Testimony of Becky Levin – DCPS Food and Nutrition Services Program – September 30 2015

Testimony of Becky Levin, parent of Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan Student

DCPS Food and Nutrition Services Program

Council of the District of Columbia, Education Committee

September 30, 2015



Members of the DC Council, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you about food and nutrition services in D.C. Public Schools and what you can do to promote good nutrition in our school system, how to maximize the effectiveness of tax payer dollars funding school meals, and strategies to consider as DCPS moves forward to select either new vendors or a new system for producing meals in subsequent school years.


My name is Becky Levin, I am the mother of a third grader at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan, a coordinator of the school’s Health and Wellness Club, and a Commissioner on the D.C. Healthy Youth and Schools Commission.  At Logan, we are working hard to teach our students and their families about nutrition and to promote healthy eating and living throughout our school’s activities. I’m also an advocate working on Child Nutrition Reauthorization currently pending in Congress.  I talk to a lot of school food service professionals, nutritionists, and other advocates working very hard to make school meals healthier, delicious, and appealing.  There are fantastic examples across the country that can help the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) greatly improve our school meals. DCPS has had some promising initial successes. I am confident that with thoughtful consideration, such as convening hearings like today’s, and the proper oversight DCPS can once again be a leader in providing excellent and student-embraced school meals.

We all know that children, like adults, require good nutrition to power their brains so that their minds are well-fueled and they aren’t distracted by a rumbling belly.  Excellent nutrition is particularly critical for young children, as their brains are still developing. We also know that proper nutrition and exercise are essential to combat childhood obesity, adult obesity, preventable health complications and sky- rocketing health care costs. Thank you for recognizing that supporting healthy school meals efficiently addresses both public health and education issues and is a prudent and cost-effective investment. Providing the highest-quality nutrition for the districts nearly 46,000 students- about 8 million meals a year – should be a priority, especially since twenty-six percent of D.C. children are living in poverty.


School meals are a lifeline for poor students to access better health, a better learning experience, and a better future.  I want to emphasize this. Nutrition in schools should be a core focus of the public school system, and- yes- I fully recognize that there are many challenges facing DCPS.  Already, DCPS makes decisions about whether or not to open schools in bad weather, recognizing some children may not eat all day if schools are not open.  Every day that school is open is an opportunity for students to not only learn but to become healthier.

Thank you Councilman Allen- you and your staff have been very open to exploring solutions and are always willing to engage on this important subject. I’d also like to thank Councilwoman Mary Cheh and her staff for spearheading the innovative Healthy Schools Act, which is a critical first step in improving quality and standards in DCPS school meals. I’m very interested in your proposal to create a Food Policy Council and Director for D.C.  Thank you also Councilmembers Elissa Silverman and Brianne Nadeau for joining Councilmembers Allen and Cheh in the vote of disapproval for DCPS to continue the Chartwell’s contract.

I encourage Council to build on this new beginning for DCPS school food to improve student health and school meals by taking a serious look at the next critical step, selecting a responsible vendor or vendors, preferably local vendors that will provide scratch cooking, rather than the large, multi-state vendors, many of whom have proven that they are simply out to maximize profit with little regard for either quality or transparency. Ultimately, the best step would be to bring meal production and food procurement back within the public sector instead of contracting with private, for- profit vendors.  I recognize this is a very significant step, but there is clear evidence to support this transition.

School food service privatization has failed to economically manage food service and promote and maintain high quality- not just in DC but in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Michigan, Wisconsin and across the country. The stories are the same.  These large, multi-state food service management companies have increased deficits, decreased quality, hidden rebates, and profited at the expense of inferior nutrition for children. Despicable.

The recent $19.4 million settlement with Chartwells, regardless of whether the contractor admits fault, is a clear sign that the privatization, accountability, and procurement in D.C. government specifically is a problem. Despite repeated and continuous opportunities to hold this vendor accountable, it took a whistleblower lawsuit from outside of DCPS to begin to clean this mess up.

