The Committee on Education recently held eight Town Halls between June 16 and July 11, 2015. Each meeting had over 60 attendees and gave residents, parents, students, and teachers an opportunity to discuss with the Councilmember their concerns with school modernizations, teacher retention, and the struggles their children face. The events lasted for two hours with brief presentations from Grosso and staff followed by questions from the public.
The main topics discussed included the new objective approach to school modernizations, and a recently released report on the Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 (PERAA), also known as mayoral control of schools. The Committee recently developed an objective ranking tool that helps calculate a school's need for modernization and capital investments. The tool considers equity factors, such as the condition of the facilities, public investment, and date and type of last construction, to name a few. It also considers demand and community factors.
The Committee received generally positive feedback about the objective ranking tool utilized for six-year school modernization budgets, with a few suggestions for how it can be improved. Committee staff continues to work with interested individuals and stakeholders to review the ranking tool, evaluate alternative categories for consideration, and make improvements to the existing methodology.
Regarding the PERAA Report, the evaluators found a great need for comprehensive data and analysis to be available online to the public. This data warehouse would hold information for both DCPS and all of the public charter schools for research purposes and for individuals to make informed educational decisions. Another point the Report made was that while academic progress overall has been made, the achievement gap continues to widen between our affluent and low-income neighborhoods. Finally, the evaluators encouraged the District to continue to evaluate the system and review the effects of mayoral control.
During the question and answer period, residents often expressed concern about their neighborhood schools and surrounding community, however there were common citywide themes expressed as well. First, there was desire for more certainty-whether it is with school modernizations, teacher retention, or central office, the perceived lack of protocol for communications about activities and action plans creates anxiety. There was even more anxiety among our teachers concerning their evaluation system known as IMPACT. Teachers shared numerous stories about how IMPACT seems to be manipulated and scores can vary from year to year, ward to ward, and school to school. Teachers want evaluations, but they want them to be more objective.
There was also a desire for more forthcoming community engagement from both DCPS and public charter schools. We heard consistently that the public would appreciate greater communication and transparency about the operations of our schools, rationale of decisions, and clear avenues to provide feedback and seek accountability.
Another area of concern was the budget, both the annual operations budget and the capital improvement budget. Concerns were raised about variations of annual budgets at schools and ways to mitigate such variations.
Finally, at many of our town hall meetings, individuals expressed desire for the libraries to be better integrated into our public education system. The Councilmember noted that DC Public Library (DCPL) has partnered with DCPS on a feasibility study to determine if DCPL could operate and manage our public school libraries.
While these were the common themes, there were some Ward-specific issues we noticed during our town halls. Below is a brief summary of each Ward.
Ward 1 residents expressed concern about Garrison Elementary School's renovation and the condition of its field. While Garrison is physically in Ward 2, its boundary extends into Wards 1 and 6. Residents expressed a desire for universal standards for modernization, strategies for reigning in the costs of modernizations and an evaluation of the work done on our modernized facilities. Other residents expressed interest in language immersion programs for our elementary schools. Finally, Ward 1 constituents also would like to see the educational disparities narrowed between English language learners and the general population.
Ward 2 residents also expressed concerns about Garrison Elementary School's renovation. Residents would like to see a non-application high school located in Ward 2. Other constituents were concerned about the shared principal between School Without Walls and Francis Stevens Education Campus. Parents asked about the Oyster Adams building that has not been renovated and how the Committee will address that in the ranking tool for next year-Oyster Adams has two buildings, one recently renovated and one in need of renovation.
Ward 3 constituents focused on the need for a per pupil funding formula minimum and the restoration of lost funds for Wilson High School. Other parents were concerned about adequate special education supports at all of our schools. Constituents expressed concerns about adult literacy and improving the literacy rate. There was also a desire to see charter school options in Ward 3, where no charter schools currently operate.
Ward 4 residents expressed concern for the proposed high school tied to the Chancellor's Empowering Males of Color initiative. The rationale being that the school will only take 400 students, but what about the remaining young men of color who "are already behind and cannot wait." Ward 4 residents were also very frustrated with the pace of school modernizations in their communities. Roosevelt High School's modernized facility opening was pushed from fall 2015 to fall 2016, which frustrated many parents due to deteriorating conditions at Roosevelt's swing space at McFarland. Residents in the northern part of the Ward would like to see a middle school at Coolidge when Coolidge High School is modernized. Separate from modernization, residents also expressed a desire for more work devoted to addressing truancy in our schools.
Ward 5 constituents expressed a desire for more stability with school principals. Other residents were interested in checks on mayoral control and greater accountability based on outcomes. There was also a desire for longitudinal data on student achievement rather than examining just a one-year snapshot. You can watch this Town Hall here.
Ward 6 residents also expressed desire for more schools with language immersion and international baccalaureate programs in our public schools. There was also a strong desire to improve middle schools in Ward 6-among them were needs for renovations at Eliot Hine and Jefferson Middle Schools, as well as a plan to reopen the now-closed Shaw Middle School in the northern portion of the Ward. Finally, parents were also concerned about the achievement gap and ways to improve them given some glaring differences between proficiency rates at some elementary schools geographically close to each other.
Ward 7 residents focused on issues such as equitable distribution of courses offered east of the river, specifically Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Residents highlighted the proportion of the student population who are special needs compared to the rest of the city. Residents also raised concerns about the dearth of special education assistance within our schools. Ward 7 residents expressed concern over PARCC testing and the amount of time devoted to testing. You can watch this Town Hall here.
Ward 8 residents expressed frustration with charter school matriculation and the perception that some charters kick out students after they receive their enrollment allotment. Some teachers expressed a desire to be better prepared to deal with disruptive and aggressive students in order to improve school safety. Finally, residents also would like to see strategies for increased adult literacy.