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Suzanne Wells Testimony – DCPS Chancellor Hearing – December 8, 2016

DC City Council Committee on Education Public Hearing

Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools Antwan Wilson

Confirmation Resolution of 2016

December 8, 2016

Suzanne Wells

Eliot-Hine Middle School Parent

Founder, Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization (CHPSPO)

Thank you for the opportunity to testify at today’s hearing on the confirmation of Antwan Wilson as the next Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). 

On August 11, 2016, the Coalition for DC Public Schools and Communities sent a letter to Mayor Bowser identifying qualities the public school education advocacy groups felt were appropriate for the next Chancellor.  These qualities included:

  • Experience as a professional educator and administrator;
  • Tenacity in advocating for current and former DCPS families;
  • Commitment to healthy and productive relationships with principals, teachers, communities, parents and students;
  • Management skills encompassing core school business functions; and
  • Demonstrated support for a well-rounded education for every student.

Since Mayor Bowser announced the selection of Mr. Wilson on November 22, 2016, I have had the chance to read newspaper articles about his tenure in Oakland, attend a meet and greet with him, and speak to a parent from Oakland.  What I have learned is that Mr. Wilson is in fact a career educator who has experience working in and leading a large public school system.  He has experience bringing about positive change in low-performing schools, and seems genuinely committed to meeting the educational needs of all students and ensuring they get a well-rounded education.

Areas where I believe the Education Committee should take a close look at Mr. Wilson are his 1) tenacity in becoming an advocate for DCPS and 2) commitment to healthy and productive relationships with principals and teachers.

In DC, where we have a strong and robust public charter school sector, and where choice is strongly promoted through efforts like My School DC, it is absolutely imperative that the next Chancellor be a tenacious advocate for our city-run public schools.  At your roundtable last week, Cathy Reilly testified that Mr. Wilson should be held accountable for increasing the enrollment of the students in DCPS and she suggested a modest and achievable growth rate of 3% a year.  I believe this is a very sound recommendation that absolutely should be included in Mr. Wilson’s contract.  If he is true to his word about lifting up low-performing schools, he should be successful in attracting families to their neighborhood schools.  If he is true to his word about meeting the educational needs of all students, he will keep families committed to DCPS.  Increasing enrollment in DCPS will be one of the surest benchmarks  Mayor Bowser and the Education Committee will have to evaluate whether Mr. Wilson is successfully performing his responsibilities.

Many have read the March 4, 2016, article about Mr. Wilson’s efforts to bring closer coordination between the Oakland charter schools and the district run public schools.  Some of the things Mr. Wilson tried to achieve in Oakland, e.g., a common enrollment system, are already in place in DC.  Mr. Wilson appears to want to level the playing field between charter schools and district-run schools by promoting the same criteria for academics, discipline and enrollment.  In doing this, we should hope Mr. Wilson will bring insights that will encourage comprehensive planning between the Public Charter School Board and DCPS before new schools are opened or schools are closed.  I hope he will be successful in working with the charter school community to address public charter school practices that work to the detriment of DCPS — such as starting middle school at 5th grade instead of 6th grade, counseling low-performing students to leave individual charter schools (to be accepted back to a DCPS school) before testing begins, and suspending low-performing or difficult students without working to address their individual needs.

In closing, I hope Mr. Wilson has learned from his experience in working with parents and communities in both in Denver and Oakland that while we may not always agree with each other, it is important to invest the time to listen to each other and sincerely seek to understand other’s perspectives.  Parents and communities can bring enormous support to Mr. Wilson if he works with them as partners, and not as adversaries, such that the changes he may want to bring about can be fine-tuned to address genuine concerns.

If confirmed, I wish Mr. Wilson the best of luck in his new endeavor, and I personally look forward to working with him as a parent of a DCPS student.

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Max Kieba Testimony – DCPS Chancellor Hearing – December 8, 2016

Testimony by Max Kieba, Maury parent

DC Council Committee on Education Hearing: PR21-1040 – Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools Antwan Wilson Confirmation Resolution of 2016

December 8, 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the proposed confirmation of Antwan Wilson as Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools.  My name is Max Kieba: I’m a parent at Maury Elementary, serve as the School Improvement Team (SIT) Co-Coordinator for our upcoming renovation project and one of Maury’s representatives in the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization (CHPSPO).