In order for the Healthy Schools Act to achieve its potential, the DCPS food services team needs to have experienced, professional and stable leadership.  If meal service is not produced in-house, then DCPS needs to very carefully select a trustworthy partner or partners as vendors and carefully manage the contract.  It’s also essential that there be transparency, accountability, and sustained high quality in all meals and snacks.  Oversight from Council is needed here. Problems with food services procurement, contract review, cost overruns, and quality has been a problem for too long.  Council should also require and direct DCPS to improve outreach to and coordinate with parents, students and teachers to improve satisfaction, reduce waste, and increase participation.  It’s my understanding that participation rates have dropped significantly, but the data is not readily available or transparent.  Ambitions new goals should be set to increase participation.  Participation data should be publically available and reported to Council in a standardized format broken out by individual school and with a comparison to participation numbers when they were at a peak.

Food waste is a problem, because many students do not like the food being served, a big change from a few years ago.  I encourage DCPS to work together with students, parents and DCPS faculty to make meals more engaging and appealing.  A few suggestions include forming an advisory board of students and faculty, holding a contest for new meal entries similar to what the First Lady Michelle Obama has successfully accomplished with Let’s Move, holding townhall meetings for input, and having food services representatives attend PTSO meetings to provide updates on changes and field questions.  A survey is a fine beginning, but it’s important to create and sustain a dialogue rather than quickly disseminating a one-time gauge of satisfaction.

Food waste, however, is a byproduct of meals, even with high meal satisfaction. But there’s a better way to handle it than just pitching out food.  Composting was supposed to be provided, but it’s no longer happening at our school. This should be a requirement throughout the school system.  There are also some very simple, common sense approaches to reducing plate waste.  Give students more time to eat lunch.  An extra 10 minutes would be helpful.  Schedule lunch before recess instead of afterward.  Studies indicate that students eat more after recess.  And I know that noise is an enormous issue in our school and many others.  Noise abatement is important, so that the environment is conducive to eating.

Schools around the country are crafting more innovative and economical ways to produce healthy meals and increase meal participation.  Successes are popping up in Boulder, CO, in Memphis, TN and locally in Baltimore, MD.  Let’s learn from their successes. Overall, 87 percent of large school districts across the country run food services in-house and schools systems are successfully moving away from food service management companies, and looking at innovative ways to cook from scratch, centralize meal production, purchase local fruits and vegetables, and introduce children to healthier foods that taste great.

Our bottom line should be what is best for kids. Clearly that’s high quality food that is fresh, minimally processed, seasonal and local, free of antibiotics and additives, lower in sugar, with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If we don’t invest in this now, then we will be paying for it later in increased healthcare costs.  I look forward to hearing about Council’s plans to further improve school meals and hopefully seeing changes for the better.

I’d also like to add that children will eat healthy foods, including vegetables.  Our school’s Health and Wellness Club has introduced children to many foods they may have never have eaten before- fruit smoothies, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, persimmons, pecans, black beans, plain yogurt, salsa, baked chips, and homemade hot chocolate with much less sugar than in mixes.  I’ve watched the same students make gagging faces at the sight of a squash and then stand in line with twenty other kids for seconds on butternut squash soup.  And we ran out of roasted Brussels sprouts, because the children were eating them like candy.  Many of these kids- and parents, too- had never eaten these foods or thought they didn’t like them. But when parents and kids tried these foods- which were local, seasonal, fresh, and cooked properly- they loved them!


Tasty school meals can achieve the same success. Healthy school meals serve an essential role to promote health, wellness, and to introduce new and tasty, healthy foods.  Ideally, the DCPS school breakfast, lunch, supper and snack menus can serve as a guide for parents to model and create healthy meals.  But we need a willing, responsible partner, effective leadership, and strong oversight that places high quality food service and health as the top priorities.  I urge you to reject empty promises from large, for-profit vendors; provide consistent oversight and accountability; ensure that DCPS is prepared to greatly improve oversight and accountability; and engage parents and students in the process in order to do what’s best for the children and taxpayers of the District of Columbia.

DC Council Committee on Education – Oversight Hearings on FY 2014-15


Oversight Hearings on Fiscal Year 2014-2015

The Committee on Education ( will conduct Performance Oversight Hearings; the following agencies will testify:

Wednesday, 2/18/2015, 10:00am, Room 123

  • Public Charter School Board
  • Bullying Prevention Taskforce
  • Healthy Youth and Schools Commission

Thursday, 2/19/2015, 10:00am, Room 412

  • District of Columbia Public Schools (Public Witnesses Only)

Tuesday, 2/24/2015, 10:00am, Room 500

  • District of Columbia Public Schools (Government Witnesses Only)

Thursday, 3/5/2015, 10:00am, Room 412

  • Office of the State Superintendent of Education
  • State Board of Education

Tuesday, 3/10/2015, 10:00am, Room 123

  • Deputy Mayor for Education
  • District of Columbia Public Library System

Persons wishing to testify about the performance of any of the foregoing agencies may contact: Christina Henderson,, or by calling 202-724-8191.


