On Thursday, March 22, Councilmember Allen’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety will hold a public hearing on gun violence in the District of Columbia and a number of associated bills on gun safety. Students are particularly invited to testify about school safety and how gun violence has affected them. Council welcomes school groups and student witnesses – please let Laura Marks know if you require help with signing up witnesses, making copies of testimony, or anything else.
The Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization (CHPSPO) https://chpspo.org/ will be hosting education discussions with DC Council Chair Candidates this month.
Both will take place at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan (215 G St NE).
Tonight, March 12, 7-8 PM: Ed Lazere, the former executive director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and candidate for DC Council Chair. The meeting will take place at the Annex/Middle School which is just as you enter the parking lot off of 2nd Street. If you are walking, you can enter the parking lot to walk to the Annex through the G Street or 2nd Street gates. If you are driving, cars have to enter at the 2nd Street gate to park in the lot.
Tuesday, March 20, 7-8 PM: Phil Mendelson, current DC Council Chair.
Please pass this on to your school communities.
Good Morning, Councilmembers. I am Sandra Moscoso, the parent of a 5th grader at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan, the parent of an 8th grader at BASISDC Charter School, and member of the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization. I’m here to:
- describe our school and remind you of why Montessori is an opportunity for DCPS,
- ask for support in giving our teachers the autonomy to deliver instruction via the Montessori framework,
- encourage you, DCPS, Chancellor Wilson, and OSSE to support our students with an accountability framework that meets student and family demand, and
- to advocate for authentic parent-school partnerships based on transparency and sharing of data
When I enrolled my son in 2006, I didn’t know much about Montessori, other than that I liked the idea of a school where an energetic three year old could move, explore, and learn.
Today, I know the Montessori values of grace and courtesy create an environment where children focus on learning and community; I know the materials used in pre-K enable children to have physical experience with concepts they’ll learn in elementary and middle school; and I know that giving students the space to choose work until they master it, produces kids who love learning, think critically and are engaged members of any community.
In a city that values choice, Montessori represents DCPS’ willingness to provide choice. Montessori meets parent demand for child centered, time-tested approaches to learning. It’s worth noting the Charter School Board has responded to this demand by opening 4 Montessori schools. But don’t take my word for it – in the 2015 school lottery, 1480 applications were submitted for 93 CHML seats.
This sought-after program is implemented by our insanely dedicated teachers and staff. Like their peers across the city, they face the pressure that comes with high stakes testing, while being constantly bombarded by blanket initiatives and training which do not add to learning, but rather, distract and disrupt instruction. I implore DCPS and Chancellor Wilson to give our educators the flexibility to implement common core the Montessori way.
Similarly, we need DCPS support in shaping the city’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) framework. Parents across the city are asking for evidence of school success far beyond PARCC results – the current proposed framework does not reflect this. Chancellor Wilson, in his confirmation hearing testimony highlighted meaningful data we should consider like student mobility, discipline and suspension rates, and social and emotional development indicators. I join fellow parents in asking DCPS and the Chancellor to engage and to urge OSSE to not rush, but give the community until September to forge a plan.
Finally, I support Chancellor Wilson’s expressed commitment to transparency. DCPS’ current approach is inconsistent. Budget allocation data was released this week, for example, missing critical information like at-risk funding breakouts. Parents want to be true partners and to best support our schools, we need access to information and data.
In summary, we need DCPS to grant our educators flexibility, lead the ESSA discussion, and share data. Thank You.
Addendum: Thank you, Councilmembers and Grosso for speaking up in support of transgender student rights. DCPS has led the nation in implementing inclusion policies that protect our children. They need our support more than ever.
Testimony of Sandra Moscoso – DCPS Oversight Hearing
Parent at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan
February 23, 2017
My name is Todd Cochran, and I am a parent of two second graders and a PK4 child at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan (“CHML”). In addition, I am in my second term as the Vice President of our school’s PTSO, and I am a Ward 6 resident. Thank you to Chairman Grosso and the Committee for the opportunity to testify today.
