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Amber Gove Testimony, DCPS Budget Hearing, April 11, 2018

Thank you Councilmember Grosso and committee members for the chance to testify today.

As recent events have highlighted, DCPS needs steady leadership from someone who knows our city and system, and can deliver what parents, students and teachers need most: quality, safe schools that meet the needs of all students. This is also an election year, and given recent events, all eyes are on DCPS and the current budget cycle. This situation presents a unique opportunity to deliver on Mayor Bowser’s campaign promises, including her commitment to “Alice Deal for All,” a pledge to ensure all DCPS middle schools are as well-resourced as Deal. Unfortunately, raising the quality of all middle schools is a dream that has largely been deferred: according to OSSE data, the feeder school capture rate for all DCPS middle schools is 39 percent; Deal is an outlier at 74 percent. When it comes time to enroll their children in middle school, many parents do not yet believe that DCPS is the best option and they vote with their feet at an alarming rate.

As a Ward 6 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, Local School Advisory Team member, and parent of two girls at Maury Elementary on Capitol Hill, I regularly hear from residents about their educational aspirations for their children. Middle school choice is the hot topic of every playdate, parent gathering on the playground, and church coffee hour. What families want most is a safe, quality school that will meet the educational needs of their children and all of the children that it serves. They want a school that will welcome their involvement and volunteerism. And they don’t want to have to travel across town to get it: they want their children to walk or bike to their neighborhood middle school.

In our neighborhood, Eliot-Hine Middle School has the potential to deliver what Ward 6 parents want. But the school, like many within DCPS, is facing serious budget constraints related to its current enrollment levels. The funding formula for a middle school with just over 200 students presents limited opportunities for growth and vision. In multiple meetings with prospective parents, Principal Young and her leadership team have articulated a vision that includes staffing to meet the needs of all students, a focus on school culture and classroom responsiveness, and the extension of the school day to expand programming. Realizing this vision will require working outside of DCPS’ rigid enrollment-based funding formula, yet to date, DCPS has not even provided the minimum staffing model required by the International Baccalaureate program, particularly with regards to language. This needs to change, and urgently. Our community is seeking your support in asking the Deputy Mayor for Education and DCPS to fund Eliot-Hine not just to the levels of its existing enrollment, but through additional investments that support the school’s expected growth to some 500 students over the next few years.
Funding the school’s priorities is paramount if DCPS wishes Eliot-Hine to grow to its full potential and be able to attract more families from feeder and other Ward 6 schools. If you build it, we will come. At Maury we have compiled a list of nearly 40 students whose families are committed to enrolling at Eliot-Hine. Similar lists are being compiled at other feeder and non-feeder schools. Each of those school communities should be consulted to better understand what they would like to see at their child’s middle school. For example, parents of Tyler Elementary students are particularly interested in accelerated Spanish and immersion opportunities, an option not currently available at any nearby middle school. They are not alone, as the testimony of DC Language Immersion Project indicates. I ask that DCPS engage with principals and use the current budget cycle to fund the vision they and their communities have for their middle schools, beyond what current enrollment levels might dictate.

I also ask that the Deputy Mayor for Education work with the Chancellor to create a more pro-equity funding formula for all middle schools. As the figures attached to my testimony indicate, there is substantial variation in the amount of per-pupil funding middle schools receive for non-personnel costs. My analysis of FY19 budgets shows that while Deal can expect $1802 per student for non-personnel expenditures, nine of the eleven other middle schools receive less per student, and several receive only a third of Deal’s expected allocation. Some of these schools, like Eliot-Hine, have at risk populations of 70 percent or more. I was shocked to learn that middle schools receive a flat amount per student of just $9 for art, $10 each for music and PE/health, $12 for science and $20 for literacy: $61 in total for each student to support these critical subject areas. As a recent Washington Post article reports, more advantaged schools are able to supplement their DCPS allocations by raising hundreds of thousands of dollars through their PTAs. Most schools on this chart, and in particular those with a high percentage of at-risk students, have no such luxury. As just one proposal, I would suggesting starting every middle school with the same $1802 Deal will receive, and then add additional resources based on the proportion of at-risk students the school supports.