Thank you to CM Charles Allen’s staff for helping us to keep track of these.

DC Council Education Committee Budget Hearing – Testimony by Dr Bella Dinh-Zarr, Tyler ES

Good morning.

My name is Dr. Bella Dinh-Zarr and my son has attended DCPS schools for almost 3 years.  For the past 2 years, my husband Dr. Robert Zarr and I have been part of a group advocating on behalf of librarians and libraries in DC Public Schools.  What we – and the 5 thousand (5000) people who signed our library petition on – want, is simply to Save Our School libraries.

School  libraries are a critical tool and resource in all levels of education today – from Preschool to 12th Grade.  Libraries and librarians support 21st century learning as well as the most basic literacy – reading and writing.

Two years ago, Chancellor Henderson instituted a plan that put school librarians on a path to extinction. Under this plan, small schools would no longer have librarians funded by the central office.  And, bigger campuses were given the latitude to spend library funds on other things.

But this committee, under your leadership Mr. Chairman, found the funds to ensure that a large number of DCPS students still attend a school with a librarian. And, to her credit, Chancellor Henderson found monies for a large influx of new books into most of our modernized high schools and some of our middle schools; as well as a modest contribution to most other DCPS campuses.

Our message for school libraries in the FY15 budget is that additional funding is required, not just to maintain the resources we have, but to improve and expand our libraries, because we are already so far behind.

Last fall, DCPS spent $3.4 million for library materials, including 125,000 new books. It sounds like a lot, but a huge shortfall still exists and even schools that received the most funding are still far below accepted nationwide norms in terms of the size of their library collections. About 300,000 additional volumes are still needed at a cost of $6 million.

The most recent information we’ve received from DCPS shows that no additional money is budgeted in FY15 for books. There’s no money for high schools in the process of modernization.  There’s no money for middle schools, such as Stuart-Hobson, that will have their libraries modernized this summer. There is still no money to help the huge number of elementary schools with aging and or almost non-existent collections.

Our schools need an additional $3 million each in FY15 and FY16 for libraries. They need an additional $1 million each year so that all schools can have their collections refreshed.  Many schools need new technology in their libraries, including computers, SmartBoards, eReaders, document cameras, and other devices to help leverage a 21st century library. It is estimated that many schools, particularly those that have had no modernization, need $50,000.   This is a small investment for the valuable resource of our school libraries.

Finally, even though DCPS has made a commitment to funding librarians for most schools, a large number of positions have been vacant or filled by non-credentialed staff. DCPS has no additional resources for its librarian recruiting efforts. The pool of available qualified candidates in our region is just too small. DCPS needs to assist staff to complete their credentials and to recruit nationally using tools such as signing bonuses and relocation expenses to encourage librarians to come to Washington.  We also have an opportunity with the University of Maryland, which applied for a federal grant to train 10 librarians for DCPS. Unfortunately the school did not get the grant. But DCPS could fund this grant itself. A commitment of $250,000 each in FY 15 and FY16, would produce 20 librarians for DCPS. A program like this was done a decade ago and many of those librarians are still working today and are among our best. We urge this program be funded.

Please keep up your important work and fund our school libraries to the needed levels.  It’s no accident that most of us have good memories of our school libraries and our school librarians – they are often the heart of learning in our schools.  If you save our school libraries, the community you serve, especially the students, will greatly benefit from – and remember – your strong leadership.

Thank you.


Testimony of

T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH

Parent at Tyler Elementary School

Education Budget Oversight Hearing

Thursday, April 17, 2014  10:00 a.m.

John A. Wilson Building, Room 500

DC Council Education Committee Budget Hearing – Testimony by Danica Petroshius, CHM at Logan EC

Thank you Chairman Catania and members of the Council for holding this important hearing.
I am Danica Petroshius, President of the Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan PTSO and parent of two children at the school – one in Kindergarten and one in preschool 3. I am here because we want to work in partnership with the city to build a great DCPS middle grades Montessori education campus. We strongly believe that our school provides an important choice for parents who want to try a cutting-edge approach grounded in 100 years of practice, evaluation and study. We believe that the Montessori approach is so powerful that it has the potential to draw children back to DCPS schools from the suburbs, private schools and charters. The problem is that, to date, we have not had the kind of support we need from DCPS and the Administration to accomplish our goals, and we ask for your help now.