Parents and schools need better communications with DCPS. In fact, we demand it. But we should not have to make such demands. As the consumers of the public school system in the District, providing us with complete, timely, and relevant information should be a priority for DCPS. But, unfortunately, far too often we are left with insufficient information concerning decisions – or lack of decisions – affecting our children and schools, and we have to repeatedly ask for the information and then follow-up, prod, and beg to get any information at all.
As an example, as this Committee is well aware, CHML was the first school to discover that a number of the water sources in our school tested above the allowable threshold for lead. But neither DCPS nor DGS notified our community or school administration, and we independently discovered the failed tests months later. We had to constantly request information from DCPS and the other involved agencies and schedule regular meetings to effectively project manage the remediation of this issue.
And then again, just this month, one of our water sources in a PK3-Kindergarten classroom tested above the District-set threshold. The DCPS COO sent a letter to CHML staff and parents notifying us of the results (but the link to the testing results was incorrect in the letter sent to CHML and all other schools that tested above the threshold). Subsequently, the sink remained out of service for two weeks without any communication from DCPS or any other agency. So, we inquired about its status with the DCPS COO, and the only response we received was a generic statement that the safety of students comes first. So, again, we asked DCPS about the status of the sink, and we did not receive any response at all. Eventually, DGS – who we had also requested information from concerning the sink – provided us with a substantive response, but only after our PTSO pushing for answers. Why did DCPS not provide us with information or a contact at DGS so that we could get answers if this was how the process was going to work?
This example represents a systematic problem in which DCPS is serving as the communicator, but it does not have any substantive knowledge about the topic. And we are not supposed to reach out to DGS, and relatedly DGS is not supposed to communicate with parents; yet DGS and its subject matter experts hold all the substantive knowledge. This disjointed communication must be fixed.
Also, just last week, a pipe in our cafeteria backed up, resulting in RAW SEWAGE in the kitchen and food service area, causing obvious concern over the quality of the food served and forcing children to eat in their classrooms. Our maintenance staff and principal put in an emergency work request, shortly after the problem was discovered, at 10:50 am. DGS sent one staff member to CHML in the mid-afternoon, but DCPS and DGS did not provide us any information. By late afternoon, parents had to resort to repeated emails to the DME and other city and agency leaders asking for any information on when this would be resolved, and only then was the immediate issue resolved overnight. Yet, parents had to ask again when a full assessment would be undertaken to address this repeated problem. At 9:07 pm, we heard from the Director of DGS to tell us that they were assessing the problem, and DGS, DCPS, and the DME would update us once they identified the cause. Two days later, we were told that we would have to wait until after the holiday weekend for an update.
This kind of slowly released, incomplete information is what continues to erode our confidence in DCPS. DCPS needs to remember that the concerns and needs of its students and their parents are important. Indeed, we are DCPS’s consumers. We are important. And DCPS should treat us as such. And we deserve to know what is happening in our schools and to our kids.
The CHML community has not closed the book on working with DCPS. We need DCPS to help educate our children. In fact, the majority of our parents – myself included – strongly believe in the public education system in the District. But we want to be partners in this process. In fact, we demand it.
I urge the Committee to think about this issue from a consumer perspective and demand DCPS improve its communications with its consumers. I hope the Chancellor follows through on his pledge to not only visit every school, but to actively and comprehensively listen to each school’s needs, challenges, and desires. I hope he engages in a fruitful, meaningful, and long-running discussion with the students, parents, and staff at CHML. We are, of course, willing to work with and assist DCPS, but we need an open line of communication to do so.
Thank you for your time.
TESTIMONY OF TODD J. COCHRAN
Parent and PTSO Vice President, Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan
email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org
February 23, 2017
Good morning. I’m Danica Petroshius, parent of two at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan (CHML), LSAT member, and member of our Ward 6 education council, Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization (CHPSPO).Our community welcomes Chancellor Wilson and we are hopeful that he leads a significant improvement in critical areas in our system. Our city suffers from too many inadequate school facilities. We have a one-size-fits-all approach to curriculum and professional development even though we tout neighborhood and citywide schools that can meet unique needs of the communities. We have a history of giving low priority or no consideration to parent engagement. We have a history of sharing only data and information that the district chooses to share – and not always making it easy to get or understand. We see the hard work of parents in keeping our children in and supporting DCPS schools, yet the city keeps adding policies to favor charters over DCPS schools.
