeping its promise of 2008 to rebuild Shaw Junior High School on the same site it was forced to leave.

I do not support relocating Banneker anywhere because its proximity to Howard University is too good to give up. If the rationale is that it must be moved to have more space to serve more students, then that rationale should also apply to School Without Walls which sits on the George Washington University campus and is also a first rate school.

More broadly, as to where these ideas came from, because I don’t think that they “just fell from the sky” as Councilmember Evans said at the November 3rd meeting of the neighborhood about this.

I believe that when the means for democratic governing of DCPS was abolished in 2007, kicking the public out of any decisions such as these, a group of entities moved in to form a private de facto board of education to take our place. They are a minority of the city’s population, who exclude themselves from the general public into enclaves such as the DC Education Fund, RaiseDC and City Bridge Education to determine what “reforms” DCPS will make. Then they pass them on to the mayor for her to announce them with the expectation that the majority will accept them as orders to be obeyed because the mayor, elected by a majority, said so.

That is the most glaring perversion of democracy I’ve ever seen or heard of!

A government that allows a minority to rule over the majority is not a democratic one and it must find a way to reform itself so that the whole public—including the people in these private entities—can once again democratically govern DCPS so that decisions like these are publicly known parts of a democratically agreed to plan for the public school district as a whole.

Sarah Livingston


Suki Lucier – Education Public Roundtable – DCPS’ Plans for Shaw Junior High School and Banneker Academic High School – November 15, 2018

My name is Suki Lucier. I’m the mother of a second grader at Seaton Elementary school and the president of the Seaton Parent Teacher Organization.

When I was pregnant with our son in 2010, along with the typical questions about when I was due and if we knew if it was a boy or a girl, we also got asked over and over about when we would be moving out of the city. Not if, when. And when we said that we had no interest in moving, we usually heard the same response: but what will you do about schools? I mean, maybe you’re ok through elementary school, but there’s no way you can send him to a DCPS middle school!

At the time, it felt like we had plenty of time to figure out what would be best for our child and family (and, to be totally honest, time for DCPS to get better) but before we knew it, it was time for our son to start school and we chose a charter school in our neighborhood. Unfortunately, we came to realize that even though the school was in our neighborhood and we formed friendships with many of the families and teachers at the school, the fact that those families came from all over the city made it difficult to build a strong school community, and the school never felt like it was part of the neighborhood.

All that changed when my son moved to our neighborhood, in-bounds school, Seaton Elementary, for pre-k 4. We had heard a lot of great things about Seaton- that they had an amazing principal, teachers and staff, a uniquely diverse student population, and quite possibly the most impressive school garden in town- and we quickly learned that while all of those things are true, Seaton’s best quality is one that’s hard to quantify on a DCPS school profile: Seaton is truly a neighborhood school and an anchor in the community.

Being part of the Seaton community has made us feel involved, invested, and connected to our neighborhood and city like never before. We love being part of the parade of families walking and biking into school in the morning and seeing familiar faces all over the neighborhood. I didn’t fully appreciate how meaningful it is to be a part of a community like that, or how beneficial it is for the neighborhood, the school, and its families until I had the chance to experience it, but now that I have, I strongly believe that every child and family in the district should be able to have that same experience. I believe that every child in the district should be able to have a clear path from pre-k to graduation through quality neighborhood schools.

But for Shaw, it’s not even a matter of having a quality neighborhood middle school, it’s that we don’t have a neighborhood middle school at all. Our by-right feeder middle school, Cardozo Education Campus, is over a mile from Seaton, and almost two miles from families living near Seaton’s eastern boundary of North Capitol street. That’s not a neighborhood school, and the hole that leaves in the community is only worsened by the fact that the middle school at Cardozo has always been presented as temporary measure and lacks a strong feeder pattern. Only Seaton and Garrison feed directly into Cardozo as Ross has the option to feed into School Without Walls, and the Spanish Immersion program at Cleveland has the option to feed into McFarland Middle School.
We feel the effects of this all the way down at the elementary level, where Seaton loses kids in 4th and 5th grades because their parents are getting them into elementary schools with strong middle school feeder patterns. And so we looked across the street to where Shaw Middle has sat empty of students, but full of promise for the neighborhood and our kids, for over a decade, and we waited for it to be our turn.

We had good reason to believe it would be our turn eventually: there had been money in the budget for renovating or rebuilding Shaw Middle School every year since it closed, the 2014 Final Recommendations on Student Assignment Policies and DCPS School Boundaries had included a recommendation that DCPS should open a stand-alone middle school at the original Shaw Middle School site, and Shaw had exploded with families since then. And just last year, Mayor Bowser stood in front of our community and said that DCPS remained committed to opening a middle school at that site.

So you can imagine our surprise and dismay when we learned that the Mayor and DCPS had decided to move Banneker High School to the Shaw Middle School site without doing any meaningful engagement with the Shaw community. Now they say that they want to engage with us and they claim that they care about the opinions of the community, but they fail to respond to the request that is being shouted at them from across the city to put the breaks on the plans to move Banneker to the Shaw site until an analysis can be done on the full impact of that decision on all the involved communities. Not only do they insist on pressing on, they refuse to even do us the courtesy of telling us why it is so urgent to do so. Schools are built once every generation or two, so why is this process being rushed like this?

When I was reading about the history of Shaw Middle school, I learned that prior to the school’s relocation to the site at 925 Rhode Island Ave NW in NW, it had been known as “Shameful Shaw” for the deplorable conditions under which students had to study. Please don’t let this be the 21st century version of Shameful Shaw.

