I hope everyone had a wonderful 4th of July Holiday and is enjoying their summer. It’s been a busy summer so far with many changes at DCPS, on-going work by the Council on modernizations and food services. Please read on to hear about these items as well as the on-going work of the State Board of Education. And, if you know any high school students who would like to serve the Board as our student representatives next year, please encourage them to apply here.
Changes in DCPS
As I’m sure you’ve all heard, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson will step down later this year. While the Chancellor and I have not always seen eye-to-eye, I would like to offer my #Thanks to her for her leadership of DCPS. The strongest statement that I can offer is the fact that my children remain enrolled in DCPS schools. Deputy Mayor Niles will be leading the selection process for the next Chancellor, and I look forward to hearing more from both the administration and the community as we go through the search process.
I would also like to welcome the [many] new DCPS principals to #Ward6, including Eastern HS's new principal, Sah Brown. I’ve had the opportunity to connect with parent and community leaders from each school that went through a principal search this spring. While experiences varied widely, I’m confident that each school was able to find a highly qualified leader that will take their community to the next level.
Education Committee Hearings – Facilities & Modernization
On Monday, July 11, the Committee on Education will hold a Public Hearing on B21-777, "Planning Actively for Comprehensive Education Facilities Amendment Act of 2016." This legislation would require a 10-year Master facilities Plan and amends the requirements for the formulation of the DCPS Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). Those who wish to testify may sign-up online at http://bit.do/educationhearings or call the Committee on Education at (202) 724-8061 by 5:00 pm Thursday, July 7.
While, I applaud Councilmember Grosso and the Education Committee for moving to take politics out of the school modernization process, I continue to be concerned that the process of developing the city’s modernization priorities is not being done, as recommended by the Deputy Mayor’s Boundary Taskforce, with public input. This proposal under consideration by the Council seeks to codify a new Capital Improvement Program ranking system that will rely upon faulty assumptions about community needs and desires as well as incomplete or bad data. In short, it will codify a system that will not reflect the priorities of our community or meet the needs of our students.
My first priority – a priority that I’ve heard again and again from residents from across #Ward6 – is to ensure that ALL students are in facilities that meet basic standards for air and water quality, lighting, acoustics, heating and related factors that directly impact student health and learning.
I urge you to contact CM Allen and other members of the Education Committee and urge them to oppose the "Planning Actively for Comprehensive Education Facilities Amendment Act of 2016" and instead work with the community and DCPS to develop a modernization plan and priorities that truly reflects the needs of our neighborhood and our students.
Even if you support this legislation, I’d ask that you encourage the Council to include the State Board of Education among the organizations that the city must consult in the development of a plan for each geographic planning area. As the only individuals elected in the District to support our educational systems, the Board’s voice is vital in this process.
More on the Capital Improvement Plan
At the May 18th State Board of Education meeting, Deputy Mayor Niles that DCPS “did a series [of events and] gained community input on the CIP criteria and the weightings” utilized in developing the CIP (approximately the 2:22:00 mark of this video). The State Board has yet to receive any information about the events and community engagement. Nor have I heard from anyone in Ward 6 or from across the city that was engaged in the process.
I hope you’ll join me in continuing the push for the community to be involved in establishing needs and priorities for our schools and our community. In a system fraught with mistrust and overspending, we deserve no less.
Education Committee Hearings -- Food
Earlier today, the Committee on Education held a Public Roundtable on the DCPS food services contract.
Food service has long been a source of frustration for residents (and students) in #Ward6 and across the city. My own children have long refused to eat school lunches. They occasionally pick up a school breakfast or lunch only to put 90% of it on the "share cart" (or in the trash during the random times the share cart is banned).
We can do better - both in food quality and ensuring that DCPS is accountable. We’ve known for a year that this contract was up for review and we should hold any program with this history of dysfunction to a higher standard. More information and info on what you can do is available here.
Residency Verification & Fraud
While recent articles – here and here – may overstate the scope of the problem, residency fraud is a significant problem in our schools, especially in #Ward6. It has proven far too easy for families to obtain documents to meet the current residency verification requirements while their children reside elsewhere (either the child lives in another part of DC but uses an "in-boundary" address to secure a seat in a desired school or where the child actually lives outside the District). The solution goes beyond merely additional enforcement requiring a revision to the documentation required to establish residency.
There are two major issues with the current system. First, as indicated, it's too easy to obtain documents to prove residency when, in fact, the child does not live at the address provided. Second, DCPS and the individual public charter schools verify their own students' registration materials. These individual schools have an incentive to enroll more students and, as such, it's not in their interest to rigorously investigate residency issues. Though, to their credit both DCPS and the public charter schools have done a much better job in recent years of requiring and verifying all documentation.
There are a couple of potential avenues for fixes. The simplest would be via new regulations that would establish new procedures for establishing and verifying residency. I hope the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) - and they've met with me, CM Allen's staff and several of my colleagues on the State Board in recent weeks - will move forward new regulations in the coming months. I believe that the easiest and most effective solution would be to tie residency to income tax records, though I'm certainly open to other ideas and the Board would have public forums to gather additional perspectives before anything is decided. There should be improved mechanisms for verification, enforcement and restitution.
I'm optimistic that OSSE will present the Board some ideas around how to improve the residency verification process in the coming weeks and, if not, I'll work with CM Allen and his team to look into other avenues, likely legislative, for moving forward.
FYI: The residency verification process is detailed here and is overseen by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). The State Board of Education is responsible for advising OSSE on establishing policies for residency verification but we cannot initiate new policy; OSSE has that responsibility.
SBOE’s work - ESSA
ESSA will change the District's education system through new accountability measures and by providing support for schools who need it most. After ESSA town halls in all eight wards, SBOE feels confident that the community's voice and concerns will be integrated into the District's plan. Couldn't make it to any of the ESSA town halls? We still want your help in shaping DC's definition of success. Tell us your thoughts online (available in Spanish and Amharic)
SBOE’s work – Student Representative
The State Board is looking for new student voices to serve and influence our work. And as we embark on an effort later this year to revisit graduation requirements, the student representatives’ voices will be even more important.
SBOE’s work – Stay Informed
We're mobile! Our new app brings you the latest from the DC State Board of Education including news, upcoming votes, policy updates, future education events and an easy way to submit cases to the Ombudsman and Student Advocate.
As always, thank you for your support. Please let me know if there is more that I can do to support you or your school community. And, enjoy the remainder of your summer.