For all of these reasons, parents and teachers are skeptical about seeing significant change. But we are perennial optimists – it just can’t stay this bad for that long – and we are very committed to our public school system. It can improve. So with that optimism in mind, I offer the new Chancellor some thoughts on a vision that would appeal to our school communities and help the system succeed while accelerating growth in DCPS school enrollment:
1) Prioritize Effective Parent Engagement. We, and our school leaders and teachers, are the most knowledgeable people about the strengths and weaknesses of our schools and the system. And the more information we have the more we can help. The less we know, the less confidence and trust we have. Don’t guess at how to do it well – ask us. We are great partners when invited to the table.
2) Be Transparent. Share information and data and make it accessible, clear and full. We have had so many instances – whether lead in the water data or building assessments that never happened – where the information is incomplete, not shared or inaccurate. We know that with transparency comes challenges; more questions get asked and initiatives are criticized. But with transparency also comes trust and confidence. With trust and confidence, we can all overcome challenges to work together to succeed.
3) Support Appropriate Building Autonomy. Each neighborhood and citywide school is unique and deserves a chance to leverage the expertise of their leaders and teachers to educate students. We want all schools to deliver an education based on the same high standards for all and to be held accountable for progress. But we don’t want cookie-cutter, factory model approaches to that success. We have too many unnecessary mandates from the District that are forced on schools. Schools should be able to opt into District-supported curriculum and professional development. But they should also be able to opt out if they have a rigorous curriculum that is aligned to the DCPS standards and approved by the District and still get necessary financial support. This is especially important in schools like ours that are trying to implement a Montessori curriculum. Parents are choosing the school because it is Montessori. But this year, parents are seeing less Montessori and more District-mandated curriculum such as Eureka math and professional development like LEAP that is in conflict with the high-quality Montessori approach. Our teachers are now being asked to do two jobs in one day – a Montessori education and the District one. And our parents feel like they are being misled by a District that gave us the chance to open and grow a Montessori school. We want to be in the public system and realize that there are some parts of the system that must be standardized. But the entire curriculum and professional development a school chooses does not have to be standardized.
4) Advocate for a Robust Accountability System. I hope the Chancellor’s vision includes a request to OSSE to wait until September to finalize a plan for accountability. The Chancellor has said that he will visit every school, and I hope in doing so that he actively and fully listens to each school’s needs, challenges, desires and progress. I hope he will then use that knowledge to help shape his vision for accountability and work with OSSE to reflect that vision. Parents will hold Chancellor Wilson accountable for success – we hope he will help shape how schools will be judged.
5) Embed Modernization for All in the DCPS Vision. We need a vision and plan that recognizes the close connection that state of the buildings has on morale, safety and health, and the success of educational programming. We have too many buildings that have never been modernized or are in a state of disrepair. We are all doing our best with work-arounds and band-aids to be able to make it work. But when the building is safe, healthy and has enough space – and the right kind of space – for the wide range of teaching and learning that happens in a school day, then we can really soar. We should rush to fix these inequities so that we can get on a manageable, affordable track of maintenance and repair.
Finally, we hope that our new Chancellor will be an ever-present and vocal advocate for a better DCPS system – whether in the Mayor’s office, in the media, in front of Council or across the country. We want full confidence that our new Chancellor is fighting alongside us to help us be our best DCPS.