As an international education researcher and policy advisor, I’m often asked why I don’t work on domestic education issues. My usual response is that I work in places with all of the will and not enough means, while in the United States we have all of the means and not enough will. DC is different. As recent events have laid bare, there is a critical mass of residents, like me, who want our city to deliver on the promise of educating all students. We don’t want to play the lottery or compete for space in charter schools, leaving others behind. We don’t want our children to travel halfway across the city because their neighborhood school does not offer them what they need. And we don’t want to see another generation of students passed through the system without having their learning needs met. We have both the will and the means to achieve quality education for all, in all of our wards and neighborhoods. And we will remember the promises made (and the promises not fulfilled) at the polls in June and November.

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Heather Schoell Written Testimony – DCPS Budget Hearing – April 19, 2018

Thank you for the opportunity to share my perspective. I’m the parent of a 10th grader at Eastern and an 8th grader at Eliot-Hine. I’m the PTO secretary at the former, the PTO president at the latter, and LSAT secretary for both schools. I have been involved in improving public schools since 2005.

Middle School Outcomes. I want to bring to your attention the struggle of middle schools and why the funding allocation is a square peg. Middle schools have only three years to work with students. Eliot-Hine, the feeder school for Maury, Miner, Payne, and SWS @ Goding, has not typically gotten the top-performing students from each feeder’s 5th grade. (Those kids are often taken out of their elementary school at 5th in favor of charters.) Two-thirds of the Eliot-Hine student population comes from Wards 7 and 8. Wherever they come from, Eliot-Hine inherits kids who read significantly below grade level, and staff has only three years to try to mitigate the deficiency.

That’s the way it’s been for years. How is that fair, then, to hold Eliot-Hine to a funding standard as they work to undo the damage that’s been done to these kids, when elementary schools (or other middle schools if they’ve transferred in) have failed to teach them to read? Reading is fundamental. We can’t expect academic success when children aren’t reading at or near grade level, let alone when they’re four or more grade levels behind. And when they can’t read, they can’t do math, social studies, or science. Reading is everything. It’s a struggle to thrive when you feel ashamed, and know that these kids absolutely feel shame about their reading levels.

Until someone stands up for these kids and does something different at both the elementary level for prevention and the middle school level for remediation, we can expect the same outcomes in middle and high school (and beyond). We can expect low levels of academic success, and we can continue to pour money into the same baseline budget formulas based on enrollment, and parents of the top students can continue to choose schools outside of their neighborhood, citing low test scores and/or the unrenovated building.

Funding can remain the same, or you can step up and right this wrong. Make the commitment to show that these kids are worth the investment. Fund a full-time librarian so she can continue to help students find the books that will inspire them to read and help them to do successful research for their IB projects. Fund City Year for Eliot-Hine, which will not only help with small-group differentiation in the classrooms, but would also serve as mentors. Mentors can alter the path of a child’s life.

Heath and Welfare. I’ve testified about this before, but I’ll say it again and again. Take the mental health and social worker positions out of the schools’ budgets! Put the onus on DBH and CFSA to embed their people in schools so students get the help they need and schools can hire teachers instead of social workers. This way it’s more equitable and needs-based, and more direct. This would help with attendance, too, as so much time is wasted in the process of noting chronic absence and doing something to address and mitigate it. And of course, good mental health and welfare directly correlates with the level of academic success. We need to have the courage to admit that what we’re doing isn’t working and fix it.

Conclusion. One thing is for sure: we can’t do the same thing and expect different outcomes. We’re talking about the same problems this year as we did five years ago. That can’t feel good, sitting where you are. It certainly doesn’t feel good to the students who aren’t getting what they need. Invest in prevention in elementary and targeted intervention and remediation in middle school. Have the courage to make big changes that will make a difference. Raise the bar – we rise to the level of our lowest expectations.

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Kristina Vidal Written Testimony – DCPS Budget Hearing – April 19, 2018

I’m writing today to advocate for Eliot-Hine Middle School, an International Baccalaureate (IB) school in Ward 6 that draws a significant number of students from Wards 7 & 8. As an IB school, our curriculum is based around 8 core content areas, and though it aligns with the Common Core standards, the way that content is taught is approached differently. Not surprisingly, an IB school’s staffing model looks a bit different than a typical school, too. DCPS has actually developed guidelines for staffing IB schools, but since Eliot-Hine’s accreditation as an IB school in 2015, we have yet to receive a budget allocation that matches those guidelines. Instead, every year is a struggle to lobby for the resources that our school needs.