We want to be clear where we have been – and where we need to go. In January 2013, DCPS announced that CHML would expand to include the middle grades starting in August 2014.

That helped us keep families in our school for 5th and 6th grades – families that would have otherwise left for other middle schools – private, public and charter. Unfortunately, ten months after that announcement, DCPS had provided no resources to make the expansion a reality.
Therefore, in November 2013, we sent letters to Mayor Gray and Chancellor Henderson, held meetings with John McGaw and, later with John Davis, to detail our community’s needs.

Unfortunately, prior to hearing any responses, we were stunned to read in the Washington Post that CHML was cut in the budget reprogramming. We were further disappointed to receive Mr. McGaw’s email stating that “modest improvements… should suffice until a stronger enrollment is built for the middle grades.” We feel we are being told, “if you come, we might build it.”

We got word of one positive step forward recently. DCPS has provided an operational budget that will allow us to have the personnel and some of the learning materials to kick off our expansion next year.

But the fact remains that our parents and students, who come from every ward in the city, will be angry and shocked if there is no middle grades facility to come to. We need more than a few “modest improvements.” We need a strong, welcoming middle grades learning environment.

When the Mayor and DCPS approved our expansion, we parents put skin in the game. We worked with our principal, teachers and other stakeholders to prepare. We implemented teacher recruitment strategies, created architectural site plans, executed a plan to retain current families and recruit new ones. As a result, our lottery numbers were high, which is remarkable given that we don’t even have a place for them to envision their children learning.

As you know, we parents can be demanding and outspoken. I’m a “Type-A” handful for any principal. Our Principal, Brandon Eatman, has been a great and patient leader. But our parents are losing faith in the system that he says we should support. We stand ready to support our principal as he leads our expansion effort. But he and our students need your support to make this promise a reality.

We ask that you provide $1 million in capital funding to turn our empty, preschool-sized, temporary trailer into a vibrant middle grades learning environment. Please don’t set us up to fail. Instead, do what is necessary to give our school community the confidence that our leaders stand with, and for, our children. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.


Testimony of

Danica Petroshius

Parent  and Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO) President at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan Education Campus

Education Budget Oversight Hearing

Thursday, April 17, 2014  10:00 a.m.

John A. Wilson Building, Room 500


DC Council Education Committee Budget Hearing – Testimony by Lamont Clark, CHM at Logan EC

Thank you Council Members for holding this important hearing.   I am Lamont Clark Treasurer of the Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan PTSO and parent of one son who is a 1st grader at the school currently.  My second son will begin attending the school in the fall.

As the father of two black boys I am acutely aware of the potential perils of their education or lack of it. My oldest son loves to touch things and explore his surroundings what educators would call a physical or kinesthetic learner. However in the traditional classroom children are expected to learn by sitting in their chairs and listening to the teacher – not by exploring.

Unfortunately, when a child’s learning style doesn’t match with the teaching style, trouble occurs. Young black boys can quickly get labeled ‘special ed’ if their learning style does not match traditional methods. Moreover, educational experts have noted that kids as young as eight or nine years old may lose interest in school and by fourth grade African American boys particularly  experienced a sharp decline in their test scores.

As we all know, these same young African American boys go on to have lower high school graduation rates, a greater likelihood of going to prison and higher mortality rates from homicide. I can’t, WE can’t, let DCPS be a pipeline to DYRS.

But Montessori teachers are trained to stimulate the child’s enthusiasm for learning, to guide it, and to help the child learn according to his own unique needs and capabilities.  That is why I am fully invested in Capitol Hill Montessori and would like my child to be able to attend through middle school. While I am fully aware of the sobering statistics of African American boys failing, I am also aware of studies that find that:

“Attending a Montessori program from the approximate ages of three to 11 predicts significantly higher mathematics and science standardized test scores in high school.”[i]


Another study found that “In East Dallas, a neighborhood in which the high school dropout rate is over 50%, children who attend EDCS [a Montessori school] have graduated from high school at a rate of 94%, with 88% of those graduates attending college. A ten-year study of standardized test scores found that third grade students’ average scores were in the top 36% nationwide in reading and math.”[ii]