TESTIMONY OF DANICA PETROSHIUS
PARENT AT CAPITOL HILL MONTESSORY AT LOGAN
February 23, 2017
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Max Kieba. I am a Ward 6 resident, Maury Elementary School parent, and Maury School Improvement Team (SIT) Co-Chair. This particular performance hearing is interesting as we are understandably in a transition period at DCPS. Really, we’ve been in transition for a couple years now with some organizational changes under the previous chancellor, new process initiatives based on bills started by council, and a new chancellor in place. To that end, like many we do welcome Chancellor Wilson to D.C. and look forward to working with him. However there seem to be some common themes that still emerge
Communication, transparency, and true engagement continues to be an issue
We have far too many examples and have said it far too many times. At times it does get better, but usually that’s only after significant public outcry or pressure from council. We shouldn’t need to have to exert such pressure to do what’s right.
Don’t forget families are an important part of the DCPS system
When we consider the DCPS system, we should not only think about the schools, teachers, and students, but realize families are an important part of the equation and success of the system. Families are helping to volunteer in the schools, raise funds, advocate for their schools and students and help support their schools, teachers and staff by reinforcing important concepts at home. Or in some cases, if a student doesn’t have a home, families are chipping in to help. However, families feel they are often shut out of important opportunities to engage, or when they are engaged it is usually too late in the process for any real consideration of their input. Even with some of these visits to the schools by the new chancellor, we’re hearing too many stories that families are among the last to know. I don’t know if this is an issue with DCPS communication to schools or schools communicating to families. But we need to do better.
Don’t Fight with Us, Fight for Us
Much of this is tied to the communication and transparency issues, but it is difficult to trust DCPS when there is a sense DCPS doesn’t trust us. Even if the answer is ultimately no, we can’t implement what you’d like or this is the path we need to take, it is helpful to know the why and hopefully some discussion farther in advance than when the final decision comes.
On fighting for us, there are other areas that continue to be an issue, including how DCPS and DGS interact with each other, especially in cases where DCPS is effectively DGS’ client on some issues but they don’t appear to put more pressure on them when clearly DGS isn’t moving quickly enough on tasks assigned to them. There are also other issues with how DCPS interacts with other agencies, whether it’s DPR for co-located sites, working with DDOT on certain school issues (like modernizations) or other agencies. Too often when there are ideas to help make things right we just get the answer it’s too complicated trying to make it work through the different agencies or leadership doesn’t even want to try to explore it. We’d also like to see more fight from DCPS up the chain on budgets and modernization more schools more quickly.
Help for all schools, more quickly
For some projects, like our neighborhood middle school Eliot-Hine we are moving along slowly but surely and DCPS and Eliot-Hine are both trying to help recruit for their SIT including the feeder schools. Other great middle schools like Jefferson are still not there other than yes they did have a meeting in January. However, it would be nice to hear discussion on bigger picture larger scale modernization improvements needed, not status of smaller stabilization projects. So many other schools are still not in the picture even though there is good justification to get them going, and they continue to be engaged in advocacy for all. Our friends at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan are a great example. Yes, we need more capital funding to help continue to work through the list with other potential tweaks coming with new ed specs, the master facility plan development and other PACE Act triggered initiatives. However, we collectively can do a lot better to #fixallschools a lot sooner.
Budget Clarity Issues– At Risk Funding
This is a new issue that just surfaced with the new school budgets out, but I understand at risk funding is now even more confusing as it’s lumped even more generally in the overall bucket. It was confusing enough when it was its own line item. There was additional scrutiny whether schools that got a large amount of at-risk funding really deserved to get at-risk funding, or schools that clearly needed it did not get enough. I understand the idea is to help give schools more flexibility on how it’s used. If a school knows what they’re doing and truly trying to do what’s best for the students more flexibility may be better. However, there is also a concern that with all the issues with achievement gaps and making sure we’re appropriately supporting at-risk and disadvantaged students that watering down any allocation that is intended for them might make it worse.
Overall, while things have certainly improved a bit the last couple months and there are indeed good people working at DCPS that are trying to do their best (and perhaps need even more support, not cutting central office), there continue to be some ongoing issues that it seems are related to culture and climate issues internally, working with other agencies effectively, etc. Hopefully the new Chancellor will help improve a lot of this.