For example, in the FY16 School Budget Development Guide developed by DCPS, Middle Years Programme (MYP) schools (grades 5-10) should have “a full-time IB Coordinator”, “classroom teachers for all grade levels; all content areas” and “2 World Language teachers (must service the whole school, the entire year)”and have a “Specialist – Library/Media. I have been an LSAT member for Eliot-Hine for the past two years, and we’ve never received an initial budget that covers those four guidelines. Instead, are forced to use money that would otherwise go to instituting programs like a Saturday Academy to cover deficiencies. if we include FY18/19, we’ve had a half-time Librarian for 3 out of 4 years, we only got grade-level teachers for ELA and Math content as of SY17/18 (and don’t have that for Science or Social Studies), and we’ve only had a single World Language teacher in the building for the last three years.

Why does this matter? At MYP schools, every 8th grader is required to complete a year-long IB Community project, which is based on a need that they see within their community that resonates with them. Research, both skills and access to appropriate resources, is a vital component of this project, and Eliot-Hine students and teachers have leaned on our Librarian to help students complete their projects. The Eliot-Hine community has aggressively pursued library resources in recent years to address known deficiencies in the size, age and quality of our media collection. In the past 3 years, we’ve successfully brought in over $15,000 in new books and audio books to support readers across a broad range of reading levels and interests. We have created a Spanish- language collection from scratch and have been deliberate in selecting books with diverse characters and global themes to support the global-mindedness of our IB curriculum. However, next year’s school budget will yet again only cover a half-time Librarian, which means that our students not be able to get full use out of our collection. We would love to have a fully-funded Librarian position for SY18/19.

For middle schools, the IB Middle Years Programme is an inclusive model, which means that every student benefits from a globally-minded, inquiry-based education with a significant service learning component. Every student should have access to a World Language in this model, and we’ve been able to find ways to make that work with just one language teacher in the school. However, the fidelity of implementation of the IB curriculum is being undermined by the failure of DCPS schools to get students to grade-level proficiency before they enter sixth grade. Eliot-Hine has approximately 150 students this year who require a reading intervention period to help them close the gap to get back on grade level. In SY17/18, many students missed out on an elective, such as Spanish, so that their schedule could accommodate their required intervention block within their class schedule.

At the same time, we have a small (but growing) cohort of students whose achievement is well above grade level, which means that within our classrooms there is often a wide range of ability and mastery of subject content. With only one instructor and no ‘tracking’ of high and low performing students, teachers have to split time to handle re-teaching, grade-level content and enrichment activities within a single class period. With classroom technology, some of the challenges of differentiated instruction could be met with technology, but with only 82 functional laptops for 208 students, we are only able to provide laptops to one content area at a time. And since schools seem to live or die by their PARCC scores, our ELA and Math classes have gotten priority for these resources, which means that Social Studies, Science and Spanish have had to go without. Again, while some schools have a PTO that can bring more laptops into the building, our PTO doesn’t have the means to do so, and even if we did, the lack of clear guidelines in terms of what OCTO will support for classroom technology in the future means we are at risk of buying Chromebooks or other devices that won’t be supported by central resources from SY18/19 onward. We cannot afford to buy devices that will become obsolete.

While we are providing interventions to the students that need them, they’re often in a large-group setting, which makes the one-on-one interaction that really helps students achieve growth much less likely. Our school budget does not provide for Aide positions outside the requirements for our Special Education population, and again, our PTO cannot afford to cover salaries for additional staff to help out in the classroom.

We feel our community would be particularly well-served by a program like City Year, but when we’re scrounging to find the money to fill the holes in our IB staffing model, there is barely enough left over for basics like copy paper and custodial supplies. But on a dollar-for-dollar basis, City Year represents a fantastic bargain for a school like Eliot-Hine, which sorely needs both classroom aides and additional adults in the building to support climate and culture goals as well as student clubs and activities. For the cost of one additional full-time DCPS teacher, we could bring 8-10 more adults into our building to serve our school in a host of ways. We urge you to help us bring this program to our school in SY18/19.

Literacy has already been identified as a primary focus for SY18/19. We feel that bringing both a full-time Librarian and City Year to our school are actions that align extremely well-aligned with this focus and will help to make a difference with our kids, many who have been chronically underserved by DCPS prior to their arrival in middle school.

Sincerely,
Kristina Vidal
Mother to DCPS 4th & 7th graders
PTO Treasurer and LSAT member for Eliot-Hine Middle School

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Michael N. Kruger Testimony – DCPS Budget Hearing – April 19, 2018

Good morning Members of DC Council, thank you for allowing us to come and testify here today.