Still another study “found that 12-year-old Montessori students wrote more sophisticated and creative stories and showed a more highly developed sense of community and social skills than students in other programs.”[iii]


And finally, a comparative study found that “There were strong differences suggesting that Montessori students were feeling more active, strong, excited, happy, relaxed, sociable, and proud while engaged in academic work. They were also enjoying themselves more, they were more interested in what they were doing, and they wanted to be doing academic work more than the traditional students.”[iv]


For too long schools across our nation — and here in our nation’s capital — have failed African American boys.  Montessori may provide one way to reverse that trend.  But we can only succeed if DCPS works with us to provide a fully-equipped and vibrant middle scho


[i] Dohrmann, K., “Outcomes for Students in a Montessori Program: A Longitudinal Study of the Experience in the Milwaukee Public Schools” (AMI/USA May, 2003). 


[ii] East Dallas Community Schools: Montessori Outcomes [Need more info in this reference so that someone could find the study.]

[iii] Lillard, A.S. & Else-Quest, N., “Evaluating Montessori Education,” Science 131: 1893-94 (Sept. 29, 2006).

[iv] Rathunde, K., “A Comparison of Montessori and Traditional Middle Schools: Motivation, Quality of Experience, and Social Context,” The NAMTA Journal 28.3 (Summer 2003): pp. 12-52. 



Testimony of

Lamont Clark

Parent and Parent Teacher Student Organization Treasurer at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan Education Campus

Education Budget Oversight Hearing

Thursday, April 17, 2014  10:00 a.m.

John A. Wilson Building, Room 500

DC Council Education Committee Budget Hearing – Testimony by Tiffany Brown, CHM at Logan EC

Good Afternoon:  Council Member Catania and other members of the Committee on Education, thank you for the opportunity to speak at this important council hearing.  My name is Tiffany L. Brown, I am a 4th generation Washingtonian, a product of DC Public Schools, a DCPS Teacher, the Chairperson of the LSAT at the Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan, (CHM@Logan), and the proud parent of two children at the school, one in first grade and the other in kindergarten.  I am here as a member of a school community that works tirelessly to ensure that the District has a great Montessori school, Pre-School through 8th grade.  CHM@Logan provides District children an unique learning experience.  The Montessori approach to learning is to embrace the whole child in their learning.  While there are prescribed gates of learning, each student is guided to ensure they reach their own milestone.   In August 2014, CHM@Logan will operate as a full-fledged Pre-school – 7th grade Educational Campus.  In order to do this, we need adequate funding to make this happen.  In late 2013, We, the CHM@ Logan community solictilated assistance from the Office of the Mayor, City Council, as well as DCPS to assure that the facilities as well as the resources would be in place, not planning to be there, but to be there by August 2014.  To date, we have not gotten any assurances that this will happen by the first day of the 2014-2015 school year.  As a product of this great school system, I know that this can be accomplished.


I do realize that every parent wants only the best for their child and that is what we want at CHM@Logan.  Our school body is composed of students from every ward in the city, including military families.  Every year since our inception, our numbers have grown, and the number of families seeking a Montessori Education for their children is astronomical, with 1,283 that applied for this upcoming school year alone.    Of that number, nearly 40 have applied for our middle school classes.


With all that said, we need our facilities to meet the ever-growing demands of our school community, as we expand to middle school.    We have asked and continue to ask for additional funding to convert our Annex space to a more suitable middle school environment; things like right-sizing the bathroom so that it is appropriate for middle school aged students, adding the needed technology, and other materials that make a Montessori Middle School Program work.


As it stands now in the District, the Middle Schools are a mess!  We want to help the District as it turns around its middle schools in the city.  We would love to be viewed as a beacon for Public Montessori Education that the Nation can follow.   If we fail to plan, then we plan to fail.    We want our children to feel supported, protected, and given the opportunity to learn in a Montessori Environment through Middle School.  We are asking that you help us by fully funding the Middle School Expansion, now.  We need our doors to open in August 2014, Ready to Educate.    At CHM@Logan our mission is to educate the whole child for a whole world.   Fully funding our middle school expansion will assist us in doing just that!  Thank you for the opportunity to testify.


Testimony of

Tiffany L. Brown,

Parent and Local School Advisory Team Chair at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan Education Campus

Education Budget Oversight Hearing

Thursday, April 17, 2014  10:00 a.m.

John A. Wilson Building, Room 500