I hope the suggestions above will help improve it even more. I thank you once again for allowing me to testify and I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.
Testimony Max Kieba, Public Witness (Maury Parent)
DC Council Committee on Education Performance Oversight Hearing
District of Columbia Public Schools (Public Witnesses Only)
Good Morning. I’m Kenyon Weaver, a parent at Maury Elementary and member of the Maury PTA, as well as the Maury SIT, or School Improvement Team.
Today I want to focus on DCPS engagement with the community, through the example of Maury Elementary’s expansion.
Today, Maury is well overcapacity. The trailers on our blacktop are permanent features; our multipurpose room no longer fits parents at All School Meetings. Fortunately, this summer, DCPS will be starting the school’s expansion.
This expansion has been in discussion for a few years, with DCPS interacting with our SIT. My fellow parent Max Kieba has been Maury’s key point of contact on the SIT. He could easily fill a binder full of correspondence between him and his DCPS counterparts on the Maury modernization.
This past January 12th, DCPS held a meeting for Maury community members to discuss the options for Maury’s expansion. There, nearly 200 Maury parents and other community members came to hear Acting Chancellor Davis and others from DCPS present four options. One of these four options was a new option, for a right-sized school that meet best practices in educational design. This option, DCPS explained, addressed all the previous feedback but DCPS did not want to present it until they felt they could deliver on it. And this option, indeed, met with broad appreciation from the community. Acting Chancellor Davis and his team led a very productive meeting. But for those who were at the meeting – and Councilmembers Allen and Grosso, you were – you will remember just how frustrated Maury community members were.
This January 12th meeting and the new expansion option, I think, clearly shows what DCPS can do well, and where it falls short. The meeting and the option are a good window into where things go wrong, and where DCPS can correct it.
- First, the reason why so many people were so frustrated was because DCPS had first informed Maury that it would reach a final decision with almost no meaningful input at all. That is because DCPS in December informed Maury that within a few weeks it would choose one of three options. Just imagine if DCPS had done something similar with anything else of similar magnitude, like choosing a new principal.
- Second, the reason why so many people were frustrated at DCPS was that all of the options had serious unaddressed unknowns. The three options were: (1) a building that would be too small, and therefore require a re-drawing of boundaries; (2) a building that would fail to meet many best practices in design and use; and (3) a building that would be deliberately too small, but where Maury and Miner would cluster. DCPS was in effect coming to Maury and saying “because of some mistakes we’ve made with regard to enrollment and budgeting, your elementary school is now going to deal with the consequences – so just choose which of those consequences you want.”
- Third, the reason why the meeting was productive was that by holding the meeting, presenting also a fourth option, and handling all the questions, DCPS in effect corrected these procedural mistakes. DCPS was responsive.
Is the January 12th meeting the exception, or the new rule? We will see. The January 12th meeting gave the Maury community hope, and we have every reason to continue hoping under new Chancellor Wilson.
And here is what it will take:
- DCPS needs to engage early and consistently with parents on a meaningful basis. We know our school very well. It was Maury community members who rightly called into question the initial enrollment projections and Maury community members who are now identifying achievable ways to mitigate the construction’s negative impacts on students and on teaching outcomes. But much of what Maury parents and others are pushing for and proposing requires early, responsive, and coordinated action by DCPS. Since the January 12th meeting, for example, Maury parents have identified a way for Maury’s expansion to save DC $6 million and to significantly reduce strain on students and teachers, but it takes DCPS and the District acting now.
- DCPS needs to come up with a modernization plan that genuninely meets the needs of all schools. DCPS needs to start with: What do these schools need that will allow them to serve the next generation of District youth? Instead of: What can we do with these schools that will temporarily fix the issue, but likely leave underlying problems intact or create new ones that we are not prepared to address? We tell our kids: if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. That should apply here, too.
Thank you for your time and attention. I’d be happy to answer any questions.
Testimony by Kenyon S. Weaver, DCPS Maury Elementary parent
DC Council Committee on Education Oversight Hearing
February 23, 2017