To that end, I ask that there be a complete pause in the process of moving Banneker to the Shaw site until the council is able to complete an investigation into the following questions:

-What was the exact timeline of events, including: the decision to remove funds that had been earmarked for the Shaw Middle School renovation; the decision to use those funds to renovate MacFarland Middle School, which is in the mayor’s home ward; the Shaw Middle School site being seen as being available for other options besides a neighborhood middle school; the Shaw Middle School site being seen as an option for Banneker; and the start of the official Banneker Modernization process?

-Has the Banneker building has already been promised to someone, and if so, when it was promised and to whom? Are the rumors that it has been promised to a charter school true, and if so, when was that deal made? Is the refusal to push pause on the Banneker relocation process due to the fact that the current Banneker site needs to be turned over to someone else by a certain date?

-Was the timing of the decisions surrounding moving Banneker to Shaw and the related extremely limited community outreach done intentionally to limit community feedback, particularly from at-risk communities such as non-native English speakers?

-Is there truth to the Mayor’s reported statement that the reason for expanding Banneker is to ease crowding at Wilson and that her plans for a middle school in Shaw are to open a city-wide, test-in school? If so, what are the Mayor’s justifications for denying Shaw a neighborhood, by-right school? Why does Shaw have to pick up the tab for the rest of the city?

This matters. This matters so much. The people who questioned us about our plans to move once we had our son may have been way off base about our commitment to staying in the district, but they were right about how important middle school is. It’s make or break, for students and for their families, but also for DCPS, which is why it’s so frustrating that DCPS refuses to listen to the repeated requests to pause the Banneker relocation process until a full analysis can be done as to whether there is a need for a stand alone neighborhood middle school in Shaw, and if so, whether the neighborhood and city would best be served by having a middle school at the former Shaw site.


Becky Reina Testimony – Education Public Roundtable – DCPS’ Plans for Shaw Junior High School Campus and Banneker Academic High School – November 15, 2018

Hello, I‘m Becky Reina, mother of 2 Cleveland Elementary School students. Thank you for this opportunity to testify.

I want Shaw Junior High School to be reopened as a middle school fed by Seaton, Cleveland, Garrison, Ross, and Thomson Elementary Schools as envisioned by the Office of the DME in 2014 as a result of many hours of public engagement.

I want Banneker to be thoughtfully renovated elsewhere, after real, public engagement with the Banneker community, its neighbors, SHAPPE, and all other interested stakeholders. A renovation at Banneker’s current historic building makes sense to me, but I think that decision should be made in cooperation, publicly, not by the mayor alone, and based on data about the need for expansion and an assessment of how that expansion will affect other DCPS high schools and their feeder schools.

While I prepared this testimony, a friend told me after watching a Shaw Middle School advocate shaming the acting DME at a public meeting, that they were not effective. I suspect none of us are — because we are too angry. We are angry and exhausted from years of begging the city to listen to us, from years of broken promises by mayors, DMEs, and Chancellors. I personally testified to this body in 2015 about my disappointment that Shaw MS had disappeared from the Capital Improvement Plan without explanation. I was in a meeting in your office Councilmember Grosso, with you and Councilmember Allen and Shaw Middle School advocates, in 2015, 3 years ago. We, I, want a strong feeder pattern from PK3 to 12th grade, in every part of the city. I want city leadership to meet the needs of every child in their own neighborhood.

Shame on the Mayor for making this zero sum: Banneker or Shaw, but not both. I would like to read an excerpt from the website, DC Urban Moms and Dads. On, November 10th, an anonymous poster stated that Mayor Bowser attended a West of the Park community meeting and when asked what she intended to do about overcrowding at Wilson High School, she said:

“The quickest way I can reduce crowding and demand for Wilson is to get Banneker at Shaw opened as quickly as possible…If we move them to Shaw, I have 350 more seats we can fill; these are families who would otherwise be clamoring to get into Wilson or SWW…

We can also increase high quality middle school seats by taking the current Banneker space and creating a new, high quality middle school open to all District residents.”

I was not at the this meeting. So you must now ask the Mayor if she said this and if so, what she meant. When I read this, I do not hear an advocate of strong neighborhood schools in every neighborhood. I hear the Mayor telling affluent, mostly white people, that, ‘I will keep those striving students of color out of your high school. I will open more specialty programming away from you to keep your program the way you like it.’

I find this unacceptable. Our goal as a city should always be to meet the needs of the kids who need the most first, to create schools that are racially and economically integrated, that stitch our city, our children, our lives, together —not further apart. More gimmicky, specialty programming will not do that. Another charter school will not do that. More “choice” will not do that. Neighborhood schools do that, especially in mid city, where that diversity exists in our neighborhoods. You fix structural deficits by doing the hard work of supporting kids where they live and where they already go to school, not quick fixes that juke the stats.

I have been standing at the front of my children’s school, talking to fellow parents and grandparents about this. They do not look like me, they did not grow up with the advantages I had – roughly 50% of students at Cleveland meet the city definition of At-Risk (the same is true for students at Garrison and Seaton). These are parents I only know through Cleveland. We are part of a community we have built together because of our differences, because of our kids, because of our school. Shaw Middle School is what these parents want – some of them are Shaw Junior High School alumni themselves. And these parents want your help.

On a recent conference call about middle school options in Shaw – a call that was secret until we found out about it by accident – a DCPS representative asked, “How should we engage these parents if they never show up?” A lack of effective engagement shouldn’t translate into discounting a community or renouncing efforts to engage them directly. These parents want the city to ask them what they want, to listen to the answers. We need the Council’s leadership on this. Please, reopen Shaw as a middle school. Please help us create a strong feeder pattern from PK3 through 12th grade. Do not let the Mayor make these decision without us.

Thank you.