I wasn’t directly part of the selection process other than through CHPSPO we did provide some input on what we hope to see in the new chancellor.   While we’re collectively still getting to know each other better and look forward to learning more from him today, many aspects of his background and skill sets appear to address many of traits we asked for in a new chancellor and areas in which we can continue to improve… communication, helping to address the achievement gap, and equity for high quality education for all students.

We look forward to working with him with an open mind and hope he will do the same in working with us.   We also want to make sure he’s aware that while he is coming into a system that has improved in many ways, it also has room for improvement elsewhere.     Among some areas of improvement I’d like to highlight and which we’d like to better understand his approach and any thoughts he may have based on his introduction to the district and DCPS so far:

Improving Trust within the System

We are all part of the system, whether it’s DCPS front office, the schools, families or other agencies/stakeholders that may interact with one another.  DCPS is a key interface for so many processes, but there are unfortunately a lot of apparent trust issues at play that seems to go both ways… there is a lack of trust families have with DCPS, and apparent lack of trust DCPS has with its schools and families.  Many of these issues involve communication and effective community engagement, but at a high level the general perception is DCPS seems to believe it knows what’s best for the schools, makes decisions with little to no true engagement and the schools and families should just fall in line with decisions that are made.    It’s difficult for schools and families to trust DCPS if DCPS doesn’t trust its schools and families in the communication and engagement process.

Communication and Effective Community Engagement

We continue to have issues with open communication and truly effective and robust community engagement.   Most of my experience has been with the modernization/SIT process, but it seems to manifest itself in other processes as well.  While this can’t all be put on the chancellor position, there appears to continue to be a less than healthy culture at DCPS with respect to communication and engagement within and across certain offices (the silo effect), with other key agencies like DGS and externally with schools and their families.    Information is rarely shared in a timely fashion, or when information is pushed out it comes with little to no raw data with it or substantive rationale for the decisions.  In most cases, schools and families are then asked to provide quick feedback based on limited information because we don’t have time to discuss in detail.  When questions are asked in an attempt to have a constructive dialogue, the answer is usually they’ll get back to us (rarely do they in a timely fashion) or it involves another office we need to contact.  When we contact that office, no replies and the cycle repeats itself.    When we ask for public meetings to discuss further, little to no action is taken or schools have to take it upon ourselves to share information publicly or engage in discussions with others, again though with more questions than answers on what DCPS is thinking.  When someone from DCPS does attend a meeting, it’s usually not the people with decision making authority and the cycle continues.   We want to do what we can to be a team player, follow the process and have DCPS take the lead, but they sure make it tough. 

Continuing to support and invest in our middle schools

DCPS needs to continue to support, invest and help improve our middle schools.  DC enrollment is increasing and the families that are coming into the system are generally more affluent, have more education (and are more white) than the average DCPS student.  Those families are demanding high quality education for their children, yes, but they understand the importance of building a system that provides equality of opportunity (and quality learning outcomes) to all students.  That demand for increased quality can benefit everyone if DCPS can appropriately channel that demand/enthusiasm. The new chancellor should build on this momentum and work with families to keep them in the system (and keep them from moving to the suburbs).  Working with those families means being more transparent on decision-making and critically, moving very quickly to improve middle schools (so those families will stay). Mayor Bowser’s promise of “Deal for everyone” does not, we presume, mean that everyone has to enroll at Deal. The Chancellor should immediately act to make DCPS middle schools competitive with charters from an academic perspective.  Many of these “new” families were lured into DCPS by free early childhood education.  DCPS will keep them if they step up their game in middle school, but it needs to happen quickly.

Middle school decisions should all happen at the same time

The new chancellor should work together with the DC Public Charter School Board to find ways how we can make the decision processes for families more fair and equitable.  One key area is helping to encourage all charters to start their entry grade in grade 6, similar to DCPS middle schools, instead of grade 5.  To be clear, we feel public charters and DCPS do have a place together in the overall education system and there are many reasons families may choose a public charter over DCPS middle school.    However, we are losing far too many families in our school and DCPS in the 5th (and sometimes earlier grades) based often on the fear that if they don’t make a move then, they may have no shot.    In the process of making those early decisions, we also suffer with issues in testing results and the overall achievement gap especially when the better performing students are often the ones leaving the DCPS system earlier.   