My name is Mike Kruger and I am a parent of a first grader and rising EC-3 student at J.O. Wilson Elementary.

I am proud of the J.O. Wilson community and, like many parents, feel that the physical building doesn’t provide our children the best learning environment.

J.O. Wilson underwent the beginning of the Phase One renovation in 2013. That was an improvement, but there is still much to be done.

Since then, there have been some improvements. In 2016, the kitchen received a $450,000 renovation that included a new walk-in fridge and second serving line for our 100% free and reduced student population.

In 2016 and 2017, we worked closely with DGS to get the lead out of our water. While that process wasn’t easy, we do appreciate the final result of lead-free water.

Finally, last summer, we received new exterior doors that have improved the attractiveness of the entryway.

However, we still have some real impediments to learning. As you will hear, we are not ADA compliant and need ramps or lifts at our entries plus an elevator. There were verbal commitments to Principal Haggerty that the elevator would be installed this summer. I was informed on April 9th by Ms. Carla Watson that the elevator wouldn’t be installed until FY19. She did say, “We are working to install a lift or ramp this summer,” which isn’t very useful or valuable without an elevator.

The current configuration of the school building is not how it was when the HVAC system was designed and installed. Therefore, we have rooms without heat vents or returns. In the winter, students have to put on their coats to attend “specials” or go to the library. In the summer, they are unable to use some of the rooms due to the heat.

Our façade doesn’t not adequately drain when it rains. Therefore, the concrete chips and falls off. There have been many repairs in the last three years. Each one working as poorly as previously, and only making the school appear in disrepair from the street.

Also, water seeps into classrooms. Every room on the front (south) of the building has water stains on their ceiling. Given health concerns about indoor air quality and mold, it is frustrating this problem is not addressed.

Finally, in the recent PACE scores, J.O. Wilson was the school most in need of modernization in Ward 6. While not an honor we are especially excited about, it is one that clearly demonstrates with data what many parents feel about our building in their hearts. It doesn’t meet the challenges of educating students in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

The funding for the renovation would be in FY24, but it appears the project wouldn’t be completed until August 2026. My first grade son will be a freshman in high school and my daughter, who starts at J.O. Wilson next school year, will be in the third grade before the renovation is completed.

That’s too long. We look forward to having further conversations about how to improve the facility while our children are still there.

I call on the Council to reprogram the budget to ensure the elevator and HVAC issues are addressed this summer, while providing planning dollars for the water damage and falling façade that can be addressed in next year’s budget.

Finally, given the community interest in the school, we’d ask for a small amount of money to help facilitate school and local community engagement to begin planning for the renovation.

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Kaylynn Flemons Testimony – DCPS Budget Hearing – April 19, 2018

Good Afternoon Members of DC Council, thank you for allowing us to come and testify here today.

My name is Kaylynn Flemons and I am a 5th grade student in the wonderful school, J.O. Wilson Elementary. I have attended J.O. Wilson for the entirety of my academic career thus far, going as far back to preschool. You should listen to me because I am a active contributor to my school. Since preschool, I have worked hard to be a role model to fellow students. Last year, I was the treasurer of our student government, got 100% on the Anet test, scored advanced on PARCC, and in 3rd grade won 2nd place in the school’s science fair.

Thank you for giving us the things we needed in the past, including the glass front doors that helped with our safety, but now we need your help with a MAJOR issue. I am here today to share my personal story.
Earlier this year, on February 12th, I had major surgery on my knee. After my surgery, I was restricted to a wheelchair. My mom asked my school, “How is she going to continue with her classes” since most of my classes are on the 3rd floor. My only option was to to try to walk up the stairs. Because of this need, I had to meet with a physical therapist to learn how to use crutches correctly on the stairs. Once I got upstairs on the 3rd floor, I was able to use my wheelchair. I missed several weeks of classes, to include lunch and aftercare, that were on other floors because I was unable to go up and down stairs throughout the day.

This leads to my issue: J.O. Wilson is in desperate need of an elevator. To add to my story, at first going up stairs for me was a struggle, four sets of stairs may not sound like a lot, but from my point in view, and anyone else with similar limitations, let’s just say it’s harder than it looks. When I walk up the stairs, it feels like every time I go up a set, another set of stairs adds on like a infinite journey. It’s not only hard to walk up the stairs, it takes time from class so every time I go up stairs for the day I miss a little bit of class every day.

A new elevator would positively affect not just me, but injured kids, disabled kids, even injured or disabled family members like the time a disabled father came to see his child at a performance but could not go. Kids in my school neighborhood who are disabled cannot go to our neighborhood school.

Also, when some of my peers injure their leg, knee, ankle or foot, worried parents either don’t allow them to go to school or spend a lot of time advocating for them. With an elevator, all of these problems can be solved. If you do decide to help us, I would ask that you make it a top priority since we have actually been promised an elevator in past years.

The elevator is important because of safety. Besides education, safety is the number one thing parents want. Without an elevator, an injured or disabled kid will definitely be at risk of getting more injured. For example, one time while I was walking down the steps, a second grader zoomed down the steps almost knocking me over while I was on the crutches.

You may think “why should she care, she’s leaving this school year”, but I care about my school and I have faced that same problem twice during my time at J.O. Wilson– besides, I’ll have lots of friends and three brothers still at the school next year, and I don’t want anyone to have the same challenging and unsafe experience in the future.

Once again, thanks for listening and we hope the elevator that has been promised for the last few years will actually be installed this year. Please make it a top priority, our safety and education depends on it.

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Suzanne Wells Testimony – DCPS Budget Hearing – April 19, 2018

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Suzanne Wells. My daughter is in 7th grade at Eliot-Hine Middle School, our family’s in-bound neighborhood DC public school. I am on the school’s LSAT.

Last night four Eliot-Hine students attended and reported on the America’s Promise Alliance gala that was at the Newseum. The America’s Promise Alliance seeks to keep five promises to the youth in this country that form the conditions they need to achieve success as adults. One of those promises is an effective education.

The parents and community members of the Eliot-Hine Middle School LSAT expressed our concern to DCPS that the SY18/19 budget allocation for Eliot-Hine is insufficient to meet the needs of the student body given the large percentage of students who are below grade level in reading and math. Last year, 88% of the students performed below grade level or partially met grade level expectations in math, and 73% performed below grade level or partially met grade level expectations in English language arts. That translates into almost 150 students being one or more grade levels behind in reading and almost 175 students not performing at grade level in math. These students came to Eliot-Hine not reading or performing math on grade level. It is not a problem Eliot-Hine created.

Despite focusing almost all of the school’s budget on classroom teaching in core subjects, the LSAT did not believe the current budget allowed for a staffing framework that will support students and empower them to make significant gains in their learning. We requested a relatively small additional outlay from DCPS that would 1) allow the school to partner with City Year, which would provide substantial additional classroom support at a low cost to help the school meet the needs of the large number of students performing significantly below grade level in both reading and math, and 2) fund a full-time librarian to both support student literacy as well as the implementation of Eliot-Hine’s International Baccalaureate program.

City Year is designed to provide one-on-one or group tutoring before, during and after school to help students who are struggling with their academic work. If the school is provided with an additional $105K, it would be able to have ten City Year staff who would work under the direction of the classroom teachers to provide one-on-one or group tutoring to the students who are significantly below grade level in both ELA and math. Individual and small group work has shown to be successful at helping students who are below grade level achieve growth.

The current budget only allows for a 0.5 librarian. A library resource specialist is a critical component in advancing student literacy and supporting student improvement. These specialists also play a central role in supporting the International Baccalaureate curriculum in general and specifically in supporting our 8th grade students as they research and implement their year-long IB Community Service projects. Our school community has invested a lot of effort in building up the library resources, and a full-time librarian also ensures our collection, which includes resources for readers ranging from several grades below grade level to several grades above grade level, is fully accessible and can support our school’s literacy goals and growth targets for individual students. A full-time staff person is also more invested in the school community and has more time to support literacy initiatives outside of the classroom, such as facilitating book clubs or broader school-wide reading initiatives.

In addition, the Eliot-Hine budget does not allow the school to meet DCPS’ own International Baccalaureate staffing requirements that include providing the students with two world languages. Like this year, the school will only offer Spanish, and not a second language.

A student who is performing below grade level at the 6th grade has only a 25% chance of graduating from high school on time. As a city, we should be investing most heavily in those schools with the greatest needs. Let’s not wait till the Eliot-Hine students are about to graduate from high school and determine they are neither college nor career ready. As a city, let’s help them today by adequately supporting Eliot-Hine so these students can reach their full potential. Let’s keep our promise to them that they will get an effective education.