Improve on equity

DCPS did not go far enough in solving the problem of using the education system to redistribute how students get assigned to schools. For more affluent/high demand schools, DCPS should introduce a percentage of low-income lottery spots.  With the boundary redrawing, we’ve essentially locked in the tight relationship between income and school quality/outcomes. Schools need to be sized to accommodate both their in-bounds population as well as sub group (10%-20% of total?) of income-based out of bounds lottery winners.   We need to honor the right to attend your neighborhood school, but also recognize the need that building a highly educated society requires a diversity of experiences and background all mixed together.  There aren’t very many US cities that have done a good job with this, but surely we can improve upon the existing model by giving more of an eye to equity.  This is a challenge at Maury with its already being overcapacity and challenges in right-sizing the renovation/addition given our tight footprint, but there are ways to do it right and we embrace diversity. 

School Nurse reduction/reallocation plan

We thank Council for helping to influence in a delay in the decision surrounding resource allocation of school nurses.  We continue to be concerned about the potential for a reduction.  We’ve had multiple 911 calls, broken wrists, asthma issues, etc. etc.  It would be great to make it a priority to prevent cutting our full time nurse.  Currently the issue may be on hold but there is a concern it may be sneaked through when no one is looking (again, the trust issue).  It’s fascinating to see the number of students that have health issues that will fall through the cracks if a nurse is not here.  The solution is usually to rely on “med givers” which are four paras that get pulled out of a classroom to attend the students.  The teachers in pre k 3 and 4 cannot be alone with their students and it has caused other unsafe scenarios when it happens in today’s world.    We need more hours not less.  Or if this truly may be the best approach for multiple reasons, we at least ask for more public dialogue. 

Ward 6 State of the Schools – May 14 @ Eastern HS

Ward 6 State of the Schools

Saturday, May 14, from 10:00 a.m. –1:00 p.m.
Eastern High School, 1700 East Capitol Street, NE

Join Councilmember Tommy Wells and Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson

The work of improving our schools is too hard for anyone to do alone.
Everyonehas a role to play in this effort!

You will have the opportunity to:
-Learn more about Ward 6 DCPS schools
-Interact with Ward 6 school leadership
-Meet fellow parents and community members
-Share your ideas about how to improve Ward 6 DCPS schools

Read the Agenda for more details.

Refreshments will be served & childcare will be provided

Questions? Contact Bryant.Sewell@dc.gov

CHPSPO Meeting Notes – March 15

The Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization meeting was held at Maury Elementary School on March 15, 2011, 6:30 – 8 p.m.

1) Reviewed Briefing for Kaya Henderson, March 23, 5:30 p.m. Action: updated slides to be submitted to Suzanne Wells (m.godec@att.net). Click here for the final version of the presentation.

2) Ward 6 Middle School Communication Strategy (Jason Townsend)

  • Incorporate into presentation to Chancellor Henderson (ask for help from Comms Team/Peggy O’Brien)
  • Maury parent Amy W to help develop strategy
  • – School notes on Rag – CHPSPO
  • Get enrollment numbers from Moody’s group -Ask Claudia for this info
  • eMail SW if you want to go

3)  SWS Budget: CHPSPO will draft and sign a letter supportive of as much full-funding as possible for programs. Taking into consideration large wait list, large enrollment, expectation of libraries, expectation of art programs

Next CHPSPO Meeting:   April 12, 2011 (note:  Moved to 2nd Tuesday of month because 3rd Tuesday falls during DCPS Spring Break)

Upcoming Events:

March 18:  Ludlow-Taylor’s Spring Gala, Atlas Performing Arts

March 23: Kaya Henderson Briefing, 5:30 p.m

March 26:  Maury at the Market, Eastern Market

April 1:Hill Community Foundation Spring Grant Deadline

April 2:  Brent’s Taste of the Hill Gala

April 9:  School-Within-School at Peabody’s Jazz Gala & Auction

April 30:  A Montessori Night’s Dream:  Second Annual Silent Auction

Meeting with Vincent Gray on Middle School Plan TBD